On the 9th Day of Conference Tourneys, the Buffet gave to me...

The QUINTESSENTIAL, mostly hypothetical, likely flawed, definitive, but mostly guess-work, unedited but lexiconically brilliant, leading source for the status, seeding potential and outook all teams in contention for an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament as we head into #champweek for the major conferences (and, of course, the SWAC). (Not really the SWAC)

PART II

Big East Locks – Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall

Big East Waiting Line - Providence, Butler

Villanova – If Villanova does what they should do – reach the BE tournament final, they’ll be a 1 seed. Before we even dive into an impressive resume – they finished the season 9-1 (losing to RPI #6 Xavier). Now their resume:

·         Worst loss? To RPI #43 Providence.  (Some team’s best wins aren’t that strong)

·         Computer average? 3

·         14 top 100 wins with zero bad losses

·         15th ranked schedule and 12-3 in road/neutral games.

This is a 1 seed. EXCEPT – what if they fell to Georgetown in round 1, or even Providence/Butler in round 2 – while Virginia, Oklahoma, Michigan St, and Oregon won their tournaments.  Likely still safe – however, one ding is Villanova played 4 games against the RPI Top 25, and went 1-3.  One win was Xavier for the season split, and was by 30 (which likely keeps Nova over Xavier regardless of tournament outcome). But the others – Oklahoma & Virginia. You’ll notice they were listed above.  Average point differential in the 3 losses? ~14 points. There is a scenario where Villanova ends up a 2. It’s not likely, but we’ll talk on Friday morning if any of these scenarios seem to be playing out.

Xavier – Xavier has been bouncing between 1 and 3 most of 2016.  They cleansed their palate of their 30-point embarrassment with a February splitsville win versus Villanova. Closed the season winning 8 of 10. Their 9-2 record versus top 100 is impossible not to notice. 2-1 versus the top 25, including a 29-point win over Dayton. With non-conference wins over the Flyers, Cincinnati, Southern Cal, Michigan and Alabama. With only 1 loss out of the top 100 – Georgetown (#monmouthalert).  Now, that’s a solid top seed resume from the fourth ranked conference.  Is there room for 2 #1s here? Possibly – but, with all the competition, and the likely outcomes elsewhere, Buffet believes they’ll have to win that conference tournament to make the strongest and most winnable case.

Seton Hall – Who doesn’t dig Isaiah Whitehead? You know what I also dig? Seton Hall’s resume and February performance.  If you could just erase Butler from the schedule (2 losses), Seton Hall went February-0, and won 8 of 10 down the stretch – including their resume signature win over Xavier.  On top of that they are ranked 28 in computer average (32 between RPi/BPI/KenPom), and 7 top 100 wins with 0 losses 101 and above. Their non-conference work is suspect – after a home win versus Wichita State, they’ve only got a couple SEC schools on the good side (home v. Georgia, and neutral court v. Ole Miss). But this is a tourney lock, currently looking at a 7 seed, with the ability to punch that to a 6 with a couple wins in the BE tournament (or even a BE tourney title).

Providence – A 14-1 start, with a win over Arizona and at Butler had them in protected seed territory.  But 7-8 in their first 15 conference games, including losses to Marquette twice and DePaul and Providence has had their seed move in the wrong direction.  This combined with a weak NC slate (Arizona & Michigan St in a tournament was their only action of note – reflected in a 211 non-conf SOS) is not doing PC any favors.  They are close to a lock, with 7 top 100 wins, and those conference losses being their worse, and their top 3 wins being away from Dunkin Donuts (@Villanova, @Butler, neutral-UofA) – with a desperate Waiting Line Butler (and 2 wins over them already) waiting, PC could go out early and be fine. But, a nice little run, with their second win over Villanova and a BE tournament title (beating Xavier), and we’re back tofun January 2nd Kris Dunn and company – a 6 or 7 seed is firmly IN the question.

