With Selection Sunday at our doorstep, the pieces have fallen into place. There are several questions remaining, but even more been answered over the last few days as the picture has become much clearer.
In the end, nine of the 10 automatic qualifiers are set with eight at-large selections to be announced during Sunday evening’s Selection Show. Let’s break it down.
Albany – America East
Bryant – NEC
Colgate – Patriot League
Denver – Big East
High Point – Southern
Johns Hopkins – Big Ten
Marist – MAAC
Syracuse – ACC
Towson – CAA
The Ivy League will be decided on Sunday as Princeton faces Yale. I believe both teams will make the field anyway, so it doesn’t make a difference to the field.
Here’s my predicted field of 18 (and matchups). I am listing Princeton as the Ivy League AQ because the Tigers are the higher remaining seed (3), but it won’t make a difference to the (below) prediction.
When considering the NCAA Tournament field, it’s important to keep in mind that the committee attempts to limit the first round matchups to two flights (out of eight games). Anything over 400 miles is a flight. Also please note, when I mention RPI (below), that figure is the most recent RPI on NCAA.com and doesn’t include this weekend’s games.
High Point (Southern AQ) at Towson (CAA AQ)
Bryant (NEC AQ) at Marist (MAAC AQ)
The play-in games are almost a no-brainer. These are the four lowest RPI teams with the highest two RPI teams getting home games (Towson and Marist). Regionally, it would make sense to send High Point to Towson (approximately 350 miles away) and send Bryant to Marist (approximately 180 miles), both bus trips.
Round of 16
High Point (Southern AQ)/Towson (CAA AQ) at #1 Notre Dame (ACC At-Large)
Bryant (NEC AQ)/Marist (MAAC AQ) at #2 Syracuse (ACC AQ)
Princeton (Ivy League AQ) at #3 North Carolina (ACC At-Large)
Colgate (Patriot League AQ) at #4 Denver (Big East AQ)
Ohio State (Big Ten At-Large) at #5 Duke (ACC At-Large)
Johns Hopkins (Big Ten AQ) at #6 Virginia (ACC At-Large)
Cornell (Ivy League At-Large) at #7 Maryland (Big Ten At-Large)
Yale (Ivy League At-Large) at #8 Albany (America East AQ)
With 10 automatic qualifiers and eight at-large teams, you can begin with the four other ACC schools (Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Notre Dame) along with Maryland. There are three remaining spots. Those will go to the loser of Princeton and Yale, Cornell and Ohio State. The next two teams are Brown and Georgetown. Ultimately, Ohio State’s two big wins over Denver (RPI 5) and Maryland (RPI 7) will get them in. The Buckeyes have two equally tough losses, to Detroit (38) and Rutgers (50), but Brown’s lack of quality out-of-conference wins are what I believe will put Ohio State in over the Bears. Brown’s resume should heavily be considered, though. They do have wins over Cornell (8), Princeton (17) and a Bryant team that just won the NEC. The other thing to consider is the fact that three other Ivy League teams should also make the field, and I can’t see the Ivy League sending four to the NCAA Tournament.
In terms of the eight seeds, I’m giving Notre Dame the #1 seed because of RPI. The Fighting Irish and Orange are so close that the only way I could differentiate them is RPI, but in reality, if you flip-flopped those two, it wouldn’t make a big difference. Following them is North Carolina at #3 then Denver at #4. The Pioneers beat Duke head-to-head this season and own a win over the Irish as well. I also don’t see ACC gaining the top four seeds. Because of that, I believe Denver will be the 4 and Duke the 5. They’re followed by Virginia at 6, Maryland at 7 then a somewhat surprising pick, Albany at 8. I believe there are two seeds and home games legitimately up for discussion, but Maryland’s season has just been too good (despite two straight losses) and Albany should be rewarded for its win over Yale, top 10 RPI and dominance of a very formidable Stony Brook team in the America East Championship Game.
After selecting the seeds, the NCAA fills in the matchups based largely on location and travel. That’s what I attempted to do. It seems logical that the Bryant at Marist winner would travel to Syracuse (bus ride). The Notre Dame opponent would likely have to fly, so the High Point – Towson winner would fly to South Bend.
From there, I began filling in what makes sense. The committee usually tries to avoid regular season rematches. I originally thought of Cornell at Albany, but realized they played already, so changed that to Yale at Albany. That leaves Cornell to travel to Maryland in a rematch of a 2013 NCAA First Round games. Red-hot Johns Hopkins can take the short trip to Virginia, leaving an interesting predicament. Beginning with the seeded teams and remaining teams in the field, I don’t know how the committee can limit the first round to two flights (as it attempts to do). I don’t know how there’s any way of being less than four flights. The remaining matchups are Princeton at North Carolina, Colgate at Denver and Ohio State at Duke. With UNC, Denver and Duke as clear home teams, Princeton, Colgate and Ohio State are all from over 400 miles away. If I get nothing else right on Selection Sunday, I do predict four of the eight first-round matchups being flights.
Although the unseeded teams aren’t officially ranked, it appears every year like they “unofficially” are. For example, Colgate’s RPI is 10 versus Princeton’s which is 17. For that reason, I predict that Colgate will draw the 4 seed Denver rather than the 3 seed North Carolina.
First Teams Out
I believe there are only two remaining teams that have legitimate NCAA Tournament hopes. Those are Brown and Georgetown (mentioned above). The Hoyas feature a strong RPI of 14 (entering the week), but don’t have any quality wins that jump off the page. They’ve beaten Marquette (15) twice and Loyola (20), but are 0-5 against the top 10 with losses to Notre Dame Duke, Virginia and Denver (twice). Georgetown is a team without a bad loss, but no great wins, compared to Ohio State with two great wins and two bad losses. I believe the selection committee will put a lot of weight towards the Buckeyes’ Denver and Maryland victories.
After Brown and Georgetown, the next RPI team is Harvard at 18 who didn’t even make its conference tournament, and Navy at 19.
There appears to be a clean divide between the tournament teams and almost everyone else, with the one big debate being Ohio State versus Brown versus the loser of Princeton and Yale. We’ll see how everything plays out on Selection Sunday!