This is the first in a series of posts I’m calling Season Sim. Twice a week, I’m going to have BracketBot simulate the rest of the 2019 season based on the results of this season so far, and I’ll share the results with all of you. This is purely just for fun, and (I think) an interesting way to look forward at how this season might actually turn out. I’ll share some of the tidbits that stick out at me from each outcome. So, gaze into my crystal ball: the date is April 8, 2019, and we’ve all just watched…
SCENARIO: …we’ve all just watched Michigan State pummel Duke, 87-73, to win the Big Ten’s first national title since the Spartans’ win in 2000.
Michigan State coasted through a very tough Big Ten schedule in this scenario, finishing with a 17-3 conference record. After starting Big Ten play 10-0, the Spartans lost an overtime game at home against Indiana to snap a 14-game win streak, but rebounded to win the conference by three games ahead of a tied group of Michigan, Ohio State and Indiana at 14-6. They also won the Big Ten Tournament with relative ease, as #6 seed Wisconsin took out OSU and Michigan, paving the way for Sparty to pummel them in the final. That avenged MSU’s biggest loss of the season, as it turns out Wisconsin’s drubbing of them in Madison is the only time all year that they lose by more than five points. They enter the tournament ranked #2, and get the top seed in the East Region while playing the first two rounds in Columbus.
The #1 overall seed is the team that plays them in the title game, the Duke Blue Devils. Duke makes short work of a very strong ACC too, finishing with a 16-2 conference record. After a shocking loss to Clemson at home to open conference play, they ran off 14 straight wins after that, only losing again at Virginia Tech in their final game of February. Duke has a laughably easy time of winning the ACC tournament: first, avenging their loss against 8th-seeded Clemson, then pummeling #4-seed North Carolina and Virginia in the final. At 31-3, they’re an obvious choice for the #1 overall seed as only Nevada and Murray State have lost fewer than 3 games.
The other two Final Four teams are Michigan and Auburn. Michigan was a #4 seed in the West Region. After starting the season 17-0, the Wolverines were the last remaining unbeaten team in the country. But just like with the Spartans, a trip to Madison, WI would be their undoing and they lost for the first time on January 19th, 59-49. After that, it was a bit of a slog. Having lost their #1 ranking, they lost five more times in the regular season, including three games at home, and after losing to Wisconsin again in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals they limped to that 4th-seeded result.
As for Auburn, they finished 3rd in the SEC, three games behind the top team, Tennessee, and losing the tiebreaker to a surprising LSU team. Despite that, they avoided any bad losses in conference play, with the worst probably being Florida at home. At 25-8, 13-5 in the SEC, they are ranked #14 in the AP Poll going into the tourney but get a #3 seed.
Other major conferences: In the Big XII, Kansas’ streak of conference titles continues, although they share the crown with Texas Tech and actually go to the Big XII tournament as the #2 seed. Both teams finish 14-4, and a TTU win in the tourney’s championship game between the two means that both teams get #1 seeds in the NCAAs. Surprising Iowa State finishes one game behind at 13-5.
The Big East has a wide-open conference race that finishes in a 3-way tie at 12-6 between Marquette, Villanova and St. John’s. All three teams wind up with solid seeds in the tournament, with conference tourney champ Marquette the highest at a #4. Nova gets a #5 and the Johnnies a #6. Butler finishes 1 back at 11-7 and Seton Hall and Creighton both finish 10-8. All six make the NCAA tournament, though Seton Hall is sent to Dayton for the First Four.
The Pac-12 continues to have a tough season, and the Conference of Champions actually finishes the year ranked below the American overall. Only Arizona earns an at-large berth after going 12-6, although regular season and tourney champ Washington would have made it easily. Current Pac-12 darlings Arizona State have another disappointing season, finishing 10-8 and getting blown out in the first round of the conference tourney.
In the American, Wichita State is a surprise team, finishing 4th, but it’s the three teams everyone expects that wind up as the top three: Cincinnati, Houston and UCF in that order. All three make the tournament, along with Temple, and UConn just barely misses out. Connecticut had finished 10-8 and in sixth place, but made a run to the tournament final with some of their usual magic. They fell short against Cincinnati and were the first team left out of the tourney field.
The rest: Gonzaga got a tough challenge from San Francisco in the WCC, but beat the Dons three times including the tourney final. USF does make it into the tournament at 25-7, though they’re sent to Dayton for the First Four. Parallels abound between Buffalo and Nevada, as neither wins their conference regular season (finishing behind Toledo and Utah State respectively), but both win their conference tournament, and surprisingly, both Toledo and USU get in comfortably as well. Those are both teams to potentially look for in the at-large conversation IRL this March. Nevada at 32-2 still gets a #2 seed, while a 27-6 Buffalo team is a #8. The only other multi-bid league is the A-10, which sees VCU grab the final at-large bid despite being upset in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament. A 25-8 VCU team is a pretty good contender, and I think this would be considered a strong bubble overall.
Last Four Byes: Clemson, Temple, Texas, Creighton
Last Four In: Seton Hall, Ole Miss, San Francisco, VCU
First Four Out: Connecticut, UCLA, New Mexico State, Alabama
Next Four Out: Old Dominion, Providence, UNC-Greensboro, Northwestern
Here’s the full bracket, with results:
A few major upsets, including Georgia Southern bypassing Oklahoma and Villanova to reach the Sweet 16 as a 13-seed, 11-seeded Texas making the Elite Eight, and #1 seed Kansas going down in the second round against Louisville.
There you have it! I hope you enjoyed this first edition of Season Sim – I think I’ll post another one of these on Sunday, and continue doing them Sundays and Wednesdays.