College Basketball Talk Bracketology: Arizona, Syracuse headline first bracket of the year

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The countdown to March Madness has officially arrived.  We begin the trek toward Selection Sunday with Arizona and Syracuse as the top two seeds in the opening bracket of 2014.  Joining the Wildcats and Orange on the top line … two teams from the Big Ten: Wisconsin and Michigan State.  Villanova and Ohio State are close behind.

If you’re new to bracket watching or are returning for the new year, a couple of quick housekeeping notes:

  • The NCAA Selection Committee implemented new bracketing procedures designed to keep more teams on their true seed line (from the seed list or s-curve).  If you want all the details, visit http://www.ncaa.com.  Today’s bracket is a fitting example.  In the South Region, Saint Louis is the No. 8 seed – which puts the Billikens in the same half of the bracket as Massachusetts, the No. 5 seed.  Both reside in the Atlantic 10 conference.  In previous years, Saint Louis would have had been bumped a seed line higher or lower – or moved out of its geographic region – to avoid two teams from the same conference (unless more than eight were selected) meeting before a Regional Final.   That bump would have affected more than Saint Louis, perhaps dropping another team from a seven seed to an eight.  The new configuration is allowable in part because SLU and UMass are scheduled to meet only once during the A10 regular season.  Without going into detail, you’ll also notice Florida and Tennessee engaged in a similar scenario.  If those two happened to meet in the SEC tourney (which would be their third meeting), the set-up in this bracket would not be possible.  But since we don’t know whether that will occur, it’s accurate for today.
  • Teams are selected and seeded based on their overall body of work (now and moving forward).  Just because Team A beat Teams B doesn’t necessarily mean Team A’s overall body of work – such as quality wins, strength of schedule – is superior to Team B’s.  Teams lose games.  If overall accomplishments weren’t considered, we would rank Belmont ahead of North Carolina and Northern Colorado ahead of Kansas State.  But that would not be an accurate way to assess either team’s overall performance.
  • It’s too early to be overly concerned about the bubble or cutline.  Conference play us just beginning.  Try not to overreact to a team being one of the last few in or first few out.  We have a long way to go.  Some teams currently in the bracket will miss the tournament and others will climb into the bracket come March.
  • Teams earn bids, not conferences.  Although it’s unlikely the Big 12 will earn seven bids on Selection Sunday, it worked out that way through games played on January 5.  Next week, it could be different.

College hoops is entering its annual March to Madness.  Enjoy the journey to Selection Sunday.

UPDATED: January 6, 2014

Teams in CAPS represent the projected AUTOMATIC bid based on current standings. Exceptions are made for teams that use an abbreviation (UCLA, BYU, etc). While conference play has begun, not all teams have yet played conference games. You may see a few “projected” champions that have not played a game, or that team remains favored to win the automatic bid at this point. We will adjust as the standings progress.

Several new bracketing principles were introduced after last year’s tournament. You can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Virginia vs. Texas | Midwest Region
  • Oklahoma vs. California | South Region
  • E. TENNESSEE ST vs. UNC-ASHEVILLE | Midwest Region
  • NO COLORADO vs. SOUTHERN | West Region

BRACKET PROJECTION:

WESTAnaheim EAST New York                            
San Diego Buffalo
1) ARIZONA 1) SYRACUSE
16) NO COLORADO / SOUTHERN 16) ALBANY
8) Florida State 8) Illinois
9) GONZAGA 9) Xavier
San Diego Orlando
5) LOUISVILLE 5) Memphis
12) UAB 12) TOLEDO
4) Kansas 4) Kentucky
13) UC-SANTA BARBARA 13) MANHATTAN
San Antonio Spokane
6) Michigan 6) Missouri
11) Notre Dame 11) HARVARD
3) WICHITA STATE 3) Oregon
14) BELMONT 14) NEW MEXICO ST
San Antonio Buffalo
7) New Mexico 7) Pittsburgh
10) Connecticut 10) Kansas State
2) BAYLOR 2) Ohio State
15) DREXEL 15) BOSTON UNIVERSITY
SOUTH – Memphis MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Milwaukee Milwaukee
1) MICHIGAN STATE 1) WISCONSIN
16) DAVIDSON 16) E. TENN ST / NC-ASHEVILLE
8) Saint Louis 8) UCLA
9) Georgetown 9) Dayton
Raleigh Spokane
5) MASSACHUSETTS 5) SAN DIEGO ST
12) Oklahoma / California 12) Virginia / Texas
4) Duke 4) Colorado
13) GREEN BAY 13) NORTH DAKOTA ST
St. Louis St. Louis
6) Iowa 6) North Carolina
11) Tennessee 11) Minnesota
3) Oklahoma State 3) Iowa State
14) S.F. AUSTIN 14) WESTERN KENTUCKY
Orlando Raleigh
7) Creighton 7) Cincinnati
10) VCU 10) Arkansas
2) FLORIDA 2) VILLANOVA
15) NC-CENTRAL 15) BRYANT

NOTES on the BRACKET: Arizona is the overall No. 1 seed followed by Syracuse, Wisconsin, and Michigan State.

Last Five teams in (at large): Tennessee, Virginia, California, Oklahoma, Texas

First Five teams out (at large): George Washington, LSU, Stanford, Boise State, Butler

Next five teams out (at large): SMU, Arizona State, Purdue, BYU, Saint Mary’s

Breakdown by Conference …

Big Ten (7): Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota

Big 12 (7): Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas

ACC (7): Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina, Florida State, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Virginia

Pac 12 (5): Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, UCLA, California

SEC (5): Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee

Atlantic 10 (4): Massachusetts, VCU, Saint Louis, Dayton

American (4): Louisville, Memphis, Connecticut, Cincinnati

Big East (4): Creighton, Georgetown, Villanova, Xavier

Mountain West (2): New Mexico, San Diego State

Missouri Valley (1): Wichita State

West Coast (1): Gonzaga

Conference Automatic Qualifiers … UAB (C-USA), Belmont (Ohio Valley), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), Boston University (Patriot), North Dakota State (Summit), Green Bay (Horizon), Davidson (Southern), New Mexico State (WAC), Manhattan (MAAC), Stephen F. Austin (Southland), Toledo (MAC), East Tennessee State (A-Sun), Harvard (IVY), UC-Santa Barbara (Big West), Drexel (Colonial), Albany (American East), Northern Colorado (Big Sky), NC-Central (MEAC), UNC-Asheville (Big South), Bryant (NEC), Southern (SWAC)

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

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Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.