NCAA Bracket Predictions 2014: Projecting the March Madness Field at Week 15
Snowstorms along the East Coast caused more than a dozen games to be postponed on Wednesday and Thursday night, but even a white Valentine's Day couldn't keep us from churning out our weekly projected bracket.
Though we'll need to wait an extra eight days for the first showdown between Duke and North Carolina, Syracuse and Pittsburgh delivered a gem of a game with all sorts of bracket implications.
Asked about Tyler Ennis' game-winning shot and his decision to call a timeout, Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon told reporters after the game, via The Associated Press (h/t ESPN), "We did what we were supposed to do. If we had to do it again...We did the right things."
Unfortunately, the right things weren't good enough to dethrone Syracuse from the No. 1 overall seed. Nor were they good enough to keep Pittsburgh from falling to a No. 8 seed after dropping a seed line for a fourth consecutive week.
That's nothing compared to the precipitous tumbles taken by Oklahoma State and Florida State. The Cowboys were a No. 6 seed last week but are now firmly on the bubble after the Marcus Smart incident. The Seminoles were a No. 9 seed a week ago, but after losing games to Maryland and Miami, this is the last time you'll even read about Florida State in this space.
In recapping the rest of the projected field, we'll start at the bottom by looking at the last five teams to be included and excluded from the field. We will also take a look at five teams that aren't quite deserving of being in the tournament discussion but are creeping onto the radar.
After that, we'll present each seeded region, including the subregional locations in which each pod would be played and some commentary on select teams. Then it's the ranking of the No. 1 seeds, followed by a summary of the entire field broken up by conference.
Win-loss records on the following slides exclude games played against opponents not in D-I and are current through the start of play on Friday, Feb. 14. All Rating Percentage Index (RPI) and Strength of Schedule (SOS) rankings (via ESPN) are current through the start of play on Thursday, Feb 13.
Last 5 In
Last team in: North Carolina State Wolfpack (16-8, RPI: 51, SOS: 39)
As of Thursday evening, the tireless work of the Bracket Matrix shows that only one out of 74 projected brackets has the Wolfpack in the field.
Better make it two.
The Wolfpack are in desperate need of a marquee victory and will get that shot on Saturday against Syracuse. North Carolina State is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country (30.0 percent on the season), so it's pretty unlikely that this will be the team to end Syracuse's perfect season. Should they pull it off, though, there will be no question that the Wolfpack belong in the field.
Second-to-last: Providence Friars (16-9, RPI: 55, SOS: 58)
Once very comfortably in the field, the Friars are now on the verge of playing in the NIT. These things happen when you lose four out of five games—all of which came against teams that are currently outside the RPI Top 40. The upcoming home game against Villanova will make or break Providence's tournament dreams.
Third-to-last: Georgetown Hoyas (15-9, RPI: 57, SOS: 27)
The Hoyas sneak back into the field for the first time in over a month, but if they want to keep this spot, they'll need to earn it. In their final six games of the season, they'll play Creighton and Xavier at home and have road games against Marquette, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova. Georgetown is riding a four-game winning streak, but an 0-6 finish seems far more likely than 6-0.
Fourth-to-last: Oregon Ducks (15-8, RPI: 42, SOS: 14)
Despite playing just one game since the last projected bracket and losing by two points in that game against Arizona State, Oregon remains in the exact same spot as it was one week ago. Though the Ducks lost both games, the road trip against the Arizona schools drastically improved their computer profile.
Strong resume or not, the Ducks have now lost eight out of their last 10 games and are sitting perilously on the bubble. None of the losses were particularly bad, but it sure would be nice if they would win a game against a Pac-12 team in the RPI Top 100.
Fifth-to-last: Oklahoma State Cowboys (16-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 16)
Based on their overall body of work, the Cowboys deserve to open the tournament in a No. 8 vs. No. 9 game, but no team has had a worse three-week stretch than Oklahoma State. As a result of the current five-game losing streak, we're dropping the Cowboys squarely onto the bubble.
