"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Monday, March 11, 2024

Bracketology: Championship Week

Shaka Smart celebrates Marquette's 2023 Big East Tournament title

Photo by Marquette Athletics

The regular season is over. Four months are in the books, and in less than a month, the NCAA National Champion will be crowned. Before we get to that tournament, however, we have Championship Week. Today we do a quick breakdown of the remaining multibid conferences, including potential bid thieves and who Marquette fans should be cheering for. Let's dig in.

Big 12 (9 bids)

Most Likely Bid Thief: Kansas State

Teams to Cheer For: Houston, Texas

It would be a surprise if someone who wasn't a single-digit seed won this tournament, but keep an eye on K-State. They already played first round opponent Texas tough and beat Iowa State, Baylor, and Kansas, the other favorites on their side of the bracket. They're playing close to home and if anyone not projected in the field could find their way to the final, it's the Wildcats.

There are three teams here competing with Marquette for a 2-seed, but Baylor, Iowa State, and Kansas would each likely need to win this tournament to pass Marquette, and they are all on the bottom half of the bracket so only one can make the final. Houston winning would keep the obvious 1-seed protected, but also root for Texas, because their wins boost Marquette's profile and if they beat K-State they'll have chances to take out the teams Marquette is in competition with.

SEC (8 bids)

Most Likely Bid Thief: Arkansas

Teams to Cheer For: Anyone but Kentucky

This is another league where a bid thief feels unlikely, but if anyone could win five games in five days, I'm putting my money on Eric Musselman and that lineup. They've beaten Duke and had second half leads on Kentucky and Alabama. Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and Auburn have all shown the ability to slip up and if the Hogs find themselves in the semifinals, who knows what could happen?

I don't think Marquette can catch Tennessee anymore, but Kentucky could catch them from behind. That could lead to Marquette fans having distasteful rooting options like either Buzz Williams or Chris Beard followed by Nate Oats, but it's in our best interest for Big Blue Nation to fall, so hold your nose and cheer against the 'Cats.

Big 10 (6 bids)

Most Likely Bid Thief: Ohio State

Teams to Cheer For: Purdue

Since Jake Diebler took over for Chris Holtmann at Ohio State, the Buckeyes are #16 in T-Rank, behind only Nebraska and Purdue in the Big 10, both teams they have defeated in their 5-1 stretch. Last year they won three games in three days and were leading Purdue in the semifinals before running out of steam. If they can repeat that, they would find themselves playing for an NCAA Tournament berth on Sunday. Iowa and Indiana are also worth keeping an eye on as they are playing their best basketball of the season right now.

When it comes to bracketing Marquette, they are likely to go to the Midwest with Purdue or the South with Houston. Marquette cannot go to the East (UConn) while Arizona is a veritable lock to go out West. Personally, I would rather play into a Purdue team we lost to by 3 on a neutral court when everything went wrong rather than a Houston team with the physicality and length to make Marquette's life difficult at every turn. The best way for Marquette to be drawn into Purdue's region is if Purdue is the top overall seed, which means winning the Big 10 Tournament. If Purdue wins, it will prevent #5 overall from being in their region (likely UNC or Tennessee) which pushes #5 to the East or South while Arizona goes out West. That would leave Detroit open for Marquette, as long as they can hold onto the #7 spot, so go Boilers!

Mountain West (6 bids)

Most Likely Bid Thief: UNLV

Teams to Cheer For: New Mexico

UNLV is playing in their home arena and already has wins over three of the four teams they could face before the final, while losing 87-86 to regular season champ Utah State. They have been playing like an at-large caliber team for the past six weeks and if anyone is going to get a seventh bid for the Mountain West, it's the Rebels.

As far as who to cheer for, it doesn't really matter much for Marquette, so I say cheer for Richard Pitino and New Mexico, because a deep run (without winning the title) for the Lobos could lead to a Pitino vs Pitino game in Dayton, which if nothing else would be tremendous television.

Big East (5 bids)

Most Likely Bid Thief: Villanova

Teams to Cheer For: Marquette

I hate to say it, but if anyone can win four games in four days, it's the Wildcats. I don't truly believe anyone playing on Wednesday will still be alive for the Saturday final, but 'Nova has the most talent of the Wednesday teams and is playing like a top-20 team per T-Rank since February 1st.

I don't think Marquette can get a 1-seed, but if North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arizona bow out early while Marquette beats Villanova, Creighton, and UConn on their way to a Big East title, they might have a far outside shot. But more important, Marquette needs to see Creighton lose to keep the Bluejays in the rear view, and the easiest way to do that is to reach Saturday's final, which would insure Creighton was eliminated before Marquette.

ACC (4 bids)

Most Likely Bid Thief: Pittsburgh

Teams to Cheer For: Clemson

Since January 19th, Pittsburgh is ranked #28 per T-Rank, and thanks to finishing fourth in the ACC gets a double-bye. They only need to win three games in three days to claim the title, and if anyone outside the field could do it, the Panthers look most likely (largely because Wake Forest is inept away from home, and this game isn't being played in Winston-Salem).

Clemson is safely in the field, but if they won the ACC are not in a position to threaten Marquette, might knock out a bubble team (Virginia) along the way, and could do damage to teams on the top three seed lines in North Carolina and Duke, both of whom Marquette will be keeping an eye on.

Pac-12 (3 bids)

Most Likely Bid Thief: Utah

Teams to Cheer For: Washington State 

At 11-2 to start the New Year, Utah looked like a solid tourney team. But they sputtered as the year went on and find themselves going into Championship Week on the outside of the field. But they've already claimed wins over the Colorado and Washington State teams that are the highest seeds on their half of the bracket, and this is a team with four wins over our current NCAA field, so the ability to win is there. Keep an eye on the Utes to make a run this week.

For Marquette, the team to cheer for is Washington State. Aside from being a great story, they are solidly in the field and swept Arizona, a team directly in front of Marquette on the S-Curve. If anyone can end Tommy Lloyd's unbeaten in the Pac-12 Tournament streak, Kyle Smith and his Cougars are likely that team. 

West Coast, A-10, and American

Most Likely Bid Thieves: Santa Clara, UMass, and South Florida

These leagues will combine for just four bids if the favorites (Gonzaga/St. Mary's, Dayton, FAU) win, but these are major bid thief opportunities. Santa Clara played St. Mary's close a month ago and has wins over Gonzaga and San Francisco, the two teams on the other side of the bracket. Richmond won the A-10 regular season title, but 4-seed UMass also has a double-bye and has already beaten the 5-seed (VCU) and 1-seed (Richmond) on their side of the bracket. Frank Martin is also a proven coach who has taken two teams to the NCAA Tournament, including bringing South Carolina to the Final Four. Watch the Minutemen. In the American, South Florida started the year rough but is a staggering 21-2 since December 9th. They won the regular season title and head coach Amir Abdur-Rahim had a similarly shocking shared league title last year before winning the ASUN with Kennesaw State and going to the NCAA Tournament.

No comments: