We've been hearing for weeks now that the conference tournaments were going to clear the NCAA Tournament picture up tremendously, but there are only five games left, and things still appear to be awfully muddled. The vast majority of teams that were supposed to win and establish themselves did not, and nearly all of the bubble teams that had the chance to lock down a bid with a single win did not. Oh, and there's the little tidbit about a pair of major conference teams that entered the postseason with losing records having a shot to claim automatic bids tomorrow afternoon.
We talked briefly a couple of weeks ago about the absurdity of having conference title games on Selection Sunday, and the odd-results that a bad major conference team being one win away from an auto bid can produce, well now we have the same situation times two. Right now the committee has to have a scenario in place for if Illinois wins, if Georgia wins, if neither wins, and if they both win. One of these teams is 16-16, and the other is 16-18, which means the committee can't give either of them anything better than a 13, and thus is being forced to bump one or two auto bid teams that were on line 13 up to line 12, and re-organize the bracket for each possible scenario.
Basically, shit could get crazy. In fact, I'm going to go ahead and say that this will be the most widely contested (read: worst) bracket that any of us will have been able to remember.
As for Louisville, there's still no way to know where we stand in the eyes of the committee, but I'm 87.35% certain that we won't fall anywhere outside of the 3-5 range. I'm less convinced that we have a shot at a three than I was yesterday, but more convinced that the committee can't justify jumping four teams ahead of us and knocking us back to a five, but I'm still far from ready to rule it out as a possibility.
So based on the assumption that the Cards will be either a three, four or five seed when the bracket is released in about 13 hours, here are the 15 teams that could be our first-round opponents: Winthrop, Belmont, Western Kentucky, Siena, UMBC, George Mason, San Diego, Oral Roberts, Boise State, Cal-State Fullerton, Georgia, Illinois, Cornell, Temple, Bubble Team.
So out of this group, who do we not want to see below our name tonight? Well, let's count 'em down, starting with the teams I'd most like to play.
15. UMBC (24-8)
The Retrievers are more than likely going to get no better than a 15 seed, but Albany - the '07 America East champs - actually had a worse record a year ago, and somehow snuck all the way up to 13. We would have to snag a three to have any shot at this pairing, but if it happened, we'd be a pretty safe bet to advance to round two, because Ray Barbosa and company don't have nearly the size or the athletes to hang with a team like Louisville.
14. Belmont (25-8)
The Bruins did have a nice win over Cincinnati to start the season, but they also lost to Xavier by 41. Again, this is another team that is probably going to be facing a two seed in the first round, but sometimes the committee sees things the rest of us don't in the bottom four lines.
13. Cal-State Fullerton (24-8)
This is the first real possibility, I think, in the group, and it's one that I'd like to see come to fruition. I saw Fullerton for the first time tonight, and they're an extremely small team that would likely try to run with us, but again, I'm not sure they have the athletes or the ball-handlers to be competitive with that approach. They do have a pair of bon-a-fide scorers in Josh Akognon and Frank Robinson, but getting open looks from the outside is harder against U of L than it is against UC-Irvine. Big West teams have been notoriously overseeded in recent years, so these guys getting a 13 isn't out of the question.
12. Winthrop (22-11)
Winthrop reminds me of a mid-major Louisville in that they're able to play just about any style, which makes them a bit more dangerous than some of the other teams with comparable talent. They're also probably the best defensive team out of the squads likely to fall in the 13-16 range, and if the Cards aren't shooting the ball particularly well (which is certainly possible) the Eagles could keep the game in the 50s and have a shot. Michael Jenkins is a guy capable of going off from the outside, but once again, there's not a lot of size on this team.
11. Boise State (25-8)
Reggie Larry's good enough that he could put up some numbers against our front line despite a height disadvantage (he's only 6-5), but I'm not sure if his teammates could find similar success. Yeah they put up some impressive offensive numbers, but nobody in the WAC plays defense, in any sport.
