Fieldhouse Confidential is a regular college basketball feature from Will Leitch, Mike Tanier and Matt Brown. Mike Tanier will return after the Super Bowl.
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The most anticipated college basketball game of the year is coming Saturday, with Michigan visiting Indiana. The Big Ten, in both football and basketball, has been so maligned in recent years -- because commissioner Jim Delany is such a rampaging bully, because the football has been so historically bad -- that a season like this one shouldn't be overlooked. The conference is just fantastic top to bottom (other than Penn State, of course), and there are eight teams who have legitimate NCAA tournament hopes. (And that's not even counting Purdue, who is 4-4 in the conference.)
But the Big Ten is always deep. The difference this year is the national title contenders at the top. If Indiana can win Saturday, it's very likely there will be two Big Ten teams at the No. 1 seed level. Indiana had the preseason hype, but Michigan looks like the best team in the country. Doing these brackets is giddy fun and all, but sometimes one can be distracted by bubble teams and S-curves and Last Four Out. Saturday is just gonna be a damned thrill.
So, let's go to it. Remember: The S-Curve lets you know the top team on each line, the one closest to the next seed. There are geographic and regional concerns with the seeding that must be accounted for, but we won't worry about those until we get closer to Selection Sunday. And, as always, the main purpose of fake brackets is to remind us that, sometime very soon, we will get a real one.
S-CURVE: (automatic qualifiers in CAPS)
No. 1: KANSAS, MICHIGAN, DUKE, FLORIDA
No. 2: Indiana, ARIZONA, SYRACUSE, GONZAGA
No. 3: Michigan State, Miami (Fla.), Louisville, NEW MEXICO
No. 4: Ohio State, Minnesota, Cincinnati, BUTLER
No. 5: CREIGHTON, Kansas State, Oregon, Marquette
No. 6: Wichita State, Ucla, San Diego State, N.C. State
No. 7: Nevada-Las Vegas, Virginia Commonwealth, Colorado State, Mississippi
No. 8: Missouri, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Oklahoma
No. 9: Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Colorado, North Carolina
No. 10: Kentucky, BELMONT, Oklahoma State, MEMPHIS
No. 11: Baylor, Arizona State, Illinois, Iowa State
No. 12: St. Louis, MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE, Temple (play-in), Southern Mississippi (play-in, Indiana State (play-in), St. Mary's (play-in)
No. 13: AKRON, LOUISIANA TECH, BUCKNELL, HARVARD
No. 14: STEPHEN F. AUSTIN, DAVIDSON, NORTH DAKOTA STATE, LONG BEACH STATE
No. 15: DETROIT, NORTHEASTERN, MONTANA, NIAGARA
No. 16: SOUTHERN, STONY BROOK, BRYANT (play-in game), CHARLESTON SOUTHERN (play-in game), NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (play-in game), FLORIDA GULF COAST (play-in game)
Last Four In: Temple, Southern Mississippi, Indiana State, St. Mary's
Last Four Out: St. John's, La Salle, Villanova, Boise State
Next Four Out: Iowa, Maryland, Virginia, Wyoming
The last 10 or so teams in the tourney are a nearly random jumble, honestly. Every year, 68 teams feels like four too many.
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan State
Bubbling: Illinois, Iowa
Not Entirely Dead: Northwestern
Locks: Louisville, Syracuse, Cincinnati
Bubbling: Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, St. John's, Villanova,
Not Entirely Dead: Rutgers
Locks: Duke, North Carolina State, Miami (Fla)
Bubbling: North Carolina, Maryland, Florida State, Virginia
Not Entirely Dead: Clemson
Locks: New Mexico, San Diego State
Probables: UNLV, Colorado State
Bubbling: Wyoming, Boise State
Not Dead Yet: Air Force
Locks: Arizona, Oregon, UCLA
Probables: Arizona State
Not Dead Yet: Washington, California, Stanford
Locks: Kansas, Kansas State
Bubbling: Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma State
Note Dead yet: None
Locks: Florida, Missouri, Mississippi
Bubbling: Kentucky, Alabama
Not Dead Yet: Texas A&M, Arkansas, South Carolina
Probables: Virginia Commonwealth
Bubbling: Temple, St. Louis, La Salle.
Not Dead Yet: Xavier, Charlotte, St. Joseph's, Massachusetts.
Any questions or obvious omissions, leave 'em in the comments or email me at email@example.com. And enjoy the games this weekend.
What To Watch
No. 1 Michigan at No. 3 Indiana (9 p.m. Saturday, ESPN)
As Will said above, this feels like the game of the year, and, really, it feels like the biggest Big Ten event in years, a perfect moment for a conference that, while still ridiculously powerful off the field/court, has been the butt of many jokes for years now because of a lack of championships and the boring playing style stereotype.
For how important this game is, it won't actually tell us a whole lot. The real way for a conference to make an impact is to win big nonconference games -- Michigan beat Kansas State, Pittsburgh and N.C. State, while Indiana beat Georgetown and a mediocre North Carolina team with a loss to Butler -- and to survive deep into March. Still, simply having the spotlight to itself Saturday night at Assembly Hall in Bloomington feels like a huge win for the league, and now all it needs is for Michigan and Indiana to showcase what's not typically thought of as a Big Ten game.
Yes, these teams are fun to watch.
