Early bracketology predictions: 7 Big 12 teams in tournament

Tristan Winkelman

Sports Blogger

@tristan_wink

 With fewer than five weeks until Selection Sunday, the NCAA Tournament is beginning to take shape. We are starting to see who the favorites will be, who might get upset early and who could go on a Cinderella run. This is the time of the year when teams begin sweating whether they will make the tournament. In this bracketology blog, I give my bracket predictions, a conference breakdown and analysis of bubble teams.

Click here to look at the predicted bracket.

NOTE: Teams highlighted in green have risen at least one seed line. Teams highlighted in red have fallen at least one seed line. Teams highlighted in yellow are new to the tournament field.

Conference Breakdown

Roger Smith/Flickr

ACC – eight teams

SEC – eight teams

Big 12 – seven teams

Big East – six teams

Big Ten – four teams

PAC-12 – four teams

American – four teams

West Coast – two teams

Mountain West – two teams

Bubble Watch

Last 4 byes:

Missouri (16-8 overall, 6-5 SEC): Mizzou has played the 20th-toughest schedule in the country this season. The Tigers are battle tested. With victories in three straight games, they’re peaking at the right time. After a huge victory at home against Kentucky, Mizzou is gaining confidence. Rumors continue to surround the possible return of Michael Porter Jr. The No. 1 recruit in the class of 2017 underwent back surgery last fall, but coach Cuonzo Martin won’t rule out a possible return. If Porter returns, the Tigers could be a dangerous tournament team. The Tigers play Mississippi State on Saturday at home.

Washington (17-6 overall, 7-3 Pac-12): The Huskies won two impressive games on Saturday and Monday with victories against Arizona State and No. 13 Arizona. UW has won its last four games and nine of its last 12 games. That is the sign of a team peaking at the right time. The Huskies have four players averaging double figures on offense and will be a dangerous team come tournament time. Their toughest game left is against Utah, a team that’s not even in the top 50 in terms of RPI. If the Huskies win the games they should, you’ll see them dancing. UW travels to Eugene to play Oregon on Thursday.

USC (17-7 overall, 8-3 Pac-12): The Trojans lost to rival UCLA on Saturday to snap a six-game winning streak. USC doesn’t hold any major victories against top opponents. Their best victories have come against possible Cinderella teams Middle Tennessee and New Mexico State. The Trojans have a great opportunity to rack up some key wins in their next two games, though. They travel to Arizona to take on Arizona State on Thursday and No. 13 Arizona on Saturday. If USC were to win one of those games, it would put itself in a great position to make the tournament.

Houston (17-5 overall, 7-3 AAC): The Cougars had a chance to secure a huge resume-boosting victory against Cincinnati a week ago. They have another chance to defeat the Bearcats next week at home. UH already holds victories over three teams I project to make the tournament: Wichita State, Providence and Arkansas. With only five losses, a marquee victory against Cincinnati could secure the Cougars a bid. UH hosts SMU on Thursday in a battle of bubble teams.

Last 4 in:

NC State (16-8 overall, 6-5 ACC): NC State has won five of its last eight games. As long as the Wolfpack continue to win, they should be dancing. Their victories will continue to be the best among the bubble teams. No one else on the bubble can boast victories against four top 20 RPI teams. The toughest game left on the Wolfpack’s schedule is against North Carolina this Saturday at home.

Kansas State (17-7 overall, 6-5 Big 12): K-State lost two games by double-digits but then defeated Texas on Wednesday. The Wildcats are also hanging their hat on their 18-point victory against Oklahoma in Manhattan. The good thing about the Big 12 is there is still plenty of time for the Wildcats to get a resume-boosting victory. They still have to play five teams I have projected to make the tournament. If they were to win three of those games, the Wildcats should be safely in the tournament.

Boise State (20-4 overall, 10-2 MW): Boise State has one victory against a team I project to make the tournament: Loyola-Chicago. While the Ramblers are a possible Cinderella team come March, that isn’t the kind of victory that will boost a resume come Selection Sunday. The thing that is encouraging for the Broncos is that they have only four losses. They still have another chance to defeat conference leader Nevada on Valentine’s Day. Nevada is ranked 14th in the RPI, and a victory like that could do wonders for Boise State’s tournament chances. The Broncos probably can lose only one more conference game if they want to secure an at-large bid. They could win the Mountain West Conference Tournament to avoid Selection Sunday scares. The Broncos travel to Logan to take on Utah State on Saturday.

