LOUISVILLE (BM average: 2.0; MM Seed: 4)
The polls them love them. The ESPN BPI loves them, as does KenPom. Even the RPI loves them. In each of those rankings, Louisville checks in as a Top 5 team. However, a gaze under the hood reveals a profile that still needs some fine-tuning to be on one of the top two seed lines.
Louisville has just three wins vs the RPI Top 50, to go with five losses. Those big wins–over Purdue, Kentucky and Duke–all came at home. The Cards’ best road win? Either Pittsburgh (1-9 in ACC) or Georgia Tech (RPI of 77).
Sure, there is nothing resembling a bad loss, but that doesn’t make me want to run and put them on the No. 1 or 2 line. What would? More wins in big-time match-ups, particularly on the road.
UCLA (BM average: 4.2; MM Seed: 6)
One. That represents the number of wins UCLA currently has against current would-be NCAA Tourney teams (two if you count Cal, a bubble team). The Bruins are 0-for-3 against the Pac 12’s current tourney-worthy teams: Arizona, Oregon and USC.
Another number: 247. That is UCLA’s current Non-Conference strength-of-schedule. The Bruins’ win at Kentucky seemed to cause many to lose sight of their otherwise woeful out-of-league slate.
That bad SOS number is keeping UCLA in the 20s of the RPI, with few chances for marquee wins until the Pac-12 tournament. With the league as a whole down quite a bit from last year, it’s hard to justify UCLA’s being a Top-4 seed.
CREIGHTON (MM Seed: 2; BM average: 3.45)
The loss of Maurice Watson Jr. at the point is brutal for this team, no question. Anyone who projects what the bracket will look like in March certainly could move Creighton down a couple seed lines, maybe more.
For now, we’ll stick to what this team did with Watson–which is quite a lot.
Creighton still has a heap of quality wins to its credit. Wisconsin, at Xavier and a sweep of Butler are the headliners of the group, but don’t overlook the next-tier wins such as NC State, Ole Miss and Nebraska–all of which came away from Omaha. The Bluejays are 5-2 vs the RPI Top 40 as of this writing, a mark bested by only eight other teams.
One bad week does not a season make. The Marquette and Georgetown losses came right after Watson went down. Not to ignore them, but the Bluejays came back a week later and won at Butler–an impressive feat for anyone. That proved this team is still capable of winning a lot of games and making a deep March run.
KANSAS STATE (BM average: 9.5; MM: OUT)
It’s hard not to be fond of what Kansas State did this weekend. A win at No. 2 Baylor is exactly what a bubble team needs to leverage its position and land itself squarely in the NCAA Field of 68. That is the kind of signature win that puts you head-and-shoulders above teams fighting to get in.
The problem with K-State, however, comes not what it has done recently, but it what it didn’t do in November and December. Translation: this is a team with no quality non-conference wins, or anything that comes close.
Kansas State, like UCLA, has a Non-Conf SOS below 200. The Wildcats’ best out-of-league win is against Colorado State (RPI of 114). They missed a nice opportunity recently, losing at Tennessee in the Big 12/SEC challenge. A win there would have put K-State squarely in with little room to argue.
We’ve seen the selection committee pass up teams with ugly non-conf SOS numbers before. One such team was Kansas State, 10 years ago. The Wildcats appeared to be a near-lock for the tourney with a 10-6 Big 12 record. They were passed up however, due to an underwhelming out-of-league profile. Don’t be shocked if it happens again.
LO: IOWA STATE (MM: 11, First Four ; BM average: 9.4)
Iowa State (No. 41 RPI, 44 ESI) is in a bit better position than a couple weeks ago, after wins at Oklahoma State and at home vs Kansas State. However, the Cyclones’ 0-5 mark vs the RPI Top 40 is in need of rectifying.
Currently the best thing going for Iowa State is its losses–four are to Top 20 teams (Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Baylor, Kansas). One of the other two came in its annual battle with Iowa, in Iowa City. If the Hawkeyes continue to improve that loss shouldn’t hurt the Cyclones. But for now it is just enough to help keep them right on the dividing line.
Iowa State has just one win against non-conf Top 100 teams. Generally that stat is not worthy of tourney inclusion. The good news for the Cyclones is that they can make up for this deficiency with some quality Big 12 wins and solidify their spot in the bracket. But for now, they teeter on the edge.
HI: MINNESOTA (MM Seed: __; Bracket Matrix average: __)
At No. 14 in the ESI rankings, Minnesota currently has a firm grasp on a Top-4 seed. The Gophers’ rapid ascent up the S-curve came after a breakthrough week in which it won at Purdue–a feat accompanied only by No. 1 Villanova–and at Northwestern, a solid at-large worthy team at this point.
Those two wins laid the foundation for Minnesota’s current seed placement. Add to that five non-conference wins against the RPI Top 100–a feat topped by only six other teams in the nation–and you have a team that could very well hold its place as the Big Ten’s top-seeded team.
It’s worth noting that Minnesota may be a basket away from a No. 3 or even No. 2 seed. That one-point loss to Michigan State and an eight-point defeat to red-hot Florida State are the only blemishes on the Gophers’ resume to this point. Not too shabby for the younger Pitino’s team.
LO: WISCONSIN (MM Seed:__ ; BM average: __ )
Staying in the Big Ten, Wisconsin checks in at a modest No. 38 in the ESI. Quite a disparity from where the polls have had the Badgers throughout the year.
However, the RPI, like the ESI, is showing some restraint toward Wisconsin, at No. 50 currently. How so low you ask? Simple: 0 wins vs Top 50 RPI teams. That’s correct, through 16 games the Badgers have yet to get a win against this key cohort, in three tries.
To be fair, part of this isn’t Wisconsin’s fault. It scheduled aggressively, playing usual powers Creighton, Marquette, Syracuse and Oklahoma, in addition to UNC, Georgetown and Tennessee in the Maui Invitational. Many of the aforementioned teams haven’t held up their end though, costing Wisconsin significant schedule-strength credit.
As we get deeper into Big Ten play, Wisconsin should accumulate the quality wins it will need to ensure an NCAA bid and a relatively strong seed. For now though, it’s situation is not quite as rosy the polls might lead you to believe.
HI: MIDDLE TENNESSEE (MM: 8; BM Average: 10.8)
To start, let me say it is going to be extremely difficult for this team to be in this spot two months from now. At the moment, however, Middle Tennessee has earned its placement, with a No. 26 rank in the ESI rankings.
The SEC is familiar with the damage MTSU did early this season. It went down to Ole Miss–currently a Top 50 RPI team–by 15. A week later it absolutely demolished Vanderbilt, winning 71-48 in a rare home date with a power-conference team.
Those two wins along with an underappreciated win over UNC-Wilmington (No. 25 RPI) helped to give MTSU a 3-2 mark in non-conf RPI Top 100 games. One of those losses is a three-point defeat at VCU, which currently sits as a No. 8 seed in the bracket.
What MTSU has going against it is the frighteningly-bad Conference USA. The league is currently rated No. 24 out of 32 leagues. Marshall is the only other team in the Top 100, and several are currently below 300. Unless the Blue Raiders can go through league play unbeaten, or maybe just one loss to one of C-USA’s better teams, it will likely gravitate down to a double-digit seed over the next several weeks.