Preseason Projection of the 2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystNovember 1, 2016

Preseason Projection of the 2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket

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    Frank Jackson could be the key to keeping Duke at No. 1 all season long.
    Frank Jackson could be the key to keeping Duke at No. 1 all season long.Lance King/Getty Images

    Duke opens the 2016-17 men's college basketball season as the projected No. 1 overall seed, joined on that top line by Kansas, Kentucky and Villanova.

    It has been nearly five full months since our last projection of the tournament field, and frankly, not a whole lot has changed.

    A few noteworthy teams have gotten weaker due to injuries, suspensions or unfavorable rulings from the NCAA clearinghouse. Syracuse got considerably stronger with the addition of graduate transfer Andrew White III. But there weren't many significant developments from the beginning of June through the beginning of November.

    For the most part, movement was minimal and primarily due to slight changes in perception as a result of an additional 150 days of looking through rosters and stats.

    Rest assured, it will take less than one week of regular-season action to completely flip this projected bracket on its head. Until that time comes, though, these are the 68 teams most likely to go dancing in March.

Last 5 In

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    Derrick Walton Jr. (10) and Zak Irvin (21)
    Derrick Walton Jr. (10) and Zak Irvin (21)Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Last Team In: Washington Huskies

    When in doubt, go with the team that has the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. That theory didn't work out so well last year for LSU and Ben Simmons, but perhaps Markelle Fultz can steer the Huskies to a better fate.

    Second-to-Last: Michigan Wolverines

    The Wolverines lost a bunch of transfers, but the primary six guys from last season are back. Zak Irvin never quite looked right last season after recovering from back surgery. He should be the star if fully healthy this year.

    Third-to-Last: Miami Hurricanes

    This is a much younger team than we're used to seeing under Jim Larranaga, but the 'Canes have three huge additions in San Jose State transfer Rashad Muhammad and freshmen Bruce Brown and Dewan Huell. If they can also get a bit of a breakout year from sophomore Anthony Lawrence Jr., they'll be in business in a deep ACC.

    Fourth-to-Last: SMU Mustangs

    One of the few major developments since our last bracket projection was Larry Brown leaving SMU in early July. Tim Jankovich is a capable replacement for Brown; however, it suddenly feels like this team is in more of a rebuilding situation than originally thought. Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye might be exactly the missing piece they need, but the Mustangs have a lot to prove.

    Fifth-to-Last: Seton Hall Pirates

    Isaiah Whitehead is a massive loss, but Wake Forest transfer Madison Jones and Kansas State transfer Jevon Thomas should help soften the blow as Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo transition into their junior year.

First 5 Out

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    Matthew Fisher-Davis
    Matthew Fisher-DavisRick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    First Team Out: Vanderbilt Commodores

    Vanderbilt just barely got in last March, lost leading scorers Wade Baldwin IV and Damian Jones as early entrants to the NBA draft, changed coaches and didn't add much more than a mid-4-star freshman power forward. If you're not buying stock in the Commodores, you have good reasons. But Luke Kornet, Matthew Fisher-Davis and Riley LaChance should be key veteran leaders as Joe Toye, Camron Justice and Nolan Cressler shine in expanded roles. 

    Second and Third Team Out: Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Pittsburgh Panthers

    Just how many teams is the ACC going to send to the 2017 NCAA tournament? There are already 10 in the projected field, with Notre Dame and Pittsburgh only missing the cut because, come on, there can't be 12 ACC teams, right?

    According to KenPom.com's preseason rankings, the ACC has four of the top nine teams in the country, seven of the top 25, 10 of the top 40 and 12 of the top 51. It's going to be one heck of a gauntlet that leaves a couple of deserving teams on the outside looking in.

    Fourth Team Out: Marquette Golden Eagles

    The Big East should be good, but is it "send 70 percent of teams to the NCAA tournament" good? Even the Big 12 was struggling to send seven teams in recent years, and it was arguably the best conference in the country for the past few seasons. Like Notre Dame and Pitt in the ACC, Marquette is a good team that may fall on the wrong side of the cut line in a strong league. 