They already have eight losses, will have to play Oklahoma and Baylor without Marcus Smart and close out the season with three straight against Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State. They'll certainly have the RPI and SOS numbers to belong in the field, but if they end up with 12 or 13 regular-season losses—meaning a conference record of roughly 7-11—they'll be in quite the predicament.
First 5 Out
First team out: Saint Joseph's Hawks (16-7, RPI: 44, SOS: 48)
A little over two weeks ago, Saint Joseph's wasn't even a blip on the radar. The Hawks had just been blown out by Richmond to drop to 0-5 versus the RPI Top 100 and had a bad loss to Temple (RPI: 183) to boot.
Since then, though, they have scored three RPI Top 100 wins over Dayton, Massachusetts and VCU. It's highly unlikely that the A-10 would send six teams to the NCAA tournament, but Saint Joseph's may at least make the committee think about it.
Second team out: West Virginia Mountaineers (15-10, RPI: 66, SOS: 51)
Where did this come from? Prior to their last four wins, the Mountaineers were 11-9, and their best win of the season was an overtime victory on the road against Texas Tech. Over the past couple of weeks, they're merely 4-1 with all five games coming against the RPI Top 60.
They still play another five games against the RPI Top 60 and may very well need to duplicate that 4-1 record in order to make the tourney. Having 10 losses in mid-February doesn't leave you a whole lot of wiggle room.
Third team out: Saint Mary's Gaels (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 92)
If we ever decide to change the "First 5 Out" title, it would likely be to dub this section the "Saint Mary's All-Stars." This is the seventh consecutive season in which Randy Bennett's club is just lurking outside the tournament field in February. The Gaels do have five RPI Top 100 wins but also have five pretty terrible losses.
Saint Mary's will need to win the rest of its remaining regular-season games to have a chance at an at-large bid. As such, Saturday night's game between BYU and Saint Mary's is likely an elimination game for the loser—if BYU didn't already eliminate itself with a loss to Pacific on Thursday night.
Fourth team out: SEC Team No. 4
The SEC should send four teams to the tournament. Florida and Kentucky are locks, and Tennessee is a pretty safe bet so long as the Volunteers don't go losing any of their remaining five games against the bottom half of the conference.
After that, though, is anyone's guess. Missouri is 2-6 this calendar year against the RPI Top 100, with both wins coming against Arkansas. Ole Miss appeared to be in good shape until Tuesday night's loss to Alabama. Same goes for LSU until recent losses to Georgia and Texas A&M.
Missouri probably has the best chance of the three—if only because the Tigers don't play any more games against Kentucky or Florida—but it'll need to pick up a few more quality wins either against Tennessee or in the SEC tournament.
Fifth team out: Utah Utes (15-7, RPI: 102, SOS: 185)
The computer profile is horrendous, but Utah is one of the 40-45 best teams in the country in my estimation. Prior to Thursday night's win over USC, the Utes were 0-6 away from home on the season but lost those six games by a combined total of 24 points.
As far as the computer is concerned, a two-point loss is the same as a 52-point loss, but Utah hasn't been manhandled in a game yet this season. When it comes down to figuring out the last couple of teams that belong in the field, that has to count for something.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Dayton Flyers (17-8, RPI: 58, SOS: 59)
They went through quite the rough patch there at the end of January, losing five out of six and picking up their worst loss of the season against Rhode Island. But the Flyers have won four straight to open the month of February, including a huge win over George Washington and an underrated road win over St. Bonaventure.
They aren't particularly close to the field right now, but closing out the regular season with four straight against Saint Joseph's, Massachusetts, Saint Louis and Richmond could make things very interesting for the team hosting the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Baylor Bears (13-9, RPI: 53, SOS: 12)
The Bears are just 3-8 in the Big 12, and two of those wins came against a TCU team that is 0-11 in conference play with an average margin of defeat of more than 16 points per conference game. Much as they have struggled, though, a 6-1 finish to get to .500 in conference isn't a completely unrealistic expectation.
