With an extra week off following the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan will have to wait to learn its First (and Second, hopefully) Round destination. All arrows are pointing up for the Wolverines, who surely have grabbed the attention of the Selection Committee with an outstanding end to the season that culminated in yet another Conference Tournament Championship.
While Michigan can, and should, feel good about their resume, college basketball is not played in a vacuum. Much of Michigan’s seeding – and location – will come down to the performances of other top teams during the last week of the season.
As a quick reminder, the Selection Committee will rank their chosen teams from 1 to 68 before placing them within the bracket. They will consider factors such as geography, conference affiliation, and previously-occurring matchups when slotting teams into particular places. Much of this process is shrouded in mystery, but past brackets give a little insight into what to expect.
The competition and the locations
Before moving any further, note that this analysis was done as of Monday morning’s information on both Bracket Matrix and Kenpom. Using these resources, there are 16 teams that fall around Michigan’s level at this time. Taking an average of these two websites, these schools, in order, are: Virginia, Villanova, Duke, Purdue, North Carolina, Michigan State, Cincinnati, Kansas, Xavier, Auburn, Texas Tech, Michigan, Tennessee, Gonzaga, West Virginia, and Wichita State.
These teams will be placed across eight sites, with no more than two teams per location (as each site hosts two different pods, and by definition, a pod cannot house more than one top-four seed). The 2018 First and Second Rounds will be played in: San Diego, Boise, Dallas, Wichita, Nashville, Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Detroit.
Now, to make two long lists of words a little more manageable. As mentioned before, the Committee will go through their rankings team by team to place each school at a given site. Some reasonable assumptions can be made based on the geographic locations of college campuses in relation to the eight sites.
Right away, Michigan fans can ignore Kansas, Texas Tech, Gonzaga, and Wichita State. Those teams will play somewhere among San Diego, Boise, Dallas, and Wichita. Additionally, some other pairings seem quite obvious: two of Virginia, Duke, and North Carolina will go to Charlotte, Villanova will be in Pittsburgh, and Auburn and Tennessee will be in Nashville or Dallas.
Motor City bound?
What remains are five teams in the Midwest with a few options between them. Assuming that Villanova takes one spot in Pittsburgh and one spot in Nashville goes to a team like North Carolina or the SEC winner, there are four openings to consider. The fifth team more than likely will be sent to an unfavorable location, distance-wise.
Cincinnati and Xavier are almost equidistant between Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Nashville. The best-case scenario for Michigan is that one is sent to Pennsylvania and one to Tennessee, which is definitely not out of the realm of possibility. That would leave two spots in Detroit for Michigan, Purdue, and Michigan State.
The more likely situation is one of those schools coming to Detroit and the other spot coming down to the Big Ten trio. Whoever is higher on the Committee’s list would get the nod to play at Little Caesars Arena, as Detroit would be the closest geographic fit for all three schools.
How might the Committee rank Michigan against its closest competitors? Xavier and Cincinnati should fall ahead of the Wolverines, and have chances this week to bolster their case. The Boilermakers went 2-1 against the Maize and Brew and objectively own the better resume. However, there is no logical reason for the Spartans to land ahead of Michigan. They have a weaker RPI and strength of schedule, and lost the season series in convincing fashion.
Michigan’s hope to play in Detroit comes down to the Committee’s desire to place at least one of Xavier and Cincinnati elsewhere. If they match one of these two schools to Little Caesars, the other spot will almost certainly go to Purdue. But if both teams are matched to alternative locations – which are just as close for them – then Michigan should feel pretty good about staying close to home during the first weekend.
We will have to wait and see if the Wolverines get to make the return trip to LCA, where they played Detroit Mercy on Dec. 16 in a 90-58 victory.