If you’re looking for a sneak peek at the NCAA tournament bracket a month before Selection Sunday, prepare for disappointment this weekend.
That’s not what Division I men’s basketball committee chairman Mark Hollis will reveal Saturday for the first time. It’s only the top 16 seeds. And everything is still fluid. Things will certainly change, but this should give us an idea of what folks picking the bracket are thinking at the moment.
It’s never been done before. This doesn’t really make the process better or any easier for the committee. But college basketball’s version of the College Football Playoff ranking is being unveiled to create more buzz before March Madness.
“It’s exciting on the one hand,” Hollis told NCAA.com this week. “On the other hand, what it’s doing to the process is, it’s bunching together both the top of the bracket and the proverbial bubble. You have teams that are getting big wins and positioning themselves. The teams we thought were running away with it have been pulled back into the field, and the teams that maybe were out of it are being pulled back up into the field. It’s a compression of the entire bracket.”
This is a one-time thing. Meaning, the top 16 won’t be updated each week leading into Selection Sunday. If that were the case, then the committee likely would be opposed to it, CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm said.
Palm, one of the main so-called bracketologists with ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, doesn’t see a problem with providing a taste of what the top seeds look like four weeks early.
“I don’t know about it being a game-changer,” Palm said. “It’s a time of year when they’re not going to be pigeonholed into anything because all of those teams will have eight, 10 games left to play. It’s a time of the year when the NCAA tournament selection chairman can get everyone’s attention.”
Typically, the first time you would hear from the committee head is right before the bracket is released, once the last conference tournament is ending that Sunday in mid-March. The next time the chair shows his face is when he then goes into defensive mode trying to explain why “X” team and “Y” team got picked for at-large NCAA bids over those snubs with arguably better résumés. He becomes the bad guy.
“There’s just a lot of noise on Selection Sunday,” Palm said. “This is an opportunity for [Hollis] to get the general public’s attention when their attention is available. It will create a little buzz for college basketball as they go into the home stretch of the season. If they were doing this every week, I would have a problem of it. Everybody on the committee would. But I think it’s a good idea.”
The NCAA met with members of the media and advanced stats and analytics experts in January to discuss whether or not Rating Percentage Index should be replaced to determine selection and seeding for the NCAA tournament in the future. No decisions were made, but the groundwork was laid for possible changes as early as next season.
Wisconsin, Purdue and Maryland are the Big Ten’s top candidates for early top-16 seeds, but they probably already know where they stand.
“If you’re in the top 16, I think you have a feel for where you’re at,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “I don’t think it matters a whole lot. If it brings attention to the game, great. I’m sure that’s what they’re trying to do — get people talking about it. So it’s good.”
Player to watch: Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA
What do you do when your little brother scores 92 points in a high school game and becomes an instant social media sensation? But the talented 6-6 freshman made his own headlines Thursday, rallying UCLA from a 19-point deficit in an 82-79 win against Oregon. Ball, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds, nailed a deep three-pointer in the final minute. (Take that, LaMelo!) Basketball fans everywhere are eager to see what the Ball Bros. do next.
Game of the weekend: No. 1 Gonzaga at No. 20 St. Mary's, 7:15 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
You’d think the closest competition for Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference is St. Mary’s, the league’s only other perennial power. But the Zags blew out the Gaels by 23 points Jan. 14 in Spokane, Wash. Gonzaga has had tighter games at Pacific 74-70 and against Portland 51-41 since. But St. Mary’s will have a chance for revenge, hosting its rival Saturday in Moraga, Calif. If college basketball’s last unbeaten team doesn’t fall this weekend, the Zags (22-0) might go into the NCAA tournament with a goose egg in the loss column.
Overtime games are taxing for players, but they can be a little tough on media, too, if you’re on deadline. The Gophers have been in four overtime games in Big Ten regular-season play this year, which hasn’t happened since 1980-81. The 101-89 double-OT victory Wednesday against Iowa was one of the most edge-of-your-seat games at the Barn I’ve seen. Longtime Gophers announcer Dick Jonckowski, in his 31st season, said it ranks among his top-10 home games all-time.
BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS
Marcus Fuller’s rankings, with five teams to watch:
1. Wisconsin (21-3, 10-1)
Close calls: Six of Wisconsin’s 10 conference wins have come by seven points or fewer, including three overtime victories: Minnesota (78-76), Rutgers (61-54) and Nebraska (70-69). Nigel Hayes hit a game-winning three-pointer with 18.4 seconds left Thursday against the Cornhuskers.
2. Purdue (20-5, 9-3)
Boiler up: Purdue is the only Big Ten team to beat Wisconsin. That was a month ago, but the Boilermakers have won six of their past seven games, including three straight wins against Northwestern, Maryland and Indiana.
3. Maryland (20-4, 8-3)
4. Minnesota (17-7, 5-6)
5. Northwestern (18-6, 7-4)
Down to earth: The Wildcats were flying high as a top-25 team and solidly in NCAA tournament projections two weeks ago. But they’ve lost two straight since leading scorer Scottie Lindsey’s been sidelined by an illness. It doesn’t get easier with games against Maryland and Wisconsin coming up.
6. Michigan (15-9, 5-6)
7. Michigan State (14-10, 6-5)
8. Ohio State (15-10, 5-7)
9. Iowa (14-11, 6-6)
Jok back: Senior guard Peter Jok (above) returned after missing two games because of a back injury, but the Big Ten’s leading scorer wasn’t himself until a 28-point game in Iowa’s 101-89 double-overtime loss Wednesday at Minnesota.
10. Indiana (15-10, 5-7)
11. Penn State (13-12, 5-7)
12. Illinois (14-11, 4-8)
13. Nebraska (10-14, 4-8)
14. Rutgers (13-12, 2-10)
Better than record: The Scarlet Knights are still at the bottom of the Big Ten, as they were last year. But they’re showing improvement under first-year coach Steve Pikiell, winning the program’s first Big Ten road game ever at Penn State and taking Wisconsin to overtime in a close loss.
Marcus Fuller covers college basketball for the Star Tribune. email@example.com. Twitter: @Marcus_R_Fuller. Blog: startribune.com/gophers