Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament is a tad over five weeks away. Here is our current look at the last four teams in and first four out of the Big Dance as of February 5th.
Selection Sunday for the NCAA Basketball Tournament remains a bit more than five weeks away, but it is never too early to project which teams will be in the NCAA Tournament and which teams will have to either settle for NIT bids or lesser tournaments or watch the post-season tournaments from home. Thus, here we are again with our NCAA basketball picks on who will make the NCAA Tournament field as of Friday, February 5th.
More accurately, we are taking our weekly look at who we feel will be the last four teams in and the first four teams out of the Big Dance. These projections will remain liquid at this early stage of the process, and remember too that conference winners get automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament, so these forecasts could be affected by some upsets in the conference tournaments by teams that would not have otherwise qualified for at-large NCAA berths.
So 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 also at the same time increasing our odds of being correct on the first four teams out. We have never backed off from a good challenge before though, so those upset possibilities are not holding us back from making these predictions with current NCAA basketball odds.
So while it is still a tad early, here are our current projections as of February 5th for who the last four teams selected for the NCAA Tournament field will be, as well as our selections of the first four teams out of the Dance.
Last Four In
Syracuse Orange: We move Syracuse up a notch this week to the first of our last four teams in as the Orange had a 2-0 week beating Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech at home. That makes it three straight wins for the Orange, a streak that began with an 81-66 blowout win over a Notre Dame team currently ranked 34th overall on the Pomeroy Ratings. In fact, Syracuse is now 36th on Pomeroy as this has been a team on the upswing since Coach Jim Boeheim returned to the bench after serving his nine-game suspension, and that upswing was apparent when the Orange went on the road to Cameron Indoor Arena on January 18th and upset Duke 64-62. Syracuse also had a resume enhancing win over Texas A&M earlier in the season and the famous Syracuse zone defense remains as suffocating as ever as even with the new 30-second shot clock, as the Orange lead the country in longest average opponents’ possession length this season at 19.5 seconds.
Wisconsin Badgers: Remember when longtime Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan retired on December 16th, turning the coaching reins over to loyal assistant Greg Gard? The Badgers were sitting at 7-5 at that time, and while it was no secret that the team lost a ton of talent from the squad that when to the National Championship Game last season, the slippage appeared to be even more severe than many had believed with Wisconsin losing home games to Western Illinois, Milwaukee and Marquette. And things did not look any brighter when the Badgers started 2-4 under Gard, evening their record at 9-9. However, they have since zoomed up the rankings to 47th on Pomeroy by winning the last five straight games, and the wins were not over cupcakes either as the streak includes triumphs over the likes of Indiana, Michigan State and Ohio State, with the latter win over the Buckeyes coming last night by double-digits. Given the direction this team is heading in and the quality of the Big Ten, we now feel that Wisconsin has done enough to return to the NCAA Tournament if the selections were made today.
LSU Tigers: We said last week that it would be a shame if the Tigers do not make the NCAA Tournament because it would deprive the nation from seeing the best freshman in the country and a legitimate Player of the Year candidate despite his class in Ben Simmons, the best LSU recruit since Shaquille O’Neal. Well, as of now we have LSU as the second to last team in the field despite losing its first game since last week’s update, as there was no shame in taking the number one team in the country down to the wire in a 77-75 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 / SEC Challenge. The Tigers then followed up with a fairly easy 80-68 win over Auburn, rather quietly leaving them tied atop the SEC standings with eighth ranked Texas A&M at 7-2. With the Aggies a virtual lock to make the NCAA field, it bodes well for the Tigers’ chances also and the committee may even cut them some slack in order to show off Simmons’ talents.
UCLA Bruins: We once had UCLA rather safely in the tournament a few weeks ago, as while this team has been somewhat enigmatic, it was difficult to ignore wins over Arizona, Kentucky and Gonzaga, especially with that latter win coming on the road where the Bulldogs rarely lose. Now however, those three wins may be the only thing keeping the Bruins as literally our last team in the field as they are falling like rocks right now as losers of three of their last four games to drop to just 13-10 overall, most recently getting blown out at rival USC by 19 points. This stretch includes a home loss to another bubble team in Washington, so it seems that the Bruins could use at least one more statement win on the road in conference to go along with the non-conference triumph at Gonzaga.
First Four Out
Clemson Tigers: We are holding the Tigers as our first team out for now, right where they were last week. We felt this was a team with upside after posting recent wins over Louisville, Duke the Miami Hurricanes and Pittsburgh, and Clemson may have made the jump up to the right side of the bubble with a 2-0 week. Unfortunately, the Tigers promptly lost 76-65 at Florida State last Saturday before regrouping with a 14-point win at Wake Forest. We just do not feel that Clemson has done enough yet to make up for some bad non-conference losses to Minnesota and Massachusetts, currently ranked 196th and 199th respectively on Pomeroy. Then again, it is not too late for the Tigers to make a move given that the ACC is ranked second overall as a whole on the Pomeroy conference rankings behind only the Big 12.
George Washington Colonials: Ironically, we are dropping George Washington from one of our last four teams in last week to the second team out this week despite going 2-0 since our last update! This drop is not totally the Colonials’ fault though as somebody had to drop to make room for the hard charging Wisconsin Badgers, and of the candidates to get dropped, George Washington was the only one not from a Power 5 conference. Thus beating George Mason and Davidson to get to 6-3 in the Atlantic 10 standings was not enough for us to keep the Colonials in the field, but they do get an immediate chance to get right back in before our next update next week if they can upset VCU on the road on Saturday.
Georgetown Hoyas: Georgetown could consider itself fortunate that the Big East is strong this season, in fact ranked fourth as a whole on the Pomeroy Ratings ahead of the Big Ten and SEC, as that is probably the only thing keeping the Hoyas on this list after an 0-2 week where they lost at home to Providence and on the road at Butler to fall to 6-4 in conference play. Still, all four of those conference losses have come to teams ranked in the Pomeroy Top 45, and the Hoyas have six more such contests in their final eight games. Given that scheduling, just finishing over .500 inside the Big East could be enough to get Georgetown in, especially considering that Georgetown still has one of the best defenses in the country ranking 19th in the land in effective field goal percentage allowed at just 44.9 percent.
Seton Hall Pirates: If Georgetown is still alive for an NCAA berth at 13-10 overall, then Seton Hall has to be too at 16-6 with the Pirates tied with the Hoyas inside the Big East at 6-4. Those two teams face each other on Saturday in what is obviously a huge game in regards to the tournament bubble, with the loser in dire straits and the winner in line to make a move up. The Pirates are home for that contest and they currently have nice momentum having won three straight games since a “good” road loss by eight points at Xavier (18th on Pomeroy). One knock against “The Hall” is that their non-conference schedule was not as strong as some other Big East teams, but a strong finish the rest of the way could make that forgettable.