Way-Too-Early Bracket Projection for 2017 NCAA Tournament

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystApril 12, 2016

Way-Too-Early Bracket Projection for 2017 NCAA Tournament

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    John Calipari, presumably demonstrating what it feels like to project a bracket in April.
    John Calipari, presumably demonstrating what it feels like to project a bracket in April.Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Though there's still little clarity on what their rosters will actually look like, the Kentucky Wildcats join the Duke Blue Devils, Kansas Jayhawks and Villanova Wildcats on our list of projected No. 1 seeds for the 2017 NCAA tournament.

    Michigan State isn't far behind that quartet at No. 5 overall, so make sure to block off Nov. 15, 2016 in your calendar for the Champions Classic. Trust us. You're going to want to watch Duke vs. Kansas and Kentucky vs. Michigan State on that day.

    As far as the rest of the projected bracket is concerned, 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 five 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 eight out. Instead of blathering on about computer profiles, big wins and huge upcoming games, we'll primarily use that space to discuss noteworthy roster changes and key players for those teams.

    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.

Last 5 In

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    Maverick Rowan is on a short list of returning NC State players.
    Maverick Rowan is on a short list of returning NC State players.G Fiume/Getty Images

    Last Team In: North Carolina State Wolfpack

    The Wolfpack are losing seemingly everyone from a team that didn't even make the 2016 tournament. Cat Barber and Abdul-Malik Abu declared for the draft. Caleb and Cody Martin are transferring.

    But they're adding one of the nation's best freshmen in Dennis Smith Jr. and will also gain a pair of key transfers in Torin Dorn and Terry Henderson. (Henderson only played seven minutes last year before suffering a season-ending injury, so let's just agree to pretend he's still an incoming transfer.)

    NC State won't have a deep rotation, but those three plus Maverick Rowan, BeeJay Anya and Lennard Freeman could be good enough to sneak into the field.

    Second-to-Last: Maryland Terrapins

    The Terps were a projected No. 1 seed before the 2015-16 season began, but they'll be lucky to even make the tournament this year. Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon graduated. Diamond Stone and Robert Carter Jr. declared for the draft and hired agents. Melo Trimble also has one foot out the door after recently declaring for the draft without hiring an agent, according to the Baltimore Sun's Don Markus.

    But despite potentially losing all five starters, there's still a solid nucleus here, as they add a pair of top-100 freshmen guards to join Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens in the backcourt. If either Michal Cekovsky or Ivan Bender can make "the leap" to become a reliable frontcourt presence, Maryland could remain nationally relevant for another year.

    Third-to-Last: Texas Tech Red Raiders

    They lose their two leading scorers (Devaugntah Williams and Toddrick Gotcher), but balance was the key to Texas Tech's success last season, as seven players averaged between 8.5 and 11.0 points per game.

    If Aaron Ross and Justin Gray can remain as accurate from beyond the arc (combined 39.3 percent last season) while picking up some of the slack left by the departing players, Texas Tech could finish in the top half of the Big 12 standings.

    Fourth-to-Last: Washington Huskies

    With Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray declaring for the NBA draft, Washington isn't looking anywhere near as strong as it could have. However, the Huskies are still loaded with young talent, not the least of which is 5-star freshman combo guard Markelle Fultz. He and Malik Dime should make one heck of an inside-outside duo.

    Fifth-to-Last: Georgetown Hoyas

    The Hoyas were arguably the most disappointing team in the country in 2015-16, but D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera was the only player on the roster with a serious amount of experience. Georgetown played with the poise one might expect from a team overrun by freshmen and sophomores, but it has to be a primary candidate for a bounce-back season based on the amount of talent returning.

First 8 Out

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    David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    First Team Out: Houston Cougars

    Even with Ronnie Johnson transferring out of the program and Devonta Pollard graduating, Houston has some legitimate potential in coach Kelvin Sampson's third year at the helm. What Danrad Knowles can do by his lonesome in the frontcourt could be the determining factor in whether the Cougars dance for just the second time since 1992.

    Second Team Out: Mississippi State Bulldogs

    Assuming Malik Newman stays in the NBA draft, Mississippi State loses six of its eight leading scorers from last season. Fortunately, Ben Howland landed one of the deepest recruiting classes in the country with six 4-star players joining the fray in November. That's an awful lot of turnover, but the Bulldogs should be markedly better than they were in 2015-16.

