We have arrived at Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament in just two days, so here is our final look at our picks for the last four teams in and first four out as of March 11th.
Well, Selection Sunday for the NCAA Basketball Tournament is here as it is now just two days away on March 13th, so we have finalized our forecast of which teams will be in the NCAA Tournament and which teams will have to settle for NIT bids or lesser tournaments or even not make any tournaments at all. So for the last time in 2016, we are presenting our NCAA Basketball picks on who should make the NCAA Tournament field as of Friday, March 11th.
To be more precise, we are predicting who we think will be the last four teams in the Big Dance and who we project to be the first four teams out. Keep in mind that even though the selection committee will make is selections in two days, these projections could still be affected by conference winners getting automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament, since major upsets in the still on-going conference tournaments could result in teams stealing at-large berths.
Thus, even at this late stage a big conference tournament shocker or two by a team or teams that would otherwise not have made it to the Dance could mess with our last four teams in, while simultaneously increasing our chances of being correct with our first four teams out. Still, that is a known risk which everyone should keep in mind the next couple of days.
So without further ado and with full knowledge that there are still two more days of conference tournaments before the field is announced, here are our final predictions as of March 11th for the last four teams in the NCAA Tournament, as well as our first four teams out of the Big Dance.
Last Four In
USC Trojans: We had the Trojans safely in the tournament when they were sitting at 18-5, but then they inexplicably stopped playing defense while losing six of their last eight regular season games, allowing over 80 points in four of the losses and at least 74 points in all six of them, to finish just 20-11. At that point, we felt they needed to win at least one game in the Pac-12 Tournament to solidify their spot, and USC did just that by routing UCLA 95-71 before getting eliminated by an excellent and hot Utah team. We have USC as the first of our first four teams out, so they should be in good shape in our estimation.
Syracuse Orange: There is apparently some controversy surrounding Syracuse as one of the most renowned Bracketologists in the field, Joe Lunardi of ESPN, has them out of the NCAA Tournament after losing four of their last five regular season games and then getting nipped 72-71 by Pittsburgh in the ACC Tournament. We must respectively disagree though as the ACC is the second ranked conference in the country as a whole according to the Pomeroy Ratings, and the Orange went 9-9 in conference including some big wins over Duke and Notre Dame, not to mention an earlier non-conference win over the regular season SEC Champions from Texas A&M. We have the Orange in as the second of our last four teams in.
Saint Mary’s Gaels: These last two teams could be at the mercy of teams that would otherwise not have gotten in the Big Dance stealing bids in the conference tournaments in the next couple of days. Now we get that this was a down year for the West Coast Conference, but the Gaels had a great season nonetheless going 27-5 overall and 15-3 in conference including a sweep of Gonzaga, and this is one of the best shooting teams in all of the land in fact leading the country in effective field goal percentage at 59.1 percent. Unfortunately the Gaels lost to Gonzaga in the WCC Championship Game after sweeping them in the regular season, and Saint Mary’s really has no other statement wins all year besides the two over the Bulldogs. It would be a shame if they get knocked out, but we currently have the Gaels as our second to last team in.
Valparaiso Crusaders: Like Saint Mary’s, the Crusaders are another mid-major that had a great season that we would hate see miss out on the Big Dance because they were eliminated in their conference tournament, in this case by Green Bay in the Horizon League Tournament. In fact, more than a few experts have Valparaiso out right now despite finishing 26-6 overall. The Crusaders do things differently than the Gaels in that they have one of the premier defenses in the country, ranking 11th in defensive efficiency and 11th in effective field goal percentage allowed at 44.5 percent. And another reason we have them in is a crucial non-conference road win over Oregon State, which may be serving as a tiebreaker for this last spot with the Beavers.
First Four Out
Oregon State Beavers: We are not quite as high on the Pac-12 as many other people, as while the conference is ranked third overall on Pomeroy, it was also the most home dominated conference among the majors this year with the home teams going 77-31, 71.3 percent straight up over all conference games. Oregon State fits the ilk of the entire conference, as its best true road win all season was probably at UCLA in the season finale, a UCLA team that played itself out of the tournament by losing seven of its last nine games to finish 15-17. The Beavers did beat Arizona State on a neutral floor in Las Vegas in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament before losing to California in the next round, but that may get offset by the earlier home loss to Valparaiso.
St. Bonaventure Bonnies: St. Bonaventure is still alive in the Atlantic 10 Tournament as of this writing so the Bonnies still have a chance to crack the field, although in our minds that may require reaching the A-10 Championship Game at the very least. Our main trepidation with the Bonnies is that we currently have three Atlantic 10 teams in with VCU, and Dayton looking like locks for the field and St. Joseph’s also seemingly in very good shape, and the committee may be gun-shy about taking more A-10 teams than that after getting burned by the conference the last two years, when a total of nine Atlantic 10 teams went Dancing and yet Dayton was the only one to advance past the round of 64 each season.
Monmouth Hawks: The Hawks became national darlings with some big upsets early on this season and also because of the antics of the Monmouth bench, whose celebrations led to the bench performing on some talk shows! But looking back at those wins now, beating UCLA and Georgetown is no longer that big of a deal given the years those two teams ultimately had. The win over USC was good but it lost some luster with the Trojans’ stumbling finish, leaving Notre Dame as the only quality win right now. Moreover, the MAAC is ranked considerably lower than the WCC and the Horizon League, from which Saint Mary’s and Valparaiso respectively hail. Thus, even at 27-7 overall, the Hawks had more easy opponents than those two schools, making the loss to Iona in the MAAC Championship Game fatal for Monmouth in our eyes.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane: Poor Tulsa has been one of our first four teams out ever since entering this bubble watch about a month ago, and while it does not play its first AAC Tournament game until tonight, we do not see the Golden Hurricane making up enough ground right now to crack the field, short of gaining the automatic bid by winning the conference tournament of course, a feat that could jeopardize the bid of our last team in Valparaiso. Tulsa is simply lacking in quality road wins outside of a great win at SMU, as the last four Golden Hurricane losses have all come on the road with three of those (Memphis, Houston, Temple) coming to teams that will not be in the NCAA Tournament without getting the automatic bid.