Bracketology: NCAA tournament projection as of February 26, 2019

  • 02/26/2019 7:58 am in

I’m not terribly interested in the tired argument of whether this year’s bubble is the worst we’ve ever seen, but there is an argument to be made that it’s one of the most shallow. As usual, I listed my first five teams out following this week’s projections, but there also weren’t any other teams I legitimately considered.

This isn’t to say that a surprise team won’t get hot and play its way into the conversation, but right now the list of at-large candidates is as small as I can remember with just under three weeks to go.

One team that I did not mention that’s sure to get some buzz is Murray State. I love watching Ja Morant as much as the next guy, but the Racers simply don’t have enough meat on their profile. Their best win came at Austin Peay, who is ranked 126th in the NET through Sunday’s games. An unbalanced OVC schedule gave Murray State just one crack at Belmont, which the Racers lost at home with Morant hobbled. Single-digit losses at Auburn and Alabama are fine, but a 20-point loss at Jacksonville State is magnified by the overall lack of quality wins. In total, 17 of Murray State’s 21 Division I victories fall into Quad 4, which means a deep conference tournament run is a must.

Before looking at the one seeds, I wanted to give a quick reminder about how the NCAA selection committee classifies wins based on the new NET Rating.

A breakdown of the four tiers:

· Tier 1: Home vs. teams ranked 1-30 / Neutral vs. teams ranked 1-50 / Road vs. teams ranked 1-75
· Tier 2: Home vs. teams ranked 31-75 / Neutral vs. teams ranked 51-100 / Road vs. teams ranked 76-135
· Tier 3: Home vs. teams ranked 76-160 / Neutral vs. teams ranked 101-200 / Road vs. teams ranked 136-240
· Tier 4: Home vs. teams ranked 161-351 / Neutral vs. teams ranked 201-351 / Road vs. teams ranked 241-351

One Seeds

For the first time in weeks, the top line of the bracket has changed. Duke maintained the first overall seed with Virginia not far behind, while the buzzsaw that is Gonzaga has ascended to third overall.

The fourth spot now belongs to Kentucky following another loss by Tennessee and another blowout win by the Wildcats. For the Vols, there’s ultimately no shame in losing at Kentucky and LSU, but a closer review of Tennessee’s profile reveals a relative lack of quality wins. Neutral court victories over Gonzaga and Louisville are their best, while they also own a sweep of Florida to go with a home win against Alabama. Other than that, there are no victories over at-large caliber teams.

Meanwhile, Kentucky has amassed nine Quad 1 wins, four of which have come on the road. The Wildcats’ three losses to teams other than Duke have come by a total of five points, and they have risen to fifth in the NET through Sunday’s games.

Tennessee is still in the mix for a potential one seed, as are North Carolina and Michigan State, both of whom picked up fantastic road wins last week at Duke and Michigan, respectively.

The Bracket

The projections below are based on all games played through February 25, 2019. Following the bracket, I included a few thoughts on the last four in and first five out.

Columbia – March 22/24 Columbus – March 22/24
1) Duke 1) Kentucky
16) Norfolk St. / St. Francis (PA) 16) Bucknell
8) Wofford
8) Washington
9) TCU 9) Syracuse
San Jose – March 22/24 Hartford – March 21/23
5) Florida St.
5) Iowa St.
12) Seton Hall / Central Florida 12) Alabama / Utah St.
4) Kansas St. 4) Wisconsin
13) UC Irvine 13) Vermont
Des Moines – March 21/23 Tulsa – March 22/24
6) Cincinnati 6) Iowa
11) Minnesota 11) North Carolina St.
3) Marquette 3) Houston
14) Yale 14) Texas St.
Columbus – March 22/24 Jacksonville – March 21/23
7) Baylor 7) Buffalo
10) VCU 10) Ohio St.
2) Michigan St. 2) North Carolina
15) Montana
15) Missouri St.
Columbia – March 22/24 Salt Lake City – March 21/23
1) Virginia 1) Gonzaga
16) Sam Houston St. 16) Iona / Prairie View A&M
8) Ole Miss 8) St. John’s
9) Oklahoma 9) Auburn
Salt Lake City – March 21/23 San Jose – March 22/24
5) Maryland 5) Nevada
12) Belmont 12) Lipscomb
4) Kansas 4) Texas Tech
13) Old Dominion 13) New Mexico St.
Hartford – March 21/23 Tulsa – March 22/24
6) Mississippi St. 6) Virginia Tech
11) Temple
11) Arizona St.
3) Purdue 3) LSU
14) Hofstra 14) South Dakota St.
Jacksonville – March 21/23 Des Moines – March 21/23
7) Villanova 7) Louisville
10) Texas 10) Florida
2) Tennessee 2) Michigan
15) Radford 15) Wright St.