They should win their next two home games against Kansas State and a depleted Oklahoma State. And with the way Iowa State has played on the road this season, Baylor ought to win that home game as well. Road games against West Virginia, Texas and Kansas State will be difficult, but if they ever figure out how to play with a sense of urgency, they could win two out of those three.
St. John's Red Storm (16-9, RPI: 61, SOS: 34)
After a very disappointing 0-5 start to Big East play, the Red Storm have won seven out of their last eight, including a huge win over Creighton. They dug themselves quite a hole with nine losses before the end of January, but if they keep playing as well as they have in recent weeks, they'll make a serious run at replacing Providence or Georgetown in the tournament field.
Marquette Golden Eagles (14-10, RPI: 73, SOS: 79)
If St. John's can't pull it off, Marquette has a shot as well. The Golden Eagles certainly don't have the resume to get into the discussion today, but with five games remaining against teams currently in the projected field (and one versus St. John's), the blueprint to make the tournament is pretty clear.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (19-5, RPI: 72, SOS: 227)
If Gonzaga is a No. 7 seed with a 1-2 record versus the RPI Top 50 and a loss to a team outside the RPI Top 150, why not at least throw a bone to Louisiana Tech? The Bulldogs haven't been given many chances and haven't done much with them, but this is a better team than the computer profile would have you believe.
They got the short end of the C-USA stick by having to play on the road in their only games against Southern Miss and UTEP, but I suspect they'll get to 25-5 at the end of the regular season before making a little ruckus in the conference tournament.
East Region (New York City)
No. 1 Syracuse (24-0, RPI: 3) vs. No. 16 Robert Morris (NEC auto bid, RPI: 150) / Southern University (SWAC auto bid, RPI: 179)
No. 8 Oklahoma (18-7, RPI: 29) vs. No. 9 Massachusetts (19-5, RPI: 20)
No. 4 Wisconsin (20-5, RPI: 6) vs. No. 13 Harvard (Ivy auto bid, RPI: 52)
No. 5 Louisville (19-4, RPI: 33) vs. No. 12 California (16-8, RPI: 49)
No. 3 Iowa State (18-5, RPI: 11) vs. No. 14 New Mexico State (WAC auto bid, RPI: 81)
No. 6 Connecticut (19-5, RPI: 29) vs. No. 11 Tennessee (14-9, RPI: 50)
No. 2 Villanova (22-2, RPI: 5) vs. No. 15 Georgia State (Sun Belt auto bid, RPI: 89)
No. 7 Memphis (18-5, RPI: 32) vs. No. 10 George Washington (19-5, RPI: 26)
This is the "RPI Be Darned" region. Wisconsin is ranked sixth in the widely loathed rating system but is the lowest-rated No. 4 seed (aka 16th-best team) in the tournament field. Massachusetts and George Washington were given similar treatment, sitting three or four seeds lower than they would be if seeding was based entirely on RPI.
Then we have Louisville earning a No. 5 seed despite a worse RPI than any of the other teams in the top 10 in this region. As a team that blows out everyone outside the RPI Top 50 while playing way too many games against that subset of teams, the Cardinals are becoming a real headache. They are 4-4 versus the RPI Top 100. So is Ohio, but I can guarantee the Bobcats won't be earning a No. 5 seed.
Memphis is equally frustrating but with an additional loss. The Tigers are 4-5 versus the RPI Top 100 and 14-0 against everyone else in D-I. Unlike Louisville, though, they were blown out in most of those losses, losing four of the five by at least 10 points. Pick Memphis to win more than one tournament game at your own peril.
Try as they might, California and Tennessee can't seem to play their way out of the field. California has lost four of six, and Tennessee has lost five of 10. Yet, both teams remain just inside the RPI Top 50 with six RPI Top 100 wins and only one bad loss. Considering the alternatives on the other side of the cut line, that's good enough to stay in for now.
Midwest Region (Indianapolis)
St. Louis, Mo.
