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   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. 2 Duke goes inside to defeat No. 11 Syracuse

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OMAHA, Neb. — Second-seeded Duke made just 5 of its 26 3-point attempts against No. 11 Syracuse on Friday in the two ACC programs’ Sweet 16 matchup.

So the Blue Devils just went inside.

Marvin Bagley III and Wendel Carter, Jr. both had big games to help the Blue Devils outlast the Orange, 69-65, to put themselves in the Elite Eight on Sunday against top-seeded Kansas.

While Duke couldn’t beat the zone that took Syracuse from the First Four to the second weekend with its outside shooting, its two big underclassmen provided plenty of production. Bagley had 22 points and eight rebounds while Carter added 14 points and 12 boards.

Tyus Battle had 19 points to lead the Orange.

Syracuse shot 53.8 percent from the floor in the second half while Duke shot 36.4 percent, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Orange’s 16 turnovers or Duke’s 17 second-chance points.

Grayson Allen had 15 points and eight assists for Duke. The Blue Devils had 32 points in the paint.


VIDEO: Allen-to-Bagley oop beats the Syracuse zone

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Usually, you’ve got to shoot a team out of a zone.

Duke might be able to dunk Syracuse out of it.

Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley connected for a beautiful alley-oop Friday in the second half of the Blue Devils’ Sweet 16 contest against the Orange.

That will work as a zone-buster.

VIDEO: Duke slaps the floor on defense…while playing zone

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Slapping the floor on defense has its advocates and its detractors.

Some applaud the old-school, hard-nosed nature of putting hand to floor. For others, its a bit corny.

What everyone agrees on is that you don’t drop a floor slap if you’re playing zone.

Unless you’re Duke, apparently.

Presumably, the whole point of slapping the floor is to psyche yourself and intimidate your opponent with aggressive man-to-man defense. Not sit-back-and-guard-this-spot-whether-there’s-a-guy-there-or-not defense.

C’mon, Duke. You’re making it too easy for your haters.


Late run sparks Villanova past West Virginia, into Elite Eight

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BOSTON — It is always just a matter of time before the avalanche comes.

And when it does, you better hope that lead you have is big enough to withstand what’s coming.

For No. 5-seed West Virginia, it was not. With 11 minutes left on Friday night in Boston’s TD Garden, the Mountaineers led 60-54 and had seemingly wrestled control of the game from the No. 1-seed in the East Region. Less than five minutes later, after the Wildcats hit four of their next five threes, Villanova had taken a 76-66 lead by going on a 22-6 run, and West Virginia was never able to recover.

Jalen Brunson led the way for the top-seeded Wildcats with 27 points and four assists while Omari Spellman finished with 18 points, eight boards and three blocks and Mikal Bridges chipped in with 16 points despite playing relatively poorly — by his standards — on Friday.

With a 90-78 win, Villanova advanced to the Elite Eight and a date with the winner of tonight’s game No. 2 Purdue-No. 3 Texas Tech.

That’s the way that it works with this Villanova team. Armed with the most potent, high-volume three-point shooting attack in college basketball — maybe in the history of college basketball — fans of their opponents are just waiting for the inevitable.

On Friday night, Villanova shot 13-for-24 from three, which is damned-impressive and exactly what we expect at the same time.

But what changed the game was that 22-6 run that eventually turned into a 29-11 surge.

And it all started with a free throw.

Brunson drew a foul on Lamont West — a common theme for the Wildcats in the second half — and got to the foul line with 10:58 left on the clock. After he missed the second free throw, Spellman knocked the rebound out of bounds off of Esa Ahmad. Brunson against drew a foul, this time earning an and-one. A missed jumper from Beetle Bolden led to two Eric Paschall free throws before Jalen Brunson someone managed to find Mikal Bridges for a three that gave the Wildcats the lead and led to what might have been the most important sequence of the game.

Spellman spiked a Bolden shot straight down into the floor and then corralled the loose ball. He found Phil Booth with an outlet, and after a missed layup, Spellman beat everyone else down the floor for a massive tip-dunk that set off the Villanova-favored crowd:

“We expect that of him,” Brunson said of Spellman. “He’s supposed to play at a high level every game.”

After that stretch, Villanova threw it into cruise control. That West Virginia defense that had bothered them so much for the first 30 minutes of the game seemed to be nothing more than a mild annoyance, a little brother batting at the ball as the Wildcats pulled away. First it was Donte Divincenzo — who was flat-out bad, the player that was most-victimized by West Virginia’s pressure — hitting a three to push the lead to six. Then after two West Virginia free throws, Brunson dribbled Jevon Carter into the post before kicking the ball out to Spellman for a three. Paschall would dunk on Sagaba Konate the next time the Wildcats had the ball before Brunson capped the run by drilling a step-back three in the face of Carter.

Once that happened, everyone knew the end result was inevitable.

“We got used to the physicality, we got used to the aggressiveness, and we were executing better,” head coach Jay Wright said. “We thought that was going to be the case. You just can’t simulate that, you know. You got to just get in that game and feel it.”

“I have so much respect for the way West Virginia plays, how physical, how relentless they play, how mentally tough they are. Really, you’ve got guys, they don’t talk any junk. A little with Konate and Omari got into it a little bit, no biggie, but the whole game, they don’t say anything. They just come at you physically, aggressively, and mentally tough. So if you’re not better in those areas, they’re going to get you. And to see our guys come out, more to be able to compete with them physically and mentally, it was really impressive to me.”

Me, too.

VIDEO: Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall with mammoth dunks for Villanova

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Villanova took the lead on West Virginia and turned the tide of momentum with a pair of emphatic dunks in transition.

It started with Omari Spellman, who had an unbelievable sequence, spiking a shot into the floor before throwing down a put-back dunk all over a defender:

A couple of possessions later, Eric Paschall finally did the impossible.

He dunked on Sagaba Konate:

I am having way too much fun at this game.