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NCAA Tournament: Predicting the Field


By Mitch Light

Selection Sunday is just over three weeks away. Here's a conference-by-conference projection at the NCAA Tournament's Field of 68.

ACC (6)
Duke Florida State, Miami, North Carolina NC State, Virginia
Worth a mention: None
Notes: Six of NC State’s eight losses have come against teams ranked in the top 40 of the RPI and top 30 of KenPom’s ratings. The Pack also have two wins away from home against teams in this week’s projected field, vs. Texas and at Miami. They could have all but wrapped up a bid last night but could not hold a 20-point lead in the second half at Duke. The Hurricanes have only one good win — but it was very good, at Duke. They also have no bad losses.

American East (1)

A-10 (3)
Saint Louis, Temple, Xavier
Worth a mention: Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, UMass
Notes: Xavier continues to be one of the most difficult teams to evaluate. The Musketeers’ best win was at Vanderbilt, but that was in November when the Commodores were playing without Festus Ezeli. They have lost their last four games vs. top-100 RPI teams. Ultimately, this team likely will do just enough to get in. Dayton has three top-35 RPI wins, but also had two losses to teams ranked in the 200s. The Flyers have seven top-100 RPI wins — a solid number for a bubble team.

A-Sun (1)

Big 12 (6)
Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas
Worth a mention: None
Notes: Five of Texas’ nine wins have come against North Carolina, Kansas, Baylor and Missouri (twice). The only thing close to a bad loss for the Horns was a neutral-court two-OT setback vs. Oregon State. They have a win over Temple on their résumé, too. Iowa State doesn’t have a top-100 win away from home, but they have dates at Kansas State and Missouri looming.

Big East (9)
Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Syracuse, West Virginia
Worth a mention: Pittsburgh, South Florida
Notes: Cincinnati is a tough case. Most doubters will point to an RPI of 93, which is admittedly very high, but that is a product of a very soft non-conference schedule that included nine games vs. teams ranked 200 or worse in the RPI. Keep in mind that the Bearcats are ranked No. 43 by KenPom and have three top 100 wins away from home. Seton Hall is back in the field after winning three straight games. The Pirates will be in great shape if they win at Cincinnati this weekend. Pittsburgh is on life support. South Florida has a nice Big East record (9–4) but only one top-75 win (vs. Seton Hall, at home).

Big Sky (1)
Weber State

Big South (1)

Big Ten (9)
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Worth a mention: None
Notes: It was very difficult to put Illinois, which has lost four straight and seven of eight, into the field, but the Illini have two wins vs. top-10 teams and three vs. top-20 teams. No bubble team can come close to that. So, for the time being, Illinois is still alive. Northwestern’s ongoing quest for its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance took a hit with a loss at Indiana on Wednesday night, but there is really no shame in losing in Bloomington. It was more of missed opportunity than a bad loss. Minnesota’s profile is shaky, but the Gophers have done just enough to sneak in — for now. Their win at Indiana on Jan. 12 is by far their top accomplishment.

Colonial (1)
Worth a mention: George Mason, VCU
Notes: George Mason boasts a gaudy 14–2 mark in the CAA but has no wins vs. top 60 RPI teams. Its best wins are at home against Bucknell and VCU. The Rams have played a good schedule but failed to beat any of the good teams on their slate.

C-USA (2)
Memphis, Southern Miss
Worth a mention: UCF
Notes: The Knights are close, thanks to wins vs. Memphis and UConn (on a neutral court). Plus, four of their seven losses have come against teams ranked in the top 35. The RPI (55) likes this team more than KenPom (89).

Horizon (1)

Ivy (1)

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MAAC (1)

MAC (1)

MEAC (1)
Norfolk State

MVC (2)
Creighton, Wichita State

MWC (3)
New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a mention: Colorado State
Notes: New Mexico picked up a huge win on Wednesday night, knocking off San Diego State on the road. Colorado State has a solid RPI (33) but is No. 109 in KenPom and doesn’t have a win away from home vs. a team ranked in the top 175 of the RPI.

Northeast (1)
Long Island

OVC (1)
Murray State

Pac 12 (1)
Worth a mention: Arizona, Washington
Notes: I tried to find a reason to include either Arizona or Washington. Couldn’t find one — for either team. Washington’s best win is at Arizona. Arizona’s only top-70 win is at Cal. Both teams have the talent to play in the NCAA Tournament, but for now they both lack the résumé.

Patriot (1)

SEC (5)
Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt
Worth a mention: Ole Miss, Tennessee
Notes: Alabama is an interesting case. The Crimson Tide are trending in the wrong direction, but they haven’t been playing with a complete roster. Now, how will the Selection Committee treat self-inflicted wounds (suspensions)? Not quite sure. If the Tide get all of their parts back, they are more than good enough to secure a spot in the next few weeks. Tennessee has a ton of work to do — the Vols RPI is 107 and they are 66 in Ken Pom — but gets on this list after winning four straight. Ole Miss missed an opportunity Thursday night against Vanderbilt, losing badly at home to the Commodores.

Southern (1)

Southland (1)

Summit (1)
Oral Roberts

Sun Belt (1)
Middle Tennessee

SWAC (1)
Mississippi Valley State

WAC (1)

WCC (3)
BYU, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s
Notes: BYU has solid numbers (31 KenPom/45 RPI) and two wins vs. teams projected to make the field, Gonzaga and Nevada. Three of the Cougars’ four remaining games are against teams ranked 150 or worse. They need to win them all.