No. 1 Wichita State (25-0, RPI: 7) vs. No. 16 North Carolina Central (MEAC auto bid, RPI: 139) / High Point (Big South auto bid, RPI: 208)
No. 8 North Carolina (16-7, RPI: 34) vs. No. 9 Arizona State (18-6, RPI: 38)
San Antonio, Texas
No. 4 Creighton (20-4, RPI: 12) vs. No. 13 Green Bay (Horizon auto bid, RPI: 74)
No. 5 Iowa (18-6, RPI: 31) vs. No. 12 Richmond (16-8, RPI: 41)
No. 3 Cincinnati (22-3, RPI: 14) vs. No. 14 Delaware (CAA auto bid, RPI: 67)
No. 6 VCU (20-5, RPI: 23) vs. No. 11 Providence / Oregon (Last five in)
No. 2 Michigan State (21-4, RPI: 10) vs. No. 15 Davidson (Southern auto bid, RPI: 162)
No. 7 Kansas State (17-7, RPI: 28) vs. No. 10 Southern Miss (C-USA auto bid, RPI: 36)
The Midwest region is home to the most inconsistent team in the country. And no, we're not talking about North Carolina—though the Tar Heels do find themselves at No. 8 in this quadrant. Good luck, Wichita State!
Kansas State has six wins against the RPI Top 35 but also has some horrendous losses. That opening-night home loss to Northern Colorado (RPI: 192) is the gift that keeps on giving. Had the Wildcats won that game with all other things remaining the same, they would probably be a No. 4 seed right now.
In addition to that bomb, they lost to Kansas by 26 points and lost to Georgetown by 27. Their game against Baylor could end up being a 35-point win for either team, and it wouldn't shock anyone.
VCU has won 12 of its last 14 games, but things are about to get serious for the Rams. They still play two games against Saint Louis and have road games remaining against Massachusetts and Richmond. Aside from the road win over Virginia way back on Nov. 12, those are arguably VCU's four most difficult games of the entire season.
On to the part of the show where I have to justify having an at-large team (Richmond) at No. 12 and a play-in game as the No. 11 seed. As much as possible, the selection committee is going avoid sending the winners of the play-in games to Spokane, San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando because that's quite a ways to travel from Dayton in order to play another game in less than 48 hours.
Unfortunately, all of the No. 4 seeds—and thus, the No. 12 and No. 13 seeds too—are going to end up playing in the four aforementioned cities.
It might not seem fair that Richmond has to play a No. 5 seed despite being more comfortably in the tournament field, but it also wouldn't be fair to make a team (and its fanbase) travel from Dayton to San Antonio. So expect to see the play-in games earning either No. 11 or No. 14 seeds.
South Region (Memphis)
No. 1 Florida (22-2, RPI: 4) vs. No. 16 Boston (Patriot auto bid, RPI: 108)
No. 8 Xavier (17-7, RPI: 43) vs. No. 9 Colorado (18-7, RPI: 24)
No. 4 Virginia (20-5, RPI: 17) vs. No. 13 Stephen F. Austin (Southland auto bid, RPI: 87)
No. 5 Saint Louis (21-2, RPI: 15) vs. No. 12 Oklahoma State (Last five in)
No. 3 Michigan (18-6, RPI: 13) vs. No. 14 Belmont (Ohio Valley auto bid, RPI: 60)
No. 6 Texas (19-5, RPI: 21) vs. No. 11 Georgetown / North Carolina State (Last five in)
No. 2 Duke (19-5, RPI: 8) vs. No. 15 Weber State (Big Sky auto bid, RPI: 160)
No. 7 Southern Methodist (19-5, RPI: 40) vs. No. 10 Stanford (15-8, RPI: 46)
If you know what to do about Colorado, share the wealth. Before losing Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffaloes were well on their way to at least a No. 4 seed. They lost their star and immediately lost four out of five games but appeared to have finally righted the ship until getting outscored by a 42-21 margin over the final 14:06 against UCLA on Thursday night.
Thanks in large part to the two months with Dinwiddie, they have a strong computer profile. But do we judge them just based on games since Jan. 12? If so, do they even belong in the tournament unless they beat Arizona? Stay tuned, as Colorado will likely become one of the most debated bubble teams in the country.
