Welcome back to DieHards’ foray into the world of college basketball bracketology. Each week, our resident Bracketeur, Eric Yates, will bring you full projections for the 2018 NCAA Tournament field, as well as notable storylines that are reflective of the projections.
Rankings and seedings are a combination of statistical analysis, KenPom adjusted efficiency margin rating, strength of a team’s conference and the tried-and-true eyeball test.
Things will change dramatically in March, but as we are in the midst of conference play, let’s see where we stand.
College basketball bracketology: The 68-team field and matchups
Latest takeaways from last week
Who’s hot? Who’s not?
Don’t look now, but the Rhode Island Rams have played themselves into a top-4 seed. Danny Hurley’s surprising group has three experienced guards, two of whom are good enough to crack an NBA roster (E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell). The Rams sit at 20-3 and are ranked fifth in RPI as of publication. And lest you think they are just beating up on the dregs of the Atlantic 10, they have the third-toughest nonconference strength of schedule in the country, and have wins against Seton Hall and Providence to go with two very close road losses to Nevada and Alabama.
On the other end of the heat spectrum, Notre Dame and Marquette have played themselves out of the tournament with recent swoons. The Irish lost seven in a row at one point, and have dropped eight of their last 10. They have only 15 wins and have not been able to stay afloat after the injury to star forward Bonzie Colson. Marquette is in a similar funk. What once looked like a lock for the Dance and a dangerous draw, the Golden Eagles have dropped six of eight to fall to seventh in the Big East standings. Their only two truly quality wins are a sweep of Seton Hall, but the resume won’t stack up unless Marquette can knock off Creighton twice in the next two weeks.
Will Texas Tech ends Kansas’ streak?
For the last 13 years, Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks have won at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season championship. Two months ago, after the Jayhawks dropped back-to-back home games against Pac-12 teams, many began to wonder if that streak would come to an end, given the incredible depth and quality of the conference this season. As recently as three weeks ago, it looked like Kansas would once again cruise to the league title, as many of the top contenders began to fall off. But after losing two out of its last three games to teams below .500 in conference play (Oklahoma State and Baylor), Kansas trails a resurgent Texas Tech team by a full game in the standings with just six remaining. The Red Raiders have already beaten the Jayhawks in the Phog, but the league will likely be decided on Feb. 24 when Kansas comes to Lubbock.
Trouble at the top?
Villanova’s loss to St. Johns last Wednesday is one of the more surprising results of the season. That same night, Purdue was downed at home by Ohio State. The Boilers lost again Saturday at Michigan State. That same day, Virginia was beaten at home in overtime by Virginia Tech, who was outside of the tournament in our last projection. There has been an argument in recent years about there being no “elite” teams in college basketball. It’s recency bias. Everyone wants to compare every season to the 2015 Kentucky team whose only loss was in the Final Four. Don’t be fooled: ‘Nova, Virginia and Purdue are still the best teams in the country by a considerable margin. Every team is going to slip up. With these “wake-up” losses out of the way, it wouldn’t shock me to see each of them run the table the rest of the regular season.
Top seed rankings
7. West Virginia
Big 12: 5
Big East: 5
Big Ten: 3
West Coast: 1
Last Four In: Virginia Tech, USC, North Carolina State, Washington
First Four Out: Kansas State, Baylor, Marquette, Boise State
Dayton, Ohio (First Four games)
Regional semifinal/final locations
South: Atlanta (Philips Arena)
East: Boston (TD Garden)
Midwest: Omaha, Neb. (CenturyLink Center)
West: Los Angeles (Staples Center)
Final Four location
San Antonio (Alamodome)
Selection Sunday: March 11
First Four: March 13-14
Opening rounds: March 15-18
Regionals: March 22-25
Final Four: March 31, April 2
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