    Third Team Out: Florida Gators

    With Dorian Finney-Smith graduating and Devin Robinson tentatively declaring for the NBA draft, it could be another long season for the Gators. They desperately need an even bigger year out of John Egbunu as well as improved three-point shooting from Chris Chiozza and Kevaughn Allen.

    Fourth Team Out: Vanderbilt Commodores

    It was exceptionally difficult to figure out where to put the Commodores after a coaching change, losing Wade Baldwin IV and potentially losing Damian Jones. There are still some good bones on this roster, but does Riley LaChance have what it takes to be the primary ball-handler? And is Luke Kornet good/strong enough to be the primary interior weapon?

    Fifth Team Out: Utah Utes

    The Utes lose Brandon Taylor, Jordan Loveridge, Dakarai Tucker and likely Jakob Poeltl, but 4-star freshman Jayce Johnson and second semester transfer David Collette should help fill some of those voids. The Utes will be in business if JUCO transfer Jojo Zamora is anywhere near as good as some of their recent JUCO finds (Delon Wright and Lorenzo Bonam).

    Sixth Team Out: Creighton Bluejays

    Between Mo Watson, Cole Huff and Marcus Foster, the Bluejays might be flying high on the backs of former transfers. If Zach Hanson can handle a full-time frontcourt job with Geoffrey Groselle out of the picture, Creighton could be a top-four team in the Big East.

    Seventh Team Out: Colorado Buffaloes

    Josh Scott is a huge loss, but the Buffaloes are otherwise well intact and are getting Xavier Johnson back in the mix after missing all of last season. It could be another big year for the Pac-12.

    Eighth Team Out: Davidson Wildcats

    Last year did not go according to plan for Davidson, but the Wildcats still have one more season to put Jack Gibbs to good use.

East Region (New York City)

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    UCLA has the highest projected seed among eligible teams that missed the 2016 tournament.
    UCLA has the highest projected seed among eligible teams that missed the 2016 tournament.Chris Coduto/Getty Images

    Greensboro, North Carolina

    No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Jackson State/North Dakota

    No. 8 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Iowa State

    Sacramento, California

    No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 13 UNC-Asheville

    No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 12 San Diego State

    Indianapolis, Indiana

    No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 14 Texas-Arlington

    No. 6 Connecticut vs. No. 11 Texas Tech/NC State

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Mercer

    No. 7 Florida State vs. No. 10 VCU

    Stock Up: UCLA Bruins (New to Field)

    2015-16 was a bit of a nightmare for UCLA, but the addition of Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf should turn the tide back in the Bruins' favor. Ball might be the best freshman guard in the entire country, and Leaf is plenty talented to fill the void left by Tony Parker's graduation.

    Throw in the possibility of Jonah Bolden, Prince Ali and/or Aaron Holiday making a leap in Year 2 and UCLA might be the best team that missed the tournament this past March.

    Stock Down: Iowa State Cyclones (Dropped Five Lines)

    Monte Morris is coming back for one final season, and the Cyclones do still have years of eligibility remaining for Matt Thomas, Deonte Burton, Hallice Cooke and Naz Long. However, replacing Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay is a tall order. They'll need a lot from JUCO transfers Emmanuel Malou and Donovan Jackson to remain competitive in the Big 12.

    Stock Steady: VCU Rams (No change)

    Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury are big shoes to fill, but JeQuan Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox emerged as studs toward the end of last season. If Doug Brooks can start shooting better than 29.1 percent from the field, his ball-hawking defense could be what carries VCU to another NCAA tournament.

Midwest Region (Kansas City)

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    Saint Mary's brings back just about everyone from last season.
    Saint Mary's brings back just about everyone from last season.TONY AVELAR/Associated Press

    Tulsa, Oklahoma

    No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson

    No. 8 Texas A&M vs. No. 9 Michigan

    Orlando, Florida

    No. 4 Seton Hall vs. No. 13 UAB

    No. 5 USC vs. No. 12 Princeton

    Tulsa, Oklahoma

    No. 3 Louisville vs. No. 14 Belmont

    No. 6 Butler vs. No. 11 Maryland/Washington

    Sacramento, California

    No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast

    No. 7 Saint Mary's vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech

    Stock Up: Saint Mary's Gaels (New to Field)

    In putting together a 29-6 record, Saint Mary's was a year ahead of schedule. The Gaels lost all five starters from their 2014-15 team yet somehow got better. With everyone from last year's roster returning in 2016-17, they have legitimate Top 25 potential and could finish ahead of Gonzaga in the WCC standings.

