This season brought about one of the largest landscape changes the NCAA has seen. The ACC moved from 12 to 15 teams, the Big East split in two and the new AAC became essentially the old Conference USA.
In my estimation, there are now 6 major conferences: Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, SEC, Pac 12, and Big East. There are another 3 high level non-majors: AAC, A-10, and MWC. And following these three are the MVC and WCC.
The flow through effects have changed everything from the top line through the bubble. First, as the top conferences get larger, the conferences below them have become diluted as top programs such as Creighton, Butler, VCU, and Xavier move up.
On the top line, Wichita State is causing a huge debate as to whether they are worthy of a number 1 seed. Their 33-0 record coming off a Final Four is extremely impressive and would usually be more than enough to land a #1 coming from the MVC. However, as much is made about their weak schedule, one thing overlooked is the effect of Creighton’s absence after leaving for the Big East. Having one other highly ranked tournament level team on their schedule would have drastically changed the perception of Gregg Marshall’s fantastic squad. And possibly have given them a loss in Omaha, though no one can prove that either way.
At the “mid-major” level, the CAA, Horizon, Conference USA, and WAC, four leagues that have shown some ability to land multiple bids in the past, have been ransacked as their teams have moved to the A-10, MWC, and Big East in particular. While Green Bay has made a case for an at-large bid this season on the strength of their win over Virginia, none of these leagues now looks more likely than not to land an at-large bid in the next 4-5 years. Even the A-10, which looks like a 5/6 bid league this year, just lost Xavier, Butler, and Temple from a season ago.
And further down, leagues such as the Southern conference have seen perennial top contenders such as Charleston (and next year Davidson) move up the food chain to fill voids left in the CAA and other leagues. The result is that these smaller leagues are relatively weaker and less likely to pull an upset come March.
One last change, there are now 32 automatic bids rather than 31. However, as at-large bids are more and more concentrated in a few conferences, and the new conference is the AAC (which should have 5 at-large worthy teams anyways) this should have almost no effect on teams around the bubble.
Here is the bracket updated for yesterday’s 110 games, with Eastern Kentucky (OVC winner) and Wright State (Horizon finalist) now included in the field.
|4||North Carolina||Iowa St.||Michigan St.||Cincinnati|
|5||San Diego St.||Oklahoma||VCU||Gonzaga|
|8||Baylor||Oklahoma St.||Massachusetts||Saint Louis|
|9||Kansas St.||Iowa||SMU||Arizona St.|
|11||Xavier||Colorado||BYU||St Joseph’s/Florida St.|
|12||North Dakota St.||Louisiana Tech||Harvard||Dayton/Arkansas|
|13||Toledo||Stephen F. Austin||Iona||Georgia St.|
|14||Mercer||Vermont||Delaware||New Mexico St.|
|15||Boston University||UC Irvine||NC Central||Davidson|
|16||Weber St.||Wright St.||Robert Morris||Eastern Kentucky|
|Next Four||Second Four Out||Four More|
|Georgetown||St. John’s||West Virginia|