Butler – Oh Bulldogs, the Waiting Line awaits thee. At this point, with the murkiness at the hostess stand, Butler needs to beat Providence.  Is it that simple?  Loss there, and it’s hard to really argue that Butler is deserving.  Of course, as it always, it’s not exactly that simple. Although Butler barely ventured out of conference (236th ranked NC schedule), when they did, they did a bit of what was needed (neutral wins over Purdue & Temple, and a road win at Cincinnati). Swept tournament lock Seton Hall. Worst loss is Marquette, who is toeing the top 100 line. Beating Providence would give them 4 straight wins heading into their game versus Villanova. And should be enough.  Losing there, and it's to sweat it out -- so many teams with so many cases, and that'll be your lasting memory Of course, they could take the guesswork out of this, beat Villanova and make all our lives easier. 

Big 10 Locks: Michigan State, Indiana, Maryland, Purdue, Iowa, Wisconsin

Big 10 Waiting Line: Michigan, Ohio State

Michigan State – Wow.  This team was 13-0 – wins over Kansas, Providence, Louisville, Florida and, of course, most critically, Boston College. Then Denzel Valentine got hurt, and while they went 3-1 in those games, his reinsertion had hiccups. Swept by Iowa, helping Wisconsin right their ship and then running into the juggernaut that is TIM MILES (but isn’t Nebraska). At 3-4 in conference, even the biggest #IzzoinMarch narrative lovers couldn’t have seen this rise. But then they went 10-1 the rest of the way, and suddenly they are one of the Buffet’s #1 seeds:

·         4 top 25 wins

·         11-4 versus top 100

·         12-3 away from Breslin

·         7th overall in computer average

·         An non-conference wins that most teams are envious of.

There is a bad loss (Nebraska), a NCSOS of 125 despite their wins and only being 6-4 versus top 50 that keeps the 1-seed margin slim – but winning the Big 10 tournament and we believe they’ll be on the 1-line.

Indiana – We’re the B10 champs, darn it – RESPECT US.  I would like to Indiana.  But you lost to UNLV and Wake Forest in November, and Penn f’n State in February, and that’s weighing you down.  They also have 1 win of note out of conference:  Notre Dame. Now, this is why they’re not in the 1-2 seed discussion only, because Indiana’s body of work, especially once the calendar hit December 19, is impressive.  Defended Assembly Hall like champs (Maryland, Iowa, Purdue, Ohio State) and even stepped out to show they weren’t too home court heroic (Michigan & Iowa).  Right now, putting the 10-3 top 100 record, B10 title and computer rankings (14th overall) versus those 3 rough losses and a middling strength of schedule has Indiana slotted as a 4-seed.  Winning the B10 tournament, beating Michigan, Purdue and Michigan State props them to 3 (maybe a 2, but two lines with those 3 losses is asking a lot, even with the B10 double). Anything before that, even quarterfinal loss, should keep them as a 4 –as long as it’s to Michigan, and not Northwestern.

Maryland This is not going to be a popular opinion among the Buffet readership, but we need to see something out of the Terps this weekend, because what we’ve seen of late is alarming and seed harming. This was 15-1 team built largely against cupcakes (did win at Wisconsin).  Then, the schedule got tougher at it was a 9-6 team that lost to Minnesota, and 4 of 6 down the stretch.  There is a bunch to like. Other than the head scratch of a loss to the Gophers, there isn’t a single other bad loss (Michigan at Chrysler is the lowest ranked loss).  Road wins in Columbus and Madison.  Non conference win over UConn, and they beat the non-Michigan St/Indiana cream of the B10 crop (also, had to go on the road at both Michigan St & Indiana).  But their effort against Indiana was eye opening.  Right now, Maryland is a 5-seed, edging closer to 6 than anything. I believe 4-seed is the ceiling, but more importantly would be beating Wisconsin, Michigan St and Indiana (or Purdue/Iowa) to reestablish the team that appeared to be National Title Contenders.  Also, that run, and we’d consider, strongly, Maryland on the 3 line.