    Fifth Team Out: Arkansas Razorbacks

    The Razorbacks might as well go by the "Arkansas JUCO transfers" this year, as new additions Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon and Arlando Cook will dictate how well this team does. If they work out as well as former JUCO transfer Jabril Durham did, y'all better watch out for Arkansas.

Just Missed the Cut

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    Can Kyle Kuzma become the star for Utah?
    Can Kyle Kuzma become the star for Utah?Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    In no particular order, here are 10 other teams right on the cusp of the field.

    Colorado, Stanford, USC and Utah

    The middling tiers of the Pac-12 were the biggest conundrum of our preseason projections. Arizona, Oregon and UCLA should rank among the 16 best teams in the country. Washington State most certainly will not. But everything in between is up for grabs.

    We've got California and Washington in with these four teams just barely out, but that's how the deck happened to be shuffled today. Heck, given how well this conference did in the RPI last year, even Arizona State and Oregon State could get in the mix, too.

    Davidson and La Salle

    The Atlantic 10 has three teams somewhat comfortably in the field in Rhode Island, Dayton and VCU. Of the other 11 teams in the conference, Davidson and La Salle are the only ones that stand out as potential tournament teams. But if that's all the A-10 has, is it deep enough to send that many teams?

    La Salle has marquee nonconference games against Georgetown and Villanova. Davidson draws Kansas, North Carolina, Clemson and possibly Xavier and/or Oklahoma in the Tire Pros Invitational. The Explorers and Wildcats should at least have strong enough SOS numbers. Whether they can score enough quality wins in the process remains to be seen.

    Texas Tech Red Raiders

    New head coach Chris Beard went out and grabbed a couple of JUCO studs to replace the starting backcourt that graduated after last season. If Shadell Millinghaus and Niem Stevenson pan outalong with DePaul transfer Tommy Hamilton IV and Arkansas State transfer Anthony Livingstonthis could be one of the best teams the Red Raiders have ever assembled.

    BYU Cougars

    Getting Eric Mika and TJ Haws back from their LDS missions is great, but replacing Kyle Collinsworth and Chase Fischer will be a challenge. Besides, it just wouldn't be right if BYU didn't start the season on the bubble, since it always seems to be there.

    Iowa Hawkeyes

    Iowa has surprised us in recent years, continuing to win with unexpected breakout stars. Maybe the Hawkeyes can do it again, but they lost an awful lot to graduation.

    Georgia Bulldogs

    J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten are the best inside-outside duo in the country that no one talks about. What else does this team have after losing Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann, though? Newcomers Pape Diatta and Tyree Crump may need to make a major impact for the Bulldogs to get back to the NCAA tournament.

East Region (New York City)

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    Nigel Hayes and Wisconsin are the top challengers to Duke in the East Region.
    Nigel Hayes and Wisconsin are the top challengers to Duke in the East Region.Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    Greenville, South Carolina

    No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Lehigh

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

    Salt Lake City

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

    No. 5 Texas vs. No. 12 Monmouth

    Tulsa, Oklahoma

    No. 3 Arizona vs. No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast

    No. 6 Saint Mary's vs. No. 11 Seton Hall

    Milwaukee

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

    No. 7 Virginia Tech vs. No. 10 Dayton

    Commentary

    Apologies to Duke fans for matching the Blue Devils up with Lehighaka the No. 15 seed that beat them in 2012but you've had seven months to bask in the glory of reading about how great this team is going to be. And, rest assured, if Robert Morris was projected to make the tournament as a No. 16 seed, we'd have Bobby Mo lined up against Kentucky, so don't take it personal. Just a little bit of fun.

    One bizarre wrinkle in this region was Arizona and UCLA both ending up in the East. If you're wondering how in the world that happened, here's a glimpse into the ripple effect of trying to build a bracket with four Top 16 teams from not one, but two conferences.

