NCAA Bracket Predictions 2014: Projecting the March Madness Field at Week 18
Selection Sunday is just 10 days away, and for the first time in more than a month, there's been a shake-up among the No. 1 seeds.
Syracuse has lost four out of its last five games, which creates room for Villanova to make its debut on the top line.
Further down in the seeding, we had some major movement among Atlantic 10 teams. VCU jumps all the way up to a No. 5 seed, and Saint Louis plummets to a No. 7.
In recapping the rest of the projected field, we'll start at the bottom by looking at the last few teams to be included and excluded from the field.
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 we provide 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, March 7. All Rating Percentage Index (RPI) rankings are via ESPN, and KenPom (KP) rankings are via KenPom.com. Both are current through the start of play on Thursday, March 6.
Last 5 In
Last Team In: Utah (18-9, RPI: 72, KP: 32)
In the past two weeks, Utah is 3-0 with a road win over California and home wins over Arizona State and Colorado—both by a double-digit margin. Since last Thursday, Utah's RPI rank has climbed 17 spots to 72.
For the moment, that's just enough to make up for one of the worst nonconference schedules in the country.
The Utes played only one road game over the first two months of the season—a two-point loss to Boise State. They did win a home game against BYU, but they also played six home games against teams that are outside the RPI Top 250 and two home games against D-II opponents.
However, they are now 4-6 vs. RPI Top 50 squads—better than Memphis—and have a 4-2 record vs. teams ranked 51-150 by the RPI. They will barely eke their way into the tournament. Saturday's road game against Stanford will go a long way toward determining whether both of those teams will remain in the field.
Second-to-Last: Florida State (18-11, RPI: 59, KP: 36)
Speaking of weekend games that will make or break a bubble team's season, Florida State hosts struggling Syracuse on Sunday for a chance to jump more comfortably into the field of 68.
Not much has changed in the past week for the Seminoles, as they merely held serve against Boston College and Georgia Tech. More important than the wins is the fact that they didn't add any bad losses to their resume.
Here's a little nugget that will definitely work in Florida State's favor: The Seminoles played five nonconference games away from home against the RPI Top 50, going 2-3 in those battles.
Third-to-Last: Stanford (18-11, RPI: 48, KP: 41)
The Cardinal have lost three straight games but are still clinging to a tournament berth.
They can probably thank California for that. If Stanford was the only bubble team in the Pac-12 falling flat on its face, we probably wouldn't be so forgiving of its recent struggles. But compared to California, Stanford looks angelic.
Stanford fans had better hope their team doesn't lose at home against Utah on Saturday. You don't want to give us further cause to dissect the resume of a team that already has 11 losses and a 6-10 record versus the RPI Top 100.
Fourth-to-Last: Dayton (21-9, RPI: 44, KP: 56)
What has Dayton done in the past week?
Oh, not much. It just garnered a pair of wins over Massachusetts and Saint Louis that nearly broke the bubble's seismograph.
The Flyers are now 8-6 vs. RPI Top 100 teams and have won eight of their last nine games. They close the season with a home game against Richmond, which beat them in mid-January. If they can exact revenge for that loss, it should be the final piece to their tournament puzzle.
Fifth-to-Last: Pittsburgh (22-8, RPI: 50, KP: 26)
When the best thing you can say about a team is that it doesn't have any awful losses, it's almost a form of charity to keep that team in the tournament field.
Pittsburgh only has one win against the RPI Top 50, and Stanford (RPI: 48) is slipping toward handing Pittsburgh a doughnut in the "wins against tournament teams" category. The Panthers have a 0-6 record vs. RPI Top 45 schools. They have also suffered a pair of home losses in the past two weeks to bubbly Florida State and North Carolina State.
Despite all that negative banter, there isn't anyone outside the field that currently has a compelling enough case to supplant Pittsburgh.
A road win over Clemson on Saturday just might be enough to save Pittsburgh's season.
First 7 Out
We typically do a "First Five Out" and another five teams on a "Gone But Not Forgotten" slide, but there simply aren't enough teams close to the field to justify talking about 10 of them. This week, we're going with the first seven teams outside the projected field.
If you care to read about the entire bubble, please consult Thursday's bubble stock watch.