Purdue – The BoilermakeRs had been playing ping-pong with Ws/Ls in mid-February – but a strong 3 game finish with wins over Maryland and Wisconsin and a tough 4 point loss to Indiana in Bloomington (was a 2 point game with 37 seconds left, and goaltendingcall stretched it to the 4 point final spread), and this team with 9 top 100 wins, including 5 versus the top 50 and only 1 rough loss (Illinois), and love from the computers (13th) – positions Purdue nicely. Currently sitting at a 5, 4 is well within reach, especially if they reach and/or win the tournament final (Iowa, Indiana, Michigan St is the ideal slate there)…

Iowa – I’ve brought this up before, but since readership eyeballs aren’t necessarily OVERWHELMING, and it’s good point – Hawkeye basketball and football mirrored each other this season.  Gaudy regular season records before being exposed as frauds -- too bad the basketball version didn't wait to get out of Big10 play before exposing themselves. Iowa beat Florida St and Wichita St in non-conference, but also lost to Dayton, Notre Dame and Iowa St.  Then they raced out to a 7-0 start to the Big 10 season.  Then, the façade lifted.  5-6 to finish – losing to virtually ever top tier B10 they faced, Maryland, Indiana, Wisconsin, Indiana – and punctuated by a 4 game losing streak that included Penn State.  They did seem to get things together by winning in Ann Arbor to close the season, but we’ll see. The tournament is not in doubt. Their seed is.  First they get the Illinois/Minnesota.  Please don’t lose there.  If so, even though they are predicted at 5 right now, taken all up – a drop to 7 could happen (but likely 6).  Then comes Purdue, winning there is probably enough to stamp a 5. Then comes Indiana, and probably Michigan St – could they get to 4? Potentially, but a conference title would be required, in my estimation.

Wisconsin - Oh Bo Ryan, you clever, philandering genius.  Retires amid a rough December, and without the right assurances that his top assistant would get first, and lengthiest, shot at the top job. Wisconsin was 7-5 at the time, and had lost to Western Illinois and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  Then B10 play started, and front-loaded, it got ugly – Purdue, Indiana, Maryland and even Northwestern sent them to 1-4. But on January 17, it clicked.  13 games and 11-2 later, suddenly they were 12-6 in the Big10 rose to 6th in a crowded, difficult conference.  Those 11 wins included Michigan St, Michigan, Iowa in Iowa City, Ohio State, repaying the favor versus Maryland and Indiana and two separate nice winning streaks (7 & 4). Suddenly the team with 5 top-100 losses, is somehow a tourney lock and in a seed spot that’ll be favored in the first round (7). A tournament run would be 4-games in 4-days and 5/6 seed will be up for discussion.  For now, just don’t lose to Nebraska or Rutgers and stay out of the 1-seed sights in an 8/9 game.

Michigan Despite being behind Ohio State in the standings, Michigan sits with the better, but still thin Waiting Line… chances at the tournament.  Carris LeVert’s leg injury is the culprit, for sure – but with him declared out – this is the team the committee has to consider (ask Gonzaga about like without Karnowski) Since December 30th, LeVert’s injury, they are 8-8. Wins of note: Maryland, Purdue with no bad losses, just a bunch of them.  And before that, only a neutral court win over Texas was on Michigan’s resume. So a poor schedule, a .500 team without its star and 3-5 road record without him… Michigan is dangling. It starts with a MUST win versus Northwestern.  Then, Indiana becomes a pretty strongly need to win… get that, and suddenly post-LeVert Michigan has shown some moxy. Is it enough? Buffet prescribes them to beat Purdue as well, to be SURE and avoid results elsewhere.

