2018 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68
The Virginia Cavaliers are going to be a No. 1 seed in the 2018 men's college basketball tournament, but just about everything else is still up in the air with less than two weeks remaining until Selection Sunday.
If the season ended today, Kansas, Villanova and Xavier would join Virginia on the top line, but there are a lot of games remaining until they can be cemented into those spots.
At the opposite end of the seeding spectrum, almost every major conference is represented in either the Last 5 In or the First 5 Out, which should make for quite the dramatic first few rounds of those tournaments.
We're nixing the "On the Horizon" section this week because there are just too many teams who could get back into the conversation with a deep run in a conference tournament.
After discussing the bubble, we will present each seeded region, including the subregional locations in which each pod will play, and some commentary on which teams have moved the most in each region. Then we will defend the rankings of the No. 1 seeds, followed by a summary of the field broken up by conference.
Note: FBI news has been dominating the headlines over the past several days, but no team, player or coach has yet been ruled ineligible for postseason play as a result of those reports. Because of that, you won't hear another peep about the FBI in this projection of the 2018 NCAA tournament.
Last 5 In
Last Team In: Mississippi State Bulldogs
20-8, RPI: 62, KP: 50, SOS: 108
It pains me to give this spot to Mississippi State, because its nonconference schedule was garbage. Home wins over Dayton and Stephen F. Austin were the closest things the Bulldogs had to quality wins in November and December, and those aren't close at all.
But at least Mississippi State won all of those terrible games, so its only bad losses are road games against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, which aren't all that bad. Paired with a couple of quality wins in SEC play, that's enough to sneak in as the last at-large team for now.
MSU hosts Tennessee on Tuesday night and plays at LSU on Saturday. It might need to win both of those games to remain in the field.
Second-To-Last: Providence Friars
18-11, RPI: 43, KP: 72, SOS: 23
Providence remains the biggest conundrum. The Friars have some incredible home wins over Villanova, Xavier, Butler and Creighton, but they don't have a single win away from home over a projected tournament team—nor did they beat one in nonconference play. They have several bad losses, but injuries and illnesses are to blame for them.
Perhaps the strangest part of this resume is that Providence is 3-7 in Quadrant 1 games, even though it was 6-5 in that category two weeks ago. The Friars added two "quality losses" and had earlier wins over Butler, Creighton and Washington lose enough value to drop to Q2. Two weeks ago, that Q1 record was the best thing about Providence's resume. Now that it's gone, the Friars are slipping ever closer to the bubble.
Third-to-Last: Louisville Cardinals
19-10, RPI: 39, KP: 33, SOS: 29
Louisville got its teeth kicked in by Duke this past Wednesday, but it managed to jump back into the projected field by picking up a road win over Virginia Tech on Saturday. It was a needed win for the Cardinals, who are now guaranteed no worse than a .500 record in ACC play. But considering they did nothing of value in nonconference play, that's only enough to keep them in the conversation.
The Cards have two tough games remaining (vs. Virginia; at NC State). If they lose them both, they'll need to win at least one game in the ACC tournament—likely against a team like Florida State or Notre Dame in a 7/10 or 8/9 game—to have a good shot at dancing.
Fourth-to-Last: Baylor Bears
16-12, RPI: 63, KP: 36, SOS: 22
Baylor stormed into last week's projected field with consecutive wins over Kansas, Texas and Texas Tech. But after losses to West Virginia and TCU this week, the Bears are back in the danger zone.
Aside from those three wins, Baylor's list of achievements this season is little more than a neutral-court win over Creighton. Even in a league as tough as the Big 12, it was clear before conference play began that the Bears would likely need to go 9-9 to feel good about getting a bid. They're now 7-9 with games remaining against Oklahoma and Kansas State. Win them both and they should be in. Lose either one and they might need to pull off an upset in the quarterfinal of the Big 12 tournament.
Fifth-to-Last: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
22-5, RPI: 23, KP: 44, SOS: 94
The Blue Raiders should probably be seeded a little bit higher than this. They have three Quadrant 1 wins—at Murray State, at Western Kentucky, at Old Dominion—and their only bad losses were a home game against Belmont (RPI: 77) and a road game against Marshall (RPI: 118). As I was working my way through the projection, it was already getting tempting to include Middle Tennessee by midway through the No. 7 seeds.
But at the same time, it still feels like this team is one disappointing loss away from missing the NCAA tournament, so it ended up as a No. 11 seed. It's on the short list of mid-major teams that might have a shot at an at-large bid if it falls short in the conference tournament—provided it loses to either Western Kentucky or Old Dominion and not a landmine like Rice or UTEP.
