Final Bracket Projection

East Region

1 Villanova (#1) vs 16 Troy/Mount St. Mary’s (Buffalo)

8 Dayton vs 9 Miami

5 Iowa St vs 12 Nevada (Sacramento)

4 Oregon vs 13 New Mexico St

6 Minnesota vs 11 Xavier (Orlando)

3 Florida vs 14 Winthrop

7 Maryland vs 10 Vanderbilt (Greenville)

2 Duke vs 15 NC Central


West Region

1 Gonzaga (#4) vs 16 UC Davis/South Dakota St (Salt Lake City)

8 Oklahoma St vs 9 Virginia Tech

5 Notre Dame vs 12 UNC Wilmington (Buffalo)

4 West Virginia vs 13 Vermont

6 Michigan vs 11 Middle Tennessee (Orlando)

3 Florida St vs 14 FGCU

7 Arkansas vs 10 Marquette (Salt Lake City)

2 Arizona vs 15 North Dakota


South Region

1 UNC (#2) vs 16 Jacksonville St (Greenville)

8 South Carolina vs 9 VCU

5 Purdue vs 12 USC/Kansas St (Milwaukee)

4 Butler vs 13 E. Tennessee St

6 Cincinnati vs 11 Michigan St/Providence (Tulsa)

3 Baylor vs 14 Iona

7 Wisconsin vs 10 Wake Forest (Indy)

2 Kentucky vs 15 Texas Southern


Midwest Region

1 Kansas (#3) vs 16 New Orleans (Tulsa)

8 Wichita St vs 9 Seton Hall

5 SMU vs 12 Princeton (Milwaukee)

4 Virginia vs 13 Bucknell

6 Saint Mary’s vs 11 Rhode Island (Sacramento)

3 UCLA vs 14 Northern Kentucky

7 Creighton vs 10 Northwestern (Indy)

2 Louisville vs 15 Kent State


Final Update Coming Soon

After the Cincinnati-SMU game is complete, I will post my final bracket projection.

The biggest development is Rhode Island’s victory in the A-10 Tournament. Previously, they were fighting amongst Syracuse, Kansas St, USC and possibly a few others for one of the last at-large spots in the field. By winning today, they made it impossible for the committee to exclude them from the tournament.

Their win is bad news for Syracuse, who will be falling out of my projected bracket in the update to be posted later. I still see it as a coin flip as to whether or not they make the field. They have the most big wins amongst the group, but the most bad losses as well. It is going to be close between them and other teams right around the cut line.

3/11 Update

This is where things currently stand.

I have not discussed the top line lately. Anyone following basketball closely sees the top three being Villanova, UNC and Kansas in that order. However, the last number one is up for grabs.

For this slot, I keep going back and forth between Gonzaga and Kentucky. I think Gonzaga is the team that deserves it, but Kentucky makes a compelling case if they win the SEC Tournament. They have a stellar 16-5 record against the RPI Top 100, and a non-confernece win over UNC. If Oregon wins the Pac-12, they could be discussed but their case is not as strong as Kentucky’s or Gonzaga’s. The Ducks have just two wins against tournament locks, which is less than even Gonzaga can claim.

Meanwhile, bubble teams like Syracuse could have their fates determined by the Atlantic 10 tournament. This is because with Dayton’s elimination, three out of four teams remaining are potential bid thieves. Should a team other than VCU win the automatic bid, a team I currently have in will end up missing the tournament.

Here is the full seed list.

1 Villanova, UNC, Kansas, Gonzaga

2 Kentucky, Oregon, Arizona, Duke

3 Baylor, Louisville, Florida, UCLA

4 West Virginia, Florida St, Butler, Virginia

5 Cincinnati, Purdue, Notre Dame, SMU

6 St. Mary’s, Minnesota, Creighton, Iowa St

7 Maryland, Wisconsin, Wichita St, Arkansas

8 Michigan, Dayton, South Carolina, Miami

9 Virginia Tech, Seton Hall, Marquette, Northwestern

10 VCU, Oklahoma St, Vanderbilt, Xavier

11 Wake Forest, Michigan St, Providence/USC, Kansas St/Syracuse

12 Middle Tennessee, Nevada, UNC Wilmington, UT Arlington

13 Princeton, Vermont, ETSU, Bucknell

14 Winthrop, FGCU, Akron, Cal St Bakersfield

15 Iona, Northern Kentucky, North Dakota, Texas Southern

16 NC Central, UC Irvine, Jacksonville St/New Orleans, South Dakota St/Mount Saint Mary’s

3/10 Update

Last time we checked-in, I said there were seven spots up for grabs. Following the results of two days worth of conference tournaments, I think there are now two spots that are truly uncertain.

