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With conference play underway, we are in the full swing of college basketball season. A few trends have emerged so far, with the overarching theme being parity. The top of the bracket has a plethora of really good teams and many candidates for one seeds, but there is not the single dominant team that we have seen in past years. At the bottom end of the bracket it is still very hard to distinguish between teams on the 8-11 seed lines because many RPIs are still inflated by impressive records against subpar competition in the nonconference season.
A few storylines have emerged so far, the first being the impressiveness of the Big East. The “new” Big East might lack some of the star power of the old days, but the competition in this league will be second to none this year. Providence, Villanova and Xavier are all in the overall top 10 teams in the field, and Butler is not far behind as a five seed at the moment. The Big East should give us some great games before March, and make it a point to follow “Big East Coast Bias” on Twitter for entertaining and informative updates on the conference.
Another interesting team this year has been Monmouth. The Hawks play in the MAAC, a conference that is not typically in contention for multiple tournament bids, but Monmouth has made a compelling case with its nonconference effort, which included wins over USC, Notre Dame, UCLA and Georgetown. They currently sit at 22 in the RPI, but a loss to Canisius opened the door for Iona to stake claim to the MAAC automatic bid at the moment with a 4-0 conference record.
Of course Monmouth could always get into the field by winning its conference tournament, but, for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that does not happen.
If Monmouth cannot claim an automatic bid, I do not expect the committee to reward them with an at-large berth. The committee has shown time and time again that they will give the edge to teams from major conferences with regard to the last few at-large bids. Just based on recent trends (see Murray State and Temple last year), I think the Hawks path to the N.C.A.A. tournament still needs to run through the MAAC tournament championship.
Of course this depends a lot on what other bubble teams do throughout the year, but given the conference they play in, Monmouth’s chances to improve its resume from where it is now will be few and far between.
Some games to keep an eye on this weekend: Oklahoma State at West Virginia. Maryland at Wisconsin. LSU at Florida. Vanderbilt at South Carolina. Baylor at Iowa State. Florida State at Miami and Arizona at USC.
Follow @ScoutBrackets on Twitter to see how these games, among others, continue to change the landscape of the bracket.