Way-Too-Early Projections for the 2016 NCAA Tournament Bracket

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystApril 14, 2015

Way-Too-Early Projections for the 2016 NCAA Tournament Bracket

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The ink is still drying on the 2014-15 men's college basketball season, but that didn't stop us from attempting to project the 2016 NCAA tournament field, where Kentucky is shaping up to be the No. 1 overall seed once again.

    There is still a ton of information that we don't have. Some players are still debating whether to declare for the NBA draft. Others are deciding whether and/or where to transfer. And there are still six 5-star freshmen who haven't yet announced where they will be taking their talents in November.

    As such, expect some significant changes by the time the "final" preseason bracket is posted days before the season begins.

    For the time being, though, let's take a look at the last five teams in the field and the first five out. Instead of blathering on about computer profiles, big wins and huge upcoming games, we'll primarily use that space to talk about which players need to show up in a big way for those teams to play their way into the 2016 tournament.

    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'll provide the ranking of the No. 1 seeds, followed by a summary of the entire field broken up by conference.

    Recruiting rankings on the following slides courtesy of 247Sports.com

Last 5 In

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Team In: Pittsburgh Panthers

    Pittsburgh's 2014-15 season didn't exactly start with a bang, as the Panthers lost Durand Johnson to a season-long suspension just hours before their first game. But assuming he's eligible to play this year, they'll be built to compete in a very strong ACC.

    Cameron Wright graduates, but they get back each of the other seven players who averaged at least 4.0 PPG this past seasonincluding Jamel Artis and Michael Young, who both made major leaps as sophomores to lead the team in scoring. If 4-star shooting guard Damon Wilson can help improve what was a woeful perimeter game, Pitt will be in great shape. 

    Second-to-Last: Richmond Spiders

    Richmond loses star guard Kendall Anthony to graduation, but the Spiders still have three talented players in Terry Allen, T.J. Cline and ShawnDre' Jones.

    After Dayton and Rhode Island, it's anyone's guess how the A-10 is going to shake out. Three scorers might be enough for a bid this year.

    Third-to-Last: Creighton Bluejays

    Butler went 4-14 in the Big East in 2013-14 before bouncing back to make the tournament in 2015.

    Why couldn't Creighton do the same?

    The Bluejays lose a ton of crucial seniorsDevin Brooks, Austin Chatman, Will Artino, Ricky Kreklow and Avery Dingmanbut they're adding two outstanding transfers in Mo Watson Jr. and Cole Huff. If Isaiah Zierden is able to stay healthy after two consecutive seasons cut short by a knee injury, Creighton just might be able to sneak back into the Big Dance.

    Fourth-to-Last: California Golden Bears

    By adding 5-star power forward Ivan Rabb on Monday night, Cal became a serious player in the Pac-12 in 2015-16.

    The Golden Bears were already going to have an outstanding backcourt with Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird back for another year, but they desperately needed some help in the frontcourt. Rabb should be a huge help.

    Cal is also in the mix for immediately eligible transfers Ricky Tarrant, Shonn Miller, Mark Tollefsen and Anthony Collins. If Cuonzo Martin can land any of them, the Golden Bears would likely become the second best team in this conference.

    Fifth-to-Last: Davidson Wildcats

    Despite losing A-10 Player of the Year Tyler Kalinoski, Davidson is still in pretty good shape with Jack Gibbs, Brian Sullivan, Jordan Barham and Peyton Aldridge. The Wildcats are also getting back Jake Belford, who played just six games this past season before suffering an injury that eventually necessitated season-ending knee surgery.

    Davidson's offense will still be nearly as high-powered as this past season. But if the defense is also comparable to 2014-15, that could be a problem.

First 5 Out

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    First Team Out: Iowa Hawkeyes

    Iowa still has some great pieces on the roster, but losing both Aaron White and Gabriel Olaseni could be a major problem—particularly in what should be a very strong Big Ten conference. There will be plenty of opportunities for the Hawkeyes to pick up key wins, but they'll need more than Jarrod Uthoff to do so.

    Second Team Out: Louisville Cardinals

    Who do the Cardinals even have? Wayne Blackshear graduates, Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier left for the NBA, and Shaqquan Aaron and Anton Gill are transferring. That leaves Quentin Snider, Chinanu Onuaku and Mangok Mathiang as the only returning players who scored at least 40 points, and they didn't eclipse that mark by much.

    Third Team Out: New Mexico Lobos

    It was an atypically poor year for the Lobos, but they'll look to bounce back with a healthy Cullen Neal (he played just three games in 2014-15) and incoming transfers Tim Williams and Elijah Brown. 