Ohio State – Ohio State is on this list mostly for a participation ribbon for the work Thad Matta did with a squad that featured 5 freshmen, 4 sophomores and a junior.  At 8-5 heading into conference play, losing to UT-Arlington, Lousiana Tech, and Memphis. This seemed like all of the graduation and loss of D’Angelo Russell caught up to the Buckeyes.  Then they started the conference season 4-1, mostly against lower-tier competition. It seemed to catch back up at they quickly dropped back to 4-3 and hovered at .500 in early February (6-5).  February, however, the coaching work started take shape – 4 straight wins later, and Ohio State may not have done enough to get in the tournament, but it was in range when it originally had no right to be.  Unfortunately, the 4th proved costly, as star Ja’Sean Tate went out with a shoulder injury, ending his season.  But, the work culminated with an impressive win over Iowa, without Tate, in between a short-handed season sweep at the hands of Michigan St.  Now, could a Penn St – Michigan State – Maryland run before losing to presumptively Indiana in the final get them in? A STRONG maybe, but either way, shouts to Thad for the work he did.

Big 12 Locks: Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa State, Baylor, Texas Tech

Big 12 Waiting Line: None

Kansas is a 1 seed. Full Stop.

Oklahoma is in the grouping of67 teams who feel like their playing for 2 slots (Okla, UNC, Michigan St, Xavier, Oregon, Virginia). Oklahoma feels safely locked in as a 2, but their bumpy stretch run, combined with finishing behind West Virginia leads me to think OU shouldn’t lose to the Mountaineers or let WVU advance further than them in the tournament to be sure.

West Virginia – In most projections, WVU is almost uniformly in the 3 slot right now, though I have seen them as a 2-seed in places.  Against them in their non-conference schedule (115), their lack of any significant wins there (San Diego St & Virginia Tech are their top non-conference wins), were swept by Oklahoma and were blown out by Virginia, but they swept Iowa St, Baylor, Texas Tech, finished 2nd in the top rated (by RPI) conference in the country, and hold a precious victory of Kansas.

Path to a 2: Big XII tournament win. That’d be simple.   BUT, it is possible, to see them beat Oklahoma in the semis, and lose a tough one to Kansas, Baylor or Texas in the final – and that combination (with some help in other places) propels them up a slot.

Texas - *major bias alert* ("MAJOR BIAS" - HIMYM anyone?) Hiring new coaches has not exactly proven to be a silver bullet fix in Austin. One season in – and it is safe to say Shaka Smart is NO Charlie Strong.  Then again, Rick Barnes, for all his struggles in Xs/Os and talent development, didn’t struggle in recruiting and didn’t struggle in getting his guys to play hard – so Shaka didn’t inherit Mack Brown’s talent lacking, entitled country club atmosphere.  When Texas opened up with a regrettable trip to China and forgettable one to the Bahamas (is there such thing?) – it looked like a long season was on our hands.  Then something magical happened – a senior who previously was thought to only be playing because he had something damaging to Rick Barnes’ reputation, hit a game winning shot against North Carolina, and things changed. For a split second. Then, a man having a renaissance season broke his foot in practice, and the tubes had the Longhorns’ season going down them.  But, Shaka happened.  After Texas’ lone “bad” loss of the year – TCU – the troops were rallied and galvanized – an OT win over Iowa St, a road win at West Virginia, a spirited loss in Lawrence, a mid-season non-conference convincer of a win over Vanderbilt, a second big road win, this time at Baylor. Buddy Hield magic was all that separated a good season from something glorious. Also, it set off quiet alarms as the rigors of the Big XII season took their toll (also playing down a key contributor did too), as they lost 4 of 7, including two ugly home losses. Now, Texas has become super divisive in their seeding preference.  Seen them at 3,4,5 and 6. They profile best right now as a 4 or 5, with a likely 4-seed/5-seed playoff versus Baylor (maybe/maybe not) coming in the Big XII tournament, from there comes Kansas. A win there, and Texas is likely looking at a 3 seed no matter what happens. A loss in the opening game to Baylor probably sits them in the 5 seed, and a crushing loss maybe a 6, you guessed it, “pending other outcomes”

