Bracketology: Syracuse leads No. 1 seed contenders

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The bubble is much like a recent weather forecast for the Midwest or East Coast: unpredictable and generally less than welcoming.  So instead of debating the final few teams IN our OUT in today’s bracket, let’s look at the No. 1 seed contenders.  We have just over a month until Selection Sunday.

Syracuse, Arizona, Kansas, and Florida retain No. 1 seeds (same as Monday).  Syracuse is in the strongest position to hold its post – although road trips through Pittsburgh, Duke, and Virginia remain.  Arizona’s biggest question isn’t RPI numbers or quality wins, it’s a notable injury: how will the Wildcats play without Brandon Ashley?  He’s out for the season with a foot injury.  The Selection Committee will be watching how Arizona responds.  Kansas owns the top spot in the RPI and has played the nation’s top-rated schedule.  Will that offset five (or more) losses?  If the Jayhawks claim an outright Big 12 title and win the Big 12 tournament, history would suggest that, yes, KU would be a top seed given its profile.  Florida’s biggest advantage – and disadvantage – is its schedule.  Once again, the SEC isn’t particularly deep. With Missouri and Tennessee hovering around the bubble, Kentucky is the Gators’ top resume-builder.  That said, Florida is among the most talented teams in the nation when healthy.  It’s conceivable the Gators could enter the SEC Tournament with a record of 29-3.  That would be hard to ignore.

Here are some other contenders:

  • Michigan State – if the Spartans heal up and win the Big Ten, they will push for the top line.  Keep in mind, MSU has not lost a game when playing at full strength.
  • Wichita State – after winning at Indiana State, the Shockers will be favored to enter the Missouri Valley Tournament with a perfect record.  Although the MVC isn’t as strong as it’s been in recent years, one could easily argue that WSU has earned a No. 1 seed.
  • Villanova – the Wildcats are in the chase but may need help.  The new-look Big East doesn’t carry the same fortitude.  Other than a trip to Creighton, there’s not a truly high profile game left on Nova’s schedule.
  • San Diego State – Victories over Kansas and Creighton highlight a strong profile.  But much like the issues facing Villanova, is the Mountain West strong enough to carry the Aztecs to the top of the bracket?
  • Michigan – the Wolverines are right there with Michigan State in the battle for the Big 10 title.  An outright crown and trip to the Big 10 tourney title game would certainly place UM squarely in the No. 1 seed debate – depending on how the season plays out. If there’s a ding on the resume, it’s a couple of early losses when the team was still learning to play without Trey Burke.
  • Duke – it’s never wise to count out the Blue Devils. They will need some help, but a fair number of quality wins remain in the ACC.
  • Cincinnati – reaching the top line is probably a long shot for the Bearcats. But a two or three seed is there for the taking.  With some help, however, we could be looking at UC more closely a month from now.
  • Creighton – The Bluejays have a great win at Villanova.  Will that be enough to carry them?  The odds are against it.  Creighton played a good, but not great non-conference schedule, and some of the top competition on that schedule hasn’t performed as expected (Marquette, St. John’s, for example).  Of course, Creighton could win out and end the regular season 27-3.  That would turn a few heads.

UPDATED: February 7, 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)

  • BYU vs. Arizona State | West Region
  • SMU vs. Georgetown | East Region
  • SOUTHERN vs. HIGH POINT | East Region
  • ROBERT MORRIS vs. CHATTANOOGA | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EASTNew York                          WEST Anaheim
Buffalo San Diego
1) SYRACUSE 1) ARIZONA
16) SOUTHERN / HIGH POINT 16) UTAH VALLEY
8) VCU 8) Memphis
9) Xavier 9) Kansas State
San Diego Spokane
5) Oklahoma 5) Wisconsin
12) SMU / Georgetown 12) BYU / Arizona State
4) Kentucky 4) Iowa State
13) CANISIUS 13) MERCER
Milwaukee San Antonio
6) Louisville 6) Iowa
11) Tennessee 11) Missouri
3) MICHIGAN 3) CREIGHTON
14) BELMONT 14) UC-SANTA BARBARA
Buffalo San Antonio
7) Massachusetts 7) Connecticut
10) California 10) Florida State
2) Villanova 2) SAN DIEGO STATE
15) STONY BROOK 15) NC-CENTRAL
SOUTH – Memphis MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Orlando St. Louis
1) FLORIDA 1) KANSAS
16) WEBER STATE 16) CHATTANOOGA / ROB MORRIS
8) North Carolina 8) UCLA
9) Stanford 9) George Washington
Spokane Orlando
5) Texas 5) Ohio State
12) GREEN BAY 12) HARVARD
4) SAINT LOUIS 4) Virginia
13) DELAWARE 13) TOLEDO
Raleigh Raleigh
6) Oklahoma State 6) GONZAGA
11) Providence 11) SOUTHERN MISS
3) Duke 3) CINCINNATI
14) S.F. AUSTIN 14) GEORGIA STATE
St. Louis Milwaukee
7) New Mexico 7) Pittsburgh
10) Minnesota 10) Colorado
2) WICHITA STATE 2) Michigan State
15) AMERICAN 15) IPFW

