Midseason Projections for the 2018 NCAA Tournament Bracket
The most entertaining player in men's college basketball doesn't often play for one of the best teams, but this year is an exception to that rule, as Trae Young and the Oklahoma Sooners are projected for a No. 1 seed in the 2018 NCAA tournament.
Whether Young and Co. will still be in that position after seven more weeks of the Big 12 gauntlet remains to be seen, but this team is better than anyone could have guessed before the season began.
It has not even been two full weeks since my last bracket projection, but, oh, the carnage. There are only a couple of in/out changes—Maryland, Minnesota, SMU and Utah are out; Florida, Marquette, Notre Dame and UCLA are in—but there was a ton of shuffling after three or four conference games per team.
For example, Ohio State shot up 24 spots on the overall seed list, while Texas A&M plummeted 24 spots. Those were the biggest movers in each direction, but there were a total of 10 teams that either moved up or down at least 10 spots.
As always, we'll take a look at the last five teams to make the field, as well as the first five out and a few others on the horizon.
After that, we'll present each seeded region, including the subregional locations in which each pod would be played and some commentary on which teams have moved the most in each region. Then we'll defend the rankings of the No. 1 seeds, followed by a summary of the entire field broken up by conference.
Last 5 In
Last Team In: St. Bonaventure Bonnies
12-5, RPI: 43, KP: 64, SOS: 70
St. Bonaventure had an impressive nonconference resume. The Bonnies beat Syracuse and Buffalo in true road games and won on neutral courts against Maryland and Vermont. They did have an ugly home loss to Niagara to open the season, but that was without star player Jaylen Adams. Their only other loss was a neutral-court game against TCU.
Conference play has been a different story, though. The Bonnies have lost three of their last four, giving up at least 82 points in road games against Dayton, Saint Joseph's and Rhode Island. They still have a respectable RPI, but they can't stomach more than maybe two losses the rest of the way. Normally, 13-5 in the A-10 would be a resume booster, but it would be a disappointment this year. The Bonnies are in for now, but their next loss could be the one that dooms them.
Second-to-Last: USC Trojans
13-6, RPI: 45, KP: 49, SOS: 28
The first of two Pac-12 teams barely hanging on to a spot in the field, USC hasn't done much to earn this spot. The Trojans already have three losses to teams not projected to reach the tournament and a home loss to a Princeton team projected for a No. 16 seed. At least they were able to beat Colorado, unlike Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA in recent weeks. And they do have wins over Middle Tennessee and New Mexico State in the Diamond Head Classic. Still, this is nothing close to what was expected from USC this season.
Third-to-Last: UCLA Bruins
13-5, RPI: 46, KP: 53, SOS: 48
UCLA should have gone undefeated in January, but it is currently 2-2 with a road loss to Stanford and a home loss to Colorado. At this point, this resume is a neutral-court win over Kentucky and little else. That might've been fine if the Bruins went 14-4 in Pac-12 play and avoided bad losses. Now that they have two ill-advised losses, though, they'll need to make up for it with at least one win in their four games against Arizona (road), Arizona State (road) and USC (twice). Otherwise, it'll be bye bye Bruins.
Fourth-to-Last: Houston Cougars
14-3, RPI: 50, KP: 36, SOS: 160
The best thing about Houston's resume is the lack of losses, but the Cougars have a disastrous result hidden in those three missteps: a neutral-court loss to Drexel. They do have a trio of major-conference wins—Arkansas, Providence and Wake Forest—to help erase that horrendous outcome, but this resume is only marginally better than the previous two seasons, in which Houston won a combined 43 regular-season games and made zero NCAA tournament appearances. There are a lot of potential stumbling blocks in the next two months, though.
Fifth-to-Last: Syracuse Orange
12-6, RPI: 36, KP: 46, SOS: 11
Syracuse was comfortably in the field as a No. 7 seed two weeks ago, but the Orange have suffered four consecutive losses to slip onto the bubble. Individually, none of those losses was awful. The Orange have merely dropped from No. 45 to No. 46 on KenPom during this cold streak. But they have dropped 25 spots in RPI and have an unpalatable 1-4 ACC record. The good news is they should bounce back shortly. Their next four games are against Pittsburgh (twice), Boston College (home) and Georgia Tech (road).
