Two quick things before my bracket guess:
--Boy, spoke just a wee bit too soon about the success of conference tourney favorites, didn't I? Akron, Delaware St., and Vermont all went down yesterday, all in excruciating fashion. The result is that the bottom of the bracket is gutted. Barring some seeding wackiness from the Committee (always a possibility) TAMU-CC (which itself survived a huge scare from Northwestern St. just a few seconds ago) looks like the only potential giant-killer at either the 14 or 15 lines.
--Will be fascinated to see what the Committee does with the play-in game. The obvious candidates are Jackson St. and Florida A&M, but shunting both representatives from the HBCU conferences out of the bracket proper could cause an impressive amount of sh*t to hit the fan. But to stick either school into the bracket proper will be a riotous injustice to whatever team does wind up in the play-in. It's a catch-22 ... and I'm hoping like hell it's the kind of catch-22 that results in the game being put out of its sparsely-attended, viewer-ignored, absurdly-unfair misery.
The JCCW thinks 14 teams have reasonable arguments for being either slipped in or left out. That's a lot. Though every year people say "This was the hardest bracket to pick ever," there's actually some truth this season, methinks. With 31 autos and 27 locks, that means the first seven of those 14 get in. The ranking:
1. 2. Texas Tech, Georgia Tech: Too many wins over teams like Kansas and North Carolina to leave out.
3. Drexel: Every year the Committee preches road wins. How can you leave out a team that is all but the pure embodiment, the Walking Avatars, of the solid road win?
4. Syracuse: Not as good a profile as some think, since the Georgetown win is cancelled out by some questionable losses. The win at Marquette saves them.
5. Stanford: Oregon's surge gives them a lift, and they did beat UCLA.
6. Old Dominion: I'm worried, but that late-season winning streak is impressive.
7. Kansas St.: The last team in, basically on the strength of having accomplished something in their conference tourney and having a quality road win (at Texas) that the next team down does not.
8. Purdue: As pointed out before: Zero RPI top 100 road wins. The JCCW was shocked at the reaction to their Big 10-tourney win over Iowa. How does beating Iowa on a neutral court prove anything?
9. Air Force: Absolutely horrible on the road in-conference and obviously the four-game losing streak suggests they're not going to compete even if invited.
10. Florida St.: No bad losses and a handful of good wins (including a road win at Duke) should equal a bid and I wouldn't be surprised if they make it. But there's just so many losses.
11. Arkansas: The Committee is simply not going to spend too much time looking at a team that had no case when the selection process started. Plus, a below-.500 record in the SEC West?
12. Missouri St.: Covered this a couple posts back. Too many squandered chances.
13. Appalachian St.: Vandy's tumble didn't help.
14. Illinois: Their best win is a neutral-court win over Indiana. Gimme a break.
So, the bracket, complete with bad guesses at sites and whatnot. I tried to observe most bracketing procedures, but did happily ignore BYU's no-Sunday restriction:
1. Ohio St. vs. 16. FAMU/Jackson St., 8. Nevada vs. 9. Xavier (Lexington)
5. Virginia Tech vs. 12. Wright St., 4. Lousiville vs. 13. Holy Cross (Buffalo)
6. Boston College vs. 11. Syracuse, 3. Texas A&M vs. 14. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (New Orleans)
7. Vanderbilt vs. 10. VCU, 2. Memphis vs. 15. Belmont (Lexington)
1. UCLA vs. 16. Weber St., 8. Kentucky vs. 9. Winthrop (Sacramento)
5. Maryland vs. 12. Gonzaga, 4. Pitt vs. 13. Davidson (Buffalo)
6. Notre Dame vs. 11. Drexel, 3. Southern Illinois vs. 14 Penn (Columbus)
7. Duke vs. 10. Arizona, 2. Kansas vs. 15. Niagara (Chicago)
1. North Carolina vs. 16. CCSU, 8. Villanova vs. 9. Michigan St. (Winston-Salem)
5. Tennessee vs. 12. New Mexico St., 4. Washington St. vs. 13. Long Beach St. (Spokane)
6. Marquette vs. 11. Stanford, 3. Texas vs. 14. Albany (Columbus)
7. Butler vs. 10. Georgia Tech, 2. Wisconsin vs. 15. Eastern Kentucky (Chicago)
1. Florida vs. 16. North Texas, 8. USC vs. 9. Indiana (New Orleans)
5. Virginia vs. 12. Kansas St., 4. UNLV vs. 13. Oral Roberts (Sacramento)
6. Creighton vs. 11. Old Dominion, 3. Oregon vs. 14. George Washington (Spokane)
7. BYU vs. 10. Texas Tech, 2. Georgetown vs. 15. Miami (OH) (Winston-Salem)
Getting all 34 at-larges will result in some serious gloating later this evening. Stay tuned.