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)

Four-star forward commits to Ohio State

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Ohio State is on the board with regards to the 2018 recruiting class, as Chris Holtmann’s program received a much-needed verbal commitment from four-star forward Jaedon LeDee. The 6-foot-9 Houston native announced his decision via his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon.

In receiving a verbal commitment from LeDee, Ohio State beat out California, Houston, Iowa State, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and UCLA. The Buckeyes hosted LeDee for his official visit the weekend of September 9, which coincided with the football team’s matchup with Oklahoma. Originally scheduled to visit Cal this past weekend, LeDee instead visited Texas A&M.

With LeDee’s commitment to Ohio State, visits to LSU (September 30) and UCLA (October 6) are likely off the board.

Currently attending the Kincaid School, LeDee played for the Texas PRO grassroots program on the adidas Uprising circuit this summer. The four-star prospect will likely be a combo forward for Ohio State, playing either the three or the four depending on the matchup.

With Jae’Sean Tate beginning his senior season and Keita Bates-Diop being a redshirt junior, Ohio State had a need to address in the front court. In landing a verbal pledge from Jaedon LeDee, the Buckeyes have done just that.

Among the front court players who will have eligibility remaining beyond the 2017-18 season are Bates-Diop, current sophomores Micah Potter and Andre Wesson, and freshmen Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young.

The Pac-12 is foolish for scheduling Arizona-UCLA once during the regular season

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Last month, I wrote about one of the more troubling trends in college basketball: Teams steering away from playing the games that fans are going to care about the most.

It was the result of Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing stating publicly that he was “not thinking about Maryland” after the rivalry between the DMV’s two most well-known programs went by the wayside.

Ewing isn’t the only coach that is culpable here. Kansas and Missouri don’t play. Kansas and Wichita State don’t play, either. Duke and Maryland don’t play. Ohio State doesn’t play Cincinnati, Xavier or Dayton. It goes on and on.

But the blame can no longer only be given to the coaches that schedule to protect themselves and/or their program.

The conferences deserve some criticism as well. Take, for instance, the Pac-12, who released their schedule recently after deciding that Arizona, a contender for the preseason No. 1 team in the country, should only play UCLA and USC, the only two teams that have a realistic chance of upending the Wildcats for the Pac-12 crown, once apiece.

Not only that, but the games will be played in Tucson, an incredible advantage for Sean Miller’s club as they pursue the league’s regular season title.

Look, I get it. There are 12 teams in the league and there is an 18-game schedule. Each team in the league is going to play four of their 11 league foes just once. It’s simple math. But the answer should never, ever be to schedule the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once.

The reasoning is simple: Arizona and UCLA are the two biggest brands in the league. When they play it will draw more interest than when any other two teams in the conference play, and that’s something the conference should be trying to capitalize on. It takes a lot to convince anyone on the east coast to stay up to watch a Pac-12 basketball game. I cover this sport for a living and I have a hard time making it all the way through a 10 p.m. ET tip. When a two-year old is going to be screaming at me to make breakfast at 6:30 a.m., do I really want to stay up to watch Arizona blow out Washington or UCLA to beat up on Cal?

The Pac-12 should do everything they can to ensure that Arizona and UCLA play twice every season.

That is even more true this year. Arizona might be the best team in the country and they might have the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on their roster in Deandre Ayton. UCLA is a top 15 team that just so happens to have Liangelo Ball, the worst of the three Ball brothers and potentially the last one to matriculate through the college ranks. The seemingly inevitable LaVar Ball blow-up is something we all will be watching patiently to see.

Should I mention the simmering hatred between Sean Miller and Steve Alford as they continually compete for the best prospects on the west coast?

And that’s before you factor in that USC is the second-best team in the league, and anyone that UCLA plays twice, USC will also play twice.

I’ll be sure to watch a number of Oregon games this season, and I think that Stanford, Oregon State and Colorado all have the pieces to sneak up on some people this year. I’ll be sure to check in on them a couple times as well.

But the games that I’ll have circled on my calendar, the games I’ll be excited about watching, are between Arizona, UCLA and USC.