First 5 Out
First Team Out: LSU Tigers
11-5, RPI: 66, KP: 54, SOS: 63
Remember when LSU was supposed to be the clear-cut worst team in the SEC? Instead, the Tigers already have road wins over Texas A&M and Arkansas, and they nearly won their home game against Kentucky. They also picked up a neutral-court win over Michigan that should hold up nicely for the rest of the year, and the home win over Houston may well be a bubble tiebreaker on Selection Sunday. But for some reason, LSU's resume isn't impressing the computer metrics enough for a projected bid.
Second Team Out: Georgia Bulldogs
11-5, RPI: 57, KP: 62, SOS: 75
It's hard to fathom what Georgia has done to have a resume similar to LSU's. The Bulldogs have a worse nonconference SOS, have an awful loss to Massachusetts and have yet to defeat a surefire NCAA tournament team. Georgia has also lost its last two games (at Missouri, vs. South Carolina), missing the cut by a slim margin as a result.
Third Team Out: Providence Friars
12-6, RPI: 44, KP: 61, SOS: 33
In Providence, we find another team being weighed down by a bad loss to Massachusetts. The Friars did score a huge home win over Xavier two Saturdays ago, but that more or less just cancels out the result against the Minutemen. Exclude those two games and there's nothing to see here. Playing in the Big East will inevitably keep Providence's RPI and SOS looking pretty, but it will need to win at least six of its remaining 13 regular-season games to have a reasonable case for a bid.
Fourth Team Out: North Carolina State Wolfpack
12-6, RPI: 72, KP: 67, SOS: 91
In just one week, NC State went from a team that no one was thinking about to one that cannot possibly be ignored. The Wolfpack won back-to-back home games against Duke and Clemson, adding two huge pluses to a resume that already included a neutral-court win over Arizona. We'll see how well Clemson holds up over the final two months of the season, but that is currently one of the best collections of three wins in the nation. Were it not for the losses to UNC Greensboro and Northern Iowa and the dreadful nonconference SOS, NC State would be sitting pretty in the projected field.
Fifth Team Out: SMU Mustangs
12-6, RPI: 86, KP: 37, SOS: 89
Two weeks ago, the Mustangs were in great shape, sitting at 12-3 with some impressive wins over Arizona, Boise State, UCF and USC. But three straight losses to Tulane, Cincinnati and Temple have put some serious holes in this resume. SMU had an RPI of 60 on New Year's Day, but 86 is going to be tough to turn into a bid.
Next 5 Out
12-5, RPI: 58, KP: 74, SOS: 86
At full health, UCF could be a top-25 team. However, the Knights lost Aubrey Dawkins to injury before the season began, and leading scorer B.J. Taylor has only appeared in one game because of a foot injury. As a result, this team is a mess on offense. However, the Knights have a decent resume and still have plenty of time to make a run at an at-large bid. They need Taylor back soon, though.
San Diego State Aztecs
10-5, RPI: 64, KP: 50, SOS: 103
Could the Mountain West end up a three-bid league? Probably not, but San Diego State does have wins over Gonzaga and Georgia. Oddly enough, this mid-major might be screwed because of a couple of major-conference losses. SDSU's one-point home loss to California was unforgivable, and the neutral-court loss to Washington State wasn't much better. But if the Aztecs steal a game from Nevada, they'll have a shot.
13-5, RPI: 54, KP: 116, SOS: 56
It's a little uncommon for a major-conference team to be ranked so differently on RPI and KenPom at this point in the season, but the reason is obvious: When Washington loses, it really loses. The Huskies were beaten by more than 20 points by Gonzaga, UCLA and Virginia Tech. That eye-test factor may be what keeps them out in the long run, but road wins over Kansas and USC put the Huskies on the bubble, as far as the RPI is concerned.
