accbracket

15 bracket bits for Championship Week

Anyone ready for Championship Week?

The big bracket is the one announced next Sunday on CBS, a little after 5:30 Eastern time. Before we arrive at that moment, however, we have a week filled with other bracketed tournaments, the conference collisions which will set the selections and seedings for the field of 68.

The brackets for the conference tournaments don’t have everything to do with who gets in and who doesn’t on Selection Sunday, but they certainly shape and influence the process. They can also affect the seedings in the top two or three lines, but those matters are more dependent on results in the tournaments. High seeds have to win and beat other high seeds in the conference tournaments in order to get the highest possible seed in the NCAA tournament.

On with the show — here are 15 bracket bits worth biting into:

15 – OREGON STATE MUST WIN TWO GAMES TO FEEL SAFE

Maybe Oregon State is just inside the cut line. Maybe the Beavers are just outside the cut line. Regardless of where you have OSU in your projections, a first-round game against Arizona State is the kind of game a bubble team hates. There’s no added value in winning, only the inherent value of not losing. A win doesn’t improve bubble prospects relative to the field, but a loss destroys them. Oregon State can’t, can’t, CAN’T lose to ASU if it wants its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1990.

That game, though, would merely enable OSU to stay alive. To grab a bid, a win over third-seeded California in the quarterfinals would provide a substantial cushion, enough to survive unfavorable bubble developments across the country.

These basic bubble tensions will be referred to in much of the rest of this examination.

14 – FLORIDA’S SEC POSITION DIDN’T HELP THE GATORS

Florida probably needs to win three games to make the field. Two would put UF in the conversation, but the Gators are on the wrong side of the bubble unless they get some help from the rest of the bubble.

An important note is that the Gators’ No. 8 seed in the SEC Tournament did not help them. UF’s path to the final could be Arkansas-Texas A&M-Vanderbilt. You could make the argument that such a path might be easier than the path of the 7 seed, Ole Miss: Alabama-Kentucky-South Carolina. True enough. However, bubble teams want to play opponents which maximize their standing on the big board. Alabama provides more of a boost than Arkansas. Kentucky offers more of a lift than A&M. Florida would have had a better chance of making the NCAA tournament with two SEC tourney wins if it had Ole Miss’s path, and not the path it received as the 8 seed.

13 – TULSA RECEIVED A BAD BRACKET IN THE AMERICAN

Tulsa is right near the cut line. The Golden Hurricane landed the No. 3 seed in the AAC Tournament, a product of SMU being ineligible for the postseason. Had SMU been able to play in this tournament, it would have been the 2 seed. Tulsa would have been the 4 seed.

Under the current setup, Tulsa’s bubble candidacy is not aided.

Tulsa’s first-round game is against Memphis. The Golden Hurricane would have preferred Connecticut, because a win over the Huskies would have created a bigger forward movement on any seed list. Memphis won’t help at all. Tulsa is then slotted to face Houston in the semifinals. The Golden Hurricane would have gained more from facing Temple in the semis. Tulsa’s mediocre caliber of opposition in the first two games of this tournament is a nightmare for bubble teams — the games won’t do much if won, but they will be very damaging if they’re lost. Tulsa has to make the AAC final if it wants to have a shot at an at-large bid.

The simple recommendation to the Golden Hurricane: win the whole tournament this weekend.

12 – TEMPLE RECEIVED A FAVORABLE BRACKET

Temple, like Tulsa, would be well advised to win the AAC Tournament, but unlike the Golden Hurricane, Temple will play a semifinal opponent (should it escape the quarters) which can help secure at at-large bid. Beating Cincinnati or UConn would catapult the Owls past a few bubble teams — maybe not enough to matter, but certainly more teams than what Tulsa will derive from beating Houston in a possible AAC semi.