First Team Out: Nebraska (18-11, RPI: 43, KP: 52)
The Cornhuskers are so close to the promised land.
Since Jan. 26, they are 9-2 with five wins vs. RPI Top 100 teams—including a potentially important head-to-head win over Minnesota.
However, they could really use another marquee win to push them over the hump. This recent stretch of wins has been beneficial, but Nebraska went just 1-3 vs. the RPI Top 100 during the nonconference portion of the season. The one win came in the seventh-place game of the Charleston Classic against Georgia (RPI: 78).
Sunday night's home game against Wisconsin is the perfect opportunity for a season-defining victory. In addition to it being a huge individual win, it would push Nebraska to 11-7 in Big Ten play.
Hard to believe the selection committee would exclude that resume from the tournament.
Second Team Out: Tennessee (18-11, RPI: 51, KP: 14)
Third Team Out: Missouri (21-9, RPI: 53, KP: 63)
These two SEC bubble teams play each other Saturday. KenPom.com (subscription required) gives Tennessee an 83 percent chance of winning at home.
Regardless of what happens, the winner isn't a lock for the tournament, and the loser isn't doomed to the NIT. They'll both still have work to do in the SEC tournament. Saturday just determines which team will need extra elbow grease to make the dance.
Fourth Team Out: California (18-12, RPI: 56, KP: 66)
Fifth Team Out: Minnesota (17-12, RPI: 49, KP: 57)
Aside from an adjective in their team names, how much do the Golden Bears and Golden Gophers have in common?
For starters, they both have 12 total losses and are 4-8 over their last 12 games.
They each have a critical home victory hidden in those four wins against a great team they happened to be playing at the lowest point of its season—that win is Arizona for California and Wisconsin for Minnesota.
They each partook in the Maui Invitational and faced similar opponents. Arkansas beat Minnesota, but California beat the Razorbacks. Both teams lost to Syracuse.
One other thing they share: Neither school is making the NCAA tournament without a respectable run in its conference tournament.
Sixth Team Out: Providence (20-10, RPI: 52, KP: 54)
We need evidence that Providence can beat quality teams away from home.
The Friars are 0-4 away from home against the RPI Top 50 and 1-7 vs. the RPI Top 85. The one win came in double overtime against St. John's (RPI: 63).
This weekend, they'll get the ultimate chance to prove they belong in the field by traveling to Creighton for Doug McDermott's senior night.
No one in their right mind expects Providence to win that game, but that win is exactly what this team needs.
Seventh Team Out: Georgetown (17-12, RPI: 58, KP: 49)
The Hoyas are the furthest from the field among the bunch, but they also have the ace of spades up their sleeve.
Georgetown plays at Villanova on Saturday afternoon. A win would be the Hoyas' sixth vs. RPI Top 50 teams. A loss would be their 13th of the season. A win would likely vault them into the tournament field. A loss would leave them needing to win the Big East tournament to make the NCAA tournament.
Georgetown's postseason has effectively already begun.
East Region (New York City)
No. 1 Villanova (27-3, RPI: 4, KP: 7) vs. No. 16 Robert Morris (NEC auto bid, RPI: 123, KP: 160)/High Point (Big South auto bid, RPI: 167, KP: 250)
No. 8 George Washington (22-7, RPI: 24, KP 42) vs. No. 9 Colorado (21-9, RPI: 25, KP: 59)
No. 4 North Carolina (23-7, RPI: 16, KP: 23) vs. No. 13 North Dakota State (Summit auto bid, RPI: 46, KP: 70)
No. 5 Connecticut (24-6, RPI: 29, KP: 27) vs. No. 12 Saint Joseph's (21-8, RPI: 36, KP: 55)
No. 3 Creighton (23-6, RPI: 10, KP: 9) vs. No. 14 Delaware (CAA auto bid, RPI: 75, KP: 105)
No. 6 Massachusetts (23-6, RPI: 11, KP: 46) vs. No. 11 Florida State/Stanford (Last five in)
No. 2 Virginia (25-5, RPI: 8, KP: 2) vs. No. 15 Vermont (America East auto bid, RPI: 102, KP: 60)
No. 7 Saint Louis (24-5, RPI: 20, KP: 37) vs. No. 10 Arkansas (21-9, RPI: 47, KP: 45)
The No. 7 vs. No. 10 game in the East Region is perhaps the most glaring pairing of teams heading in opposite directions.