13-5, RPI: 47, KP: 41, SOS: 64
Maryland is elbows deep in a classic "no good wins, no bad losses" resume. Outside of a home win over Butler, the Terps haven't done jack squat. But all five of their losses were to teams in the RPI top 50—four of them away from home. Thus, they are still treading water in the top 50 on both RPI and KenPom, despite looking nothing like a tournament team in recent weeks.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
12-5, RPI: 38, KP: 52, SOS: 44
Conference USA has been a one-bid league for the past five years, but don't bet against two teams getting in this March. Both Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky have strong resumes. The Hilltoppers, in particular, have neutral-court wins over Purdue and SMU and have not been beaten by a double-digit margin yet this season. If they can get through conference play without any disastrous losses...let's just say we have to get to 68 teams somehow.
East Region (Boston)
No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 16 Texas Southern / North Carolina A&T
No. 8 Miami (FL) vs. No. 9 Florida
San Diego, California
No. 4 Cincinnati vs. No. 13 Louisiana
No. 5 Arizona State vs. No. 12 New Mexico State
No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 14 Towson
No. 6 Rhode Island vs. No. 11 Syracuse
Charlotte, North Carolina
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Rider
No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 10 Missouri
Moving Up: Florida Gators (New to the Field)
12-5, RPI: 39, KP: 32, SOS: 29
Despite a disappointing loss to Ole Miss this past weekend, Florida remains on the up and up over the course of the last several weeks. That loss to the Rebels snapped a six-game winning streak, which included victories at Texas A&M and Missouri, as well as a decent home win over Mississippi State.
With quality nonconference wins over Cincinnati and Gonzaga—each on a neutral court—the Gators should be able to make the Big Dance with anything better than a .500 record in SEC play. Starting out 4-0 was a huge step in the right direction, but there's still a lot of work to be done in a difficult league.
Also Moving Up: Michigan Wolverines (Up 10 spots)
14-4, RPI: 32, KP: 17, SOS: 59
John Beilein's teams always seems to be much better in January than they were in November, but this might be his magnum opus. In the first 10 games of the season, the Wolverines went 0-3 against teams currently in the KenPom top 95. Since then, they are 5-1 against such opponents, and they were inches away from a home win over Purdue that would have given them an eight-game winning streak.
Most importantly, Michigan won a road game against Michigan State on Saturday, finally putting some oomph into a resume that was previously little more than a pair of wins over bubbly UCLA and Texas. Moritz Wagner was outstanding against the Spartans, helping Michigan capitalize on MSU's turnover woes for a statement win.
Moving Down: Arizona State Sun Devils (Down 14 spots)
14-3, RPI: 24, KP: 26, SOS: 53
Arizona State was a strong candidate for a No. 1 seed on New Year's Day. Following a road loss to Colorado and a home loss to Oregon—not to mention a near-home loss to Oregon State that necessitated a frantic comeback—the Sun Devils would probably need to win every remaining game to get back into that conversation.
The nonconference wins over Kansas and Xavier have given Arizona State plenty of cushion to play with. It should be noted that despite moving down, this team is still projected for a No. 5 seed, which is much better than anyone could have guessed in the preseason. But the Sun Devils had better get back to scoring at will, because a .500 record in this iteration of the Pac-12 would probably be enough to undo that entire nonconference schedule.
Midwest Region (Omaha)
No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 16 Bucknell
No. 8 Louisville vs. No. 9 Texas
No. 4 Wichita State vs. No. 13 Vermont
No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 USC / St. Bonaventure
No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 14 Murray State
No. 6 Nevada vs. No. 11 Middle Tennessee
No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 15 Montana
No. 7 Arkansas vs. No. 10 Marquette
Moving Up: Marquette Golden Eagles (New to the Field)
12-6, RPI: 35, KP: 42, SOS: 10
Marquette has lost two of its last three games and three of the last six, but in the brutally difficult Big East, that's enough to improve a resume. Not one of the losses—at Villanova, at Butler, vs. Xavier—is a bad one, and the home win over Seton Hall and road win over Providence were huge boosts. According to my spreadsheet of data from the last bracket update, Marquette was No. 52 on KenPom and No. 64 in RPI less than two weeks ago. Compared to current numbers, that's a major shift for the better.
Moreover, the Golden Eagles have gained steam as a team that people want to watch. That might not directly factor into the selection committee's discussions, but not many duos pass the eye test better than Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey. Marquette will need to get a little more invested on defense to maintain this projected spot in the field, but things are looking good at the moment.