First 5 Out
First Team Out: Saint Mary's Gaels
27-4, RPI: 38, KP: 19, SOS: 161
Saint Mary's got through the final week of the season without any more terrible losses, but those home wins over RPI nightmares Pepperdine and Santa Clara didn't exactly help a resume that was already on the wrong side of the bubble.
The overall record looks way too nice to be in this spot, but the Gaels went 24-2 in Quadrant 3 and 4 games. Basically, this resume boils down to five games: road wins over Gonzaga and BYU, a home win over New Mexico State and bad losses to Washington State and San Francisco.
If the Gaels win the WCC tournament, none of that will matter. But even if they beat Santa Clara and BYU before a loss to Gonzaga in the championship game, they'll be up a creek without a paddle, rooting against every bubble team in the major conference tournaments.
Second Team Out: Syracuse Orange
18-11, RPI: 46, KP: 51, SOS: 15
Not surprising, but Syracuse lost to both North Carolina and Duke this week, falling into a tie for 10th place in the ACC standings. The Orange also fell out of the projected field from last week's spot as the last team in.
They will need to win both of their remaining regular-season games (at Boston College; vs. Clemson) to have a good shot, considering their best wins of the season came against bubbly Louisville and Miami. Should they go 1-1 in these final two games, it would take one heck of a run in the ACC tournament to reach the Big Dance.
Third Team Out: Marquette Golden Eagles
17-12, RPI: 66, KP: 53, SOS: 25
Marquette was looking pretty good before it went ice cold from three-point range in a loss at DePaul on Saturday. Thanks to that worst loss of the season, the Golden Eagles need to win the remaining home game against Creighton and hope for some help.
They are likely headed for the No. 7 seed in the Big East tournament, which would mean an opener against St. John's before a quarterfinal against Villanova, assuming current seeding holds. Marquette might need that win over Villanova to undo the loss to DePaul.
Fourth Team Out: Utah Utes
18-10, RPI: 57, KP: 63, SOS: 61
Utah went 1-1 this week in its home games against UCLA and USC, beating the Bruins before falling to the Trojans in what was effectively a "Winner gets in; loser stays out" type of bubble game.
On the surface, there are some things to like about this resume. Utah has been respectable away from home, has three Quadrant 1 wins and only one Quadrant 3 or Quadrant 4 loss—a neutral-court game against UNLV early in the season when the Rebels were playing well.
Dig a little deeper, though, and there's not much there. The Utes swept Washington, won at Arizona State and won at home against Missouri, which isn't enough to make up for the losses. They need to beat Colorado on Saturday and pick up at least one quality win in the Pac-12 tournament—which won't be easy to find, given how disappointing this league is.
Fifth Team Out: Temple Owls
16-12, RPI: 40, KP: 82, SOS: 9
When Temple had nine losses in mid-January, it was silly to consider the Owls for a bid. But now that it seems like every team on the bubble has a double-digit number in the loss column, Temple's looking OK again.
The Owls have three great wins over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State, each of which is projected for a No. 4 seed or better. The Owls also have horrific losses to La Salle, George Washington, Tulane and Memphis, leaving them with much work to do.
Road wins over Connecticut and Tulsa this week would likely give Temple the No. 6 seed in the AAC tournament, which would mean a first-round game against East Carolina before a quarterfinal showdown with Houston. Win all four of those games before a loss to Wichita State in the semifinal and there's a chance here.
East Region (Boston)
No. 1 Xavier vs. No. 16 Lipscomb
No. 8 North Carolina State vs. No. 9 Butler
No. 4 Texas Tech vs. No. 13 Murray State
No. 5 Rhode Island vs. No. 12 Loyola-Chicago
No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 14 Northeastern
No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 USC
Charlotte, North Carolina
No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Rider
No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 St. Bonaventure
Moving Up: USC Trojans (New to the Field)
21-9, RPI: 27, KP: 42, SOS: 44
It was an intense weekend on the Pac-12 bubble with USC and UCLA going on the road to face Utah and Colorado. Three of those four teams are still fighting for a spot in the field, and though this season hasn't gone according to plan for the Buffaloes, they are never easy to defeat in Colorado.
The big winner of the bunch was USC. Not only did the Trojans win both road games, but they did so in convincing fashion by double-digits margins. In Bennie Boatwright's absence, Chimezie Metu led the way in both games with a combined line of 35 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks.