Saint Louis can't buy a win as of late, having lost three straight to Duquesne, VCU and Dayton. The road loss to VCU was no surprise, but those other two home losses were equally shocking and damaging. The Billikens certainly aren't anywhere near the bubble, but this is not the time of year to be picking up your three worst losses of the season.
Saint Louis' second-round opponent might be the hottest team in the country.
The Arkansas Razorbacks have won six in a row, which includes a road win over Kentucky. Perhaps the most impressive part of their streak is that different players have been carrying the load from night to night. Four different players have led the team in scoring in those six games—and not one of them has been super-frosh Bobby Portis.
Watch out for Arkansas, America. This is a team hitting its stride at the perfect time.
Moving back to the A-10 teams—since there are four of them in this region—Saint Joseph's had a six-game winning streak snapped by George Washington on Wednesday night. The Hawks haven't exactly clinched a bid yet, but they have been very impressive over the past three months after opening the season with a 4-4 record. A win over La Salle on Sunday would assure them no worse than a second-place finish in the A-10.
North Carolina has incredibly climbed all the way back to a No. 4 seed courtesy of a 12-game winning streak. And the Tar Heels might not be finished ascending. They finish the season with a road game against Duke before the ACC tournament, where they have already earned a double bye to the quarterfinals.
If they win their next four games, the Tar Heels could conceivably get into the conversation for a No. 1 seed. I'm not convinced there's a scenario that exists where they could actually get a spot on the top line, but a No. 2 seed is still 100 percent in play.
Unless, of course, the projected No. 2 seed in this region has something to say about it. Virginia is unquestionably having the most underrated season in major conference history.
I don't get it either, because everyone was in love with Miami by the end of last year, and the Cavaliers have played much better than the Hurricanes ever did. It's just unbelievable that an ACC team could go 16-1 in conference yet not have a single player on the roster become a household name.
Midwest Region (Indianapolis)
No. 1 Wichita State (30-0, RPI: 6, KP: 5) vs. No. 16 Alabama State (SWAC auto bid, RPI: 261, KP: 296)/Weber State (Big Sky auto bid, RPI: 181, KP: 176)
No. 8 Oklahoma State (20-10, RPI: 38, KP: 22) vs. No. 9 Arizona State (21-9, RPI: 39, KP: 35)
No. 4 Cincinnati (25-5, RPI: 14, KP: 18) vs. No. 13 Stephen F. Austin (Southland auto bid, RPI: 68, KP: 61)
No. 5 VCU (23-7, RPI: 22, KP: 17) vs. No. 12 Pittsburgh (Last five in)
No. 3 Michigan (22-7, RPI: 13, KP: 10) vs. No. 14 Georgia State (Sun Belt auto bid, RPI: 87, KP: 67)
No. 6 New Mexico (24-5, RPI: 23, KP: 31) vs. No. 11 Dayton/Utah (Last five in)
No. 2 Kansas (23-7, RPI: 2, KP: 6) vs. No. 15 Boston (Patriot auto bid, RPI: 83, KP: 114)
No. 7 Ohio State (22-8, RPI: 27, KP: 13) vs. No. 10 Southern Methodist (23-7, RPI: 42, KP: 24)
Congratulations to Wichita State on an undefeated season! For your troubles, your third-round game will either be against a team that beat Kansas on March 1 or a team that beat Arizona on Feb. 14.
And yes, the Oklahoma State Cowboys have done more than enough in the past two weeks to bounce off the bubble all the way back to a No. 8 seed. If they close out the season with a loss to Iowa State and a loss to Texas Tech in the Big 12 tournament, we might need to reconsider.
But after wins over Kansas and Kansas State, they're no longer in any particular danger of not getting a bid.
Southern Methodist, on the other hand, is still pretty bubbly. I'm pulling for the Mustangs. It's hard not to root for a team that hasn't been to the tournament in more than two decades. But the numbers don't exactly make this team a slam dunk to go dancing.