    With Duke at No. 1 in the East, neither North Carolina nor Virginia could be the No. 2 in this region, and Oregon would obviously prefer to be out West, leaving Wisconsin as the only option. The Badgers would no doubt love to repay the Blue Devils for beating them in the 2015 national championship game, provided both teams could get by the Pac-12 foes blocking their paths. But let's get back to the ripple effect.

    Now that we have both a Big Ten and an ACC team in the East Region, Arizona was the only possible choice for the No. 3 seed, as Indiana, Louisville and Purdue cannot go here. In fact, Louisville was required to go out West because of the rule stating that the first four teams from a conferenceif all ranked in the Top 16must all go in different regions. That same rule necessitated that we put Michigan State as the No. 4 seed in the West Region, which eventually left only the East No. 4 open for No. 16 UCLA.

    That's important information to keep in mind as the season progresses. If the ACC and Big Ten are as good as advertised, it could be a messy year of bracketology.

    In unrelated news, shoutout to Virginia Tech as a No. 7 seed. The Hokies have only been to the NCAA tournament eight times in school history and haven't reached the Sweet 16 since 1967when there were only 23 teams in the field. With just about everyone returning from last year's 20-15 team, they are this year's sleeper team that everyone is already looking forward to watching.

South Region (Memphis)

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    London Perrantes (32) and Devon Hall (0)
    London Perrantes (32) and Devon Hall (0)Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Indianapolis

    No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 16 New Mexico State

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

    Orlando, Florida

    No. 4 Xavier vs. No. 13 Chattanooga

    No. 5 Syracuse vs. No. 12 Michigan/Washington

    Indianapolis

    No. 3 Indiana vs. No. 14 Ohio

    No. 6 Rhode Island vs. No. 11 SMU/Miami

    Buffalo, New York

    No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 15 Winthrop

    No. 7 Cincinnati vs. No. 10 California

    Commentary

    How much fun would an Indiana vs. Virginia Sweet 16 matchup be? The matchmakers for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge have stubbornly refused to give us a battle between the incredibly efficient offense and the annually impenetrable defense, but perhaps the selection committee would be so kind.

    Syracuse was by far the biggest riser since our June projection. The Orange were among our first five out, but landing Nebraska graduate transfer White was exactly what the doctor ordered.

    Tyus Battle should be an outstanding player, but banking on him as the starting shooting guard was a bit much for us. Now that he can be a key, versatile reserve while White handles the first-team duties, the Orange have a group that can vie for the ACC crown.

    Elsewhere, we're not nearly as high on Ohio State as Ken Pomeroy is. The Buckeyes are our fifth team out of the Big Ten as a No. 9 seed, but Pomeroy has them at No. 13 overall in his preseason projections.

    It's possible. They bring back all six of their leaders in minutes played and also picked up a quality big man in freshman Derek Funderburk. But let's see if they can earn that top-four or top-five seed before putting them in the same class with Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin.

    On the flip side of that coin, we've consumed much more Rhode Island Kool-Aid than Pomeroy's metrics did. He has the Rams at No. 43, but they're No. 21 and the favorites to win the A-10 in this projection.

    Despite losing E.C. Matthews in the first game of the season, they were competitive last year. Of their 15 losses, 10 came by a margin of five points or fewer. Adding back in the 2015 Preseason A-10 Player of the Year should turn a good number of those close losses into wins.

Midwest Region (Kansas City)

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    Spencer Weisz (10)
    Spencer Weisz (10)Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Tulsa, Oklahoma

    No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Howard/Texas Southern

    No. 8 Butler vs. No. 9 Florida

    Sacramento, California

    No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 13 North Dakota State

    No. 5 North Carolina State vs. No. 12 Texas-Arlington

    Milwaukee

    No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 14 Belmont

    No. 6 Connecticut vs. No. 11 Florida State

    Greenville, South Carolina

    No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Vermont

    No. 7 West Virginia vs. No. 10 Princeton

    Commentary

    Perhaps the first thing that jumps out about the Midwest Region is the No. 10 seed.

