The NCAA tournament bubble is a funny thing. A team that seems like a lock for March Madness today could be teetering on the edge of safety a week later. Thatís the nature of the game. It was brought to my attention recently on Twitter that some people donít understand how big the bubble is a month or two before Selection Sunday. The bubble in January is probably twice as big as it will be in late February.
Thereís no telling what team will catch fire or unexpectedly lose games in the next month. That was seen Wednesday night when Missouri improbably won at Alabama, a few days after Alabama took down Oklahoma. And there are numerous instances of this. Thatís why I keep saying itís almost pointless to talk about the bubble right now because teams with a projected 8- or 9-seed are essentially on the bubble. A lot is going to change.
Florida State, a consensus 7-seed at Bracket Matrix as of Jan. 31, lost at Wake Forest on Wednesday and still has to travel to Louisville, NC State and Clemson, as well as host Virginia. The Seminoles are far from a lock for the tournament, especially if they lose in their ACC tourney opener in addition to the games listed above.
Instead, letís revisit the top seeds. Only two weeks ago I felt like there were 13 or 14 teams with a chance for a No. 1 seed. Now, that has dwindled down to about six teams in my eyes. Villanova and Virginia are all but locks for the top spots. Even if they lose two or three road games, itíd be hard to argue others around them would be more deserving. The other two spots are more of a toss up with Purdue, Duke, Kansas and Arizona.
The Boilers should be good for a 1-seed as long as their only future loss comes at Michigan State and they make it to the Big Ten tournament final. Otherwise, that spot could go to a team like Kansas or Duke, which play in much more difficult conferences. I think Kansas and Duke have a couple more losses in them, hence their spots on the second line.
I remain one of the only bracketologists to have Arizona as a 1-seed and Iíll stick with my guns. The Wildcats still have a decent chance to run the table and win the Pac-12 regular season and tournament. No matter what the metrics say, if Arizona doesnít get a 1-seed after winning 27 of 28 games, itíd be a surprise. The only game the Cats may be underdogs in is the trip to Arizona State in mid-February. And at this point, Iím not sure the Sun Devils deserve to be favorites in that matchup.
Other than those six teams, I canít envision anyone else stealing a 1-seed. Michigan State has too weak of a resume. Iím personally not sold on Xavier, although the Musketeers still could run the table with a home game against Villanova standing out. It makes sense to put Auburn in the conversation, but its best non-conference wins came against Middle Tennessee and Murray State. Also, one of its two losses came on a neutral court to Temple.
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The other things to watch in the coming weeks are the mid-range teams that could be primed for Elite 8 or Final 4 runs. As said above, there arenít many teams that have truly separated themselves from the pack. In prior seasons, there have been 12 to even 16 teams that looked like they had the ability to make it to the second weekend and further. This season? Not so much.
Is there a big difference between Tennessee or a team like Michigan, which are separated by three or four seed lines in most brackets? Not really. How many people trust Cincinnati as a 3-seed against the likes of bubble teams such as USC or Kansas State? The Bearcats will surely be favored, but weíve seen in the past that running through the AAC doesnít amount to much in the postseason.
There are instances like this throughout the bracket and it only gets crazier when you look at teams struggling (West Virginia, North Carolina) and ones dealing with injuries (Creighton, Clemson).
To make Bracketology even more confusing, itís unknown what stats the committee will use this season. Itís been said that more advanced metrics will take precedent (KenPom, BPI, KPI, Sagarin), but RPI is still heavily involved and the main stat theyíre using when separating wins by Group 1, Group 2, etc.
That being the case, my biggest question is how the committee is going to incorporate injuries. Minnesota and Notre Dame are former Top 25 teams that lost two key starters (and werenít deep to begin with). At the time of writing (Feb. 1) Minnesotaís RPI was 122 and Notre Dameís was 78. Does it make sense to discount the wins Miami, Nebraska and Arkansas had against a full strength Gophers team? On the other end of that, why does it hurt the resumes of Providence and Alabama with early losses to Minnesota? The same goes for Notre Dame in its games against Wichita State and Michigan State when Bonzie Colson and a healthy Matt Farrell were still on the floor (DJ Harvey has also missed the last few games).
These are the questions the committee has to answer if RPI is their main statistic. Otherwise, are they going to peruse every relevant injury and rate certain games differently like the ones I listed above in addition to numerous others? Probably not. But hey, the calendar just turned to February, so thereís plenty of time to ponder those questions. Until then, bracket on.
To view a compilation of all of the bracket predictions in the world, check out the Bracket Matrix. This bracket started in 2014 and has been among the most reliable in the last three years.