Analysis | NCAA tournament bracketology: Houston has shown it can handle the Big 12

Analysis | NCAA tournament bracketology: Houston has shown it can handle the Big 12

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

As February wound to a close last season, Houston was 27-2 overall and 15-1 in conference play, winners of nine in a row and deemed the top team in the country by both the NCAA’s NET metric and the rankings.

And with March just a couple of days away this year, Houston is 24-3 overall and 11-3 in conference play, winners of five in a row (and 10 of 11) and deemed the top team in the country by both the NET and the KenPom ratings.

It would seem little has changed for the Cougars in their first season since moving from the American Athletic Conference to the Big 12.

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While Purdue and Connecticut have chugged along with only a random fall or three along the way, Houston is also a top seed line fixture this winter. The Cougars’ only missteps are a low-scoring loss at Iowa State, a one-point defeat at Texas Christian and (in what constitutes a ritual initiation by Big 12 standards) a 78-65 stumble at Kansas.

So many of the things Coach Kelvin Sampson used to elevate Houston over the past decade to the point it could reach a Final Four, post three 30-win seasons and appear in the past five NCAA tournaments remain in place.

There’s tone-setting veteran guard Jamal Shead, who is a multiyear player for the Cougars and part of a smothering defensive identity that concedes nothing. Pair it with a constricting pace and a rotation that comfortably gets to eight and usually nine (and doesn’t force anyone to play more than 32 minutes a night), and Houston enjoys a consistency that goes beyond conference affiliation.

Houston earned its first No. 1 seed in 40 years last season. But even the Phi Slama Jama teams didn’t do that in back-to-back seasons. The Cougars are well positioned to do exactly that after making themselves right at home in their new league.

Last four included: Providence, Wake Forest, Texas, Mississippi

First four on the outside: Colorado, Gonzaga, Pittsburgh, Texas A&M

Next four on the outside: James Madison, Utah, Cincinnati, Villanova

Moving in: Fairfield, Grambling, Princeton, Providence, Richmond, Wake Forest

Moving out: Butler, Cincinnati, Quinnipiac, Southern, Texas A&M, Yale

Conference call: Big 12 (9), SEC (8), Big Ten (6), Mountain West (6), ACC (5), Big East (5), American Athletic (2), Atlantic 10 (2), Pac-12 (2)

Bracket projection: Midwest vs. West; East vs. South

(1) BIG TEN/Purdue vs. (16) ATLANTIC SUN/Eastern Kentucky-SWAC/Grambling winner

(8) Texas Christian vs. (9) Seton Hall

(5) MOUNTAIN WEST/Utah State vs. (12) AMERICAN ATHLETIC/South Florida

(4) Auburn vs. (13) MID-AMERICAN/Akron

(3) Iowa State vs. (14) CONFERENCE USA/Louisiana Tech

(6) Washington State vs. (11) MISSOURI VALLEY/Indiana State

(7) Florida vs. (10) Boise State

(2) Marquette vs. (15) HORIZON/Oakland

Seton Hall isn’t in the clear yet, but it’s going to take a significant collapse for the Pirates to miss the tournament. Shaheen Holloway’s bunch has won five of six and owns five Quadrant 1 victories. … As great a story as South Florida is, an at-large bid is a real reach for the Bulls. Not only do they have a couple of Quad 4 losses (Maine and Central Michigan), they have yet to even play a Quad 1 game. …

Last week was still a net plus for Washington State, even though it followed up its victory at Arizona with a loss to Arizona State two days later. The Cougars might already be at the point where they can lose out and still land an at-large. If they aren’t there yet, they’re close. … The keys for Florida pinning down its field of 68 invite: Beat Missouri and Vanderbilt, ensuring there isn’t an excuse to leave the Gators out. Anything else is about bolstering seeding.