By scheduling the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once during the regular season, the Pac-12 cost themselves a third of that inventory.

That doesn’t seems like the smartest way to run a business conference.

But hey, if conference realignment and the development of conference-only networks taught us anything, it’s that major college athletics are all about competitive balance over those advertising dollars.

Vanderbilt lands commitment from Aaron Nesmith

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Vanderbilt landed their first commitment in the Class of 2018 with four-star wing Aaron Nesmith.

Nesmith is a native of South Carolina, and the Commodores beat out South Carolina for his services. At 6-foot-6, Nesmith is the kind of defensive presence and athlete that Vandy will need to replace Jeff Roberson, who will be graduating this season.

This is a critical class for Bryce Drew, who is squarely in the mix for five-star guards Darius Garland and Romeo Langford. Nesmith isn’t on that level, but he will be a nice piece for Vandy for four years.

Svi Mykhailiuk drops 20 pounds, makes weird Kansas roster even weirder

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Kansas is a weird team this season.

They’re talented, they’re probably going to win the Big 12 again and I fully expect them to be in the national title picture come March, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re … weird.

25 percent of their scholarship players are transfers sitting out the year. That doesn’t include Sam Cunliffe, who won’t be eligible until December. So that’s unusual, as is the fact that Bill Self, a coach that had steadfastly remained dedicated to playing two big men together despite the gradual shift to small-ball, has three big men on his roster in total.

One of those three is Mitch Lightfoot, which means that there are just two big men on the roster that a potential Final Four team should feel comfortable having as a major part of their rotation. That would be sophomore Udoka Azubuike and freshman Billy Preston.

That makes it seem pretty clear that the Jayhawks will be going with another small-ball look, just as they did last season, right? But they don’t really have a piece to replace Josh Jackson, who was a perfect fit as a college four in a small-ball lineup. He was a natural wing that was athletic enough to block shots and tough enough to battle bigs on the glass.

So who plays that role this season?

Some thought it could be Svi Mykhailiuk, the 20-year old Ukranian senior, but he’s never really been that guy. Oh, and he just so happened to lose 20 pounds this offseason.

“I’m trying to stay light-weight this year, so it’s going to help me a lot,” Mykhailiuk told the Kansas City Star. “I feel like I’m faster with the light weight. I’m more athletic. It just helps me overall in the game.”

Which means … what, exactly?

Losing 20 pounds isn’t exactly going to help a player that has some question marks about his toughness and physicality battle with college fours in the paint. Does it mean he’ll be playing more on the wing? If so, who plays at the four? Will LaGerald Vick — all six feet, five inches and 175 pounds — be playing in the Josh Jackson role?

Or is Self going to use Preston as his new Perry Ellis, hoping that this five-star freshman becomes what his last five-star four-man — Carlton Bragg — never could?

My guess is that it will likely end up being all of the above, depending on matchups.

But it doesn’t make the Jayhawks’ weird roster any clearer.

Four-star forward commits to Wake Forest

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Danny Manning added another four-star recruit to his 2018 recruiting class.

Isaiah Mucius, a 6-foot-7 forward, committed to Wake Forest on Monday evening, giving the Demon Deacons another top-rated prospect alongside top-25 prospect Jaylen Hoard in 2018.

“I’d like to thank my family and my friends for having my back throughout all the tough times and good times,” Mucius said in a social media post. “I’d like to thank all the college coaches that recruited me through this process and believed in me and my talents.

“I’ll be attending Wake Forest University.”

Mucius, a consensus top-100 recruit, visited Wake Forest, which he visited this past weekend, over Xavier, which he visited earlier this month. The Brewster Academy product also had offers from the likes of Connecticut, Minnesota and LSU, among others.

Manning’s 2018 class now includes Mucius, three-star guard Sharone White and Hoard, a 6-foot-8 four-star forward who committed to the Demon Deacons last month.

“I am trying to win an NCAA Championship,” Mucius told Scout.com, “and I think having Jaylen (Hoard) on the wing with me, and we are trying to help get a point guard, and I think we can win a championship.”