Elsewhere, how fun would a third-round pairing between Virginia and Saint Louis be? Of course, by "fun" I mean a painfully difficult-to-watch race to 37 points between two of the three best defenses in the country, according to KenPom.com (subscription required).
Between those two teams and Florida (the Gators rank seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency), we would likely be treated to one heck of a contrast in styles in the Elite Eight, as both Duke and Michigan rank in the top three in offensive efficiency. Should we get such a draw, here's hoping the game between a great offense and a great defense is more watchable than the most recent Super Bowl.
Despite a strength of schedule that ranks 125th in the nation, Southern Methodist is knocking on the door to Lockville.
The Mustangs' next three games against Rutgers, Temple and Houston are potential landmines, but as long as they can avoid losing games to the bottom half of the American conference, it won't much matter what they do in remaining games against Connecticut, Louisville and Memphis. Based on their play over the past month, though, they might just win all seven of those games.
West Region (Anaheim)
San Diego, Calif.
No. 1 Arizona (23-1, RPI: 2) vs. No. 16 Vermont (America East auto bid, RPI: 119)
No. 8 Pittsburgh (20-5, RPI: 27) vs. No. 9 New Mexico (18-5, RPI: 37)
San Diego, Calif.
No. 4 Kentucky (19-5, RPI: 9) vs. No. 13 Mercer (Atlantic Sun auto bid, RPI: 69)
No. 5 Ohio State (19-6, RPI: 18) vs. No. 12 North Dakota State (Summit auto bid, RPI: 47)
San Antonio, Texas
No. 3 San Diego State (19-2, RPI: 19) vs. No. 14 Iona (MAAC auto bid, RPI: 90)
No. 6 UCLA (19-5, RPI: 16) vs. No. 11 Toledo (MAC auto bid, RPI: 25)
St. Louis, Mo.
No. 2 Kansas (18-6, RPI: 1) vs. No. 15 UC Santa Barbara (Big West auto bid, RPI: 81)
No. 7 Gonzaga (21-4, RPI: 21) vs. No. 10 Minnesota (15-9, RPI: 39)
At what point does Kansas stop getting a free pass because of its RPI? All six of the Jayhawks' losses have come against the RPI Top 30, but that's still a lot of losses with a month left in the season. The last time a team suffered eight losses before the tournament and earned a No. 1 or No. 2 seed was Connecticut in 2005.
Fortunately for the Jayhawks, none of the No. 3 seeds are that close to bypassing them, but it's worth noting that I currently have them at No. 8 overall. They're much closer to dropping down to a No. 3 than jumping back up to the top line.
Regardless of who would win this hypothetical No. 8 vs. No. 9 game, don't expect either team to upend Arizona. Pittsburgh and New Mexico are a combined 2-7 versus the RPI Top 50 on the year and 0-6 since Dec. 10. Both are comfortably in the field thanks to some gaudy win totals, but it has been a long time since anyone was impressed by either of them.
Speaking of bloated winning percentages, both San Diego State and Gonzaga are going to be very difficult teams to pick in the tournament. Gonzaga is 0-2 this season against teams currently projected for the tournament. San Diego State is 2-1 but played two of those games in November. It's hard to forecast what either will do against tough competition.
And then there's Kentucky. The Wildcats have a great RPI and a solid record, but I can't get over the difficulty they have had playing away from home.
Overall, they are 5-5 in games not played at Rupp Arena, and only one of the wins (79-65 against Providence) was by more than 10 points. They have played just one game against the RPI Top 30, and that loss to Michigan State was more than three months ago.
Kentucky does still play two games against Florida and a road game against Ole Miss. It will be interesting to see if those games give us more confidence in Big Blue Nation or just opens the door for more questions.