Michigan, with excellent three-point shooting and transition scoring, is the most efficient offense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy's ratings. There's no better creator in college basketball than Trey Burke, an undersized guard who is scoring 17.9 points per game and dishing out 7.1 assists per game -- marks that ranks second and first in the Big Ten, respectively -- and this team is a nightmare to defend when you pair him with the outside shooting of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas, who both hit more than 40 percent from long range. On the other side, Indiana owns the third most efficient offense, behind the versatility of big man Cody Zeller, who leads the team in scoring, and the spectacular play of guard Victor Oladipo, who is shooting an absurd 65.5 percent from the field this season.
The game is loaded with everything even the casual college hoops fan could want: great guard play, an All-American center who runs the floor, familiar names (besides Hardaway, Michigan also boasts Glenn Robinson III), historically good programs. Michigan is No. 1 for the first time since the Fab Five. Indiana went 6-25 just four years ago. Saturday night will feature a raucous crowd of 17,000 rejuvenated Hoosiers fans. For the first weekend of February, college basketball doesn't get much better.
Pick: Michigan 80, Indiana 78
No. 16 Ole Miss at No. 4 Florida (7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN)
Marshall Henderson is the ultimate storyline. He's spent time in jail, he's hopped around from school to school to school to school. He's broken out as a star at Ole Miss, which opened the SEC season 6-0 behind Henderson's nearly 20 points per game. He's quickly become an his Internet hero thanks to his usually entertaining on-court antics. Henderson scored 21 against Kentucky on Tuesday, but he was finally overshadowed. He shot only 5-for-19 from the field, including 2-for-11 from three-point range, while Kentucky blue-chipper Nerlens Noel tallied 12 blocked shots to help lead Kentucky to an 87-74 win in Oxford. And, suddenly, reality beckons for the Rebels. Not that they're undeserving of their top-25 ranking, but good luck going into Gainesville and beating a Florida team that, No. 4 ranking or not, doesn't seem to be getting enough credit.
The Gators continue to creep toward the top of the polls, and while the rest of the SEC is weak, they're deserving of more national attention considering how badly they're destroying conference competition. They beat Georgia by 33. LSU by 22. Texas A&M by 21. Missouri by 31. Georgia again by 17. Mississippi State by 35. South Carolina by 39. So, the SEC is terrible. And maybe Florida lacks a marquee win, other than Wisconsin and Marquette (the Gators lost by one to Arizona and by six to Kansas State). But just look at those margins of victory again: seven wins by an average of 28.3 points. It's a ridiculous run, and Kenny Boynton and the Gators are deserving of every accolade right now.
Pick: Florida 78, Ole Miss 64
No. 14 Miami (Fla.) at No. 19 N.C. State (4 p.m. Saturday, CBS)
If only the Wolfpack could play every game at home. They've yet to lose at PNC Arena in Raleigh, including wins over rivals Duke and North Carolina, but they've now lost three straight ACC road games to Wake Forest, Maryland and Virginia. N.C. State remains in the conference title hunt, but actually getting over the hump and staying there requires 1) beating anyone on the road and 2) beating Miami on Saturday. The Hurricanes destroyed Duke in Coral Gables and have somehow taken control of the ACC with a two-game lead at 7-0, despite a sloppy midweek effort at Virginia Tech, and this will undoubtedly be their toughest road test of the season so far. It's a game that team as talented as N.C. State needs to win, and should win, in an effort to prevent a Miami team that lost to Florida Gulf Coast from winning the ACC.
Pick: N.C. State 66, Miami 62
No. 25 Marquette at No. 12 Louisville (2 p.m. Sunday, CBS)
Louisville finally got back in the win column this week, edging Pitt 64-61 at home on Monday to put an end to a three-game losing streak (without Wayne Blackshear, who is expected to play Saturday). The Cardinals are one of six Big East teams with three conference losses, while they're looking up at 6-1 Syracuse and Marquette. Marquette has taken care of business, beating Wisconsin in November and Georgetown, Pitt and UConn so far in league play, but a road trip to Louisville is the toughest test the Golden Eagles have faced since getting pasted at Florida by 33. It's hard to call a game a must-win for a college basketball team that's clearly tournament-bound, but, yeah, Louisville needs to win this one, needs the confidence, needs to get back in the conference chase, needs more consistent scoring as we move into February.
Pick: Louisville 62, Marquette 55
Oklahoma State at No. 2 Kansas (4 p.m. Saturday, ESPN3.com/Big 12 Network)
There doesn't seem to be any doubt that Kansas will walk unopposed to the Big 12 title and will grab a No. 1 seed. If anyone in this crazy season with no clear top team is a lock for a top seed, it's Kansas, the dominant team in a conference with only one other ranked team -- Kansas State, which the Jayhawks beat on the road already. Kansas is bound to slip up at some point, but, well, this team hasn't lost since Nov. 13, the second game of the year against Michigan State. Both freshman guard Ben McLemore and senior center Jeff Withey are national player of the year candidates, and nobody in the Big 12 is capable of challenging them in the long run. Still, Oklahoma State at least has the talent to make things interesting at Allen Fieldhouse, and if nothing else, this game showcases two of the most talented freshmen guards in the country in McLemore and Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart.
Pick: Kansas 69, Oklahoma State 61