NCAA Tournament bracket preview may have positioned Missouri for hard Selection Sunday fall



There are some records in college basketball that are prominent and sacred, like Pete Maravich’s 44.2-point career scoring average or UCLA’s 88-game winning streak.

There are some that are obscure and repellant, like Oklahoma’s “achievement” of falling farthest in the final NCAA Tournament bracket after initially being included in the selection committee’s official February bracket preview.

There have been 64 teams unveiled in the four years that the committee has been unveiling the top four seeds in each region a month in advance of Selection Sunday. Of those, Oklahoma’s drop from a No. 4 seed to a No. 10 in 2018 marks the biggest decline for a team included.

MORE: March Madness bracket predictions

Missouri (13-6) will be attempting to avoid flirting with that unpleasant distinction when it plays the first of its four remaining scheduled games at South Carolina (5-10) Saturday afternoon. The Tigers then will have bubble contender Ole Miss, struggling Texas A&M and likely at-large selection Florida left to play.

Mizzou was the last of the 16 teams included on the selection committee’s bracket preview, and that was the best moment of its past two weeks. There have been three consecutive losses, dropping the team’s NET ranking to 43rd. In the BracketMatrix.com consensus of more than 100 bracket projections — just six days after the committee declared the Tigers to be a top-four seed — they were all the way down to No. 6.

The bracket preview might seem to be an exercise in public relations for the NCAA, an opportunity to hype its most important annual event and one of the showpieces of the CBS Sports calendar. Its past four editions, though, demonstrate that what’s said in February holds up fairly well on Selection Sunday.

Using the Bracket Matrix final composite to substitute for the 2020 bracket because the tournament was canceled, this is how teams that were included in the preview fared when the March Madness field was presented:

— 14 teams moved up from their projected seed, none more prominent than Duke’s 2017 advance from a No. 4 seed to a No. 2.
— 23 teams moved down, with West Virginia’s decline from a No. 2 seed in 2020 to a No. 6 the only one close to Oklahoma’s fall.
— 27 teams wound up in the same seeding position.
— 12 of 16 teams held their No. 1 seeds.
— 54 of the 64 teams included in the previews remained as top-four seeds in the final brackets.

Despite considerable accomplishment, Missouri must begin undoing the recent damage.

The Tigers are one of only nine teams with at least five Quad-1 victories. It’s Mizzou, Michigan, Iowa and West Virginia with five, Baylor, Illinois and Alabama with six, Gonzaga with seven and Ohio State with nine.

That would seem to ensure a prominent position on the bracket for the Tigers. It does not. Because they have also managed to drop games against Georgia, Mississippi State, Auburn and Ole Miss, of whom only the Rebels have a remote chance at an NCAA at-large bid. That’s a lot of games to lose to non-tournament teams.

The other eight teams that have at least five Quad-1 wins have only one defeat — combined — against teams outside the Bracket Matrix consensus, that being Maryland’s win over Illinois. And the Terps are included in 42 percent of those bracket projections, so it’s not like they’re a pushover.

That alone makes seeding the Tigers a challenge. And if they continue their current trend, they will have far bigger problems than what seed line they occupy on Selection Sunday.

However, even though one can accurately say the Tigers are in a losing streak, it might not be correct to call their recent performances a trend. They played against both Arkansas and Georgia without center Jeremiah Tillmon, who averages 12.8 points and 7.8 rebounds. His size and strength serve as the foundation of the team’s offense and defense. He missed the past two games because of a death in his family but will return to play against the Gamecocks.

It’s a game they need to win, not so much to stay in the tournament — which Missouri has reached only once in the past seven seasons — but to stay in the bracket’s upper echelon.

The Tigers have defeated Illinois, Tennessee and Alabama, all of which were included as top four seeds by the committee. A team with that on its resume should be pondering a happier Selection Sunday than recent performances portend.





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