SMU is 4-5 vs. RPI Top 100 teams and has two losses to schools outside the RPI Top 150. A win at Memphis on Saturday should be enough to lock up its bid. A loss in that game, though, would leave the Mustangs in a very dicey situation entering the American Athletic Conference tournament.
At the other end of the spectrum, Michigan is on the verge of moving back up to a No. 2 seed. The Wolverines have already clinched an outright regular-season Big Ten championship. A win over Indiana would move them to 15-3 in conference play.
Only once in the past four years has a team won more than 14 B1G games, and the Ohio State Buckeyes were the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament that year.
There's been a lot of buzz about Wisconsin still being in the running for a No. 1 seed because of the Badgers' impressive computer numbers, but don't sleep on the Wolverines still getting into the conversation. If they win the B1G regular-season and conference-tournament titles, there would need to be four extremely incredible resumes to keep them off the top line.
And how about VCU getting all the way up to a No. 5 seed?
The Rams are 7-7 vs. RPI Top 100 schools and have no bad losses. Of those 14 games, 11 have come away from home—including that road win over Virginia on Nov. 12 that is still enhancing their resume. There aren't very many better cases for a bid out there right now.
South Region (Memphis, Tenn.)
No. 1 Florida (28-2, RPI: 3, KP: 3) vs. No. 16 North Carolina Central (MEAC auto bid, RPI: 119, KP: 97)
No. 8 Oregon (21-8, RPI: 33, KP: 29) vs. No. 9 Baylor (18-10, RPI: 45, KP: 34)
No. 4 Iowa State (22-7, RPI: 9, KP: 28) vs. No. 13 Harvard (Ivy auto bid, RPI: 56, KP: 33)
No. 5 Michigan State (23-7, RPI: 21, KP: 19) vs. No. 12 Green Bay (Horizon auto bid, RPI: 53, KP: 53)
No. 3 Syracuse (26-4, RPI: 12, KP: 15) vs. No. 14 Belmont (OVC auto bid, RPI: 55, KP: 110)
No. 6 Kentucky (22-8, RPI: 17, KP: 21) vs. No. 11 BYU (20-10, RPI: 31, KP: 48)
No. 2 Wisconsin (25-5, RPI: 5, KP: 11) vs. No. 15 Mercer (Atlantic Sun auto bid, RPI: 90, KP: 99)
No. 7 Texas (22-8, RPI: 30, KP: 39) vs. No. 10 Southern Miss (C-USA auto bid, RPI: 35, KP: 65)
It was a happy accident that Oregon and Baylor ended up facing one another in this No. 8 vs. No. 9 game, but it fits perfectly. Between Jan. 5 and Feb. 8, the Ducks and Bears had a combined record of 4-16. Outside of that window, they're 35-2. Oregon has won six straight, and Baylor has won six out of seven to get off the bubble and pretty safely into the tournament field.
Iowa State hasn't been nearly as successful, losing back-to-back road games against Big 12 bubble teams. But the Cyclones have beaten so many quality opponents that it barely matters. Even after those losses, they're 8-6 vs. RPI Top 50 teams. Only Arizona (10), Michigan (10) and Kansas (12) have more wins against those upper-echelon opponents.
Then there's Kentucky, which is 1-6 vs. RPI Top 50 schools. Good thing the Wildcats have 11 semi-quality wins against teams in the 51 to 100 RPI range. That's good enough to keep their RPI in the Top 20 and to keep them away from the bubble—even though I can't remember the last time it looked like they were playing inspired basketball.
Speaking of uninspired, what in the world has gotten into Syracuse?
The Orange have lost four of their last five, including two home games against teams outside the RPI Top 100. The rest of the RPI Top 30 has combined to lose six home games to teams outside the RPI Top 100. Syracuse is the only one to have done so multiple times.
The offense has been disturbingly anemic. Through their first 24 games, the Orange were averaging 1.16 points per possession. Over their last six games, that number has plummeted to 0.95 points per possession.
Trevor Cooney, in particular, has been a colossal disappointment. Over his last six games, he is averaging 7.5 points per game and 0.75 points per field-goal attempt while shooting 20.9 percent from three-point range.
For the record, I originally had Texas as the bottom No. 6 seed and Kentucky as the top No. 7 seed but had to switch them to accommodate BYU's scheduling difficulties—since Texas and BYU played each other earlier this season.