    Fourth Team Out: BYU Cougars

    It wouldn't be a projected bracket without BYU on the bubble. The Cougars should have another year of Kyle Collinsworth, but losing Tyler Haws, Skyler Halford and Anson Winder is a lot to stomach.

    Fifth Team Out: Auburn Tigers

    Year two of the Bruce Pearl experiment is bound to go better than the first, but the Tigers are losing the vast majority of their scoring presence with K.T. Harrell, Antoine Mason, K.C. Ross-Miller and Malcolm Canada out of years of eligibility. They do still have Cinmeon Bowers, though, and will add Marshall transfer Kareem Canty and 4-star freshmen Danjel Purifoy and Horace Spencer in an effort to replace all they have lost.

East Region (Philadelphia)

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    Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

    Raleigh, North Carolina

    No. 1 Maryland vs. No. 16 Robert Morris

    No. 8 Buffalo vs. No. 9 Dayton

    Providence, Rhode Island

    No. 4 North Carolina State vs. No. 13 Yale

    No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 12 Murray State

    Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

    No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 UC Irvine

    No. 6 Miami vs. No. 11 Xavier

    Brooklyn, New York

    No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 Winthrop

    No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Cincinnati

    Stock Up: Miami Hurricanes

    The Hurricanes recently lost a couple of transfersDeandre Burnett and Manu Lecomtebut this is still a roster built for a comfortable spot in the tournament. Early on in the 2014-15 season, it was Angel Rodriguez or bust. But Sheldon McClellan and Ivan Cruz Uceda came on strong late in the year. And Miami adds Oklahoma State transfer Kamari Murphy to a frontcourt that desperately needed depth beyond Tonye Jekiri.

    Stock Down: Wisconsin Badgers

    A No. 7 seed might seem like a slap in the face, but considering all the Badgers are losing, this is actually a vote of confidence in Bo Ryan. Frank Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser and Duje Dukan all graduate, and Sam Dekker is forgoing his senior year to enter the NBA draft, leaving behind Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and a plethora of question marks. They'll make it work, but expecting a third straight trip to the Final Four is a bit crazy.

    Stock Up: Buffalo Bulls

    Bobby Hurley left for the head coaching job at Arizona State, but if Nate Oats can keep the roster intact, the Bulls could be scary good. In addition to bringing back Justin Moss, Shannon Evans and Jarryn Skeete, Buffalo adds Torian Grahama 4-star recruit in the class of 2012 who spent two years at Chipola College. He could be a huge difference-maker in the MAC if he's finally ready and able to play D-I ball.

    Stock Down: Xavier Musketeers

    Xavier had a pretty incredible recruiting class last summer, so the Musketeers could actually end up being better than they were this past season. However, replacing both Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook is no small task. And if the off-the-court issue with Jalen Reynolds that popped up in the middle of the NCAA tournament causes the big man to leave the program or miss any time, the Musketeers may struggle to finish above .500 in the Big East.

Midwest Region (Chicago)

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    Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

    Raleigh, North Carolina

    No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 USC Upstate / Vermont

    No. 8 Georgetown vs. No. 9 Vanderbilt

    Denver, Colorado

    No. 4 Wichita State vs. No. 13 Hofstra

    No. 5 SMU vs. No. 12 Valparaiso

    Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

    No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin

    No. 6 Florida State vs. No. 11 Memphis

    Des Moines, Iowa

    No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Texas Southern

    No. 7 LSU vs. No. 10 Notre Dame

    Stock Up: Michigan State Spartans

    No Travis Trice. No Branden Dawson. No problem. The Spartans still have Denzel Valentine, and they're adding West Virginia transfer Eron Harris, as well as a pair of 5-star big men in Caleb Swanigan and Deyonta Davis. And though they made the Final Four, keep in mind they only need to do better than a No. 7 seed in order to improve from Selection Sunday in 2015.

    Stock Down: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

    Mike Brey has some great pieces coming back, but how can this team possibly be the same without Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton? The Fighting Irish will be one of many ACC teams dancing, but not by a wide margin.

    Stock Up: Vanderbilt Commodores

    In games decided by five points or less, Vanderbilt went 1-9 last season. It was terrible luck for a very young Commodores team—their primary eight-man rotation consisted of five freshmen, two sophomores and a senior. And to that rotation, they're adding Nolan Cressler, who averaged 16.8 points per game as a freshman at Cornell. They weren't particularly close to making the tournament in 2015, but it would be a mild surprise if they missed the dance again in 2016.

    Stock Down: Georgetown Hoyas

    Georgetown caught a break when D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera changed his mind about leaving for the draft and instead decided to come back for his senior season, but the Hoyas are still losing a ton of talent from last year's roster. Jabril Trawick, Joshua Smith, Mikael Hopkins and Aaron Bowen all graduate, taking more than 85 minutes and 30 points per game with them. More playing time for the 2014 recruiting class should be a good thing, but that's a lot of change in one offseason.

