College basketball bracketology: The Bracketeur’s first NCAA Tournament of the new year
Welcome back to DieHards’ foray into the world of college basketball bracketology. Periodically throughout the regular season, and weekly beginning in February, 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
Does anyone want a No. 1 seed?
Since Dec. 30, teams that have been ranked in the AP top 12 has lost 16 games. Three of those losses are by our previous top seed Arizona State, 2 of those losses were by a team ranked No. 1 (Villanova lost to Butler and Michigan State was blown out by Ohio State). No. 2 Duke was tripped up by N.C. State, its second conference loss on the year. In that same time span, No. 3 West Virginia emerged with a 3-point home win over Baylor after trailing most of the game, Michigan State needed overtime to beat Big Ten cellar dweller Rutgers and No. 5 Purdue escaped Ann Arbor with a narrow 1-point win over Michigan. The reality is that there may not be any truly elite teams in the country this season, and that the gap separating the good teams from the great teams is smaller than ever. Conference play will continue to give us countless nail-biters and teams will scrap and claw for league supremacy. At this point, it’s not unreasonable to say that as many as 15 or 16 teams are still in contention for a top spot. The field is that deep this year.
It’s good to be a “Virginia”
West Virginia (15-1) owns the nation’s longest winning streak, not having lost since its opening game on Nov. 30 to Texas A&M in Germany. Senior guard Jevon Carter is a legit player of the year candidate, and Bob Huggins’ press is as good as ever as the Mountaineers rank second in the nation in forced turnovers at 20.3 per game. Meanwhile, just one state over, Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad also sits at 15-1, with its only setback being at, you guessed it, West Virginia. The Wahoos lead the nation in scoring defense, only allowing 53 points per contest, and are third in defensive efficiency. That’s Virginia’s MO, and has been for several years. It remains to be seen whether that will translate to something more than a trip to the Sweet 16. But right now, these two teams may be starting to separate themselves, if only slightly, from their conference counterparts.
Keep an eye on Ohio State
Potentially the biggest riser of any team in the field may be Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes. They were one of the Last 4 in our last projections and have risen all the way to a No. 8 seed in this version of bracketology. Though they sit at 14-4 on the year, they have won nine out of their last 10 games, with the only blemish being a neutral-site loss to North Carolina. Their only losses are to ranked teams, and they are unbeaten in conference play with winning margins of 25 over Wisconsin, 9 over Michigan, 11 over Iowa, 22 over Maryland, and the aforementioned 16-point win over then-No. 1 Michigan State. Keita Bates-Diop has emerged as the leading Big Ten player of the year candidate, and the sharpshooting Buckeyes are showing no signs of slowing down. It’s a huge departure from the team that finished 17-15 last season and led to the firing of longtime coach Thad Matta.
Top seed rankings
2. West Virginia
5. Michigan State
Big 12: 5
Big East: 5
Big Ten: 5
West Coast: 1
Last Four In: Houston, Minnesota, Maryland, Marquette
First Four Out: Georgia, Boise State, Alabama, USC
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)