Bracketology: Michigan continues to climb, and the SEC bubble

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Fresh off a victory in East Lansing, the Michigan Wolverines continue to climb the seed list (s-curve). Entering action this week, the Wolverines own the top spot in the Big Ten and are building an impressive overall profile. Michigan has not lost since December 14 – a two-point setback to top-ranked Arizona in Ann Arbor. During their current surge, the Wolverines have won four conference road games – including trips through The Barn in Minnesota, the Kohl Center in Wisconsin, and the Breslin Center this past Saturday. The streak also included a victory over Iowa.

What about the Spartans? Michigan State remains a top-seed in today’s bracket. While much credit is due Michigan for leaving the Breslin Center with a victory, MSU played without two of its starters. They were also without significant contributors during a loss to North Carolina – the only two setbacks on the Spartans’ resume. Nothing else new on the top line. Arizona (West), Syracuse (East), and Kansas (South) remain entrenched in those spots. Florida and Wichita State are next in line.

Then there’s the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Which teams – beyond Florida and Kentucky – will make the 2014 NCAA Tournament? It’s been a somewhat recurrent question the past couple of years. Based on the s-curve used for today’s bracket … Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee are all close to or on the bubble – with the Razorbacks and Volunteers being members of the First Four. Just outside the bracket, we find Ole Miss and LSU. Will we see a repeat of last year when only three SEC teams heard their names on Selection Sunday? The answer depends on how well the above mentioned bubble teams play over the next month.

Next week, college hoops moves center stage. The Super Bowl will be over and the brackets will begin grabbing headlines.

BRACKET UPDATE: January 28, 2014

Teams in CAPS represent the projected AUTOMATIC bid based on current standings with RPI as a tiebreaker for teams with the same number of losses. Exceptions are made for teams that use an abbreviation (UCLA, BYU, etc).

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)

  • Stanford vs. ArkansasWest Region
  • SMU vs. Tennessee East Region


WEST – Anaheim                         EAST New York
San Diego Buffalo
8) Minnesota 8) GONZAGA
9) New Mexico 9) Providence
San Diego Raleigh
5) Oklahoma 5) Massachusetts
12) SOUTHERN MISS 12) SMU / Tennessee
Spokane San Antonio
6) SAINT LOUIS 6) Connecticut
11) Stanford / Arkansas 11) Oregon
3) SAN DIEGO STATE 3) Oklahoma State
Milwaukee Buffalo
7) Kansas State 7) Ohio State
10) North Carolina 10) Florida State
2) MICHIGAN 2) Villanova
MIDWEST – Indianapolis SOUTH – Memphis
Milwaukee St. Louis
1) Michigan State 1) KANSAS
8) Xavier 8) UCLA
9) California 9) Geo Washington
Spokane Raleigh
5) CREIGHTON 5) Louisville
4) Kentucky 4) Duke
San Antonio Orlando
6) Memphis 6) Pittsburgh
11) Missouri 11) Baylor
3) Iowa State 3) Wisconsin
St. Louis Orlando
7) Virginia 7) Texas
10) Colorado 10) VCU

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

Last Five teams in (at large): Oregon, Stanford, Arkansas, SMU, Tennessee

First Five teams out (at large): Richmond, Louisiana Tech, Saint Mary’s, Ole Miss, Wake Forest

Next five teams out (at large): Dayton, Indiana State, LSU, Arizona State, NC State

Breakdown by Conference …

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

Big Ten (6): Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota

Pac 12 (6): Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, UCLA, California, Stanford

ACC (6): Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina, Florida State, Pittsburgh, Virginia

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

American (5): Louisville, Memphis, Connecticut, Cincinnati, SMU

Atlantic 10 (4): Massachusetts, VCU, Saint Louis, Geo Washington

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

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

West Coast (1): Gonzaga

Missouri Valley (1): Wichita State

Conference Automatic Qualifiers … Southern Miss (C-USA), Belmont (Ohio Valley), Georgia State (Sun Belt), American (Patriot), IPFW (Summit), Green Bay (Horizon), Chattanooga (Southern), Utah Valley (WAC), Canisius (MAAC), Stephen F. Austin (Southland), Toledo (MAC), Mercer (A-Sun), Harvard (IVY), UC-Irvine (Big West), Delaware (Colonial), Stony Brook (American East), Northern Colorado (Big Sky), NC-Central (MEAC), UNC-Asheville (Big South), Robert Morris (NEC), Southern (SWAC)

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.