Bracket Watch: March 6th, 2014

Michigan 84, Illinois 53-18It’s been close to a month since the last Bracket Watch. Since then, Michigan has reeled off four wins in a row. The Wolverines completed the season sweep of Michigan State, won on a last-second shot in overtime at Purdue and most recently clinched the outright Big Ten title with a road victory over Illinois. (Photo: Dustin Johnston)

There’s no doubt about it: Michigan is trending up. The Wolverines are projected right on the two-three seed border and trending toward the 2-seed range. Conventional wisdom holds that Michigan needs to beat Indiana at home in order to inch its way closer to 2-seed range.

Michigan’s non-conference opponents aren’t performing at the highest level – Duke, Stanford and Iowa State have all dropped games recently – but Michigan is poised to leapfrog several of those teams (potentially Duke and Iowa State) on the s-curve. At this point their struggles help the Wolverines, who have the No. 5 ranked strength of schedule, more than hurt them.

If Michigan beats Indiana at home on Saturday, they are all but guaranteed a three seed. A few wins in the Big Ten Tournament, combined with some solid finishes from its non-conference opponents, could land Michigan a two seed. There’s more discussion on just what’s possible for Michigan’s seeding in the bracket debate. For now, things are looking up for the Wolverines.

After the jump we have an in-depth look at Michigan NCAA tournament resume, predictions from notable bracketologists as far as Michigan’s potential seeding and a discussion of how other Big Ten teams are faring in the most recent bracket projections.

Nitty Gritty

  • Record: 22-7
  • RPI: 10
  • SOS: 5
  • Home: 12-2
  • Away: 7-4
  • Neutral: 3-1
  • vs. RPI top-50: 10-5
  • vs. RPI top-100: 12-6

Bracketology Rundown

Around the Big Ten

We’ll also keep a close eye on the rest of the Big Ten and let you know who’s in, who should be in, who could be on the bubble and which games this week have the biggest tournament implications.

Locks:

  • Michigan (22-7 overall, 14-3 Big Ten, 10 RPI) The Wolverines are looking to close out the season strong with a home victory over Indiana on senior night at the Crisler Center. Last season, Michigan played only two ugly games in the Big Ten Tournament — one a win over Penn State and the other a tough loss to Wisconsin. This season, the Wolverines will be looking toward a longer run in the conference tournament with the regular-season Big Ten title already wrapped up.
  • Wisconsin (25-5 overall, 12-5 Big Ten, 5 RPI) Wisconsin lost five of six Big Ten games from January 14th through February 1st. Since then, the Badgers haven’t lost a game. There is a legitimate argument that Wisconsin, not Michigan, is playing the best ball of any team in the Big Ten at the moment — the Wolverines were even asked about what they thought of this take after their win at Illinois. The Badgers continue to make a living off their early-season wins over Florida, Virginia and St. Louis and are projected as a two seed in every bracket prediction despite having two more conference losses than Michigan.
  • Michigan State (22-7 overall, 11-5 Big Ten, 23 RPI) The sky is not quite falling in East Lansing, but it may be caving a bit. Michigan State has lost three of its last four games, with two of those losses coming at home against teams outside the kenpom top-50 (Nebraska and Illinois). The ineffectiveness of Keith Appling has been absolutely devastating for the Spartans, and as Branden Dawson works his way back from his broken hand it becomes a race against time for Tom Izzo to get his team ready for March. Michigan State is locked in firmly as a four seed in most brackets, but Sports Illustrated projects the Spartans as a five.
  • Iowa (19-9 overall, 9-7 Big Ten, RPI 38) The Hawkeyes were in a free-fall throughout the latter portion of February, losing three straight games — a home loss to Wisconsin followed by road losses to Minnesota and Indiana. Since then, it appears Iowa beat Purdue at home and now faces a tough road test against Michigan State that has major seeding implications. Right now the Hawkeyes are projected anywhere from a six seed to an eight seed, and it’s not unreasonable to think a win in East Lansing could be an equalizer when it comes to the seeding of the two teams. Their weak non-conference schedule continues to haunt them, but if the Hawkeyes make a run in the tournament they could move up quickly.
  • Ohio State (22-8 overall, 9-8 Big Ten, RPI 27) It’s been a rough end to the conference season so far for the Buckeyes. Ohio State recently allowed Penn State to sweep them on the season with a loss at Bryce Jordan Center, and then followed that up with an equally deflating road loss to foundering Indiana four days later. At this point, Ohio State is in the 6-7 seed range. However, the Buckeyes have a chance to make their mark against Michigan State at home in its final regular-season game.

Bubble In:

  • Nebraska (18-11 overall, 10-7 Big Ten, RPI 50) It’s shaping up to be an exciting, if stressful finale to the season for Nebraska. With their win at Indiana on Wednesday, the Huskers appear to be just barely in the NCAA tournament. Jerry Palm of CBS and Brad Evans of Yahoo! both moved Nebraska into the field on Thursday. A home win over Wisconsin on Sunday will be critical for the Huskers, who have only lost once at home but are 1-5 against RPI top 25 teams. It’s going to be a dramatic end of the regular season for the Huskers and an electric atmosphere in Lincoln on Sunday.