    Stock Down: Texas A&M Aggies (Dropped Five Lines)

    All of a sudden, the Aggies are wishing they had been able to hang onto Alex Robinson and Elijah Thomas, who both transferred out of the program early in the 2015-16 season. Now with Danuel House, Anthony Collins, Alex Caruso and Jalen Jonesotherwise known as 80 percent of their starting fiveall out of years of eligibility, they're forced to rely almost entirely on underclassmen.

    Stock Steady: Oregon Ducks (Dropped One Line)

    They lose Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin, but don't forget that Chris Boucher was granted an extra year of eligibility, and Dylan Ennis should also be getting one more after playing just one game this past season. As long as Dillon Brooks doesn't surprise us with a late declaration for the NBA draft, Oregon should remain the cream of the Pac-12's crop.

South Region (Memphis)

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    Assuming Nigel Hayes returns for one more season, Wisconsin could win the Big Ten.
    Assuming Nigel Hayes returns for one more season, Wisconsin could win the Big Ten.Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Indianapolis, Indiana

    No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 16 North Dakota State

    No. 8 Syracuse vs. No. 9 SMU

    Salt Lake City, Utah

    No. 4 Arizona vs. No. 13 UNC-Wilmington

    No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 Ohio

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Lehigh

    No. 6 Dayton vs. No. 11 Notre Dame

    Orlando, Florida

    No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 New Mexico State

    No. 7 Purdue vs. No. 10 Cincinnati

    Stock Up: Wisconsin Badgers (Climbed Four Lines)

    While most of the high-ranking teams are treading water in a sea of attrition, Wisconsin should get considerably better in the process of losing no one and gaining redshirt freshman Brevin Pritzl. With Vitto Brown emerging as a three-point assassin and Ethan Happ finishing his freshman year as one of the better power forwards in the nation, the Badgers are loaded with weapons in their quest for a 19th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

    Stock Down: Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Dropped Five Lines)

    Between Zach Auguste graduating and Demetrius Jackson declaring for the NBA draft, Notre Dame is forced to press onward without its two best players for a second consecutive year. Some teams can stomach blows like that, but the Fighting Irish had a recruiting class ranked 44th in the nation last year and 36th this year.

    Unless you're repeatedly finding diamonds in the rough, it's tough to replace multiple primary contributors every year with those rankings.

    Stock Steady: Cincinnati Bearcats (Dropped One Line)

    The Bearcats are losing four important seniors, but they still have primary ball-handler Troy Caupain, underutilized big man Gary Clark and NC State transfer Kyle Washington to build around. If Jacob Evans continues to develop as a sophomore while freshman shooting guard Jarron Cumberland makes any kind of impact, Cincinnati should have just enough offense for its patented defense to do the heavy lifting into the tournament.

West Region (San Jose)

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    A healthy Rhode Island would make the A-10 a much better league this year.
    A healthy Rhode Island would make the A-10 a much better league this year.Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

    Buffalo, New York

    No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 16 South Carolina State/New Hampshire

    No. 8 Iowa vs. No. 9 Miami

    Salt Lake City, Utah

    No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 13 Valparaiso

    No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 12 Monmouth

    Buffalo, New York

    No. 3 Indiana vs. No. 14 Long Beach State

    No. 6 Rhode Island vs. No. 11 Georgetown

    Greensboro, North Carolina

    No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 15 Stephen F. Austin

    No. 7 Texas vs. No. 10 Wichita State

    Stock Up: Rhode Island Rams (New to Field)

    Rhode Island's 2015-16 season went off the rails in a hurry when E.C. Matthews lasted just 10 minutes before suffering a season-ending knee injury, but that gave Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell one more year to develop into a cohesive backcourt unit.

    Depth is still a concern for the Rams, but those three guards, Indiana transfer Stanford Robinson and frontcourt studs Kuran Iverson and Hassan Martin should make for a six-man rotation that is tough to beat.

    Stock Down: Miami Hurricanes (Dropped Six Lines)

    Miami has a strong recruiting class headlined by Dewan Huell and Bruce Brown, but the Hurricanes lose an awful lot this offseason between Sheldon McClellan, Angel Rodriguez, Tonye Jekiri and Ivan Cruz Uceda. Unless San Jose State transfer Rashad Muhammad has a monster season, they could be taking a bit of a step backward this year.