I am fairly confident about 34 out of 36 of the at-large spots. The two that are up in the air are spots currently filled by Kansas St and Syracuse. I included both in my last update. K-State was my last team in and Syracuse was in a play-in game.

I said K-State needed to pull off the difficult task of beating Baylor to stay in the bracket. Well, they did just that yesterday. The Big 12 is arguably the strongest conference from top to bottom and similar to last year’s version which sent seven teams to the dance. Kansas St would be the sixth team from the conference to make it this year. However, a 6-10 record against the RPI Top 100 and weak non-conference schedule are reasons why they might not get picked.

Meanwhile, I said Syracuse had to win their opening game against Miami to feel safe. They lost and now it could a coin flip as to whether or not they hear their name called. They went 10-8 in the 2016-17 ACC, which some people were calling at one point the best conference in college basketball history. However, their non-confernece results were so awful that they are at this point. Teams with five losses to teams with RPI of 100+ have made it before, but it is never a guarantee.

Elsewhere, teams that were looking good but not totally safe (Xavier, USC, Vanderbilt) have won the necessary games in their respective tournaments so now I see them being in without much of an issue. And two teams that were on the wrong side of the bubble but still in the mix (Illinois and Iowa) flamed out yesterday.

So, teams that can be realistically picked over Kansas St and Syracuse are Rhode Island if they can get past Dayton in the A-10 tournament or possibly Middle Tennessee if they do not secure the automatic bid. Illinois St also has a chance to receive an at-large but I am still not high on their chances. TCU and California are in the mix and still alive in their tournaments. But the selection committee does not like power conference teams that have few wins against quality competition. K-State and Syracuse also have to watch out for bid thieves. It is possible that some team other than Cincinnati or SMU wins the AAC or a team other than Dayton or VCU wins the A-10 to take away a spot.

Here is my updated projection.

1 Villanova, UNC, Kansas, Kentucky

2 Gonzaga, Oregon, Baylor, Florida

3 Louisville, UCLA, Arizona, Florida St

4 Duke, West Virginia, Butler, Purdue

5 Virginia, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, SMU

6 St. Mary’s, Minnesota, Iowa St, Maryland

7 Creighton, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Wichita St

8 Dayton, Arkansas, Miami, Michigan

9 Seton Hall, Virginia Tech, Marquette, Oklahoma St

10 VCU, Northwestern, Xavier, Wake Forest

11 Michigan St, Vanderbilt, Providence/USC, Kansas St/Syracuse

12 Middle Tennessee, Nevada, UNC Wilmington, UT Arlington

13 Princeton, Vermont, ETSU, Bucknell

14 Winthrop, FGCU, Akron, Cal St Bakersfield

15 Iona, Northern Kentucky, North Dakota, Texas Southern

16 NC Central, UC Irvine, Jacksonville St/New Orleans, South Dakota St/Mount Saint Mary’s

3/8 Update

Power conference tournaments are just starting and that means several bubble teams will be in action.

I see seven spots up for grabs at the moment. In my projected bracket, all of the 11 seeds plus tenth seeded Michigan St need to take care of business this week to feel completely safe.

The way I see it, Michigan St, Providence, Vanderbilt and Syracuse are most likely in if they win one game this week. Xavier and USC are in tougher spots and could need two wins to be relatively safe. Kansas St holds the last spot for now, but probably loses their slot if they lose their opening game against Baylor. Since that is a lot to ask of any team, it is likely that the final at-large bid will be rewarded to an under-the-radar bubble team that makes a deep run in its conference tournament.

Here is the projected seed list.

1 Villanova, Kansas, UNC, Kentucky

2 Gonzaga, Baylor, Louisville, Oregon

3 Florida, UCLA, Arizona, Butler

4 Florida St, West Virginia, Duke, Virginia

5 Purdue, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, SMU

6 St. Mary’s, Minnesota, Iowa St, Maryland

7 Creighton, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Wichita St

8 Dayton, Oklahoma St, Arkansas, Miami

9 Michigan, Marquette, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech

10 VCU, Northwestern, Seton Hall, Michigan St

11 Providence, Vanderbilt, Syracuse/USC, Xavier/Kansas St

12 Middle Tennessee, Nevada, UNC Wilmington, UT Arlington

13 Princeton, Vermont, ETSU, Bucknell

14 Winthrop, FGCU, Akron, Cal St Bakersfield

15 Iona, Northern Kentucky, North Dakota, Texas Southern

16 NC Central, UC Irvine, Jacksonville St/New Orleans, South Dakota St/Mount Saint Mary’s

First four out: Illinois, Rhode Island, Iowa, Illinois St

3/4 Bracket Update

The bracket will be revealed in eight days, so it is time for us to get an idea of how the field will look.