(1) ACC/North Carolina vs. (16) NORTHEAST/Merrimack-MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC/Norfolk State winner

(8) Colorado State vs. (9) Nebraska

(5) Kentucky vs. (12) ATLANTIC 10/Richmond

(4) Baylor vs. (13) SOUTHLAND/McNeese State

(3) Creighton vs. (14) AMERICA EAST/Vermont

(6) South Carolina vs. (11) Texas-Wake Forest winner

(7) Brigham Young vs. (10) New Mexico

(2) PAC-12/Arizona vs. (15) BIG SKY/Eastern Washington

In a perfect world, Nebraska would have beaten someone good on the road in conference play. Instead, brushing aside Indiana (and perhaps Ohio State and Michigan) will have to suffice. The Cornhuskers’ résumé looks good besides the 2-7 road record. … Could Richmond land an at-large, if it needed it? If the Spiders won out until the A-10 final, they’d be 26-8 and an interesting case for the committee. Richmond won’t have much in Quad 1 besides a defeat of Dayton, but they’re 5-3 in Quad 2 games. …

Beating Duke tips the scales in favor of Wake Forest for the moment. It would be prudent for the Demon Deacons to tack on another Quad 1 victory, and it looks like they’ll have two chances (at Virginia Tech and home against Clemson) in the regular season. … Losing at home to Air Force was just not a good idea for New Mexico, perhaps worth a seed line when all is said and done. The Mountain West’s six at-large contenders are now a combined 21-1 against the league’s bottom three teams (Fresno State, San Jose State and Air Force).

(1) BIG EAST/Connecticut vs. (16) METRO ATLANTIC/Fairfield

(8) Oklahoma vs. (9) Nevada

(5) Clemson vs. (12) SUN BELT/Appalachian State

(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) SOUTHERN/Samford

(3) Alabama vs. (14) BIG SOUTH/High Point

(6) Dayton vs. (11) IVY/Princeton

(7) Northwestern vs. (10) Virginia

(2) Kansas vs. (15) PATRIOT/Colgate

If Oklahoma is going to make a push to wind up somewhere other than the 7-10 range, this week — with Wednesday’s trip to Iowa State and Saturday’s home game against Houston — would be a fine time to start. … Clemson is in the top 25 of all five team sheet metrics and has won at Alabama and North Carolina. There’s simply no way to argue the Tigers are any worse than a No. 6 seed at this point. …

The same premise applies to Alabama, which is in the top 10 of all the team sheet metrics. Yes, the 3-7 record in Quad 1 games is a little disconcerting, but everything else about the Crimson Tide hints at a No. 3 seed to this point. … Virginia is teetering closer to play-in territory after scoring 85 total points in losses last week to Virginia Tech and North Carolina. Even if the Cavaliers get in, failing to get to 50 is not a winning strategy in March (or any other time, given Virginia’s 1-4 record when it scores in the 40s).

(1) BIG 12/Houston vs. (16) SUMMIT/South Dakota State

(8) Florida Atlantic vs. (9) Mississippi State

(5) Illinois vs. (12) WESTERN ATHLETIC/Grand Canyon

(4) San Diego State vs. (13) BIG WEST/UC Irvine

(3) Duke vs. (14) COASTAL/College of Charleston

(6) WEST COAST/Saint Mary’s vs. (11) Mississippi-Providence winner

(7) Texas Tech vs. (10) Michigan State

(2) SEC/Tennessee vs. (15) OHIO VALLEY/Morehead State

Mississippi State just spent the past three weeks handling its business and going from an edge-of-the-field team to 8/9 territory. It’s a big week for the Bulldogs, who welcome Kentucky to Starkville before traveling to Auburn. … Even San Diego State has trouble winning on the road in the Mountain West. The Aztecs are 3-5 with losses to all the other at-large candidates in the league. Not great for last year’s national runners-up, but pretty much optimal for the conference. …

Providence has won three in a row and will have had a week to get ready for Wednesday’s trip to Marquette. The Friars would really bolster their NCAA hopes with a victory in Milwaukee. … It would be such a 2020s Michigan State thing to do to lose to Iowa and Ohio State at home and then go out and beat Purdue. That’s what the Spartans will try to do Saturday.

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