Here is our January 23rd look at the NCAA Tournament bubble as teams try to make the field. These are our last four teams in and first four out for now, but check back for future updates.
While less than a month has passed 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 the NIT, CIT or CBI, or worst yet will not be participating in any post-season tournaments at all. So here is our first attempt this season to make educated guesses on our NCAA Basketball picks to make the NCAA Tournament.
More specifically, even at this early stage, we are attempting to predict both who the last four teams in will be and who the first four teams out of the Big Dance will be. Remember that most 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 not have made the NCAA Tournament otherwise, as those clubs would take away bids from at-large bubble teams.
Thus, one conference tournament upset could knock out the last of our last four teams in and two upsets could cut these bids in half, while at the same time increasing our odds of being correct on our first four teams out. Those are the challenges of making these predictions before the conference tournaments begin, especially at this infant stage of the conference season. But then again, those challenges have never held us back before!
So with all of that in mind, here are our very early predictions as of January 23rd 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
Tulsa Golden Hurricane: Keep in mind that Tulsa currently sits atop the AAC standings and it can avoid being in the entire bubble conversation by winning the AAC Tournament. However if the Golden Hurricane do not win their tournament, we still like them as the 65th team in the tournament at this time. They currently show three wins over Pomeroy Top 100 teams with more chances yet to come and they almost have another one as they beat 104th ranked Creighton out of the Big East in non-conference play. Tulsa plays good defense ranking 25th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency while holding opponents to a 45.1 percent effective field goal percentage and they protect the ball well offensively turning it over only 17.8 percent of the time vs. a national average of 19.6 percent.
George Washington Colonials: George Washington hails out of an Atlantic 10 that sent six teams to the Big Dance last season and their inclusion this year might have something to do with how many teams from that conference the committee wants to send this year. However we still have the Colonials in for now as being just one of two teams to beat Wichita State this season has to count for something. George Washington has lost just once since beating the Shockers in Hawaii, and although that loss may be considered a questionable one vs. La Salle, we still do not think that is enough to knock GW out of the field of 68 just yet. We would like to see a few more Pomeroy 100 wins though and the Colonials still have two chances left vs. 17th ranked VCU among other possibilities.
Davidson Wildcats: If we like George Washington out of the Atlantic 10, then we are basically forced to include a Davidson team currently ranked 32nd in the country overall by Pomeroy compared to a 59th ranking for the Colonials. We are not convinced that the Wildcats should be ranked that much higher though as they do not own a win vs. the likes of a Wichita State and they have two Pomeroy 100 wins but both were inside the Atlantic 10 vs. Dayton and Richmond. Granted Davidson was competitive vs. Virginia out of conference and vs. VCU in conference, but we still want to see more wins vs. top teams to at least justify the Pomeroy Rating. On the plus side the Wildcats are fifth in the country in offensive efficiency and are 11th in effective field goal percentage at a blazing 56.0 percent.
Connecticut Huskies: That is correct, the defending national champions from Connecticut are in danger of not making the NCAA Tournament this season, although for the time being we have the Huskies as literally the last team in. This spot would also make them very vulnerable to a major upset in one of the other conference tournaments. The fact of the matter is that the Huskies are just 10-7 overall as of this writing, although part of that is due to facing nine Pomeroy 100 teams already. Still, they are only 3-6 in those games with their seventh loss coming vs. 102nd ranked Yale out of the Ivy League at home, so UConn is by no means assured of a chance to defend its national title this year.
First Four Out
LSU Tigers: And now the heartbreak begins with the Bayou Bengals being our first team out. The good news for the Tigers though is that they are on an upswing after going on the road and beating the Florida Gators handily 79-61 in Gainesville, which is no easy feat. The Tigers need to gain some consistency though as they are 14-4 and yet two of the losses came to a Missouri team ranked 171st on Pomeroy and to 118th ranked Clemson out of conference. Neither of those losses came at home though so LSU could very well crack the NCAA Tournament field if it can build on that recent Florida win. And remember that the Tigers still have a home date left vs. the top ranked Kentucky Wildcats.
Syracuse Orange: The Orange have become synonymous with the NCAA Tournament, qualifying for the Big Dance in 29 of Coach Jim Boeheim’s 35 years at the helm including each of the last six years, but that streak could now be in jeopardy. In fact Syracuse is ranked 68th overall on the Pomeroy Ratings, a position that would not be good enough to make the Dance because of the automatic bids to lesser conference champions, and while the Orange are currently 14-5, losses to 158th ranked California, 118th ranked Clemson and to disappointing 97th ranked Michigan could come back to bite the Orange in a close vote vs. other teams. The best win for Syracuse so far was vs. 44th ranked Iowa of the Big Ten, but at least the Orange have a chance to improve their resume in what is a tough ACC this season.
Washington Huskies: The Pac-12 is ranked sixth as a whole by Pomeroy making it the lowest ranked of the six major conferences, so the Huskies could be the victims of a numbers game here depending on how many Pac-12 teams the committee wants to select. Washington is 14-4 but the four losses came consecutively following an 11-0 start, a losing streak that began with a bad non-conference home loss to Stony Brook. Then came an 0-3 conference start, and while losing to 33rd ranked Stanford on the road is acceptable, the other two losses were to 158th ranked California and 172nd ranked Washington State. Despite those defeats the Huskies are still the fourth highest ranked Pac-12 team on Pomeroy at number 57, but we feel that have more work to do before we include them in our field.
Illinois Fighting Illini: Speaking of numbers games and power conferences, the Big Ten is right above the Pac-12 in fifth among all conferences on Pomeroy and Illinois has a lot more competition inside its own conference while currently being ranked 66th on Pomeroy overall. The Illini are 13-7 but they are still in the discussion for the Dance thanks to wins over 19th ranked Baylor on a neutral floor and over 21st ranked Maryland at home. The problem for Illinois is that it has just one true road win all season and that was vs. 134th ranked Northwestern. The Illini play very well at home but they need at least one statement win and probably two on the road before we would consider moving them up a bit.