    Even when Harvard was playing the annual role of Cinderella, it never received better than a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament. In fact, not since Princeton earned a No. 5 seed in the 1998 tourney has an Ivy League team done better than an 11.

    But Princeton is the minor-conference team to beat this year. The Tigers have averaged 20.4 wins over the past seven seasons and have an even better roster than the one that went 22-7 this past season. Nonconference games against BYU, VCU, Cal and Monmouth should demonstrate how good this team is.

    Another dangerous sleeper team in this region is Texas-Arlington. The Mavericks had early-season road wins over Ohio State and Memphis and pushed Texas to overtime, but they struggled in the second half of last season after losing star player Kevin Hervey to a torn ACL. With Hervey and just about everyone else from last year's roster back for another go, they should win a ton of games and could stretch the Sun Belt's streak of first-round upsets to three years.

    Higher up in the rankings, a No. 5 seed for NC State would be unfamiliar territory. The Wolfpack have been a No. 5 seed or better just once in the past 28 years (No. 3 seed in 2004), but the addition of Dennis Smith Jr. and Omer Yurtseven puts expectations for this team much higher than usual.

West Region (San Jose)

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    With seniors getting injured left and right, Michigan State needs these freshmen to excel immediately.
    With seniors getting injured left and right, Michigan State needs these freshmen to excel immediately.Al Goldis/Associated Press

    Buffalo, New York

    No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 16 Wagner/North Dakota

    No. 8 Maryland vs. No. 9 Oklahoma

    Salt Lake City

    No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Valparaiso

    No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 12 San Diego State

    Orlando, Florida

    No. 3 Louisville vs. No. 14 UAB

    No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 Wichita State

    Sacramento, California

    No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 15 Long Beach State

    No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 10 VCU

    Commentary

    In light of the recent news of Gavin Schilling's knee injury, it was tempting to drop Michigan State below a No. 4 seed. But with at least 27 wins in eight of the last nine seasons, it's impossible to count the Spartans out, regardless of their complete lack of frontcourt depth.

    Another team in the West Region combating a key injury is Oregon. The Ducks were our fourth No. 1 seed in June, but star player Dillon Brooks has been out for the past several months due to an injured foot that required surgery.

    There's still no given timetable for his return, which could be a significant problem given Oregon faces Baylor, Valparaiso and the Maui Invitational between now and Thanksgiving. Two or three early losses wouldn't be the end of the world, but it would make the quest for a No. 1 seed a lot tougher.

    Meanwhile, expectations for Maryland are strong in part thanks to one player's return from injury. Dion Wiley missed the entire 2015-16 season due to a torn meniscus, but he should be a key figure in a loaded backcourt.

    We're decidedly less optimistic about the Terrapins' frontcourt situation, but they do have options, including Duquesne transfer L.G. Gill and junior giant Michal Cekovsky. No one is replicating what Diamond Stone did for this team last year, but Maryland will be in good shape so long as rebounding isn't a major issue.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Frank Mason III (0) and Jalen Brunson (1) are both vying for No. 1 seeds.
    Frank Mason III (0) and Jalen Brunson (1) are both vying for No. 1 seeds.Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

    No. 4: Villanova Wildcats

    Between Omari Spellman being ruled ineligible for Villanova and the Big Ten arguably serving as the second-best conference in the country, it was tempting to put Wisconsin in this spot. However, we can't do that to the reigning national champions.

    In terms of roster construction and offensive strategy, Villanova is probably the closest thing college basketball has to the Golden State Warriors. The Wildcats don't have anyone who can hold a candle to Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, but what they do have is an affinity for the long ball and a ton of versatile players.

    They've been built like that for quite some time under Jay Wright, but it's going to be more pronounced without Daniel Ochefu around to play center. They do still have Darryl Reynolds, but he isn't a 30-minutes-per-game type of center. You're going to see guys such as Mikal Bridges and Eric Paschall playing the 5 on occasion, during which time they will attempt to run the opposition to death.