South Region (Louisville)

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    St. Louis, Missouri

    No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 16 North Carolina Central / New Mexico State

    No. 8 San Diego State vs. No. 9 West Virginia

    Des Moines, Iowa

    No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 13 Old Dominion

    No. 5 Texas vs. No. 12 California / Creighton

    Providence, Rhode Island

    No. 3 Virginia vs. No. 14 Wofford

    No. 6 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 Connecticut

    Spokane, Washington

    No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 15 Eastern Washington

    No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Seton Hall

    Stock Up: Indiana Hoosiers

    Indiana loses nothing from last year's roster and adds a pair of much-needed 4-star power forwards, Thomas Bryant and Juwan Morgan. Then again, Texas was a No. 10 seed in 2014 before adding two quality forwards to a roster without any seniors and ended up with a No. 11 seed in 2015, so nothing is guaranteed in this sport. That said, the Hoosiers should absolutely be one of the three or four best teams in the Big Ten.

    Stock Down: Virginia Cavaliers

    Until Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that Justin Anderson is headed to the NBA draft, Virginia was well on its way to a third straight ACC title and a likely No. 1 seed. Now, with Anderson and Darion Atkins both out of the picture, we have to assume the Cavaliers will take a slight step backward.

    Stock Up: Texas A&M Aggies

    The Aggies lose a couple of key players in Kourtney Roberson and Jordan Green, but their primary trio (Danuel House, Jalen Jones and Alex Caruso) will be back for one more year. And they're adding four 4-star freshmen to a roster that was very much in the discussion for a tournament bid right up until consecutive season-ending losses to Florida, Alabama and Auburn. With a slightly more challenging schedule this year, Texas A&M could be a real threat out of the SEC.

    Stock Down: West Virginia Mountaineers

    Not only are the Mountaineers losing Juwan Staten and Gary Browne, but now every Big 12 team has multiple games of video footage to figure out how to deal with the defensive pressure that fueled West Virginia's fire. The Mountaineers will still win plenty of games, but the more they're forced to play a half-court game without Staten at the helm, the more they'll struggle.

West Region (Anaheim)

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    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    St. Louis, Missouri

    No. 1 Iowa State vs. No. 16 Bucknell

    No. 8 Rhode Island vs. No. 9 Utah

    Spokane, Washington

    No. 4 Butler vs. No. 13 Iona

    No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 12 Pittsburgh/Richmond

    Brooklyn, New York

    No. 3 Duke vs. No. 14 Georgia State

    No. 6 Florida vs. No. 11 Davidson

    Denver, Colorado

    No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 Oral Roberts

    No. 7 Arkansas vs. No. 10 Purdue

    Stock Up: Rhode Island Rams

    Force us to bet on one team to win the 2016 A-10 title, and we're taking Rhode Island. The Rams get back four of their five leading scorers and are adding Towson transfer Four McGlynn, who should be immediately eligible to play. They won't be very deep, and they'll be a bit undersized, but that certainly didn't stop Dayton from succeeding in 2014-15.

    Stock Down: Duke Blue Devils

    This isn't to say that Duke is headed for a terrible season, but it's kind of hard to improve upon winning the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed. Quinn Cook graduates. Jahlil Okafor is definitely leaving for the NBA. Most assume that Justise Winslow will join him. And after being named Most Outstanding Player of the 2015 Final Four, many are arguing that Tyus Jones should leave, too.

    If those two freshmen do leave, that means the Blue Devils are losing their four best players from last season. Luke Kennard, Chase Jeter and Sean Obi will be great additions. More Grayson Allen is going to be a great thing. But that's a ton of production to replace. Duke will still be good, but it won't be "No. 1 seed good."

    Stock Up: Michigan Wolverines

    Michigan's 2014-15 season went downhill in a New York minute, but the Wolverines bring everyone back and are one of six teams in the running to acquire Shonn Miller's services for one year, according to ESPN's Jeff Goodman. This No. 5 seed is assuming no changes to the current roster, but if they're able to add a legitimate power forward like Miller, they'll almost certainly jump into the preseason top 10.

    Stock Down: Utah Utes

    Even if Jakob Poeltl comes back for his sophomore season, adjusting to life without Delon Wright and Dallin Bachynski could be an issue for the Utes. Wright did everything for Utah over the last two years, so the entire team is going to need to step up in a big way to replace him.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    No. 4: Iowa State Cyclones

    The best thing that ever happened to the 2015-16 Cyclones was Georges Niang's horrible game in the 2015 tournament against UAB.

