With the extra week off and already knowing Purdue’s likely seed we have some luxuries. Bracket matrix has Purdue pretty solidly as a 2 seed with a pair of their 3 seeds (Michigan and Michigan State) in the same boat as us. As I have said, this is a good spot to be in. Yes, 15s have beaten a 2 a total of 8 times, but we’re still going to be heavily favored in round 1. I will take a relatively easy round 1 game over the usual 5/12 or 4/13 we have been in. It also gives the advantage of not having to face a 1 seed until the Elite 8. People have made a lot of Matt Painter never getting past a Sweet 16, but in all three Sweet 16 games he has had to face a really good 1 seed. Two of the three went on to the Final Four with one (Duke in 2010).
This is our best shot since 2000 to reach the Elite Eight or further, and it starts in round 1. So who will we play?
Well, we have a pretty good idea as many of the smaller conference teams have already locked up their automatic bids. The superfluous First Four games in Dayton mean we get six 16 Seeds, four of which have to go to Dayton. We can start to extrapolate from there who will be left as 15 seeds for us.
Almost Certainly Headed to Dayton
NEC Champion LIU-Brooklyn (18-16) – If you’re a small conference champion that was not the regular season champ and you’re near .500 or worse it means a trip to Dayton. Last night the Blackbrids completed a run through the Northeast Conference Tournament as the 4 seed by upsetting No. 1 seed Wagner and send them to the NIT. They currently have the lowest RPI of any team with an automatic bid at 232.
Likely 16 Seeds
Big South Champion Radford (22-12) – The Highlanders locked up their third ever NCAA bid over the weekend and in their previous visits in 1998 and 2009 they were a 16 seed. With an RPI of 128 and best win coming over UC-Davis on a neutral floor they are pretty much a lock to be a 16 seed. Can they avoid Dayton?
MEAC Champion – This is always one of the weakest leagues in the country and almost a fixture in Dayton. Savannah State is the only team above 200 in the RPI and that is only at 190. They rate 31 out of 32 conferences in RPI.
SWAC Champion – The SWAC makes the MEAC look like the ACC, by comparison. The MEAC was 23-145 in non-conference Division I games. The SWAC was 8-113. Grambling is the lone team above .500 overall and Prairie View A&M is the highest rated RPI team at 238. Texas Southern coached by Mike Davis is notable as it played a murderous starting schedule of 9 tier 1 road games against the likes of Gonzaga, Ohio State, Kansas, Clemson, Oregon, and TCU. They didn’t have a home game until January 1st, but they did hold their own in a few games, losing by 7 at Clemson, 13 at Syracuse, and 6 at Oregon.
On the 15/16 Border
These are teams that already heave automatic bids and project as a 15 or 16, but as the other smaller conference tournaments finish up you have a slew of teams under .500 that could beat potential 15 seeds and push them up because if you get in at under .500 you’re going to Dayton. An example is Cleveland State, who made the Horizon final at 12-22, but lost to Wright State. The above four are all very likely four of the six 16 seeds, but the under .500 teams can move everyone up.
MAAC Champion Iona (20-13) – This will be a familiar name for Purdue fans, as the Boilers beat Iona 91-90 in the Puerto Rico Invitational during the 2011-12 season. That ended up being a quality win as the Gaels earned an at large bid to that year’s NCAAs. This year they took the 4 seed in the MAAC tournament and won a third straight automatic bid. It is the 13th time they have made the NCAAs, but they are 1-12 all-time with their lone win coming back in 1980. Last season they were a 14 seed and lost to Oregon 93-77 as the Ducks went on to the Final Four. With an RPI of 105 they are in the 15/16 range, and as a team going to a third straight tournament they could be feisty. They beat Purdue opponent Fairfield in their title game 83-71, and Purdue blasted Fairfield 106-64 back in late November.
Atlantic Sun Champion Lipscomb (23-9) – The same Lipscomb that Purdue beat 98-66 on December 30th is into its first ever NCAA Tournament after winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament. The Bisons only lost at Tennessee by 10 and lost at Alabama and Texas. Garrison Matthews is 12th nationally in scoring at 22.1 points per game. The committee doesn’t like to have rematches, but the worst-case scenario for Purdue is getting sent to Nashville to play Lipscomb in its home city. The official host there is the Ohio Valley Conference, so Lipscomb could potentially play a virtual home game.
Horizon Champion Wright State (25-9) – The Raiders are at 100 in the RPI after finishing second in the Horizon League and taking advantage of regular season champ Northern Kentucky’s stumble against Cleveland State. Their best win was at Toledo, but they have a few common opponents with Purdue. They beat Fairfield 57-56 and lost to Western Kentucky 78-60. They also split a conference series with IUPUI. Despite being located in Dayton Purdue has never played Wright State.
Bracket Matrix Projected 15 Seeds
UC-Davis (21-9) – Big West – UC Davis made its NCAA debut last season and won a game in the First Four before losing to Kansas in the real tournament. This is a program that has steadily risen in recent years. They made their first Division I postseason appearance in the 2015 NIT after winning the regular season title but losing in the tournament. Last year they final reached the NCAAs. They don’t have a tier 1 win (a trait of many 15 seeds), but they lost at Washington by 7 and are the favorite to win the Big West Tournament again.
Pennsylvania (22-8) – Ivy League – The Ivy league of late has produced a number of extremely dangerous champions. Two years ago Yale pulled a 12/5 upset over Baylor and gave Duke hell before losing by 7. In 2014 Harvard pulled the 12/5 (their second straight such win) over Cincinnati before losing to Michigan State by 7. Cornell famously made the Sweet 16 in 2010. Even when they lose, Ivy teams are tough outs. Penn and Harvard shared the Ivy League title at 12-2 and split their season series. Penn’s lone Tier 1 game was a 28 point loss at Villanova in their Philly Big 5 game. In terms of common opponents they lost to Fairfield by 8. They had a nice win at Dayton, however. Of all the 15 seeds a smart team like Penn would be the most dangerous.
The other two projected 15 seeds right now were already mentioned in Wright State and Lipscomb. The only other conference to keep an eye on would be the Southland, which projects in the 15/16 range. SE Louisiana and Nicholls State shared the regular season there at 15-3 with Stephen F. Austin sporting a 21-6 overall record and the league’s best RPI at 127. Stephen F. Austin won at LSU and lost at Missouri by a point. They also lost at Mississippi State by 5, so they are no slouch. They made three straight NCAA tournaments from 2014-16 and upset West Virginia as a 14 seed in 2016 before losing at the buzzer to Notre Dame in round 2.
As you can see, Purdue should be favored. None of these teams have a tier 1 win (with Stephen F. Austin’s one point loss at Missouri being the closest), but we have seen time and again that anything can happen. If the Boilers have an off night and the opponent starts bombing in threes there can always be trouble. I expect a Purdue win in round one by at least 20 points because that’s how these things often go, but remember what happened to Michigan State just two years ago.