Also Moving Up: Louisville Cardinals (Up 15 spots)
13-4, RPI: 19, KP: 33, SOS: 20
At the time of our last update, Louisville was 0-3 against the only remotely decent teams it had faced, and it had just gotten blown out 90-61 by Kentucky. Despite a lack of bad losses, the equally noteworthy dearth of quality wins made the Cardinals our second-to-last team in the field.
Since then, they have picked up a nice road win over Florida State and a respectable victory at home against Virginia Tech. They also lost at Clemson in overtime, but that just means that all four of Louisville's losses (Purdue and Seton Hall are the other two) have come against teams that entered play on Sunday in the RPI top 11.
That's enough to move more comfortably into the field, but there's still not much meat to this resume. One loss to a team like Boston College or Wake Forest—especially since those are both home games for Louisville—would likely result in a return trip to the heart of the bubble.
Moving Down: Arkansas Razorbacks (Down 15 spots)
12-5, RPI: 22, KP: 35, SOS: 5
The Hogs won a nail-biter at home against Missouri on Saturday, putting an end to a three-game losing streak. But it wasn't nearly enough to undo the damage. The road loss to Auburn is nothing to worry about, but losing at Mississippi State and getting blown out at home by LSU was an awful start to January for this club.
Thanks in large part to a neutral-court win over Oklahoma and a home win over Tennessee, the Razorbacks were a No. 3 seed in our last projection. They have since plummeted to a No. 7 seed and could continue to slide with road games against Florida, Georgia and Texas A&M still on tap before the end of January.
South Region (Atlanta)
Charlotte, North Carolina
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Robert Morris / Princeton
No. 8 Butler vs. No. 9 Saint Mary's
San Diego, California
No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 13 East Tennessee State
No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Buffalo
No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 14 UC Davis
No. 6 TCU vs. No. 11 Boise State
No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 15 Lipscomb
No. 7 Creighton vs. No. 10 Notre Dame
Moving Up: Notre Dame Fighting Irish (New to the Field)
12-5, RPI: 49, KP: 23, SOS: 60
Here's a snapshot of the current state of college basketball's bubble. Notre Dame has lost its last two games, including one to a Georgia Tech squad that is nowhere near the projected field. The Fighting Irish also lost a star player (Bonzie Colson) for possibly the rest of the season. Yet, they have leapfrogged a bunch of teams to jump into the tournament picture.
Granted, the Colson portion of the equation has nothing to do with their computer resume, but it did lead to us perhaps prematurely assuming things were going to go downhill in a hurry for this team. And the Irish did do some good since the last projected bracket, winning a road game against Syracuse and stomping North Carolina State by a 30-point margin. Still, it's a little weird that Notre Dame's resume has improved this much in two weeks' time, in spite of a pair of losses.
Also Moving Up: Auburn Tigers (Up 17 spots)
16-1, RPI: 6, KP: 18, SOS: 37
I was surprised when Auburn had a strong enough resume for a No. 6 seed in the last update, and I was twice as surprised to find that the Tigers currently have a resume worthy of the No. 6 overall seed. No joke, I put a lot of thought into slotting Auburn as the fourth No. 1 seed. People won't want to vote for Bruce Pearl because of the FBI cloud hanging over him and this program, but he has earned the votes for men's Naismith College Coach of the Year.
Two weeks ago, Auburn was a bit lacking in quality victories. A "neutral-court" game in Alabama against Middle Tennessee and a road win over Dayton are as good as the nonconference wins get for the Tigers. But they opened SEC play with a road win over Tennessee and a home win over Arkansas, both by double-digit margins. They also swept the Mississippi schools to jump out to 4-0 in conference play.
Auburn is now 4-0 against Group 1 and 8-1 against Groups 1 and 2. The only other team that is 8-1 or better in those games is Villanova, which is also 8-1.
Moving Down: Michigan State Spartans (Down 16 spots)
16-3, RPI: 26, KP: 6, SOS: 72
Michigan State's resume was always a little sketchy for a projected No. 1 seed. The dismantling of North Carolina on a neutral floor was excellent, and the close loss to Duke on a neutral floor was nothing to worry about, but the Spartans didn't do much else in nonconference play.
