Bracketology, March 5: What should we make of the weak bubble?

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Some quick notes on the bracket before we dive into everything.

The bracket holds 32 automatic bids for conference champions (noted with their conference next to their name), and the remaining 36 are at-large selections. I am evaluating teams on how they have performed to this point in the season without projecting how they will perform in remaining games.

I’ve determined automatic bids in one of two ways. If the conference tournament has already begun, I took the top remaining seed. For leagues still in the regular season, I took KenPom’s projected champion.

In the bracket below, Virginia is the overall No. 1 seed. The winners of the East and Midwest regions would face off in the national semifinal, as would the winners of the West and South regions.

There’s some analysis on my projections below, but feel free to tweet @catch_n_shoot with questions and comments.

  EAST (Washington D.C.)
Columbia1Virginia (ACC)
16Iona (MAAC)/St. Francis PA (NEC)
8Auburn
9Ohio State
San Jose5Iowa State
12Lipscomb (A-Sun)
4Marquette
13New Mexico State (WAC)
Jacksonville6Buffalo (MAC)
11NC State
3LSU
14Yale (Ivy)
Des Moines7Cincinnati
10Texas
2Michigan
15Wright State (Horizon)
  MIDWEST (Kansas City)
Columbus1Tennessee (SEC)
16Sam Houston State (Southland)
8Baylor
9Washington (Pac-12)
San Jose5Florida State
12Alabama/Seton Hall
4Wisconsin
13Vermont (A-East)
Tulsa6Mississippi State
11TCU
3Houston (American)
14Georgia Southern (Sun Belt)
Jacksonville7Iowa
10VCU
2North Carolina
15Colgate (Patriot)
  WEST (Anaheim)
Salt Lake City1Gonzaga (WCC)
16Prairie View A&M (SWAC)/Norfolk State (MEAC)
8Syracuse
9Oklahoma
Hartford5Maryland
12Belmont (OVC)
4Virginia Tech
13Old Dominion (C-USA)
Tulsa6Villanova
11Florida
3Texas Tech (Big 12)
14South Dakota State (Summit)
Des Moines7Louisville
10Utah State
2Michigan State (Big Ten)
15Montana (Big Sky)
  SOUTH (Louisville)
Columbia1Duke
16Campbell
8Ole Miss
9UCF
Hartford5Kansas State
12Arizona State/Creighton
4Purdue
13Hofstra
Salt Lake City6Nevada (MW)
11Minnesota
3Kansas
14UC Irvine (Big West)
Columbus7Wofford (SoCon)
10St. John's
2Kentucky
15Loyola Chicago (MVC)

Last Four In: Arizona State, Alabama, Seton Hall, Creighton

Whispering Distance: Clemson, Indiana, Furman, Temple

Talking Distance: Butler, Saint Mary’s, Georgetown

Shouting Distance: Xavier, UNC Greensboro, Memphis, Providence, Murray State

Bracket notes:

-You’ve heard it again this year like every other year: the bubble is weak. That’s how it works when you have a 68-team tournament. However, it’s worth noting that the bubble most likely will get a bit stronger during championship as we’re bound to get a couple of bid-stealers, knocking a few would-be First Four selections into the NIT.

-Still, who would’ve thought that Creighton (12 seed, South), who’s been generally unremarkable and just a few weeks ago with 13-13 with a 4-9 record in the mediocre Big East, would be on the cusp of making its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance? The Jays have won three games in a row, including a marquee victory at Marquette on Sunday.

-Why Creighton over Clemson and Indiana? The Bluejays are 9-13 against Quadrants 1 and 2, compared to 5-12 for the Tigers and 7-14 for the Hoosiers.

Clemson is almost certainly the most talented of these three, ranking No. 30 in KenPom, but the Tigers have lost some close games they’d love to have back. They’ve defeated Virginia Tech and Lipscomb at home, but their best road/neutral win is South Carolina, who isn’t anywhere close to the bubble.

Indiana easily has the best wins, highlighted by a season sweep of Michigan State. However, the Hoosiers have five Quadrant 2 losses to Creighton’s three, and a 3-9 road/neutral record to Creighton’s 7-7 mark.

UCF (9 seed South), though not quite a lock, is in great shape after winning at Houston over the weekend. The Knights moved into the top 30 of NET and finally have a marquee win away from home. They close the regular season at home against Cincinnati and at Temple. UCF is probably dancing regardless of what happens, but one win this week will keep them from sweating at all during championship week.

Utah State (10 seed, West) also made a splash by knocking off Nevada. The key difference between Utah State and UCF’s resumes is the former doesn’t have a great road/neutral win. The Aggies’ best win off their home court came against Saint Mary’s, who likely has to win the WCC Tournament to go dancing.

Utah State won’t feel comfortable unless it wins the Mountain West Tournament, but the win over Nevada could be enough to get them in anyway.

-Enough about the bubble. How about the big dogs at the top? Virginia has taken over my overall No. 1 seed as Duke has dropped a few games without Zion Williamson. The Cavs have an insane 10-2 record against Quadrant 1 with seven road wins against the NET top 40. Their only losses are to Duke, another No. 1 seed.

Meanwhile, Gonzaga also has an awesome resume and beat that Duke team that swept Virginia. But the Zags simply don’t have the breadth of great wins to match Virginia. Sure, part of that is playing in a mid-major league and out of their control. But they did lose to Tennessee and North Carolina, so they had a few chances to pad their resume in non-conference play.

I think Virginia can handle one more loss, whether it’s this Saturday to Louisville or next week in the NCAA Tournament, and not have to worry about losing the overall No. 1 seed. But two losses before Selection Sunday could open the door for Gonzaga or another top tier team to swoop in.

-Speaking of which, how many teams are still in the hunt for the four No. 1 seeds? There’s 10: Virginia, Gonzaga, Duke, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan, Michigan State, LSU, and Texas Tech.

Bids by conference:

Big Ten – 8

Big 12 – 8

SEC – 8

Big East – 5

AAC – 3

MW – 2

Pac-12 – 2

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