Baylor We just discussed the likely 4/5 playoff that awaits Thursday at 1230pm ET on Thursday.  But, upon closer inspection, is it? Baylor did absolutely NOTHING out of conference, and what little they did was all at home.  They came stumbling on in at 2AM – losing 3 of 4. Right after turning around on another 3 of 4.  The top of their resume looks nothing like conference colleagues – with an Iowa State sweep (though winning at Hilton is tough), together with some road swaps with the non-terrible at basketball Texas Schools, and early season home win versus Vanderbilt. Personally, without knocking off Kansas – Baylor is probably peaking at a 5.

Iowa State – The Cyclones are a different story. Virtually identical overall records versus the top 100 as Baylor (11-10 versus the Bears’ 9-10), but at the top you find Kansas and Oklahoma.  The problem? Home court heroics.  Iowa State was 4-7 in true road games – with a win against Cincinnati backed up only by a win at Kansas State. With no bad losses, however, you have nitpick to disagree with this resume sitting in the 4/5 slot. And the beauty of it is for Iowa State – because they somehow finished 6th in a brutal conference – they can get another signature win (and their 2nd versus Oklahoma) without even playing a previous game.  They could even pick up 2 before the final, which might just vault them to the 3 line, even without winning the conference tournament.

Texas Tech – 7th out of 10. Doesn’t sound super impressive. But when you do it in a conference whose raw RPI numbers are head and shoulders ahead of the 2nd place team – you’ll be just fine. And when you do it in a season that the team who fired your coach almost went winless in their conference play, it becomes so much sweeter. Texas Tech ran out to a big record against some so-so competition (although they did win the Tubby Bowl, over Minnesota – 81-68, so that’s cool).  Best win in that stretch would probably be Little Rock. Then Big XII play started, and after a nice arrival stamping win over Texas, things got murky. They lost 4 in a row, before beating TCU, then another 3 straight (including at SEC also-ran Arkansas).  Then February 10th came, and it all turned around.  They beat Iowa St, won at Baylor, and crowned their arrival with a 2 point win over Oklahoma.  A few games later and 3-7 turned into 9-9, and tournament worthy resume.  Now, are they likely fools gold, and someone you should bet heavily against in 2 weeks? Yes.  But, for now, they’re a likely 7/8 seed.  Kansas City does present one pothole – TCU – whom Texas Tech struggled with 15 days ago.  Loss there, and the gig could be up and Tech sees themselves revealed on the 9/10 line. Win and the 7/8 slot is likely locked in.  But, barring a run to the conference final – I don’t really see a 6 in their future.

Pac 12 Locks: Oregon, Utah, Arizona, California

Pac 12 Waiting Line: Colorado, Southern California, Oregon State, Washington 

We’ll start with Washington, because they’ll get going close to Buffet print time. Washington’s Pac12 tournament path is the only thing that has them in this blog post. Assuming they beat Stanford.  Oregon followed by Arizona before a final, is the only way they get in. Then they’ll be 13-11 (assuming a final loss) versus top 200, get their 2nd and 3rd wins versus the top 50.  They’ll still be 4-7 in true roads, and under .500 away from Seattle. They’ll still have a 126th ranked NC SOS, and weak (although improved by that point) computer numbers.  That November win in Shanghai versus Texas is the only thing holding this resume up outside of conference – as their next NC wins are Montana & TCU. Even their best conference road win was barely in the 100s (in Tempe).  Washington does not look like an at-large team, but we can check back Friday if the Stanford-Oregon-Arizona run happens. 

Southeastern Conference Locks:  Texas A&M, Kentucky, South Carolina

Southeastern Conference Waiting Line: Vanderbilt, LSU, Florida, Alabam