11 – CINCINNATI AND UCONN WERE HANDED AN IDEAL SCENARIO

If you’re a bubble team, you obviously have to expect to win one game in your league tournament. If you’re lucky, your first-round or quarterfinal opponent is so good that if you win, you punch your ticket, and if you lose, you’re not saddled with a bad loss. This is the scenario for Cincinnati and Connecticut. A win in their AAC quarterfinal will go a long way toward wrapping up a bid — maybe not lock status, but close enough that it probably won’t matter. A loss wouldn’t be a knockout blow, though it would mean a long wait on Selection Sunday. Cincy and UConn are glad they’re not playing Memphis. A win wouldn’t really help, but a loss to the Tigers would have been very harmful. This scenario — playing each other — is miles better.

10 – HOUSTON HAS A GOOD CHANCE OF GRABBING AN AUTOBID

It’s rare that a 1 seed in a power-conference tourney is not a lock, but Temple is not a lock in the AAC if it loses in the semis versus Cincy or UConn.

It’s also rare that a 2 seed in a power-conference tourney is not even close to the bubble, but that’s Houston. The Cougars have to win the AAC Tournament to make the Big Dance. With their No. 2 seed, they just might do it.

SMU isn’t in the field, for one thing. Houston avoids Cincinnati, Temple and Connecticut in the semis. Of all the teams that could shrink the bubble this week, Houston is in the best position to do so, hands down.

9 – OHIO STATE’S FAMILIAR TOUR 

The Big Ten Tournament bracket features Michigan State as the 2 seed, and Ohio State as the 7. If the two teams play each other, they’ll do so for the third time in two and a half weeks (February 23). Michigan State won both games easily, so if you’re Ohio State, you won’t have to think long and hard about a scouting report. Maybe this will be the day when your shots fall and Sparty struggles. Ohio State must make the Big Ten final to create a legitimate at-large discussion on Selection Sunday.

8 – PURDUE HAS TO LIKE ITS PLACE IN THE BIG TEN

Purdue found a good spot at 4, as opposed to 3.

The 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament (which is Maryland) must face Wisconsin in the quarters, if the Badgers do get past their opening game. The 3 seed must play Michigan State in the semis, barring an upset.

As the 4, Purdue will probably play a fading Iowa team in the quarters, and then Indiana — an in-state rival — in the semis. Those are easier games to get up for, and the Iowa game is a more favorable matchup.

7 – ATLANTIC 10 MIXED BAG, PART I

VCU and Saint Bonaventure are close to the cut line. Playing Rhode Island (VCU) or Davidson (St. Bona) as the highest possible seed in the quarterfinals won’t seal an at-large bid for either team. That’s the bad news. A loss in those games likely eliminates the Rams and Bonnies, respectively. The good news: A possible semifinal against each other would be significant enough to move to the good side of the bubble. VCU and Bonaventure are playing for survival in the quarters; they’re playing for the NCAA tournament in the semis.

6 – ATLANTIC 10 MIXED BAG, PART II

The bad news for George Washington: Forced to play an extra game in the A-10 Tournament, the Colonials would be a certain NIT team if they lose their opener. The good news: If they get past that opener, they’d play Saint Joseph’s in the quarterfinals. A win over the Hawks would carry more value than a win over, say, Saint Bonaventure. GW caught a break. The Colonials are not a lock if they beat Saint Joe’s, but they’d help themselves to a greater extent. GW is in the field if it can make the A-10 final by beating Dayton in a possible semifinal.

5 – ACC BUBBLE BENEFIT

Pittsburgh and Syracuse play the 8-9 game in the ACC Tournament. Plenty of 8-9 games in conference tourneys are all-NIT matchups, and some involve teams headed for the CBI. This could feature two NCAA teams, but that’s very much up in the air. What matters is that the quality of opponent in this game is substantial enough to mean that the winner should feel safe about making the Big Dance. A loss would hurt, but it wouldn’t be nearly as damaging as losing to sixth-seeded Virginia Tech. Pitt and Syracuse don’t have to go on a winning streak this week; they just have to win once. It’s a pressure-packed moment, but it’s also a simple and straight line to an NCAA bid, and the loser still has a shot if other bubble games break right.

