We're only two months away from the most glorious time of the year. Throughout the next two months, Jim and I will be bringing you 3MW bracketology that includes the projected field of 68, individual matchups, locations, and of course the bubble teams to watch. Without further ado, here is the first version of bracketology for 2016:
Jumping right into it, here is my bracket as it stands right now:
1: Kansas as of now gets the nod for the #1 overall seed despite its recent loss to West Virginia. Oklahoma, Michigan State, and Villanova round out the 1 seeds. KU has six really good wins this season, has the strongest strength of schedule (SOS) in the country, is #2 in the RPI standings (which is very volatile and means very little right now), and is #2 per KenPom.com (a source that the committee is beginning to consider more and more each year).
2: On the 2 seed line we find surprising Xavier as they are off to one of the hottest starts of any team this season. Xavier is 7-1 against the top 100 and has wins over USC, Butler, Cincy, Dayton, and at Michigan. UNC is the team to watch on the 2-line. With Brice Johnson starting to dominate and the eventual return of Kennedy Meeks, the Tarheels could easily earn a 1 seed by March (or even by next bracket version).
3: West Virginia and Iowa are the talks of the nation right now after their wins against Kansas and Michigan State, respectively. Their feats earn them a 3 seed in my inaugural bracket alongside Kentucky (who like UNC could easily move up) and Miami.
Other Seed Notes: Something interesting to watch is Duke's seed. Right now they are a solid 4, which would be their lowest seed since 2007 when they earned a 6. Amile Jefferson's injury is obviously holding the Devils back and the committee will consider that in March. But as of now, Duke is 0-2 vs. the top 50 and their best win is Indiana. USC's recent emergence has been fun and they join Duke on the 4-line as well. The injury to Naz Long has cost Iowa State as of late, hence their seemingly-low 6 seed. The 10-line is intriguing with three traditional mid-major powers in Gonzaga, Saint Mary's, and Wichita State. If I was a gambling man, I'd bet on the Zags moving up, Saint Mary's dropping to an 11 and Wichita State earning closer to a 7 by season's end. Hey look at Monmouth!
Last Four In: The last four in consists of the following teams in order from safest to least safe: Texas Tech, Florida, Stanford, Alabama. Alabama really impressed me with their win over undefeated South Carolina this week. Not only that, but the Tide have no bad losses and wins over Wichita State and Notre Dame as well. Stanford has come on very strong as of late after a rocky start with wins over Oregon State and California. For the record, I think Texas Tech drops out of the field in the very near future, but for now they get the nod due to their high rankings in both the RPI (21) and KenPom (47), their 5 wins against the Top 100, and their zero bad losses.
First Four Out: In order to closest to furthest: Seton Hall, Arizona State, George Washington, VCU. Seton Hall is a tease every year at the beginning of the season - expect the Pirates to fall off the face of the Earth soon. I'd wager on the Sun Devils and GW replacing Texas Tech and Alabama in the next couple of weeks.
Next Four Out: Clemson, Syracuse, Florida State, Washington. Yesterday Dan Dakich pretty much berated Kara Lawson on ESPN when she disagreed with his outlandish take that Clemson is just as good as Iowa and West Virginia. This is completely false, Kara is correct, and Dakich is an absolute moron (Google "Dan Dakich quotes" or just listen to him for 5 seconds and you'll agree). Yes Clemson's recent wins over Louisville and Duke are very impressive, but let's not forget they've also lost to UMass and Minnesota, are ranked 105th in RPI and 49th in KenPom. The Tigers are rising, but they are not on the same level as the Hawkeyes and Mountaineers, nor are they in the Tournament yet.
Bubble: Top teams on the bubble outside of the ones mentioned above include: Washington, Kansas State, BYU, Marquette, Creighton, Northwestern, Georgia Tech, Saint Joseph's, and Vanderbilt. Of course there are many others at this stage of the season, but trying to differentiate these bubble teams now gets a bit tedious. Future bets: I hope to see Vandy win some SEC games and make the field; I think they are super-talented and could cause waves in the Dance. And of course, I would love to see Northwestern make their first ever tournament - at 15-3 the Cats have a great record, they just haven't really played anyone yet. One or two marquee Big Ten wins should send them over the top.