The Longhorns deserve better, because they're going to go 12-6 in arguably the toughest conference in the country, provided they don't lose to Texas Tech on Saturday. They also haven't lost to a single team outside the RPI Top 40.
West Region (Anaheim, Calif.)
No. 1 Arizona (28-2, RPI: 1, KP: 1) vs. No. 16 Davidson (Southern auto bid, RPI: 132, KP: 118)
No. 8 Iowa (20-10, RPI: 32, KP: 12) vs. No. 9 Memphis (21-8, RPI: 34, KP: 38)
No. 4 San Diego State (24-3, RPI: 19, KP: 25) vs. No. 13 Iona (MAAC auto bid, RPI: 70, KP: 74)
No. 5 UCLA (23-7, RPI: 18, KP: 16) vs. No. 12 Toledo (MAC auto bid, RPI: 37, KP: 107)
No. 3 Louisville (25-5, RPI: 28, KP: 4) vs. No. 14 New Mexico State (WAC auto bid, RPI: 77, KP: 72)
No. 6 Oklahoma (22-8, RPI: 15, KP: 30) vs. No. 11 Xavier (20-11, RPI: 41, KP: 43)
No. 2 Duke (23-7, RPI: 7, KP: 8) vs. No. 15 UC Santa Barbara (Big West auto bid, RPI: 106, KP 90)
No. 7 Gonzaga (24-6, RPI: 26, KP: 20) vs. No. 10 Kansas State (20-10, RPI: 40, KP: 44)
Duke is just barely clinging to a No. 2 seed after losing at Wake Forest on Wednesday night. The computer numbers are still very solid because the Blue Devils have played eight games against teams in the RPI Top 20, but there are some deserving teams breathing down their seven-loss necks.
It's tough to say if they could still get back into the mix for a No. 1 seed, but a loss to North Carolina on Saturday would likely send them down to a No. 3 seed.
After the loss to Wake Forest, associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski told reporters, "I thought they outfought us. This time of year, if you're not tough and you're not together for 40 minutes, it can be some very hard lessons."
San Diego State moves back up to a No. 4 seed by virtue of being one of the only teams in that vicinity that didn't lose a game in the past week. Road wins over Fresno State and UNLV aren't exactly RPI boosters, but they weren't gimmes either. If the Aztecs can protect home court against New Mexico on Saturday to earn an outright Mountain West regular-season title, look for them to jump back up to a No. 3 seed by Monday.
Xavier's tournament situation sure is getting...interesting. After the win over Creighton last Saturday, it looked like Xavier was very safely in the tournament field. Subsequently losing to Seton Hall and coming up short against Villanova has left the Musketeers with 11 losses and only two RPI Top 50 wins.
Florida State, LSU, Richmond and Tennessee each have 11 losses and three RPI Top 50 wins.
Xavier still belongs in the tournament, but a Big East quarterfinals loss to St. John's or Marquette could be its death knell.
We talked about Southern Methodist earlier, and now we need to talk about Memphis.
Because the Tigers have been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 all season, people seem to have this misconception that the Tigers are a lock for the tournament. That couldn't be further from the truth. After somehow allowing Cincinnati to score 97 points against them Thursday night, they are now 4-7 vs. the RPI Top 50 and have only played one other game (a win against LSU) against a team with an RPI between 51 and 150.
If the Tigers lose at home to SMU on Saturday, they will be the No. 5 seed in the AAC tournament, meaning their first conference tournament game will very likely be against Connecticut.
Back-to-back losses would leave Memphis with a 4-9 record vs. RPI Top 50 teams and absolutely nothing else worth writing home about.
But please, keep telling me Memphis is a lock.
Ranking the No. 1 Seeds
No. 4 Villanova (27-3, RPI: 4, KP: 7)
One of the teams has changed, but we're faced with exactly the same dilemma we had a week ago.
Back then, we were debating between Syracuse and Kansas for the final spot on the top line. It really could have gone either way, but in the end, it was to each team's geographical advantage to have Syracuse as the No. 1 seed in the East and Kansas as the No. 2 seed in the Midwest.
