The Field of 68 has been finalized.
Here are some random thoughts and wild predictions upon first look ...
When the RPI doesn't matter: I lead with this category every Selection Sunday. It never disappoints. What you need to know is that no power-conference school with a top-40 RPI was omitted this season, but two non-power-conference schools with top 40 RPIs were left out -- specifically Southern Miss (33) and Toledo (38). That means the two best RPIs omitted from the field belonged to non-power-conference schools for the 10th consecutive season, which once again shows that a good RPI can save you if you're from a power league, but it won't help much if you're not. (Southern Miss, by the way, was left out with a top-35 RPI for the second straight season. Makes me sick for Donnie Tyndall. He's a helluva coach doing a helluva job in Hattiesburg. Just can't catch a break at the end.)
TOP TWO RPI RANKINGS LEFT OUT OF THE FIELD OF 68
2014: Southern Miss (33), Toledo (38)
2013: Southern Miss (31), Louisiana Tech (54)
2012: Marshall (47), Oral Roberts (51)
2011: Harvard (35), Cleveland State (42)
2010: Rhode Island (40), Wichita State (43)
2009: San Diego State (34), Creighton (40)
2008: Dayton (32), Illinois State (33)
2007: Air Force (30), Missouri State (36)
2006: Missouri State (21), Hofstra (30)
2005: Miami-Ohio (39), Wichita State (45)
THREE THINGS I IMMEDIATELY NOTICED ABOUT THE BRACKET
For the first time ever, literally, I did not plan in advance to be at any specific site for the Round of 64 and the Round of 32 this season, and the reason is because I didn't want to be at the "wrong" place. More specifically, I recognized a few weeks ago that there was a chance the nation's preseason No. 1 team (Kentucky) might get a No. 8 seed and be placed in a regional with the nation's only undefeated team (Wichita State), and, sure enough, that's exactly what happened on Sunday. So now I'm headed to St. Louis, obviously. And I really don't think there's ever been a more compelling possible Round of 32 game ... although, it should be noted, Kansas State is perfectly capable of upsetting Kentucky in the Round of 64 and giving us an interesting matchup of same-state programs. Either way, Sunday at the Scottrade Center should be awesome. That's my point.
2. BYU made the Field of 68.
My long-standing rule is to never feel badly for a power-conference team that misses the NCAA Tournament because you're pretty average if you're a power-conference team that misses the NCAA Tournament. That said, I feel badly for everybody omitted because of BYU, because BYU should not be in the field, and BYU certainly shouldn't be a No. 10 seed. The Cougars are 3-6 against the top 50 with five losses outside of the top 50, including four losses outside of the top 100. And their second-best player just tore his ACL! That unfortunate development gave the selection committee a pretty easy out. But they didn't take it, for whatever reason, and not taking it by taking BYU was an obvious mistake.
3. SMU did not make the Field of 68
One of the neat things about me doing an NCAA Tournament special with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley on Sunday night -- besides me doing an NCAA Tournament special with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley on Sunday night! -- was that we had our hands on the bracket about 45 minutes before the Selection Show started, and it's just always kind of cool to hold something that millions of people are waiting to see. The first thing I noticed was that this particular bracket was contingent on Michigan State winning the Big Ten title game, and that Virginia was the fourth No. 1 seed in this contingency bracket. The second thing I noticed was that SMU was not included, and, I must tell you, I wasn't terribly surprised. Was I disappointed for Larry Brown and his program? Yes, absolutely. That's a good basketball team. But I had a feeling the Mustangs might be in trouble when they lost to Houston in their opening game of the American Athletic Conference tournament, because I knew how important nonconference strength of schedule is to the committee, and SMU's nonconference strength of schedule was among the nation's worst.
(1. Yes, I just wrote that entire paragraph to name-drop a little. 2. Like you wouldn't.)
RANKING THE REGIONALS FROM STRONGEST TO WEAKEST
1. Midwest: The MVC champs (Wichita State), the Big Ten champs (Michigan), the American co-champs (Louisville), the Atlantic 10 champs (Saint Louis), a team currently ranked sixth in the coaches poll (Duke), the consensus preseason No. 1 team (Kentucky), and a school currently ranked 13th (Tennessee) at KenPom are among the teams in this regional. Put another way, that's six of college basketball's top 17 teams, according to KenPom. If the Shockers make the Final Four, there will be no denying that they earned it.
2. East: The ACC champs (Virginia), the Big East champs (Villanova), the Big 12 tournament champs (Iowa State), the Big Ten tournament champs (Michigan State), the Big East tournament champs (Providence), a school with wins over the schools ranked first through fourth in the preseason AP poll (North Carolina), the American co-champs (Cincinnati) and two other nationally ranked American schools (UConn and Memphis) are among the team in this regional. Put another way, there are eight currently ranked teams in the East. And the favorites, according to Las Vegas, are Tom Izzo's fourth-seeded Spartans.
3. South: The SEC champs (Florida), the Big 12 champs (Kansas), a team that was ranked No. 1 last month (Syracuse), the Pac-12 tournament champs (UCLA), the Mountain West tournament champs (New Mexico), a school on a 28-game winning streak (Stephen F. Austin), and three other schools ranked in the top 20 at KenPom (VCU, Pittsburgh and Ohio State) are among the schools in this regional. Florida hasn't lost since since early December, and the Gators might be an underdog to Kansas in the Elite Eight if Joel Embiid is back and healthy. Think about that for a moment.
4. West: The Pac-12 champs (Arizona), a team that entered the weekend with a chance at a No. 1 seed (Wisconsin), the nation's best player's team (Creighton), the Mountain West champs (San Diego State), the school that finished alone in second in the Big 12 (Oklahoma), the West Coast Conference champs (Gonzaga), and a preseason top-10 team (Oklahoma State) are among the schools in this regional. Doug McDermott is the biggest draw. But Sean Miller's Wildcats are the favorites despite the fact that they lost Brandon Ashley midseason.
Seeded too low: Louisville is a No. 4 seed in the Midwest despite being second at KenPom.
Seeded too high: BYU is a No. 10 seed in the West despite being 50th at KenPom ... and suddenly without its second-best player, Kyle Collinsworth. (Seriously, I like Dave Rose. But his team had no business getting an at-large bid.)
TEN TEAMS I COULD SEE WINNING IT ALL
- Wichita State
- Michigan State
- Iowa State
MY FINAL FOUR
- Kansas vs. Michigan State
- Creighton vs. Wichita State
MY NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
- Kansas vs. Wichita State
MY NATIONAL CHAMPION
- Wichita State