A home win over Notre Dame and a neutral-court win over Connecticut are the closest things to second tier of quality games, and that's not saying much. Michigan State basically took the month of December off, playing two conference games against Nebraska and Rutgers before six straight home games against bad teams.
But because Michigan State was a preseason favorite to win the title and because there weren't any bad losses, we all willingly overlooked the disappointing RPI and SOS numbers—until the past 10 days, which brought losses to Ohio State and Michigan, as well as a close call at home against Rutgers. Now, people are finally grading Michigan State's resume for what it is, and it isn't pretty. I've dropped Michigan State 16 spots in fewer than 16 days, and, honestly, it could have been more based on the numbers.
West Region (Los Angeles)
No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 16 Radford
No. 8 Florida State vs. No. 9 Texas A&M
No. 4 Seton Hall vs. No. 13 South Dakota State
No. 5 Arizona vs. No. 12 Missouri State
No. 3 North Carolina vs. No. 14 Wright State
No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 UCLA / Houston
No. 2 Texas Tech vs. No. 15 Stephen F. Austin
No. 7 Gonzaga vs. No. 10 Alabama
Moving Up: Ohio State Buckeyes (Up 24 spots)
15-4, RPI: 25, KP: 20, SOS: 18
No team in the country is hotter than Ohio State, and that was clear when comparing its current resume to its previous one. The Buckeyes were the last team in our projected field two weeks ago, rated No. 50 in RPI and No. 48 on KenPom. Three blowout wins later, they're in the top 25 of both metrics and have added two of their three best wins of the season—Michigan State and Maryland.
One note of caution, though: Ohio State's nonconference resume isn't great. The Buckeyes went 9-4 with losses to Butler, Clemson, Gonzaga and North Carolina. No bad losses there, but a lot of missed opportunities on a slate in which a home win over William & Mary is the top bragging point. Ohio State has also played just two true road games this season, and winning at Iowa and Wisconsin doesn't prove much this year. Those are two points that will be held against the Buckeyes if they happen to go 7-6 the rest of the way and find themselves back on the bubble.
Given how well this team—and Keita Bates-Diop, in particular—is playing right now, though, losing six of the next 13 games in this league is an absurd proposition.
Also Moving Up: Gonzaga Bulldogs (Up 10 spots)
16-3, RPI: 56, KP: 7, SOS: 193
Gonzaga hasn't done anything worth mentioning in the past three weeks, which is always good news for Gonzaga in January and February. The Zags did have a close call at San Francisco this past Saturday night, but they still rallied late for their sixth consecutive win by a double-digit margin.
While their resume hasn't changed much lately—they were at RPI: 73, KP: 9, SOS: 180 in our last update—the Zags were able to slide up 10 spots by watching other teams suffer losses. They host Saint Mary's on Thursday (9 p.m. ET on ESPN) for one of the two must-watch WCC games this season.
Moving Down: Texas A&M Aggies (Down 24 spots)
11-6, RPI: 33, KP: 29, SOS: 8
The Aggies are in a full-blown free fall. They have lost five consecutive games to drop to 0-5 in SEC play. Two of those games (Kentucky and LSU) came right down to the final second, but they were blown out by Alabama, Florida and Tennessee.
Injuries and suspensions have played a huge part in this losing streak, and that's why I'm still tentatively buying stock in this team to make a bit of a run in March. But regardless of what roster issues Texas A&M was dealing with, these losses still count against a tournament resume that is now in shambles. Good thing the Aggies have that season-opening win over West Virginia in Germany. Otherwise, they might be on the wrong side of the bubble right now.
Ranking the No. 1 Seeds
No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners
14-2, RPI: 2, KP: 13, SOS: 7
Per usual, it was a tough call for this final No. 1 seed.
Duke is No. 1 in RPI and No. 4 on KenPom, but horrible defense, a pair of not-great losses and just a 2-1 record in Group 1 games were enough to drop the Blue Devils to the No. 2 line. Auburn (RPI: 6, KP: 18) was also a tempting candidate, but it's hard to justify giving a No. 1 seed to a team that has only played two games against the KenPom top 50.
