Consider this the official non-conference bracket projection. Most of the conferences start league play this week, so this is a look at where teams stand with the bulk of the pre-conference games completed. I should say up front that there is a healthy dose of "BBB" in this one (Bracket Board Bias). There has to be this early. But, I did my best to base it on what teams have accomplished to this point according to the NCAA's official selection criteria. Sometimes, that is very hard to do this early. The BBB will be phased out from week to week and by mid-conference season, it will be totally eradicated.
The last four teams in were Texas A&M, Indiana State, Notre Dame, and California. The first four out were Bradley, Washington State, Alabama, and West Virginia. Other teams under consideration were Temple, Houston, Saint Joseph's, UAB, Houston, Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Georgetown, Florida State, Ohio, Rutgers, and Kansas.
Other food for thought while perusing this bracket.
1. It is still WAY too early to make any definitive statements about many teams. However, I think we can make some relatively safe initial observations. For example, right now there seems to be about 16 virtual locks for NCAA tournament. Grouped by conference, they are:
Duke, NC State, UConn, Villanova, Pitt, Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio State, Memphis, Washington, Arizona, UCLA, Florida, and Gonzaga.
The next group of 12 teams is a little less certain, but it would be a monumental surprise if any of these teams missed: Boston College, Maryland, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Cincinnati, Iowa, George Washington, Kentucky, and Nevada.
That is 28 teams that look to be in great shape representing 10 conferences. There are 31 automatic bids to the NCAA tourney and 34 at-large bids. Of the 28 teams listed here, 10 are projected as auto's from their conference which means that approximately 18 at-large bids are available. Again, it's way too early to construct any meaningful Bubble list, but if a team is not on these "safe" lists, it is fighting for one of about 18 slots right now. The Bubble may bloat some weeks, but most weeks it is going to get smaller and smaller as we head into February and March.
2. A few teams have to prove themselves against quality competition to be included in either of these safe groups. Louisville's best win is at Miami-FL who is not a good team. Let's wait and see how the Cards do when they host Villanova and go to Providence this week. Also, Kansas, West Virginia, Alabama, LSU, and Texas Tech cannot possibly be considered anything other than talented teams that have an awful lot of work to do in the conference season despite their high preseason expectations and/or their storied histories.
3. Another interesting group is the FIVE Missouri Valley teams who look to be pretty evenly matched. Wichita State, Northern Iowa, Missouri State, Bradley, and Indiana State have been strong in the non-conference. Add in the fact that perennial MVC power Southern Illinois will not go away quietly, and you have the makings of one heckuva conference race. SIX of the ten MVC teams have started 1-1 in conference play. It will be interesting to see which teams, if any, can separate themselves from the pack.
4. Multi-Bid Conference Breakdown in this Bracket
Big East (8): UConn, Villanova, Pitt, Cincinnati, Louisville, Syracuse, DePaul, Notre Dame
Big 10 (7): Illinois, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan
Big 12 (6): Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Kansas State, Colorado, Texas A&M
ACC (6): Duke, NC State, Maryland, Boston College, Wake Forest, North Carolina
SEC (5): Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Pac 10 (4): Washington, UCLA, Arizona, Cal
MVC (4): Wichita State, Northern Iowa, Missouri State, Indiana State
Mountain West (2): Air Force, Colorado State
5. Tomorrow, a recap of WKU's big game tonight against Virginia. The Tops host the Cavaliers here in Bowling Green and seek to avenge a bitter double-OT loss in Charlottsville last season. Also, we'll take an early look at the Bracket Buster.