Five takeaways from the selection committee's preliminary bracket reveal

The Dagger
Michigan State’s No. 3 seed suggests the Spartans may have a hard time leapfrogging all the way to the top seed line by Selection Sunday. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Michigan State’s No. 3 seed suggests the Spartans may have a hard time leapfrogging all the way to the top seed line by Selection Sunday. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

After a dizzying week of upsets in college basketball, the men’s basketball selection committee did not have an easy job trying to decide on its top 16 teams in time for Sunday afternoon’s nationally televised bracket reveal.

Committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen said they stayed up well past midnight debating which teams belonged and in what order.

The result was a preliminary bracket that offers some preliminary clues as to what the committee will do one month from now on Selection Sunday. Here’s the bracket and five takeaways focusing on what the committee got right, what it got wrong and what we can learn from its approach:


1. The committee got the top seed line exactly right. 

It was nice to see the committee not overreact to Virginia, Villanova and Purdue each suffering losses this past week. Those three teams all still deserve No. 1 seeds at this juncture based on their total body of work.

Virginia, Villanova and Xavier had by far the strongest cases for No. 1 seeds because each boast gaudy overall records and seven or more quadrant 1 wins. The Cavaliers were a deserving No. 1 overall seed since they have the best collection of marquee wins, including three against teams also among the committee’s top 16.

Purdue’s inclusion on the top line is not as clear cut, but the Boilermakers have a slightly better case of any of the other contenders. Michigan State and Cincinnati have fattened up their records against weaker competition. Texas Tech and Auburn have very similar resumes to Purdue’s, but perhaps slightly less impressive quality wins. Kansas has as many quadrant 1 victories as any team in the country, but the Jayhawks have also lost six games, including three at home.

• Virginia (23-2, 12-1) (RPI: 1, KenPom: 1) (Record vs. Q1: 7-1) (Record vs. Q2: 5-1) (Marquee wins: at Duke, North Carolina, Clemson) (Losses: at West Virginia, Virginia Tech)

• Villanova (23-2, 10-2) (RPI: 3, KenPom 2) (Record vs. Q1: 9-1) (Record vs. Q2: 4-1) (Marquee wins: Xavier, Tennessee, Gonzaga) (Losses: at Butler, St. John’s)

• Xavier (23-3, 11-2) (RPI: 2, KenPom: 13) (Record vs. Q1: 7-3) (Record vs. Q2: 7-0) (Marquee wins: Cincinnati, Butler x2, at Creighton) (Losses: at Villanova, Arizona State, Providence)

• Purdue (23-4, 12-2) (RPI: 12, KenPom: 3) (Record vs. Q1: 5-3) (Record vs. Q2: 6-1) (Marquee wins: Arizona, Butler, Louisville) (Losses: Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Ohio State, at Michigan State)

2. The inclusion of Oklahoma is difficult to justify

Only one of the teams that the committee included in its top 16 was truly head-scratching. That’s Oklahoma, which snagged the final No. 4 seed despite a pedestrian 16-8 record and losses in six of its last eight games.

The case for Oklahoma is its six quadrant 1 wins, a list that includes marquee victories over Kansas and Wichita State. Only Villanova, Virginia, Xavier, Kansas and North Carolina have more Quadrant 1 victories than the Sooners.

The case against Oklahoma is that it has only one Quadrant 2 win and a boatload of losses. The Sooners are just 6-6 in the Big 12 and are fading in a hurry as teams exploit their suspect defense and one-dimensional Trae Young-heavy offense.

Either Gonzaga or West Virginia would have been a better choice than Oklahoma for the final spot on the No. 4 line. The Zags have a top 10 KenPom ranking and a 5-2 record against Quadrant 1 opponents including wins over Ohio State, Creighton, Texas and Saint Mary’s. The Mountaineers have a total of 10 quadrant 1 or 2 wins including a season sweep of Oklahoma.

• Oklahoma (16-8, 6-6) (RPI: 21 KenPom: 28) (Record vs. Q1: 6-5) (Record vs. Q2: 1-3) (Marquee wins: at Wichita State, at TCU, Kansas) (Losses: Arkansas, West Virginia, at Kansas State, at Oklahoma State, at Alabama, at West Virginia, at Texas, at Iowa State)

• Gonzaga (23-4, 13-1) (RPI: 41, KenPom: 7) (Record vs. Q1: 5-2) (Record vs. Q2: 1-2) (Marquee wins: Ohio State, Creighton, Texas, at Saint Mary’s) (Losses: Florida, Villanova, at San Diego State, Saint Mary’s)

• West Virginia (18-7, 7-5) (RPI: 35, KenPom: 16) (Record vs. Q1: 5-5) (Record vs. Q2: 5-1) (Marquee wins: Virginia, Oklahoma x2, Missouri) (Losses: Texas A&M, at Texas Tech, Kansas, at TCU, Kentucky, at Iowa State, Oklahoma State)

3. The subpar Big Ten is damaging Michigan State’s bid for a No. 1 seed

With Villanova, Virginia and Purdue each suffering at least one loss this past week, some believe that fourth-ranked Michigan State should ascend to the top of the polls on Monday. Therefore it had to come as a surprise to the Spartans to not be among the eight teams on the committee’s top two seed lines.