Not to make it sound like process of elimination, but that leaves Oklahoma as the somewhat obvious choice here. The Sooners have five Group 1 victories, including a road win over Wichita State, a home win over Texas Tech and a season sweep of TCU. Though the Sooners have not yet faced Kansas, they are beginning to look like the team to beat, thanks to shooting star Trae Young.
In five games against what is almost undeniably the best conference in the nation, Young is averaging 33.0 points, 9.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds. He is attempting 12 three-pointers per game and making 40 percent of them. If you were worried about this guy cooling off once he started facing better defenses, you can stop worrying. He's ridiculous, and the freshman is ready to lead Oklahoma to a Final Four.
No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers
17-2, RPI: 9, KP: 2, SOS: 26
Purdue has all the makings of a championship team. The Boilermakers start four seniors. They have not one but two shot-blocking big men. They have four guys who can score 20 points on any given night. And they don't have a single glaring weakness, which is probably why they have won 13 consecutive games.
Here's the best part: All five starters shoot at least 79 percent from the free-throw line. Do you know how rare it is for a 7'2" center (Isaac Haas) to lead a team in free-throw attempts and it to work in its favor?
As far as the resume is concerned, Purdue has six wins against the KenPom top 50—two on neutral courts and three in true road games. Were it not for that one loss to Western Kentucky nearly two months ago, Purdue might be the unanimous No. 1 team in the AP poll.
No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers
16-1, RPI: 4, KP: 3, SOS: 38
If you're still waiting for proof that Virginia is the real deal, I can't blame you. The Cavaliers only have three RPI top-70 wins this season—a neutral-court game against Rhode Island and a pair of home victories over North Carolina and Syracuse.
But Virginia is top five in both RPI and KenPom and has made life downright miserable for every team it has faced. Even in the road loss to West Virginia, the Mountaineers had to work for every single point in a back-and-forth affair.
Though Virginia hasn't played a murderer's row of a schedule, it hasn't filled up on cupcakes, either. Only two games came against teams currently outside the RPI top 200. That hasn't stopped the Wahoos from collecting 13 of their 16 wins by at least a 12-point margin. They are clearly the class of the ACC at the moment.
One scheduling note, though: They are back-loaded with road games. Eight of the next 12 will be played outside of Charlottesville, including road games against Duke, Louisville, Miami, Syracuse and Florida State. Good thing defense travels, right?
No. 1 Villanova Wildcats
16-1, RPI: 3, KP: 1, SOS: 34
Despite some early struggles in Saturday's road win over St. John's, there's no denying that Villanova belongs as the No. 1 overall seed. One can argue a ton of things with projected brackets, but if you happen to find anyone who doesn't currently have Villanova as one of the four No. 1 seeds, feel free to never listen to that person's opinion on college basketball again. That's how far ahead of the pack the Wildcats are right now.
Villanova already has seven wins away from home against the RPI top 85—four on neutral courts, three in true road games. For the sake of comparison, Duke is 4-2 against the RPI top 85 with no true road wins. The other preseason favorite, Michigan State, is 5-3 against the RPI top 85 and likewise has no true road wins.
Things can change in a hurry in this gloriously unpredictable sport, but it's hard to imagine Villanova not being a No. 1 seed when Selection Sunday rolls around.
Seeding by Conference
In case seeded regions aren't for you, and you want to know where the top 68 teams stand in relation to one another, here is a list of each team's overall seed broken down by conference. The first five out are in italics.
13. Wichita State
24. Rhode Island
47. St. Bonaventure
11. North Carolina
31. Florida State
40. Notre Dame
72. North Carolina State
8. Texas Tech
10. West Virginia
14. Seton Hall
19. Michigan State
22. Ohio State
41. Boise State
18. Arizona State
33. Texas A&M
34. Saint Mary's
43. Middle Tennessee
49. New Mexico State
50. Missouri State
51. South Dakota State
53. East Tennessee State
56. Wright State
57. UC Davis
58. Murray State
62. Stephen F. Austin
66. Robert Morris
67. Texas Southern
68. North Carolina A&T
Kerry Miller covers college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.