    With a nice run deep into the tournament, Niang probably would have packed his bags and left for the NBA, but now he's coming back with something to prove.

    Iowa State does lose Bryce Dejean-Jones and Dustin Hogue, but Fred Hoiberg is already adding Oregon State's Hallice Cooke, and you have to assume he'll reel in another noteworthy transfer or two, like he always seems to do.

    And let's not forget about Georgios Tsalmpouris. The 7'1" "transfer" from Greece barely played last season, but based on size alone, he could make a significant impact in limited minutes as a sophomore.

    No. 3: North Carolina Tar Heels

    Were it not for the eternal threat of sanctions stemming from the Wainstein Report hanging over this program, we would probably have North Carolina at No. 1 overall. It almost seems inevitable that there will be wins vacated and some sort of postseason ban at some point in the near future.

    But assuming it doesn't kick in until after the 2015-16 season, it's hard not to love the Tar Heels. With the exception of J.P. Tokoto's surprising decision to leave for the NBA draft, all of the main pieces are back for another year.

    They'll still have Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, Nate Britt and Theo Pinson in the backcourt, as well as Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson, Joel James and Isaiah Hicks in the frontcourt. Throw in 4-star freshman Luke Maye, and North Carolina could legitimately embrace the oft-discussed platoon system that Kentucky employed for much of this past season.

    No. 2: Maryland Terrapins

    It's not easy to lose players like Dez Wells, Evan Smotrycz and Richaud Pack and actually get better, but the Terps are adding 5-star center Diamond Stone to a returning rotation of Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens, Jake Layman and Damonte Dodd.

    Maryland is also one of the five finalists to acquire Damion Lee's services for one year, according to Lee on Twitter. If able to add the outstanding shooting guard, the Terrapins will become the favorites to win the 2016 title. Even without Lee, they should be able to win the Big Ten and earn a No. 1 seed.

    No. 1: Kentucky Wildcats

    If you think John Calipari isn't getting at least one of the six 5-star freshmen who still haven't committed, then you don't know Calipari.

    But even if we assume no changes to the current roster, a starting five of Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee and Skal Labissiere is still pretty ridiculous.

    Now add a couple of guys like Jaylen Brown, Malik Newman, Cheick Diallo, Brandon Ingram, Stephen Zimmerman and Thon Makereach of which 247Sports lists as having "warm" or "warmer" interest in joining the Wildcatsand Kentucky is going to be downright scary for a second straight year.

    The SEC should be substantially stronger than this past season, so let's not start the 40-0 discussion anytime soon. Becoming the No. 1 overall seed for a third time in five seasons, however, is perfectly feasible.

Seeding by Conference

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    In case seeded regions aren't for you and you just want to know where the "top" 68 teams stand in relation to one another, here is the list of each team's overall seed, broken down by conference (First Five Out in italics).

    American: 17. SMU; 39. Cincinnati; 41. Connecticut; 42. Memphis

    Atlantic 10: 30. Rhode Island; 36. Dayton; 44. Davidson; 47. Richmond

    ACC: 3. North Carolina; 9. Duke; 10. Virginia; 16. N.C. State; 21. Miami; 23. Florida State; 37. Notre Dame; 48. Pittsburgh; 70. Louisville

    Big 12: 4. Iowa State; 11. Kansas; 12. Oklahoma; 18. Baylor; 19. Texas; 35. West Virginia

    Big East: 5. Villanova; 15. Butler; 31. Georgetown; 40. Seton Hall; 43. Xavier; 46. Creighton

    Big Ten: 2. Maryland; 7. Michigan State; 13. Indiana; 20. Michigan; 25. Wisconsin; 38. Purdue; 69. Iowa

    Mountain West: 32. San Diego State; 71. New Mexico

    Pac-12: 6. Arizona; 27. UCLA; 34. Utah; 45. California

    SEC: 1. Kentucky; 22. Florida; 24. Texas A&M; 26. LSU; 27. Arkansas; 33. Vanderbilt; 73. Auburn

    West Coast: 8. Gonzaga; 72. BYU

    Other: 14. Wichita State; 29. Buffalo; 49. Murray State; 50. Valparaiso; 51. Old Dominion; 52. Yale; 53. Iona; 54. Hofstra; 55. UC Irvine; 56. Stephen F. Austin; 57. Georgia State; 58. Wofford; 59. Winthrop; 60. Oral Roberts; 61. Eastern Washington; 62. Texas Southern; 63. Robert Morris; 64. Bucknell; 65. New Mexico State; 66. USC Upstate; 67. Vermont; 68. North Carolina Central

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @kerrancejames.

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