4 – ACC BUBBLE TROUBLE

Florida State, seeded at 11, has to play Boston College in an opening-round game on Tuesday. Beyond having to play an extra day, the Seminoles face a team with a low RPI. That drags down the profile. Merely avoiding Boston College would have helped Florida State in itself, so the Noles took a big hit there. Pittsburgh losing to Georgia Tech caused FSU to fall to 11.

Florida State, because of this nuisance of a game against B.C., probably has to win three games, not two, to make the NCAAs. That’s rough. The Seminoles need to play as many people as possible against Boston College, so that the starters can play extended minutes the following days.

3 – X NEEDS VU, BUT NOT VICE-VERSA

Earlier this season — more precisely, over the past month — Xavier has been projected to be a 1 seed at times. That’s not the case now, but can the Musketeers return to the 1 line under any scenario? Their chances are remote. Realistically, a 2 seed is attainable for X. If, however, a 1 seed exists within the realm of possibility, one point must be pounded home: Xavier must beat Villanova in the Big East Tournament final.

Plenty of people say during this week, “Well, if Team A wins its conference tournament, it will get Seed Y.” That’s true in some cases, but not all. In some cases, a conference is so strong at the top that a team can win a tournament and be assured of climbing the big board. However, other conferences aren’t as deep, which means that Team A has to beat Teams C, D and E to maximize its seed.

If Xavier beats Creighton and Butler to win the Big East Tournament, it won’t derive much of any benefit. It might remain a 3 seed if other teams at or near the 3 line beat better opponents this coming week. If Xavier beats Seton Hall and Villanova, on the other hand, it could reach the 1 line if all the other dominoes fall in its favor. That’s a huge part of the race for No. 1 seeds.

More such examples round out our list:

2 – NORTH CAROLINA AND VIRGINIA SHOULD ROOT FOR EACH OTHER

North Carolina and Virginia are both vying for No. 1 seeds when they compete in the ACC Tournament. Kansas (Midwest) and Villanova (East) have top seeds locked up. The 1 seeds in the South and West are still up for grabs.

If getting a 1 seed is the goal, UNC and Virginia should welcome a scenario in which they meet in the ACC Tournament final on Saturday night. The ACC moved the final from Sunday to Saturday in order to ensure that the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee would take the event more seriously. The results of Sunday finals had, in recent years, been given less weight than many in the ACC felt they deserved.

If UNC and UVA play in the final, the matchup will be difficult, but the Selection Committee is that much more likely to award a 1 seed to the winner.

One more note on this point: Let’s say Michigan State and Oklahoma both win their conference tournaments. The committee could put the Spartans and Sooners on the 1 line — one team goes South, the other West. The value of a Carolina-Virginia final could still be significant: The winner might go West with the weakest 1 seed on the board, while the loser would have to stay East with Villanova, meaning a possible Elite Eight game in Philadelphia, the Wildcats’ backyard.

Tar Heel fans, Cavalier fans — pull for each other… until Saturday night.

1 – OKLAHOMA: ROUGH PATH, GREAT PATH

It will be very hard for OU — historically not a good Big 12 Tournament team — to go through an Iowa State-West Virginia-Kansas path and win the championship. That’s the bad news.

The good news: If the Sooners win those three games in succession, they will definitely get a 1 seed. There is no question about that. Moreover, if OU can merely beat Iowa State and WVU, and have both UNC and Virginia fail to make the ACC final, the Sooners could still get a 1 seed, especially if Michigan State loses in the Big Ten Tournament and Xavier doesn’t beat Villanova in the Big East final.

That’s a wrap for this week’s bracket analysis — see you next week for the ultimate brackets, which will be shaped by these upcoming conference tournaments.

Matt Zemek

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.

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