As a result, USC now has four Quadrant 1 wins, as well as four Quadrant 2 wins.
Were it not for that pesky home loss to Princeton (Quadrant 4), the Trojans would be in the projected field with room to spare.
Will the selection committee discount that loss at all, since they were playing without Boatwright, Jonah Mathews and Derryck Thornton? Hard to say, but the Trojans are clearly in better shape than they were one week ago. A home win over UCLA in the regular-season finale might be enough to lock up a bid.
Moving Down: Texas A&M Aggies (↓ Seven Spots)
18-11, RPI: 26, KP: 30, SOS: 7
There are still nine SEC teams in the projected field, but as a whole, the league is losing its luster as the season draws to a close. There are six teams in the conference who have at least 11 overall losses and are within one game of .500 in league play.
Texas A&M is one of those teams following a recent home loss to Mississippi State. The subsequent win over Vanderbilt wasn't enough to balance the scales, forcing the Aggies to slide a bit closer to the bubble.
They aren't in imminent danger of missing the tournament. Not with five Quadrant 1 wins, 10 total wins against the top two quadrants and only one bad loss that isn't even that bad (vs. LSU).
But if they were to lose their remaining regular-season games against Georgia and Alabama, we'd be talking about a 13-loss team that would likely be the No. 11 seed in the SEC team. Strong computer numbers or not, that's a tough pill to swallow when admitting teams into the NCAA tournament.
Midwest Region (Omaha)
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Northern Kentucky
No. 8 Seton Hall vs. No. 9 Florida State
No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 13 South Dakota State
No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Providence / Mississippi State
No. 3 Cincinnati vs. No. 14 Montana
No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 Kansas State
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Penn
No. 7 Arkansas vs. No. 10 Texas
Moving Up: Seton Hall Pirates (↑ 13 Spots)
20-9, RPI: 22, KP: 31, SOS: 27
Two weeks ago, Seton Hall was in free fall. Following an excellent first half of the season, the Pirates lost seven out of 10 games, including one loss to Georgetown and a season sweep at the hands of Marquette. The only wins during that stretch were home games against Providence and Georgetown and a road game against DePaul. That schneid put Seton Hall squarely on the bubble with five games remaining.
Fortunately, it finally stopped the bleeding with three straight wins over DePaul, Providence and St. John's. Granted, wins over any of the top five teams in the Big East would have been a lot better, but Seton Hall got enough quality wins in its first 16 games that it just needed to avoid disaster to make the tournament.
Now that the Pirates are guaranteed no worse than a .500 record in Big East play, it's hard to imagine they could miss the Big Dance.
There's still plenty of time left to change their seed, though. They host Villanova and Butler to end the regular season and will get an opportunity for more quality wins in the conference tournament. Three straight losses would likely mean a double-digit seed in the NCAA tournament, but four or five wins could bump Seton Hall all the way back up to a No. 4 seed.
Moving Down: Kansas State Wildcats (↓ Seven Spots)
20-9, RPI: 61, KP: 49, SOS: 77
You would think that a home win over Texas and a road loss to Oklahoma would be a week without any movement, considering that's a decent win and an acceptable loss. But Kansas State's resume is not in a great position for taking on losses of any kind.
The Wildcats only have three Quadrant 1 wins this season, which is almost impossible to do while winning nine Big 12 games. And the quality wins that they have—at Baylor, at Texas, vs. TCU—aren't that impressive.
The good news is they don't have any terrible losses. Eight of the nine were Quadrant 1 games, and the one exception was a home game against Tulsa (RPI: 76). Despite an atrocious nonconference SOS rank of 323, Kansas State still has a decent chance of making the tournament because it never shot itself in the foot.
Assuming the Wildcats lose at TCU on Tuesday before beating Baylor on Saturday, they should be back in this same spot heading into the Big 12 tournament. Once there, they will likely have a rematch with TCU in a quarterfinal game. A neutral-court win in that game should be enough to lock up a bid, but two losses to TCU in the next two weeks would put Kansas State front and center in all subsequent arguments about which bubble teams should be in or out.
South Region (Atlanta)
Charlotte, North Carolina
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Wagner / UNC-Asheville
No. 8 Creighton vs. No. 9 Missouri
San Diego, California
No. 4 Wichita State vs. No. 13 Vermont
No. 5 TCU vs. No. 12 New Mexico State
No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 14 UC Santa Barbara
No. 6 Florida vs. No. 11 Middle Tennessee
No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 15 Stephen F. Austin
No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 10 Alabama
Moving Up: Florida Gators (↑ Eight Spots)
18-11, RPI: 56, KP: 26, SOS: 30
Heading into the start of play on Monday, there were six teams with at least seven Quadrant 1 wins. They are projected No. 1 seeds Virginia, Villanova and Kansas, projected No. 2 seed North Carolina, projected No. 3 seed Auburn and 11-loss Florida.
