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)

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.