Unlike in previous years, we already were presented with a partial mock bracket made by the selection committee a month ago. Although this gives great insight on how the committee is thinking, a lot has happened since then. Also, they only listed the top 16.

If anything, this could give us a good hint on where they are leaning as far as the top seeds. Last month, they had Gonzaga listed as the last #1 seed even when they were undefeated. Now with their loss to BYU, it is very difficult to determine whether they will remain a one or not. If it were up to me, they would be on the top line for sure based on the quality of the team. But these brackets I make are not a reflection of what I think should happen, but rather, what I think the committee will do. And I see them choosing Villanova and Kansas for sure. The other two teams I have listed on the top line, UNC and Kentucky, will both secure those spots with conference tournament wins. If lesser teams win those tournaments, Gonzaga could find themselves on the top line. If they embrace quality metrics systems, such as Ken Pomeroy rankings where Gonzaga is #1, and lose their obsession with RPI, than that is good news for Gonzaga. But I am not confident that this will happen.

I am also trying to apply past selection committee logic to the bubble. One of the biggest surprises for many people last year was Syracuse’s inclusion in the tournament. Well, it turned out to be the correct decision as they made a surprise Final Four run. Their biggest strength as a bubble team was sheer number of quality wins, even though they also had many “bad” losses. So, with regards to the bubble this year, look for several power conference teams in a similar mold to be included in the field. I included 14 loss Vanderbilt because road wins over Florida and Arkansas, as well as a non-confernece win against Iowa St, will catch the committee’s attention.

However, the committee could also throw a bone at a small conference bubble team, as they did a few years ago with Middle Tennessee. The problem for these teams is that their schedules present little opportunities for quality wins, so their best way of making the field is often avoiding these bad losses. As it stands, I see Middle Tennessee and Illinois St being right on the bubble if they do not seal automatic bids. However, as top seeds in their conference tournaments, they get included by default in this mock.

The third type of bubble team, power conference teams lacking quality wins, are mostly going to be in trouble this year. This includes teams that did not make the cut in my bracket, such as California and Georgia. Each only has one win over a team with an at-large chance, and a losing record against teams in the RPI Top 50 and the RPI top 100.

Without further ado, here is my projected seed list.

1 Villanova, Kansas, UNC, Kentucky

2 Gonzaga, Baylor, Louisville, Oregon

3 Florida, UCLA, Butler, Arizona

4 Duke, West Virginia, Florida St, Virginia

5 Purdue, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Notre Dame

6 SMU, St. Mary’s, Dayton, Creighton

7 South Carolina, Oklahoma St, Iowa St, Miami

8 Maryland, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Arkansas

9 Northwestern, Michigan, Wichita St, VCU

10 Michigan St, Wake Forest, Marquette, USC

11 Providence, Seton Hall/Vanderbilt, Syracuse/Xavier, Illinois St

12 Middle Tennessee, Nevada, UT Arlington, UNC Wilmington

13 Monmouth, Princeton, Vermont, Winthrop

14 Bucknell, FGCU, Akron, Cal St Bakersfield

15 Oakland, UNC Greensboro, Eastern Washington, South Dakota

16 UT Martin, Texas Southern, NC Central/UC Irvine, New Orleans/Mount Saint Mary’s

10 Players to Watch in 2016

The baseball season is set to begin this Sunday, and one thing that we all know is that every season is filled with surprises. One of my favorite things to watch each season is to see certain players, who have previously struggled or not received playing time, rise from obscurity and put up All Star numbers.

Here, I have listed ten players who are not considered mega stars, but are primed to break out this year. Note that although this is not a fantasy baseball article, I do highly recommend drafting or trading for everyone here if you are in a fantasy baseball league, since all of these guys have great potential.

Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks starting pitcher: OK, this one isn’t exactly the best-kept secret. ESPN included Corbin as one of its breakout pitchers for 2016. But I am also fully on-board. I am huge on pitchers who generate a high volume of strikeouts, and that always has been a good part of Corbin’s game. However, it is his low walk rate which really intrigues me. His 1.80 walks per nine innings last year would have placed him at tenth best of all pitchers had he qualified, just ahead of Chris Sale and just behind Jacob deGrom. He only pitched 85 innings last year, but his excellent numbers in strikeouts per nine innings and walks per nine innings should capture your interest. Pitchers who are strong in both categories over a large enough sample size of innings will usually be very effective.