10. Siena (22-10)
I have openly professed my love for the MAAC, so this is a matchup that would pull at the heartstrings, but it's also one where I'd like our chances to advance. The Siants aren't without talent though. Alex Franklin is a legit post-player, Edwin Ubiles is sort of a mid-major T-Will, and their point guard Ronald Moore is a very sound floor general. But they don't have anyone who could match up with Clark, and Franklin isn't tall enough to prevent David from making about 20 baby hooks in the lane. Not a pushover my any stretch of the imagination, but not a reason to freak out either.
9. Georgia (16-16)
I really can't see Georgia getting past Arkansas today, but if they do, I would not mind being the next team on their schedule. Gaines is good, Humphrey's talented, Woodbury's a constant liability, and Bliss is big. They could have won five games on Saturday and I still would not be scared of this team.
8. Oral Roberts (24-8)
If Winthrop isn't the best defensive team in the bottom four lines, then Oral Roberts is. This is a team good enough to keep us from doing what we want with the ball, and even though he comes off the bench, Robert Jarvis is more than capable of scoring enough to keep the Golden Eagles in the game.
7. Cornell (20-5)
They haven't lost in about eight months, so they'll enter the first-round as confident as any team in the tournament. This matchup scares me a little bit in that we have the feel of a team that might be a bit vulnerable against one of these smart/scrappy Ivy League champs. I'd rather not play the role of '96 UCLA, but hey, maybe Will Scott still knows all of Steve Donahue's plays.
6. San Diego (21-13)
I think the Toreros might be less dangerous than they appear on the surface since they won the WCC Tournament on their home floor, but I'm not particularly eager to find out for sure. Brandon Johnson is the real deal, and these guys will hang with just about anybody if they start to believe they have a shot at winning. Plus, the prospects of losing to a team that we made fun of Kentucky for losing too are just too severe to risk.
5. Illinois (16-18)
There's enough talent there that I'd rather not bank on their run being a fluke.
4. Bubble Team (Not as good as ours)
Sure, your first inclination will be to throw something if you see someone like St. Joe's or Ohio State matched up against us, but before you contemplate kicking the dog, please remember Stanford. Sweet, innocent, turnover-friendly Stanford. This matchup likely only takes place in a 5/12 scenario, which would be scary, but it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
3. Western Kentucky (27-6)
Courtney Lee is one of the better players in the country. His game is a lot like Sam Young's, and we all saw how he fared against us this year. We would have a hard time containing Lee, but it's the unpredictability of the other guys on the team that scares me the most. Tyrone Brazelton is sort of like Edgar Sosa or Ramel Bradley on crack; sure there's a pretty good chance that he's going to turn the ball over at least five times and miss six or seven crazy threes, but there's also a chance that he's going to be incredibly hot and go off for 30. And the other guys like Slaughter, Rogers and Mendez-Valdez are - to a lesser extent - the same way. Western is a team that we'd likely beat eight or nine times out of ten, but their absolute best beats 95% of the field, and that's something that not many teams seeded in the bottom fourth of the tournament can say, and it's what makes the 'Toppers so dangerous.
2. George Mason (23-10)
I don't know if the Final Four got to the heads of the Patriots, but they've become the mid-major version of the '06 Connecticut team that helped make them famous. Mason turned it on and was highly impressive whenever it took on quality opponents, but when the competition level dipped, the Pats followed suit. Both Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell are good enough to play for just about anybody, which means they're good enough to put up big numbers against just about anybody. Whoever gets Mason in the first-round will get their best shot, and their best shot is good enough to put a scare into any three, four or five seed.
1. Temple (21-12)
The odds are strongly against this pairing happening, but if it did, well, I'd be pissed. Dionte Christmas is way good, and this team is playing far too well for any five, six or seven seed to want to see them warming up on the other side of the floor on Thursday or Friday.
Completely Baseless Prediction on Who We Play: Cornell
It was Stephen F. Austin for the last two months, but the Lumberjacks are sans suds, so I'm going with the Big Red in a 4/13 or 3/14 matchup. Again, for absolutely no reason.
I'll be back with more later in the day. Until then, enjoy the best Sunday of the year.