Bubble Out:

  • Minnesota (17-12 overall, 7-10 Big Ten, RPI 48) Minnesota had a chance to play itself into the tournament with a win at Michigan, but the Gophers ended up being overwhelmed and losing by 10 points at the Crisler Center. Before that Minnesota had a nice home win against Iowa, but it doesn’t look like that win, sandwiched in between two straight losses (to Ohio State and Illinois) and the loss at Michigan, is going to be enough. The Gophers are the first four out in most brackets, have a spot in a play-in game in Lunardi’s and are a 12 seed in the Bracket Matrix. Unless Minnesota makes some serious noise in the Big Ten tournament, it looks like it’ll be watching the NCAA tournament on the couch.

Bracket Debate: Can Michigan get a No. 1 seed?

As a preface to this question, read the excellent analysis provided in the forum on what exactly Michigan’s future holds when it comes to seeding. The short answer to this question is yes, but many different factors must come into play to make that happen — factors largely outside of Michigan’s control.

The three teams who have effectively solidified one seeds are obviously Arizona (who narrowly escaped Oregon State Wednesday night), Florida and Wichita State. However, the fourth one seed is essentially there for the taking.

Syracuse is in a serious backslide, having lost four of its last five games. This means the Orange will likely be on the outside looking in when it comes to a top seed. The next team up, according to most projections, is Kansas. The Jayhawks recently lost to Oklahoma State but beat Texas Tech and will likely beat West Virginia to close out the regular season. The other teams in play for a one seed would be Villanova, Virginia, Duke (who lost to Wake Forest on Wednesday) and Wisconsin. To be sure, Michigan is behind all of these teams. If you want a great rundown of exactly what needs to happen for Michigan to secure a one seed, again, check out the whole post in the forum on this subject.

The next week and a half would probably have to play out perfectly for Michigan to get a one seed, but it’s not impossible. If Michigan wins the Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines are looking at a strong contention for a top spot given the teams they would likely have to beat in the tournament compared to other conferences.

That being said, the best Michigan fans should reasonably hope for is likely a two seed. Jerry Palm, Crashing the Dance and Yahoo! already have the Wolverines there, and with one more win and a couple victories in the Big Ten Tournament, that’s probably where they will end up.

  • tjm32

    Jumping Wisconsin to get the #2 in the MW, opposite Wichita State, might actually be better than getting a #1 seed elsewhere anyway.

    • Mark Worthley

      Wouldn’t they also have to jump Kansas to get the 2 seed in the Midwest?

      • UMHoopsFan

        Two possibilities: (1) Kansas could be the 1-seed in the East (as they are on ESPN now); and (2) KU could be the 2 in the South region – Lawrence is a little bit closer to Memphis then Indianapolis. And I think tjm32’s scenario is pretty ideal and reasonably likely. Overall, it’s pretty good being almost locked in as a 3. I’d like to avoid being the 3 in the same region with KU is a 2.

    • mistersuits

      I agree that getting into Wichita State’s bracket is the most desirable of “likely possible” outcomes.

  • guestavo

    I think Wisconsin could get a 1 seed. They have a better resume than Villanova, Virginia, Duke or UM.

  • camblue

    Nebraska isn’t 0-5 against top 25 RPI teams, they beat sparty for us. I’m hoping for the 2 seed in the midwest. I think our best bet is to have Wichita St vault into the number one overall seed with an Arizona loss. Then if we’re the number 8 overall team, we’ll be the 2 seed in the midwest, if I understood the BTN special correctly. Right now Wichita St looks like the number two overall team, so maybe we can be the number 7 overall team to get us there too.

    • http://www.umhoops.com/ Dylan Burkhardt

      Michigan State bumped back up to the top 25 (they are now 23)… pretty sure they were outside for a second. Right on the edge.

      • camblue

        ah makes sense

  • J-Mo Fan

    This is a little random, but I just want to acknowledge how important Jordan Morgan’s career has been in the resurgence of Michigan basketball. He came in and started right away as a freshman, led the B1G in FG% and helped us almost knock off Duke along with D-Mo & company. His role remained pretty similar the next year for Stu & Zack’s final run and helped lead us past Sparty to a share of the conference title. Last year, he had his ups and downs (starting the first half of the year for the #1 team in the country, benched in the tourney bc of McGary’s rise) and still he was the one to take a charge propelling the team into the title game. This season he was supposed to play limited minutes behind Pre-season all-american McGary and instead he has started every conference game and helped lead us to an outright title. We started the year 6-4 with Mitch McGary starting, and we’ve been 16-3 ever since with Morgan in the same role. The past 4 years have all been special in various forms, but with so many talented players leaving early (Morris, Burke, THJ), Morgan’s ability to adapt to his teammates and his stability as an inside defender and leader has always been constant. He’s the first 4 year player in a LONG time to take us to 4 straight NCAA tournament appearances. Sometimes we rag on him for some downfalls (finishing ability just one example) but at the end of the day, J-Mo has had an incredible career and hopefully his name will be remembered with some of the many great players he has been teammates with the past four seasons. Thank you, J-Mo

  • mistersuits

    Every Michigan fan needs to be cheering hard for Minnesota, Nebraska, and Stanford. Those three teams sit at 47, 48, and 50th in the RPI and represent 5 of Michigan’s 10 top-50 wins.

    • guestavo

      FSU?

      • Hail Blue

        Great point mistersuits, I saw that yesterday and the Stanford game really hurt. 10-5 vs Top 50 is really good, with 10 wins being tied for 2nd most. I think that is a big advantage over Duke and Virginia who are 4-4 and 3-4 respectively vs Top 50. If those teams lose, then 10-5 could turn into 5-5 real quick.

  • ben

    Just a note for the Michigan State Section in “around the big ten.” Nebraska has now moved into the top 50 RPI.

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