Here is our first look at the NCAA Tournament bubble teams for 2016, as we will be back regularly with our predicted last four teams in and first four out of the tournament field.
While it has only been about a month since conference play began in earnest in college basketball, it is never too early to project which teams will be in the NCAA Tournament and which teams will have to settle for NIT bids or lesser tournaments, or worst yet will not be participating in any post-season tournaments at all. So here is our first forecast for 2016 for our NCAA basketball picks to make the NCAA Tournament.
More specifically, we will take a regular look at who we feel will be the last four teams in and the first four teams out of the Big Dance. Obviously, you can expect these projections to be liquid at this very early stage, and remember also that conference winners get automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament, so these predictions could be affected by some upsets in the conference tournaments by teams that would have otherwise not qualified for at-large berths.
Therefore, one conference tournament upset could knock out the last of our last four teams in and two upsets could cut those bids in half, while at the same time increasing our odds of being correct on our first four teams out. Those are the obvious challenges of making these predictions before conference tournaments begin, especially at this infant stage of the conference season, but challenges such as these have never held us back before!
So with all of that in mind, here are our very early projections as of January 29th for the last four teams selected for the NCAA Tournament field, as well as our selections of the first four teams out of the Big Dance.
Last Four In
Colorado Buffaloes: First of all, we fully get that the Pac-12 seems to be the least regarded conference on the NCAA Basketball Futures with no team less than 30/1 to win the championship, and those teams at 30/1 are Arizona and California while the two teams currently tied atop the conference standings, Washington and Oregon, both have considerably higher odds. Nonetheless we still feel Colorado is a tad underrated as the Buffaloes are ranked 49th in the country overall on the Pomeroy Ratings and are just one game behind Washington and Cal in the conference, ahead of both Arizona and Cal. The Buffs already beat Oregon once and their next two games should serve as an excellent gauge for where they stand, as they get California at home followed by a rematch with Oregon in Eugene.
Syracuse Orange: Syracuse is by no means an elite team season at 14-8 and we actually had the Orange on the wrong side of the bubble until recently. However, they then went on the road to Cameron Indoor Arena three games ago and upset Duke and they most recently routed Notre Dame 81-66 at home in a game that was not even that close, and when combined with being one of only three teams to beat Texas A&M this season back in November on a neutral court, we now have then precariously in for the time being. It helps having Coach Jim Boeheim back on the bench after he served a nine-game suspension, and the famous Syracuse zone defense is as suffocating and befuddling as ever with opponents’ possessions this season lasting an average of 19.4 seconds, the longest in the country with the new 30-second shot clock.
LSU Tigers: There could be a changing of the guard in the SEC this season and LSU is currently tied for second in the conference standings at 6-2 with mighty Kentucky, one game behind Texas A&M at 7-1. And the revitalization of the Tigers has been fueled by freshman Ben Simmons, considered by many to be the best LSU recruit since Shaquille O’Neal. Simmons has not disappointed either while leading the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, field goal percentage, steals and blocks! LSU almost deserves an at-large bid just to give this ultra-talented youngster a bigger national stage, and we could get a glimpse on Saturday in what is basically a made-for-TV non-conference marquee matchup vs. number one ranked Oklahoma at Baton Rouge.
George Washington Colonials: George Washington made a very early statement this season when it upset Virginia in the second game of the season, and it seemed that the Colonials were well on their way to returning to the NCAA Tournament after being forced to settle for an NIT bid last year. George Washington currently has four wins over teams ranked in the Pomeroy Top 100, but the Colonials are also a mediocre 4-3 in Atlantic 10 play with one of the losses coming at 232nd ranked Saint Louis, and most recently the Colonials lost at home in double-overtime to Richmond. We still have GW in for now, but literally as the last team in and the early triumph over Virginia could be starting to lose its luster. Plus being the last team in could leave the Colonials vulnerable should there be a major upset in one of the post-season conference tournaments.
First Four Out
Clemson Tigers: The Tigers are our first team out, but this is a team that has been on the rise as of late, posting consecutive wins over Louisville, Duke and the Miami Hurricanes before losing at Virginia, and they then regrouped by beating Pittsburgh in their last game. This is a team that can easily move to the right side of the bubble in the coming games as it continues to make up for some bad non-conference losses to 196th ranked Minnesota and 197th ranked Massachusetts, and Clemson may have been our last team in if it could have beaten Virginia two games ago, a win that would have had the Tiger riding a five-game winning streak. Thus the early George Washington victory over Virginia could be serving as the tiebreaker between the last team in and the first team out for now, although Clemson is certainly heading in the right course.
Georgetown Hoyas: Georgetown remains on the wrong side of the bubble at 13-8 overall, but it kept itself alive for NCAA consideration with an exciting 74-73 win over another bubble team in Creighton last game, and it now has a chance to make an even more decisive jump hosting Providence on Saturday. Georgetown has a chance to beat any team in the country on any given day because of its defense, as the Hoyas are 15th in the country in effective field goal percentage allowed and they are especially tough on the interior, ranking 10th in two-point defense. Still, non-conference home losses to Radford, Monmouth and NC Asheville are hard to overcome, so the Hoyas could ill afford many more hiccups the rest of the way.
Texas Tech Red Raiders: The Big 12 is the highest ranked conference in the country as a whole according to Pomeroy, so that still gives Texas Tech a pulse at 12-7 despite being just 2-6 in conference play so far. That is because the Red Raiders remain 50th in the country overall on the Pomeroy Ratings despite the conference record. Texas Tech actually grades out well on both ends of the court, ranking 58th in offensive efficiency and 67th in defensive efficiency, but that will get lost on the selection committee if the Red Raiders do not start collect wins and lots of them soon. Considering the brutal schedule, even an 8-10 finish inside the Big 12 could be enough to allow Tech to sneak in.
Saint Joseph’s Hawks: The status of the Hawks could depend on how many teams the committee wants to let into the Big Dance from the Atlantic 10. One would think that St. Joseph’s would be relatively safe at 17-3 overall and 6-1 inside the conference, but VCU and Dayton look like certainties to be in the NCAA field and remember that the committee has gotten burned by a total of nine Atlantic 10 teams making the NCAA Tournament the last two years and Dayton being the only team to advance past the Round of 64 each year. While the Hawks deserve credit for the 17-3 mark, they lost all three chances to make a statement vs. the best three teams that that have faced in Villanova, Florida and VCU, and their best win this season from a Pomeroy perspective was over 70th ranked Rhode Island.