Yordano Ventura, Royals starting pitcher: OK, this one is more of a boom or bust pick. He could totally flame out. But if he manages to put it all together, you are talking about a pitcher with as high of an upside as anybody. I think we will see some growth here, but the question is how much? His ERA was almost a half run higher than his FIP and xFIP, so that is very encouraging. He also throws one of the highest velocity fastballs in the game. If he can develop his secondary pitches further, we could be looking at a superstar. His growth just last year was huge. Eight of his last 11 starts were quality starts, and his K-rate jumped to over a batter per inning in that span. He still walks far too many hitters, so some slight improvements in his control could come a long way.

Joe Ross, Nationals starting pitcher: Tyson’s younger brother earned his promotion to the big leagues due to a fantastic performance in the minor leagues and some good fortune. The Nats’ rotation at first looked too deep for them to be able to hand out any innings to unproven rookies, but that changed when Stephen Strausburg and Doug Fister had numerous problems staying healthy. Then, last year in roughly 75 innings pitched, Ross proved himself enough to become a permanent part of the rotation plans. The drawback is that he may have an innings cap this year, similar to Strausburg in the past. However, he looks like he can be a very good pitcher if given time, with his fairly good strikeout rate and excellent breaking stuff.

Andrew Cashner, Padres starting pitcher: For the last of my pitchers, I will take a guy that has received some attention in the past. For years, fantasy owners have chased after Cashner, intrigued by his potential. His strikeout rate climbed after posting poor ones in 2013 and 2014. In addition to his FIP and xFIP being a half run better than his ERA, Cashner was unlucky in his left-on-base percentage, posting the lowest one of all qualified pitchers. Also, he still pitches in the friendly confines of Petco Park. Ignore the ERA and the 6-16 record. This is a guy is still one of the hardest throwers in baseball, and there were more positives to take away from last year than you would think.

Byung Ho Park, Twins first baseman/designated hitter: One thing is for sure, this guy has some huge power. I was at a Twins spring training game this year, and Park hit a massive home run over all of the outfield grass seats. Based on his profile from Korea, more power should be coming. Granted, with guys like this, the batting average is anyone’s guess. So actually, is this any different than Miguel Sano? Sano, who is on the radar of a lot of people, also has a huge power bat but poses a batting average risk. He and Park are in a similar mold. They might not be able to get on base enough to play every day. But if either of them can get on base, the huge power bats will make either one a player to watch.

Stephen Piscotty, Cardinals outfielder: I was impressed by the Cardinal in his first year. Although just a rookie, he looked like a professional hitter, spraying line drive base hits throughout the field. He was also a fairly tough out down the stretch for the Cardinals. He never showed great power in the minors, but he is working on his swing to make it a bigger part of his game. I predict he remains a fixture in the Cards’ outfield picture and has a solid career.

Gerardo Parra, Rockies outfielder: Several times over the years, I have heard people say that Parra is nothing more than a fourth outfielder. After being able to watch him a couple of times while also seeing his stat line, I really don’t get why people are saying that. Last year, he had a tough April and September, but was fantastic in between, with a .316 batting average in that span. Simply put, I know from watching him that this guy can hit, and he has the speed to turn hits into extra base hits. Now in hitter-friendly Coors Field and with a clear role as a starter, he should put up huge numbers. He has also long been known as a strong defensive outfielder. While the analytics say that he took a step back last year, he is still capable of making some excellent web-gem quality plays in the field.

Jonathan Schoop, Orioles second baseman: In just half of a season last year, Schoop showed some power that we hadn’t seen yet with 15 home runs in 321 at-bats. He has always been a pretty good hitter, but if he can keep up the power upswing over a full season, we are talking about a player with a lot of potential. The kind of numbers that he is capable of putting up are much more than you would expect from the second base position.

Trevor Story, Rockies shortstop: He has had an excellent spring training, allowing him to claim the Rockies’ starting shortstop job while Jose Reyes resolves some legal issues. This is a guy who first caught my eye while I was watching him play in Triple A Albuquerque. Granted, I know how Albuquerque is a ridiculous hitters park just like Coors Field. However, he caught my attention as someone who just looked like he could be a solid, professional hitter. Also the power was strong for the shortstop position. I am interested to see what he does with the opportunity that has opened up for him in Denver.

Travis Shaw, Red Sox former first baseman and now third baseman or maybe outfielder: This is another guy having a great spring who I am curious to see over a full season. However, unlike everyone else on this list, he does not clearly have a starting role, so playing time is a question. The Red Sox seem to be falling out of favor with Pablo Sandoval however, which makes it likely that Shaw will see time at third base. His dad, Jeff Shaw, was a major league reliever, so he has been around the clubhouses since he was young. Also, he managed to hit 13 home runs in a small amount of at-bats. If given playing time, all signs point to a guy with some good power who is not likely to kill you with his batting average either.