Ranking the No. 1 Seeds
No. 4 Wichita State Shockers (25-0, RPI: 7, SOS: 101)
They haven't exactly been eviscerating their Missouri Valley opposition as of late, but an undefeated record is an undefeated record. At this point, it would almost be more interesting than a perfect season to see what bracketologists would do to Wichita State if it lost a game in the next two weeks to one of the worst teams in the conference.
No. 3 Florida Gators (22-2, RPI: 4, SOS: 44)
Since losing to Connecticut back when Shabazz Napier was more clutch than a DCT semi, the Gators have won 16 straight games in advance of this weekend's showdown with Kentucky. Wichita State may be undefeated, but the Shockers only have six RPI Top 50 wins on the year. Florida has 10 of them in the past two months and change.
No. 2 Arizona Wildcats (23-1, RPI: 2, SOS: 11)
It's still a little too early to say that they have fully adjusted to life after Brandon Ashley, but more minutes for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson certainly hasn't been a bad thing for the Wildcats. Against the schools from Oregon, RHJ averaged 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds after averaging 8.0 and 5.4, respectively, over the first 22 games of the season.
For better or worse, though, it's the contributions of Elliott Pitts that might be more important in the long run. Pitts played just 41 minutes in Arizona's first 22 games but has logged 26 over the past two contests. He has just three points and six rebounds in those two games. Arizona may need him to provide more value than that in the future.
No. 1 Syracuse Orange (24-0, RPI: 3, SOS: 73)
Aside from that memorable game against Duke from two weeks ago, it has been over two months since Syracuse allowed an opponent to score more than 63 points in a game. The Orange don't score a ton of points, but they do have the fourth-most efficient offense in the country, according to KenPom.com (subscription required).
They might lose one (or more) of their upcoming road games against Duke, Maryland and Virginia, but it would take one heck of a collapse for the Orange to lose their grip on a No. 1 seed after opening the season 24-0 with 13 RPI Top 100 wins.
In case you lost track of how many teams from which conferences received what bids, here's the whole field in one snapshot.
One-bid conferences: 22
- America East (Vermont: 16)
- Atlantic Sun (Mercer: 13)
- Big Sky (Weber State: 15)
- Big South (High Point: 16)
- Big West (UC Santa Barbara: 15)
- C-USA (Southern Miss: 10)
- Colonial (Delaware: 14)
- Horizon (Green Bay: 13)
- Ivy (Harvard: 13)
- MAAC (Iona: 14)
- MAC (Toledo: 11)
- MEAC (North Carolina Central: 16)
- MVC (Wichita State: 1)
- NEC (Robert Morris: 16)
- OVC (Belmont: 14)
- Patriot (Boston: 16)
- Southern (Davidson: 15)
- Southland (Stephen F. Austin: 13)
- Summit (North Dakota State: 12)
- Sun Belt (Georgia State: 15)
- SWAC (Southern: 16)
- WAC (New Mexico State: 14)
Multi-bid conferences: 10
American: Cincinnati (3), Louisville (5), Connecticut (6), Memphis (7), Southern Methodist (7)
Atlantic 10: Saint Louis (5), VCU (6), Massachusetts (9), George Washington (10), Richmond (12), Saint Joseph's (first five out)
ACC: Syracuse (1), Duke (2), Virginia (4), North Carolina (8), Pittsburgh (8), North Carolina State (last five in)
Big East: Villanova (2), Creighton (4), Xavier (8), Providence (last five in), Georgetown (last five in)
Big Ten: Michigan State (2), Michigan (3), Wisconsin (4), Ohio State (5), Iowa (5), Minnesota (10)
Big 12: Kansas (2), Iowa State (3), Texas (6), Kansas State (7), Oklahoma (8), Oklahoma State (last five in), West Virginia (first five out)
Mountain West: San Diego State (3), New Mexico (9)
Pac-12: Arizona (1), UCLA (6), Colorado (9), Arizona State (9), Stanford (10), California (12), Oregon (last five in), Utah (first five out)
SEC: Florida (1), Kentucky (4), Tennessee (11), Missouri (first five out)
West Coast: Gonzaga (7), Saint Mary's (first five out)
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.