    It may take a month or two to figure out the proper rotation, but Villanova is headed for a fourth consecutive Big East title and possibly a third straight No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

    No. 3: Kentucky Wildcats

    They won't be quite as loaded as they were in 2014-15, but what's perhaps scariest about the Wildcats is how talented their bench players are going to be.

    Let's temporarily assume the starting five is going to be De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Derek Willis, Bam Adebayo and Isaac Humphries. They still have Isaiah Briscoe, Dominique Hawkins, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones as reserves. It's just unfair to the rest of the country that John Calipari can lose five or six guys every year and still have a roster this strong and deep.

    No. 2: Kansas Jayhawks

    Speaking of ridiculous depth, is Svi Mykhailiuk ever going to get a chance to make a real impact at Kansas?

    The Ukrainian import was a projected lottery pick in the summer of 2014, and he's still probably fifth on Kansas' perimeter depth chart. With Frank Mason III, Devonte' Graham and Josh Jackson as likely starters and Lagerald Vick making a big impression this offseason, Bill Self has so many great guards it's almost comical.

    Whether the Jayhawks challenge Duke for the title will depend on their big men. Landen Lucas had a great breakout second half of last season. Carlton Bragg Jr. is expected to blossom into a star at power forward. Udoka Azubuike would be the starting center for about 330 other teams. But can any of them lead quite like Perry Ellis did? If so, the sky's the limit.

    No. 1: Duke Blue Devils

    Harry Giles has been a projected top-five pick in the 2017 NBA draft since the moment people started making projections for it. When healthy, he's a certified monster who any coach would kill to have as his star player.

    After his latest knee injury, though, he might not play a single game in college, and Duke is still the runaway favorite for the 2017 national championship.

    Even if we remove Giles from the equation, Duke's primary seven-man rotation (Frank Jackson, Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum, Amile Jefferson and Marques Bolden) is better than any other group we'll see.

    There will be some losses. One of them might come in the tournament. But on paper, the Blue Devils are as good as it gets this season.

Seeding by Conference

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    De'Aaron Fox (0) and Malik Monk (5)
    De'Aaron Fox (0) and Malik Monk (5)Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

    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 Five Out" in italics.)

    American: 23. Connecticut; 27. Cincinnati; 44. SMU

    Atlantic 10: 21. Rhode Island; 37. Dayton; 39. VCU

    ACC: 1. Duke; 7. North Carolina; 8. Virginia; 11. Louisville; 17. Syracuse; 18. North Carolina State; 25. Clemson; 28. Virginia Tech; 41. Florida State; 45. Miami; 70. Notre Dame; 71. Pittsburgh

    Big 12: 2. Kansas; 19. Texas; 20. Baylor; 26. West Virginia; 31. Iowa State; 36. Oklahoma

    Big East: 4. Villanova; 13. Xavier; 24. Creighton; 32. Butler; 34. Georgetown; 42. Seton Hall; 72. Marquette

    Big Ten: 5. Wisconsin; 10. Indiana; 12. Purdue; 15. Michigan State; 29. Maryland; 35. Ohio State; 46. Michigan

    Pac-12: 6. Oregon; 9. Arizona; 16. UCLA; 38. California; 47. Washington

    SEC: 3. Kentucky; 30. Texas A&M; 33. Florida; 69. Vanderbilt; 73. Arkansas

    West Coast: 14. Gonzaga; 22. Saint Mary's

    Other: 40. Princeton; 43. Wichita State; 48. San Diego State; 49. Texas-Arlington; 50. Monmouth; 51. Chattanooga; 52. Valparaiso; 53. UNC-Wilmington; 54. North Dakota State; 55. UAB; 56. Florida Gulf Coast; 57. Ohio; 58. Belmont; 59. Long Beach State; 60. Stephen F. Austin; 61. Winthrop; 62. Vermont; 63. Lehigh; 64. New Mexico State; 65. North Dakota; 66. Wagner; 67. Texas Southern; 68. Howard

    Stats are courtesy of KenPom.com and Sports-Reference.com. Recruiting information is courtesy of Scout.

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

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