Last Four In:

Seton Hall – Losses to Xavier and St. John’s last week dropped the Pirates to 16-11 with three games remaining in the regular season. Non-conferences wins over Kentucky on a neutral floor and at Maryland are fantastic, but at some point the losses have to matter as well. Seton Hall has been swept by DePaul, and home losses to Xavier and Saint Louis both fall into Quad 3. While the Pirates are far safer than the other teams listed here, the remaining schedule does them no favors with a road trip to Georgetown followed by home games against Marquette and Villanova.

Alabama – The Crimson Tide broke a three-game losing streak by beating Vanderbilt at home over the weekend. Alabama’s three best wins over Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss all came at home, while they have no other victories over at-large caliber teams to go with four losses against teams not in the at-large picture at all. Avery Johnson’s club has a difficult finishing stretch with games at South Carolina, home against LSU and Auburn, and at Arkansas.

Central Florida – The Knights came up short at Cincinnati last week before hammering SMU at home. They still don’t have a Quad 1 win, but they do have victories over Alabama and Temple among their six Quad 2 victories. However, four of their six losses have come against teams outside of the at-large picture. UCF’s plays three of its last four games on the road, starting with trips to South Florida and Houston this week.

Utah State – The Aggies rank 36th in the NET through the weekend’s games, which included a comeback win at Boise State to keep their at-large hopes alive. Their lone Quad 1 win (Saint Mary’s on a neutral court) is good but not great, while Utah State is just 3-5 combined against Quads 1 and 2, which may prove too much to overcome in the long run. A road loss at San Diego State is Utah State’s lone defeat over its last 12 games, but the Aggies get a chance at revenge this week. A win there would set up a huge opportunity when Nevada comes to town on Saturday.

First Five Out:

Butler – The Bulldogs lost their only game last week, falling on the road at Marquette. Most of Butler’s best wins have come at home (Ole Miss, St. John’s, Seton Hall), while a neutral court victory over Florida represents the only other win against an at-large caliber team on their profile. The Bulldogs need to take care of business in home games with Providence and Xavier while finding a way to improve upon their 2-7 road mark by stealing a win at Villanova or Providence down the stretch.

Clemson – After splitting home games with Florida State and Boston College last week, the Tigers remain on the outside looking in. All but two of Clemson’s 11 losses have come against teams ranked in the Top 50 of the NET, and the Miami defeat is the only one I’d classify as bad. However, the only two notable wins came at home against Virginia Tech (without point guard Justin Robinson) and Lipscomb. This week features a road trip to Pitt and a home date with North Carolina.

Furman – The Paladins were unable to give Wofford its first Southern Conference loss on Saturday, which dealt a blow to their at-large hopes. They do boast a huge non-conference road win at Villanova and have just one loss outside of Quad 1. Still, that home loss to Samford may come back to haunt them, and it’s worth noting that three of Furman’s 22 victories came against non-Division I opponents. The Paladins were also just 2-4 in games against the other top teams in the SoCon, which means they will need to make a deep run in the conference tournament.

Georgetown – The Hoyas gained ground with a huge win over Villanova last week and proceeded to give it back with a double-digit loss at Creighton. Outside of that victory over ‘Nova, Georgetown’s most notable wins came at St. John’s and Butler, but those are offset by home losses to SMU and Loyola Marymount. The Hoyas have a relatively low NET ranking (73rd through Sunday’s games), so they need to protect their home court against DePaul and Seton Hall this week.

UNC Greensboro – Sunday’s win over East Tennessee State kept the Spartans’ at-large hopes alive. When compared to SoCon foe Furman, UNCG has a 3-3 mark in games against the league’s other top teams and doesn’t have a bad loss, but they also don’t have any notable non-conference wins (Louisiana Tech and Radford are their two best). The Spartans close the regular season with a pair of road games, and wins there will set up another intriguing storyline for the Southern Conference Tournament.

Conference Breakdown:

ACC (8): Duke, Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech

Big Ten (8): Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin

Big 12 (8): Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech

SEC (8): Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee

American (4): Central Florida, Cincinnati, Houston, Temple

Big East (4): Marquette, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova

Mountain West (2): Nevada, Utah State

Pac-12 (2): Arizona State, Washington

America East: Vermont

Atlantic 10: VCU

Atlantic Sun: Lipscomb

Big Sky: Montana

Big South: Radford

Big West: UC Irvine

Colonial: Hofstra

Conference USA: Old Dominion

Horizon: Wright State

Ivy: Yale

MAAC: Iona

MAC: Buffalo

MEAC: Norfolk State

Missouri Valley: Missouri State

Northeast: St. Francis (PA)

Ohio Valley: Belmont

Patriot: Bucknell

Southern: Wofford

Southland: Sam Houston State

SWAC: Prairie View A&M

Summit: South Dakota State

Sun Belt: Texas State

WAC: New Mexico State

West Coast: Gonzaga

Follow Andy on Twitter (@andybottoms) for more thoughts on college hoops and to receive an update whenever new brackets are posted.

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