This week, we're torn between Villanova and Kansas, but the logic remains the same. It might be marginally more difficult for a No. 2 seed to reach the Sweet 16, but wouldn't Kansas much rather play those next two games in Indianapolis than in New York City?
Also, for what it's worth, Villanova won that head-to-head game against Kansas back in November. That has to count for something when directly comparing the two teams, right?
There are still a whole lot of variables up in the air for both Kansas and Villanova, but the Wildcats get the edge for the time being.
No. 3 Wichita State (30-0, RPI: 6, KP: 5)
As you may have heard, Wichita State is still undefeated.
But the gap between the Shockers and the host of teams fighting for a No. 1 seed is growing smaller by the day. Villanova, Kansas, Virginia and Wisconsin are all making a serious push for a spot on the top line, and it might be the undefeated team with just three wins vs. the RPI Top 75 that gets squeezed out.
Here's a quick, underrated possible storyline from the Missouri Valley tournament: What happens if Northern Iowa (RPI: 98) and Missouri State (RPI: 97) lose in the quarterfinals and drop out of the RPI Top 100, leaving Wichita State with just six games against the RPI Top 100?
That total would increase to seven games if the Shockers face Indiana State in the championship game, but that still doesn't pack the same punch as a 10-0 record vs. RPI Top 100 teams.
No. 2 Florida (28-2, RPI: 3, KP: 3)
No. 1 Arizona (28-2, RPI: 1, KP: 1)
If the 2013-14 college basketball season is a marathon, then Arizona and Florida are the two guys from Kenya who are battling for first place a mile ahead of the rest of the pack.
Even if Florida lost to Kentucky and Arizona lost to Oregon this weekend, these would still be the two primary teams battling for the No. 1 overall seed.
The slight edge goes to Arizona for the top spot because the Wildcats are ranked No. 1 in every computer metric under the sun, but don't think we haven't noticed Florida is riding a 22-game winning streak.
The Gators have also gotten back into the habit of making a mockery of their opposition, beating LSU by 18 points and South Carolina by 26 points in the past week.
In case you lost track of how many teams from each conference received bids, here's the whole field in one snapshot.
One-bid conferences: 22
- America East (Vermont: 15)
- Atlantic Sun (Mercer: 15)
- Big Sky (Weber State: 16)
- Big South (High Point: 16)
- Big West (UC Santa Barbara: 15)
- Colonial (Delaware: 14)
- Conference USA (Southern Miss: 10)
- Horizon (Green Bay: 12)
- Ivy (Harvard: 13)
- MAAC (Iona: 13)
- MAC (Toledo: 12)
- MEAC (North Carolina Central: 16)
- MVC (Wichita State: 1)
- NEC (Robert Morris: 16)
- OVC (Belmont: 14)
- Patriot (Boston: 15)
- Southern (Davidson: 16)
- Southland (Stephen F. Austin: 13)
- Summit (North Dakota State: 13)
- Sun Belt (Georgia State: 14)
- SWAC (Alabama State: 16)
- WAC (New Mexico State: 14)
Multi-bid conferences: 10
American: Louisville (3), Cincinnati (4), Connecticut (5), Memphis (9), SMU (10)
Atlantic 10: VCU (5), Massachusetts (6), Saint Louis (7), George Washington (8), Saint Joseph's (12), Dayton (Last five in)
ACC: Virginia (2), Duke (2), Syracuse (3), North Carolina (4), Pittsburgh (Last five in), Florida State (Last five in)
Big East: Villanova (1), Creighton (3), Xavier (11), Georgetown (First seven out), Providence (First seven out)
Big Ten: Wisconsin (2), Michigan (3), Michigan State (5), Ohio State (7), Iowa (8), Nebraska (First seven out), Minnesota (First seven out)
Big 12: Kansas (2), Iowa State (4), Oklahoma (6), Texas (7), Oklahoma State (8), Baylor (9), Kansas State (10)
Mountain West: San Diego State (4), New Mexico (6)
Pac-12: Arizona (1), UCLA (5), Oregon (8), Arizona State (9), Colorado (9), Stanford (Last five in), Utah (Last five in), California (First seven out)
SEC: Florida (1), Kentucky (6), Arkansas (10), Tennessee (First seven out), Missouri (First seven out)
West Coast: Gonzaga (7), BYU (11)
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.