The most recent of those quality wins came this weekend at home against Auburn. KeVaughn Allen has had a rough season and was shut out in the previous game against Tennessee, but he exploded for 24 points in the upset of the Tigers.
It was enough to bump the Gators back up to a No. 6 seed, but there are still some major red flags on this resume. They are outside the RPI top 50 and have a 3-7 record in Quadrant 2 games. Several of those losses—home games against Georgia and South Carolina; road games against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt—are much closer to Quadrant 3 than Quadrant 1, which might explain the disappointing RPI.
The Gators also have two tough games remaining against Alabama and Kentucky, which could easily drop them to 18-13 overall and 9-9 in the SEC heading into the conference tournament. Much like Seton Hall in the previous region, though, it's opportunity for advancement rather than disaster for the Gators. Even if they lose both of those games, they should be fine. But a strong finish could propel them a few seed lines higher.
Moving Down: Alabama Crimson Tide (↓ 15 Spots)
17-12, RPI: 41, KP: 47, SOS: 6
During a week when Florida capitalized on its opportunity against Auburn, Alabama got blown out by the Tigers. And when the Crimson Tide proceeded to lose a home game against Arkansas three days later, it was time for a more critical look at this 12-loss resume.
Here's the good news: Alabama has a bunch of impressive victories. There are three home wins over RPI top 15 teams (Auburn, Rhode Island and Tennessee), as well as nice-looking wins over Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Florida. Though this isn't an explicit selection criterion, six wins over teams projected for single-digit seeds in the NCAA tournament is darn impressive.
Here's the bad news: Alabama has six losses to teams outside Quadrant 1, including early slip-ups against UCF and Minnesota that have not aged well. And despite a top-10 strength of schedule, 12 losses is an awful lot with several challenging games remaining. If the Crimson Tide were to lose to Florida and Texas A&M this week, they might enter the SEC tournament on the wrong side of the bubble.
West Region (Los Angeles)
No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 16 Savannah State / Texas Southern
No. 8 Virginia Tech vs. No. 9 Arizona State
San Diego, California
No. 4 Clemson vs. No. 13 Buffalo
No. 5 Arizona vs. No. 12 Louisiana
No. 3 Auburn vs. No. 14 UNC-Greensboro
No. 6 Gonzaga vs. No. 11 Baylor / Louisville
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Bucknell
No. 7 Houston vs. No. 10 Miami
Moving Up: Miami Hurricanes (↑ Seven Spots)
20-8, RPI: 31, KP: 41, SOS: 58
Though Miami's road win over Notre Dame occurred before the last projected bracket came out, the effect that it had on Miami's computer numbers wasn't taken into consideration, as we lock in the RPI, KenPom and SOS numbers the afternoon before publishing. And before that game, the Hurricanes were sitting smack dab on the bubble with just a 5-7 record in Quadrant 1 and 2 games.
Now that the Fighting Irish game—as well as the buzzer-beating home win over Boston College on Saturday—is factored into the data, things aren't looking so dire for Miami. Good thing margin of victory doesn't much matter, because those nail-biters might have saved this season.
This still isn't a stellar resume, though. The Canes have wins away from home against Middle Tennessee, Virginia Tech, NC State and Notre Dame, as well as home wins over Louisville and Florida State. But that's it. Every other win is Q3 or Q4, and not one of the six quality wins stands out as a feather in the cap, as the best of those teams (VT) is projected for a No. 8 seed.
But as things stand, there's no way the selection committee would leave this team out. Even if Miami loses at North Carolina on Tuesday (very likely) and loses the home game against Virginia Tech next Saturday (entirely possible), we'll be talking about a 10-loss team with no horrendous losses. That's better than most of the bubble.
Moving Down: Arizona State Sun Devils (↓ Eight Spots)
19-9, RPI: 42, KP: 37, SOS: 57
Arizona State has wins away from home against projected No. 1 seeds Kansas and Xavier. With the possible exception of St. John's (at Villanova, vs. Duke) and Virginia Tech (at Virginia, vs. North Carolina), no team in the country can boast a better pair of wins this season.