SMU (15-8 overall, 5-5 AAC): The Mustangs have victories against two teams on the bubble: USC and Boise State. If it were to come down to one spot for those three teams, SMU would almost surely make the tournament. The Mustangs also hold victories against Arizona and Wichita State. SMU has started to lose to teams that it shouldn’t, though. It has a great opportunity to win some more key conference games. The Mustangs travel to Houston Thursday night in a battle of bubble teams.

First 4 out:

Syracuse (16-8 overall, 5-6 ACC): The Orange have no RPI top 25 victories. That is not something a bubble team wants on its resume if it’s trying to make the Big Dance. Syracuse has a great opportunity to win some key games, as four of its last seven games are against RPI top 20 teams. If the Orange were able to win a couple of those games, they should make the tournament with a solid record in the nation’s premier conference. The Orange host Wake Forest on Sunday.

Virginia Tech (17-7 overall, 6-5 ACC): The Hokies have much better victories than Syracuse. With victories against Washington and North Carolina, the Hokies should feel confident. One problem is that Syracuse holds the head-to-head victory against VT. Like the Orange, the Hokies still have plenty of opportunities to win some big games. With victories in two or three of those games, the Hokies could give the ACC another team in the tournament. Virginia Tech travels to Charlottesville to take on No. 2 Virginia on Saturday.

UCLA (16-7 overall, 7-4 Pac-12): The Bruins have won three straight games. The good news is that they still have to play Arizona and Arizona State. The bad news is that the rest of their schedule after that lacks any major competition. If the Bruins can’t find a way to win against Arizona or Arizona State, they might be in trouble. UCLA will likely have to make some noise in the conference tournament if it wants to make the big dance. The Bruins travel to Tucson to take on No. 13 Arizona on Thursday.

Western Kentucky (16-7 overall, 8-2 C-USA): The Hilltoppers hold a victory that only one other team, Purdue, has. That victory alone could help their tournament chances. What is holding WKU back right now is the weakness of its conference. Outside of Middle Tennessee, there is no one else who should be challenging the Hilltoppers. A loss against UTSA on Saturday hurt their chances to make the tournament. They have to play Middle Tennessee again, and a victory in Murfreesboro could help their tournament chances. In the end, though, WKU might have to win the Conference USA tournament and steal an at-large bid from another bubble team. WKU faces Florida Atlantic on Thursday.

Next 4 out:

St. Bonaventure (17-6 overall, 7-4 Atlantic 10): The Bonnies are 7-4 in a mediocre conference. Why are they on the bubble, then? They have two victories against RPI top 40 teams and have one of the country’s best players few people know about. Basketball fans should become familiar with the name Jaylen Adams. After dropping 40 points against Duquesne on Saturday, Adams is gleaming with confidence. His Bonnies are on a four-game winning streak and could cause havoc if they make the tournament. They still have to play conference leader Rhode Island again. The only way I see the Bonnies making the tournament, though, is if they win the Atlantic 10 tournament. If they do win it, they could bust a lot of brackets. St. Bonaventure plays Richmond on Saturday.

LSU (13-10 overall, 4-7 SEC): LSU has been struggling lately, losing six of its last eight games. They have shown the ability to play with some competitive teams, though. They have swept the season series with Texas A&M and Arkansas and have victories against Michigan and Houston. The encouraging thing for the Tigers is they don’t have too tough of a schedule remaining. Their toughest remaining game is against Missouri. With games against beatable opponents, LSU can find its way in the tournament. It just has to start winning some games. The Tigers host Ole Miss on Saturday.

Georgia (13-10 overall, 4-7 SEC): The Bulldogs have dropped four of their last five games, but they have four RPI top 50 victories. UGA also has something LSU doesn’t have: a tough remaining schedule. That has its positives and its negatives. The obvious downside is that the Bulldogs have to face some tough teams to end the season. This isn’t terrible, though. If UGA were to win a couple big games, it could sneak its way in the tourney with a strong showing in the SEC tournament. The Bulldogs host Auburn on Saturday.

Oklahoma State (14-10 overall, 4-7 Big 12): The Cowboys were right back in the bubble conversation after an upset victory against Kansas in Lawrence last Saturday. OSU then failed to win against a Baylor team that is near the bottom of the conference standings. The beauty of the conference is that there are still more chances to gain some quality victories. With games still against West Virginia, Texas Tech and Kansas, OSU’s tournament chances aren’t officially done yet. If the Cowboys were to win two of those games, they would boast a resume only a few bubble teams could compete against. Their record, though, is not pretty at all. OSU has to make some noise in the conference tournament and win most of its remaining games in a tough conference. The Pokes travel to Morgantown to face West Virginia on Saturday.

ozone@ocolly.com

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