Thank goodness the NCAA Tournament field isn’t decided based on November expectations.
If that were the case, teams that fly under the radar (Davidson, West Virginia, etc.) not only wouldn’t get a chance to prove they belong in the Big Dance but that their seed should be higher than expected. It also makes the big-name teams (Duke, Texas, UCLA, etc.) earn a high seed instead of just being handed a nice seed and location come March.
Nevertheless, it is still fun to project where teams will end up four months from now, when a day that is second only to Christmas in some households – Selection Sunday – arrives.
Below will be the projected seeds (with teams winning the automatic bid noted) and a breakdown of which region where each team would be located. After the “bracket” I will offer up some of my early-season thoughts.
SEEDS — EAST (1) — MIDWEST (2) — WEST (3) — SOUTH (4)
1 — North Carolina (ACC), Connecticut (Big East), UCLA (Pac-10), Texas (Big 12)
2 — Florida (SEC), Duke, Michigan State (Big Ten), Notre Dame
3 — Pittsburgh, Purdue, Louisville, Gonzaga (WCC)
4 — Xavier (A-10), Oklahoma, Memphis (C-USA), Tennessee
5 — Arizona State, USC, Kansas, Wisconsin
6 — Southern Illinois (MVC), Georgetown, Alabama, Kentucky
7 — Dayton, Villanova, Wake Forest, UNLV (Mountain West)
8 — Ohio State, Creighton, VCU (Colonial), Marquette
9 — Utah, Miami, Baylor, BYU
10 — Syracuse, Washington, St. Mary’s, Maryland
11 — Missouri, Mississippi, Davidson (Southern), Arizona
12 — Northern Iowa, South Alabama (Sun Belt), Tulsa, George Mason
13 — New Mexico St. (WAC), Wright State (Horizon), Belmont (A-Sun), Siena (MAAC)
14 — Vermont (A-East), Cornell (Ivy), Western Michigan (MAC), Gardner-Webb (Big South)
15 — Tenn-Martin (OVC), Cal-State Northridge (Big West), Montana (Big Sky), American (Patriot)
16 — Alabama State (SWAC)/Morgan State (MEAC), North Dakota State (Summit), Stephen F. Austin (Southland), Mount St. Mary’s (NEC)
Obviously, North Carolina is the Crème de la Crème of teams this season. The Tar Heels are loaded at every position and have heavy expectations – win a title or else – this year. Even if UNC doesn’t win it all, they should be dominant through the regular season and take the top spot in the bracket.
Yes, I’m a Michigan State alum, but that might make my next statement useful to you come March: This is the best Michigan State team in the past eight years. The fact that Michigan State, a team that typically wins those 65-60 slugfests, scored a combined 230 points in a pair of exhibition wins, shows this team will be an offensive juggernaut in 2008-09. (The Spartans also scored 100 points in their season opener in a 100-62 win over Idaho on Sunday). Moreover, when you consider that Tom Izzo’s passion is still defense and rebounding, you know the Spartans won’t lag in that department. Barring something crazy happening this year, I would be shocked if Michigan State wasn’t a No. 1 or No. 2 seed and in the Final Four.
Notre Dame never plays well with major expectations, but this Notre Dame team is better than last year’s squad. Even in the loaded Big East, Notre Dame looks like it can go toe-to-toe with the other big boys (Connecticut and Louisville). This could be the year the Irish make their first Final Four splash since 1978.
If you’re looking for an experienced team that isn’t getting much respect but will do damage in March, look no further than Villanova. The Wildcats, the last team in the 2007-08 field, return all five starters and seem poised to finish near the top of the Big East. Oh, and last year’s team reached the Sweet 16.
As far as the Big Ten goes, the 2008-09 season will mirror much of the 2007-08 campaign. There will be four teams head and shoulders above the rest, and the conference should get a pedestrian four NCAA bids. The only team outside the top four (Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Ohio State) that has a chance to reach the Big Dance is Minnesota. But, I wouldn’t bet on it for the following reasons: While Minnesota’s surprise season last year caught some by surprise, the fact remained that the Golden Gophers returned all their starters, including a trio of seniors. This year, Tubby Smith loses a lot of experience and is still trying to get his recruits on the floor. Last year’s team didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, so it would be crazy to think this year’s team would.
If forced to predict a Final Four, I would go with North Carolina, Connecticut, Michigan State and Notre Dame. I just think UNC has too much talent for the rest of the country and should win the title. The one thing I do feel comfortable projecting is two teams from the Big East will be in the Final Four. I’ll go with the majority on the title match (North Carolina vs. Connecticut) and I’ll go with the Tar Heels as the national champions. But, as stated above, it wouldn’t be shocking to see an injury or two derail what could be the best UNC team in recent memory.