    Stock Steady: Baylor Bears (No Change)

    Replacing Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers and Lester Medford will be no easy task, but adding Miami transfer Manu Lecomte and JUCO transfer Jo Acuil is a great place to start. Look for King McClure and Terry Maston to take on bigger roles this season for a Baylor team that could flirt with a second-place finish in the Big 12.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    With Grayson Allen back for another year, Duke should be the team to beat.
    With Grayson Allen back for another year, Duke should be the team to beat.Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    No. 4 Villanova Wildcats

    Though Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins have both declared for the NBA draft, we're assuming they'll be back for one more season. If that holds true, the defending national champions are only losing Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu while gaining Tim Delaney (redshirt freshman), Eric Paschall (Fordham transfer) and Omari Spellman (5-star freshman center).

    If either Spellman or Delaney is able to hit the ground running, Villanova could be even better than it was this past season.

    No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks

    Because Josh Jackson announced (No. 1 overall recruit) on Monday night, the Jayhawks took one giant step toward a 13th consecutive Big 12 title. Even though Kansas lost three seniors (Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor and Hunter Mickelson) and three underclassmen (Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene and Cheick Diallo), coach Bill Self still has one heck of a rotation to play with.

    Expect a starting five of Frank Mason, Devonte' Graham, Jackson, Carlton Bragg and Landen Lucas with Svi Mykhailiuk and Udoka Azubuike coming off the bench for important minutes. Don't sleep on Ole Miss transfer Dwight Coleby or sophomore guard Lagerald Vick as key contributors, either.

    No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats

    Per usual at this point in the offseason, we're still not sure what Kentucky's roster is going to look like. What we do know is that coach John Calipari has (at least) five 5-star guys coming in. If Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis and Marcus Lee all stay for one more season, the Wildcats might be deep enough and talented enough to flirt with perfection in what looks to be a brutally weak SEC.

    No. 1 Duke Blue Devils

    Javin DeLaurier is rated as the 43rd-best incoming freshman in the country, yet he's the ninth-best player on Duke's roster, at best. Even with Derryck Thornton transferring out of the program, this team is drenched in talent at all five positions. One year removed from incessant talk of parity and a lack of elite teams, it would be a surprise if the Blue Devils enter the NCAA tournament with more than four losses.

Seeding by Conference

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    Could the ACC send 10 teams to the tournament?
    Could the ACC send 10 teams to the tournament?Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    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. ("First Eight Out" in italics.)

    American: 21. Connecticut; 33. SMU; 38. Cincinnati; 69. Houston

    Atlantic 10: 22. Dayton; 24. Rhode Island; 37. VCU; 76. Davidson

    ACC: 1. Duke; 6. Virginia; 7. North Carolina; 11. Louisville; 28. Florida State; 30. Syracuse; 35. Miami; 40. Virginia Tech; 41. Notre Dame; 46. NC State

    Big 12: 3. Kansas; 17. Oklahoma; 18. West Virginia; 20. Baylor; 25. Texas; 34. Iowa State; 44. Texas Tech

    Big East: 4. Villanova; 10. Xavier; 14. Seton Hall; 23. Butler; 42. Georgetown; 74. Creighton

    Big Ten: 5. Michigan State; 9. Wisconsin; 12. Indiana; 27. Purdue; 31. Ohio State; 32. Iowa; 36. Michigan; 45. Maryland

    Pac-12: 8. Oregon; 13. Arizona; 15. UCLA; 19. USC; 43. Washington; 73. Utah; 75. Colorado

    SEC: 2. Kentucky; 29. Texas A&M; 70. Mississippi State; 71. Florida; 72. Vanderbilt

    West Coast: 16. Gonzaga; 26. Saint Mary's

    Other: 39. Wichita State; 47. San Diego State; 48. Monmouth; 49. Princeton; 50. Ohio; 51. UNC-Asheville; 52. UNC-Wilmington; 53. UAB; 54. Valparaiso; 55. Lehigh; 56. Texas-Arlington; 57. Long Beach State; 58. Belmont; 59. Florida Gulf Coast; 60. Stephen F. Austin; 61. New Mexico State; 62. Mercer; 63. Fairleigh Dickinson; 64. North Dakota State; 65. North Dakota; 66. Jackson State; 67. New Hampshire; 68. South Carolina State

    Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com 

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

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