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

Last Five teams in (at large): Tennessee, Arizona State, SMU, Georgetown, BYU

First Five teams out (at large): LSU, Oregon, Indiana, Clemson, Richmond

Next five teams out (at large): Dayton, Ole Miss, Baylor, Louisiana Tech, Saint Mary’s

Breakdown by Conference …

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

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

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

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

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

Big East (5): Creighton, Villanova, Xavier, Providence, Georgetown

SEC (4): Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, Tennessee

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

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

West Coast (2): Gonzaga, BYU

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-Santa Barbara (Big West), Delaware (Colonial), Stony Brook (American East), Weber State (Big Sky), NC-Central (MEAC), UNC-Asheville (Big South), Robert Morris (NEC), Southern (SWAC)

Indiana hires Dayton head coach Archie Miller

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Indiana is expected to hire Dayton head coach Archie Miller, the school announced.

The deal will be for seven years, according to The Vertical. Miller had spent the last six seasons as the head coach at Dayton, getting to four straight NCAA tournaments, including the Elite 8 in 2014, while winning the last two Atlantic 10 regular season titles.

Miller had been targeted by seemingly every high major program with an opening since he reached the Elite 8, but similar to Shaka Smart when he left VCU, Miller simply waited for the right job to come long.

Indiana is the right job.

There had been some speculation that Miller wouldn’t want to take Indiana, that his dream job is Ohio State and that the idea of coaching in a fishbowl like Bloomington is not something that would be all that appealing to him. But Indiana is an elite job. It’s the kind of opening that happens once every four or five years, and if Miller had said no to the Hoosiers now, it’s very possible that an opportunity like this wouldn’t come along for years, if ever.

Elite 8 Preview: Saturday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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So Friday got good.

If Zak Showalter’s game-tying three and subsequent discount double-check wasn’t enough, we had Canyon Barry’s chasedown block and, well, this game-winner from Chris Chiozza.

And all that came after De’Aaron Fox took out what felt like a season’s worth of frustration out on Lonzo Ball.

What is on tap for tonight?

No. 1 GONZAGA (-8) vs. No. 11 XAVIER, 6:09 p.m., TBS: Someone is going to be making their way to the Final Four for the first time on Saturday night, as Xavier’s Chris Mack and Gonzaga’s Mark Few square off for the right to play on the final weekend of the season.

And in a way, this is the perfect Final Four game. Both the Zags and the Musketeers are basketball schools in basketball leagues. They come from outside the power structure and have head coaches that have spurned jobs from within the power structure to remain there. They are built for a run like this, even if they were both overlooked on the way here.

Xavier was obvious. Playing without Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis, the Musketeers just haven’t been the team that they were supposed to be this season. That’s why they lost six straight games in February, but things have turned around in March, as Trevon Bluiett has put the program on his back and willed them to the Elite 8. Gonzaga is the opposite. They went 29-0 to start the season, but they have yet to be accepted as a legitimate title contender by most of the people that watch the games.

My guess on Saturday night is that the Zags make their statement and emphatically get into the Final Four.

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-8)

No. 1 KANSAS (-7) vs.  No. 3 OREGON, 8:49 p.m., TBS: This matchup is a lot tastier on paper than it is likely going to end up being on the floor. As good as Oregon has been this season, they are, essentially, Kansas light. They play two lead guards together and they play small-ball, with a natural wing lined up at the four.

The problem?

The Kansas guys are just better. Josh Jackson is a better player than Dillon Brooks. His length and athleticism should give the Oregon star fits. Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are better than whatever combination of Payton Pritchard, Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis the Ducks opt to use.

And, for that matter, no team is playing better right now that they Jayhawks, who beat Michigan State by 20, Purdue by 32 and became the first team to score 90 points in their first three NCAA tournament games since 1995. I think that trend continues on Saturday night.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-7)

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.