Arizona State also has a 7-9 record in Pac-12 play thanks in part to back-to-back losses to Oregon and Oregon State this weekend. Because of the state of this conference, seven of those nine losses were against teams outside the RPI top 50, leaving them on the bubble with home games remaining against California and Stanford.
Even in this season of absurd upsets, it's hard to imagine the Sun Devils would lose the game against California. But if they falter against the Cardinal to finish at 8-10 in what might be a two-bid league, it would be a bad look—especially if they follow it up with a loss to Colorado in the No. 8/9 game in the first round of the conference tournament.
Ranking the No. 1 Seeds
No. 4 Villanova Wildcats
25-4, RPI: 3, KP: 2, SOS: 11
There's no shame in losing at Creighton in an overtime game, but it was Villanova's third loss in six games. And the first two losses (at Providence, vs. St. John's) during that stretch weren't anywhere near as forgivable, causing the Wildcats to slip into danger of falling off the No. 1 line with teams from the ACC and Big Ten breathing down their necks.
Villanova stays on the top line for now, though, primarily because of its season sweep of Xavier. The Wildcats also scored neutral-court wins over Gonzaga and Tennessee in nonconference play as part of their seven Quadrant 1 wins and 14 wins against the top two quadrants. It's because of those wins that Villanova is in the top three in both RPI and KenPom, which is impossible to ignore.
No. 3 Xavier Musketeers
25-4, RPI: 2, KP: 13, SOS: 5
The order of the top two teams in the Big East is a tough call. Barring a bad loss in these final few days, Xavier is headed for an outright Big East regular-season championship. The Musketeers were stomped by Villanova in both of the head-to-head games, but Xavier has the much better resume outside of those two games.
For now, we're giving the edge to the projected regular-season champ with the assumption that a showdown in the Big East championship game will determine who finishes higher on the overall seed list.
Aside from the home loss to Villanova two Saturdays ago, Xavier is undefeated since mid-January with season sweeps of Creighton and Seton Hall, as well as a road win over Butler. It's strange that the X-Men are getting next to no hype as a championship contender, considering they have a winning record in Quadrant 1 games (6-4) and haven't lost to a team outside of that group.
No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks
24-6, RPI: 6, KP: 9, SOS: 3
By locking up a 14th consecutive Big 12 regular-season championship, Kansas has stockpiled quite a few quality wins.
The Jayhawks are 11-3 in Quadrant 1 games. North Carolina (10-5) is the only other team with more than eight such victories. And after Monday night's home win over Texas, the Jayhawks have a total of 19 wins against Quadrants 1 and 2. No other team in the country entered Monday with more than 14, and Villanova (14-3) was the only team with that many.
Sure, the six losses are more than any other team on this seed line, and the home loss to Oklahoma State was troublesome. But how could the committee possibly put any team other than 26-2 Virginia ahead of the Jayhawks on the overall seed list?
They were No. 6 overall when the top-16 reveal took place. Since then, they're 5-0 with quality wins over Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma. Meanwhile, No. 2 Villanova and No. 5 Auburn have each suffered two losses, No. 3 Xavier was annihilated at home by Villanova, and No. 4 Purdue had a horrible loss at Wisconsin.
No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers
26-2, RPI: 1, KP: 1, SOS: 14
Virginia isn't yet cemented into the No. 1 overall seed, but it would take a spectacular collapse for this team to fall off the top line.
The Cavaliers have already locked up an outright ACC regular-season championship. They have eight Quadrant 1 wins, including a 3-0 record against Duke, North Carolina and Clemson. And they don't have anything close to an awful loss on their resume.
Even if they were to lose remaining games against Louisville and Notre Dame before a loss to a team like Miami or Florida State in the ACC quarterfinals, the only way the Wahoos would drop outside the top four is if Kansas, Michigan State, Villanova/Xavier and Duke/North Carolina all win their conference tournaments to give the committee something to think about. But that still might not be enough to undo the incredible job that Tony Bennett and his players have done this season.
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.
14. Wichita State
5. North Carolina
29. Virginia Tech
32. North Carolina State
36. Florida State
19. Rhode Island
39. St. Bonaventure
12. West Virginia
13. Texas Tech
42. Kansas State
31. Seton Hall
7. Michigan State
18. Ohio State
35. Arizona State
27. Texas A&M
47. Mississippi State
69. Saint Mary's
43. Middle Tennessee
49. New Mexico State
51. South Dakota State
54. Murray State
55. UNC Greensboro
58. UC Santa Barbara
62. Stephen F. Austin
63. Northern Kentucky
65. UNC Asheville
67. Savannah State
68. Texas Southern
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.