As we approach the major conference tournaments, look for more surprises and upsets. But no matter what happens, also remember that the elite teams from the top power conferences will be in the mix for a national championship once the big tournament begins next week. Of my top 12 teams, nine come from the trio of the Big Ten (4), Big East (3) and ACC (2). Throw in Kansas, Gonzaga and Florida and you have my #1 through #3 seeds for the Big Dance.
Indiana, Duke and Louisville are my top three to win it all. Indiana’s come-from-behind victory at Michigan speaks volumes, while Duke received a big boost from Ryan Kelly. Louisville is on a roll and remember, most of their players were in the Final Four a year ago. Experience counts big. These are teams with tons of tradition and national championships. And finally, I’ll give Gonzaga the other #1 seed, but they have a program and coach who have never been there. That’s a huge disadvantage.
As you look at the next eight, Georgetown and Ohio State are playing well right now, MSU has Izzo and Kansas has Self. That leaves Michigan (not being able to put away Indiana and Wisconsin before that concerns me), Florida has squandered too many games down the stretch, Miami lacks tradition and Marquette would have to overachieve big time.
Yes, this is the year for surprises and there are probably 25 teams that can win four straight and get to Atlanta. But the winner will come from one of the teams listed above.
Broncos bucking the trend:
We have had our eye on Boise State all year, as coach Leon Rice is doing a great job at a school that has been to the NCAAs once in the past two decades (2008) and just five times overall. The Broncos are 0-5 in the Big Dance, but that could change this year. First off, Boise State went 21-9 during the regular season, but was without junior guard Jeff Elorriaga – ranked in the top-15 nationally in both three-point field goal percentage and three-pointers made and the team leader in minutes – for three games during Mountain West play. The Broncos were only at full strength in four of their nine losses during the season. With its entire roster available, Boise State won six of its final eight games of the season, including five of the final six. And let me add one more thing about Boise State…it won at Creighton and has four top-50 wins overall. Its last four losses were on the road against four NCAA teams. This is a NCAA team no matter what it does in the first round of the MWC Tournament versus San Diego State.
Sending out an SOS:
I heard experts talking the other day and Virginia came up and its non-conference strength of schedule. It is epic bad and Cavaliers fans should be worried. Some teams recently have suffered in the eyes of the committee because of a weak out-of-conference SOS. In 2010-11, Colorado had four top-25 RPI wins and a sweep of Kansas State, but a non-conference SOS of 323 kept them home. Virginia Tech in 2009-10 was 23-8, but had a non-conference SOS of 344. 2009 NIT champion Penn State beat six NCAA teams, but its non-conference SOS was 313. One that many people talk about is Arizona State in 2007-08 with six top-60 wins, a sweep of Arizona and a 9-9 record in a loaded Pac-12. But that Sun Devils squad also had a non-conference SOS of 294. All of these teams were left out and the committee made specific mentions of it. Will it be different with 68 teams? We’ll see. But I know this…Virginia needs to beat either NC State or Virginia Tech on Friday. It is that simple. Remember that the Cavaliers did not make road trips to NC State or Duke.
Taking off their dancing shoes:
You have to feel for regular season conference champions that won’t be in the NCAA Tournament such as Mercer (Atlantic Sun), Stony Brook (America East), Charleston Southern (Big South), Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt), Niagara (MAAC) and Northeastern (CAA). Davidson (Southern) avoided that list Monday night, and good thing, because you hate to see a 17-1 league mark not be rewarded. Davidson will make its 12th appearance in the Big Dance and hopes to rekindle the magic of 2008 when it beat Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before falling to Kansas 59-57 in a great game.
I will be at the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas this weekend. Let me leave you with this note. Last weekend Washington State, Oregon State and Utah entered Pac-12 play with eight wins combined. That trio won five additional games last weekend! Washington State swept UCLA and USC, Oregon State won at Colorado and Utah swept Oregon and Oregon State. A crazy week of basketball awaits!
– Bill Frieder
Former Michigan and Arizona State head coach Bill Frieder is an analyst for Dial Global’s coverage of NCAA Basketball. In his weekly blog Boxed Out, Bill scours the box scores to bring you interesting stories from the world of college basketball.