Michigan State was actually 11th in the committee’s rankings, which undoubtedly stemmed from the Spartans’ modest strength of schedule. They’re 24-3 overall with a pair of outstanding wins over Purdue and North Carolina, but they have just three quadrant 1 wins all season and their third most impressive victory came against either Maryland or Nebraska.

What’s hurting Michigan State is that the Big Ten is so far down this season and doesn’t offer many chances for quality wins besides Ohio State and Purdue. It also didn’t help that Notre Dame endured a rash of injuries during conference play, devaluing the Spartans’ victory over the Irish.

Michigan State has no remaining regular season games left against Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan or Nebraska, so the Spartans won’t be able to boost their NCAA tournament resume much at all until the Big Ten tournament. To leapfrog all the other teams ahead of them in the pecking order for a No. 1 seed, they’ll probably have to win out and hope that’s enough. Otherwise Michigan State will merely be a very dangerous No. 2 or 3 seed.

• Michigan State (24-3, 12-2) (RPI: 22, KenPom: 6) (Record vs. Q1: 3-2) (Record vs. Q2: 5-1) (Marquee wins: Purdue, North Carolina, Nebraska) (Losses: Duke, at Ohio State, Michigan)

4. The committee likes Duke’s resume more than it should

It would have been informative to hear committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen explain why Duke was a No. 2 seed in Sunday’s reveal. The Blue Devils appear to have a weaker resume than many of the No. 3 seeds in the committee’s preliminary bracket.

Compare Duke and North Carolina for a moment. The Tar Heels do have more losses including a dreadful one against Wofford, but they also have more quadrant 1 and 2 victories and four wins over other teams in the committee’s top 16 including a head-to-head victory over the Blue Devils in Chapel Hill last Thursday.

• Duke (19-5, 7-4) (RPI: 8, KenPom: 5) (Record vs. Q1: 4-4) (Record vs. Q2: 4-1) (Marquee wins: Michigan State, at Miami, Florida) (Losses: at Boston College, at NC State, Virginia, at St. John’s, at North Carolina)

• North Carolina (19-7, 8-5) (RPI: 6, KenPom: 10) (Record vs. Q1: 7-5) (Record vs. Q2: 7-1) (Marquee wins: Duke, Clemson, at Tennessee, Ohio State) (Losses: Michigan State, Wofford, at Florida State, at Virginia, at Virginia Tech, NC State, at Clemson)

Or compare Duke to Texas Tech. The Big 12-leading Red Raiders have more quadrant 1 and 2 wins and fewer losses.

• Duke (19-5, 7-4) (RPI: 8, KenPom: 5) (Record vs. Q1: 4-4) (Record vs. Q2: 4-1) (Marquee wins: Michigan State, at Miami, Florida) (Losses: at Boston College, at NC State, Virginia, at St. John’s, at North Carolina)

• Texas Tech (21-4, 9-3) (RPI: 13, KenPom: 7) (Record vs. Q1: 6-3) (Record vs. Q2: 5-1) (Marquee wins: at Kansas, at TCU, West Virginia) (Losses: Seton Hall, at Oklahoma, at Texas, at Iowa State)

Heck, even Clemson has a pretty strong argument against Duke. The same number of quadrant 1 wins, a better record against quadrant 2 and zero losses against teams not in NCAA tournament contention compared to a pair for the Blue Devils.

• Duke (19-5, 7-4) (RPI: 8, KenPom: 5) (Record vs. Q1: 4-4) (Record vs. Q2: 4-1) (Marquee wins: Michigan State, at Miami, Florida) (Losses: at Boston College, at NC State, Virginia, at St. John’s, at North Carolina)

• Clemson (20-4, 9-3) (RPI: 4, KenPom: 15) (Record vs. Q1: 4-4) (Record vs. Q2: 6-0) (Marquee wins: at Ohio State, North Carolina, Miami) (Losses: Temple, at North Carolina, at Virginia, at NC State)

Ultimately, Duke may win enough games down the stretch to prove it’s worthy of a top-two seed. It’s just hard to make a case the Blue Devils already are.

5. The committee’s emphasis on quadrant 1 victories bodes well for some bubble teams, poorly for others. 

Bubble teams should take note of both Kansas and Oklahoma landing higher than expected in Sunday’s bracket reveal. If the committee rewards those two for their quality wins and overlooks their combined 14 losses, then it’s likely bubble teams will be treated the same way.

Such an approach would be great news for a mercurial Temple team that has a slew of wins over elite teams and an equally high number of dreadful losses. The Owls (15-10, 7-6) boast victories over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State, yet they’ve also lost to the likes of George Washington, La Salle, Tulane and Memphis.

It could also be beneficial for a Big 12 bubble team like Oklahoma State, which is a pedestrian 15-10 overall yet has piled up a handful of quality wins. The Cowboys have defeated Florida State, Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

The committee’s approach is less promising for teams like Boise State or USC that are lacking so many marquee wins. The Broncos are 20-5 but their best win outside the Mountain West came at middling Oregon. The Trojans (17-9, 8-5) have yet to beat a top 50 RPI opponent besides Middle Tennessee and New Mexico State.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

 

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