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)

No. 23 Furman tops Charleston Southern 77-69, stays unbeaten

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — No. 23 Furman took another step in its remarkable early-season journey, one coach Bob Richey expects will benefit his team the rest of the way.

The perfect Paladins (11-0) used a late run to pull away from Charleston Southern for a 77-69 victory Tuesday night in their first-ever home game as a Top 25 team.

Richey felt the jitters of his young team before the game, the desire to show the home crowd their rise was legitimate.

“The fear of if we lose, does all this go away,” Richey said. “And I think that’s normal for a young player — ‘Man, we want to keep this going.'”

Noah Gurley scored 17 points, and Alex Hunter and Andrew Brown had 16 points apiece to lead Furman in a game where leading scorer Jordan Lyons had zero points.

“We’ve got to continue to keep our pulse on these players,” Richey said. “We’ve got to continue to help them out.”

So far, so good.

The Paladins have been one of college basketball’s biggest surprises with their school-record run to start the season — a stretch that included defeating defending national champs Villanova and a second Final Four team from last year in Loyola-Chicago.

It took a late charge to break away from the Buccaneers (4-5).

Charleston Southern trailed 54-52 on Dontrell Shuler’s layup with less than 10 minutes left. After that, the Paladins went on a 14-4 run. Tre Clark had four points during the surge and when Gurley nailed a 3-pointer with 5:51 to go, Furman was up 68-56.

Charleston Southern could not respond and college basketball’s feel-good story of the season remained on track.

Lyons, averaging 20.2 points a game, missed all seven of his shots.

Matt Rafferty had 14 points and 14 rebounds for Furman.

“We’ve got to stay even-keeled,” Hunter said. “That’s something we’ve been practicing every day.”

Deontaye Buskey and Duncan LeXander had 13 points each for Charleston Southern.

Buccaneers coach Barclay Radebaugh said his team made too many mistakes to hang in at the end.

“You can’t do that against a team like Furman,” he said.

Furman, which joined the AP Top 25 last week for the first time in school history, had to wait another week — and make it through road wins at Elon and South Carolina Upstate — before it could celebrate its achievement on its home court. And it looked like the Paladins would have plenty to cheer about after they used a 17-8 run midway through the opening period to build a 26-18 lead.

But Furman went cold after that, missing seven straight shots as the Buccaneers of the Big South Conference tightened things up.

BIG PICTURE

Charleston Southern: The Buccaneers are nearing the end of a brutal opening stretch with seven of their first 11 games on the road. Those have included losses at Florida, Middle Tennessee and Marquette. Charleston Southern’s run ends with games at North Florida and Clemson in the next week. Radebaugh hopes the time away from home toughens the Bucs for Big South play.

Furman: The Paladins looked edgy in their first home appearance as a ranked team. They looked ready to take charge with a 51-42 lead before helping Charleston Southern’s comeback with four straight turnovers. Furman probably won’t win many games where Lyons struggles as he did against the Bucs.

STREAKING PALADINS

Furman is off to its most consecutive wins since winning 11 in a row in 1979. That’s back when the Paladins were one of the Palmetto State’s most successful teams, going to six NCAA Tournaments between 1971 and 1980. Furman has not played in the tournament since then.

RICHEY’S START

Richey was grateful to Radebaugh, who hired Richey as a 23-year-old and gradually gave him control of the Bucs’ offense. “Without Barclay, I wouldn’t be here today,” Richey said.

UP NEXT

Charleston Southern is at North Florida on Saturday.

Furman finishes a two-game homestand by hosting UNC Wilmington on Saturday.

Penn ends No. 17 Villanova’s 25-game Big 5 winning streak with 78-75 victory

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Villanova’s 25-game Big 5 winning streak is over.

The 17th-ranked Wildcats fell to Penn, 78-75, at the Palestra on Tuesday to see its undefeated run among its Philadelphia counterparts come to an end after six years.

It’s also an end to the six-game winning streak coach Jay Wright’s team has enjoyed since losing back-to-back games to Michigan and Furman last month.

Issues persisted on the defensive end for the Wildcats as they fell on a night they shot 50 percent from the floor and 34.6 percent from 3-point range. The Quakers bested that by converting 51.1 percent of their shots overall and 43.8 percent of their 16 attempts from distance.

Villanova had put some distance between itself and the shellacking it took courtesy of Michigan and the OT lost to Furman, but it continues to be clear that while still a top-25 caliber team, Wright’s squad this year looks to be well short of the teams that celebrated national championships in 2016 and 2018. Eric Paschall was expected to step into the void from losing so many players to the NBA off last year’s title-winner, but he took just five shots against Penn and has been generally inconsistent all season. Five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly can’t even got on the floor. That leaves Collin Gillespie and Phil Booth, who combined for 39 points Tuesday, carrying a bigger burden than would be ideal.

The Wildcats are likely ultimately going to be fine – they lost to a good team Tuesday – but unless they can get more from especially Paschall it’s hard to see them elevating themselves to a Final Four contender.

That’s the weight of expectation after two titles in three years.

We knew the Big East championship wasn’t going to be Villanova’s to simply waltz to, but the top-half of the league continues to look incredibly tightly grouped together without mich separation.

Penn, meanwhile, looks a real threat in the Ivy, as was evident in the Quakers’ win over Miami last week. The win over Villanova only solidifies their status.

AJ Brodeur and Antonio Woods both scored 16 points against the ‘Cats as Penn led by as many as 12 points on the night, but still had to survive a Booth attempt from 3 at the buzzer to finally end Villanova’s supremacy over Big 5 hoops.

Iowa State could get Lindell Wigginton and Solomon Young back this weekend

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It’s been sort of a bizarre start to the season for Iowa State. For starters, the Cyclones enter the season not coming off an NCAA tournament appearance for the first time since 2011 after a 14-18 campaign last season snapped a program-record six-straight tourney streak. Coach Steve Prohm then suspended two players, including preseason all-Big 12 honorable mention center Cameron Lard, for the month of November for rules violations. The Cyclones also lost starting big man Solomon Young to a groin injury and then star guard Lindell Wigginton to a sprained foot.

Despite all that, Iowa State started the season 7-1 (including two wins at the Maui Invitational) before a loss at rival Iowa last week.

Now with an 8-2 record and having not only survived November but largely thrived with a reduced roster, the Cyclones are nearing full strength.

Wigginton, who averaged 17 points and shot 40 percent from 3 as a freshman, and Young, a two-year starter, could return as soon as Saturday and almost assuredly before the Cyclones’ Big 12 opener against Oklahoma State on Jan. 2.

“It’s where we thought it would be the whole time,” Prohm said of the duo’s timeline Monday, according to the Ames Tribune. “When we do halfcourt live segments Wednesday, if everything stays status quo the way it is right now, they’ll be able to go in the halfcourt.

“Not up and down, but they’ll go live contact in the halfcourt, and then evaluate them from there. Whether they suit up or not on Saturday, I couldn’t give you an answer on that right now.”

Prohm said both players could be in uniform against Drake on Saturday, but would not necessarily be available for big minutes, if at all. Wigginton, who went through the NBA pre-draft process last spring before announcing his return the day of the NCAA deadline, is expected to nearly immediately return to a major role.

Young, though, will be an interesting case. The Cyclones’ frontcourt is a crowded one with Prohm seemingly committed to playing four guards extensively and current starter Michael Jacobson, a Nebraska transfer, averaging a surprising 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 62.4 percent from the floor. With Jacobson, Lard and Young all soon available, Prohm will have a juggling act for minutes or reconfigure his lineup to play big, with the former seeming more likely than the latter.

Mark Few: NCAA prez Mark Emmert ‘needs to step up and be a leader and make some quicker decisions’

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Count Mark Few as one looking for the NCAA to shorten its timeline when it comes to potential discipline for schools ensnared by the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball.

The Gonzaga coach is also calling out NCAA president Mark Emmert by name in his plea to speed things along and make teams who may have violated NCAA rules accountable.

“I’m disappointed. I don’t think this is something the NCAA needs to take their time on,” Few said, according to Yahoo Sports. “There’s teams out here who are competing for Final Fours and national championships and they don’t need to stall this thing out.

“They need to make decisions and roll with it. I think that’s on Emmert. Emmert needs to step up and be a leader and make some quicker decisions.”

Emmert said last week that schools who were implicated by the FBI’s investigation, including by information that was made public in October’s court proceedings that involved three guilty verdicts, would not face potential punishment until after this season with the NCAA investigation extending beyond the Final Four.

New NCAA rules allow it to use testimony and evidence presented in those trials, but how the NCAA will apply those rules – will it simply accept anything mentioned under oath? – remains unclear. The NCAA, though, has committed to handle things methodically, as it so often does to the frustration of many a coach. It’s not exactly surprising, though, that the NCAA is in no hurry to drop sanctions on prominent schools – programs like Kansas, Auburn, Creighton, LSU, Louisville and Miami – in the middle of a season. Such a move would dominate discussion of the sport and upend seasons in an unprecedented manner. Intraseason discipline, especially something like a postseason ban, against some of the country’s top programs would be almost guaranteed to invite ugly legal challenges.

It’s not exactly a courageous rationale, but it is pragmatic. It also is the least likely to affect the bottom line, which is usually the best spot to place your bet when trying to determine the NCAA’s course of action.

Providence guard to miss at least a month with foot injury

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Rough news for Providence on Tuesday morning, as the school announced that freshman guard A.J. Reeves will miss the next four-to-six weeks with an unspecified foot injury.

Reeves, a native of Roxbury, Ma., has averaged 14.2 points this season while shooting 45 percent from three. He’s been the best freshman in the Big East and one of the best weapons for a talented Friar team that has yet to truly figure themselves out.

“It’s unfortunate that A.J. has to go through this as he has been having a very productive start to his college career,” head coach Ed Cooley said. “However, he is a great person and will use this time to get better and he will continue to support the team.”