2018 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68
With just six weeks remaining until Selection Sunday, the Virginia Cavaliers and the Villanova Wildcats are in a heated battle for the No. 1 overall seed in the 2018 men's NCAA tournament. Purdue and Kansas are also sitting pretty on the top line in our latest projection of the field.
In a sport where we spend so much time talking about freshmen, you might be interested to know that the only freshmen who rank in the top five in scoring on those teams are Virginia's redshirt freshman De'Andre Hunter (8.1 PPG) and Villanova's redshirt freshman Omari Spellman (10.5 PPG). Experience may be the name of the game this March.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the SEC is all over the bubble with two of the last five teams in the projected field and three others worth considering.
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: South Carolina Gamecocks
13-8, RPI: 53, KP: 71, SOS: 37
South Carolina let a huge opportunity slip away this weekend. The Gamecocks led Texas Tech, 61-57, with less than four minutes remaining, but they were outscored 13-2 the rest of the way. Win that game and they would be comfortably in the field. But despite that loss, South Carolina still sneaks into this week's projection, due to the road win over Florida on Wednesday. It was the team's third Group 1 win in a span of 12 days.
Second-to-Last: Marquette Golden Eagles
13-8, RPI: 45, KP: 42, SOS: 18
Marquette put up quite the fight at home against Villanova, but the Golden Eagles were unable to knock off the No. 1 team in the country. Coupled with a loss to Xavier on Wednesday, they are now 0-4 against the Big East's top two teams. The good news is that means the schedule lightens up a bit going forward, but they might need to go 6-3 the rest of the way to remain in the projected field.
Third-to-Last: Kansas State Wildcats
16-5, RPI: 54, KP: 34, SOS: 108
By defeating Georgia in the SEC/B12 Challenge, Kansas State finally picked up a nonconference RPI top-100 win. The Wildcats still have an awful nonconference SOS (322), but that means one less game they need to win in the Big 12 gauntlet. Although, they've been faring quite well on that journey. Kansas State has won five of its last six games and came two points away from a road win over Kansas in the lone loss during that stretch.
Fourth-to-Last: Houston Cougars
16-4, RPI: 48, KP: 38, SOS: 139
Houston remains the biggest conundrum on the bubble. The Cougars have great home wins over Arkansas and Wichita State, as well as a solid neutral-court win over Providence. But they also have a hideous neutral-court loss to Drexel and a pair of not-so-great road losses to LSU and Tulane. It's probably an acceptable balance for now, but Houston seems like a team that could miss the Big Dance with a first-round loss in the AAC tournament or one that could be a No. 8 seed by winning it.
Fifth-to-Last: Missouri Tigers
13-8, RPI: 47, KP: 49, SOS: 15
Most of the teams in this section are surging, but Missouri is falling to pieces. The Tigers were a projected No. 7 seed at the beginning of the month, but a 3-5 record in January puts them in a tough spot. (It doesn't help matters that their best nonconference wins against UCF, St. John's and Iowa State have lost a ton of value in the past four weeks, too.)
There has been no definitive word on whether Michael Porter Jr. will eventually make a comeback, but if he does, it better be soon. Missouri's next three games are at Alabama, vs. Kentucky and at Ole Miss, which could just about knock the Tigers out of the tournament picture for good.
First 5 Out
First Team Out: Virginia Tech Hokies
15-6, RPI: 72, KP: 40, SOS: 111
Good luck finding a team that had a better week than Virginia Tech. The Hokies won a home game against North Carolina before scoring a road win over Notre Dame. In one fell swoop, they picked up arguably their two best wins of the season and came out of nowhere to land smack-dab on the bubble.
Also, good luck finding a team with more opportunities to come than Virginia Tech. Seven of VT's remaining 10 games are against teams currently in the RPI top 20: a road game against Virginia, home games against Clemson and Louisville and two games each against Duke and Miami. The Hokies have played their way into the conversation. Time to find out if they can stay there.
Second Team Out: SMU Mustangs
15-7, RPI: 60, KP: 44, SOS: 63
SMU has been doing the bubble do-si-do all season long. The Mustangs bookended their marquee nonconference win (Arizona) with their two worst nonconference losses (Northern Iowa and Western Kentucky). And then in January, they had bad losses to Tulane and Temple, followed by a great road win over Wichita State and an awful loss to Connecticut. Upcoming home games against Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston will determine whether this team belongs. For now, though, it doesn't.
Third Team Out: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
15-6, RPI: 41, KP: 46, SOS: 35
Western Kentucky just keeps hanging around, thanks to the neutral-court wins over Purdue and SMU in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Hilltoppers do have three Group 3 losses, though, and their RPI and SOS numbers are about to take a turn for the worse. Each of their next seven games is against a team outside the RPI top 200, including four opponents outside the top 300. But if they were to win out before losing to MTSU in the C-USA Championship Game, they'd be in good shape.
Fourth Team Out: Boise State Broncos
18-4, RPI: 43, KP: 50, SOS: 124
Need proof that Western Kentucky's case will get worse because of those games? Boise State was in the projected field seven days ago with a resume of RPI: 32, KP: 48, SOS: 103. Two wins against San Jose State (RPI: 298) and Air Force (RPI: 243) later, and the Broncos are on the wrong side of the cut line with a worse resume. The good news is that seven of their remaining eight games are against the RPI top 175, so those numbers should bounce back a bit, provided they go at least 7-1 down the stretch.
Fifth Team Out: Washington Huskies
15-6, RPI: 50, KP: 99, SOS: 56
With road wins over Kansas, USC and Colorado, Washington has put together a better resume than anyone would have guessed before the season began. But the Huskies have also been absolutely destroyed by Gonzaga, UCLA and Virginia Tech and have had a few too many close calls against bad teams, which keeps their KenPom rank from matching up with RPI.
This is the big week for Washington: home games against Arizona and Arizona State. Winning one of those games would probably push the Huskies into the projected field. Losing both would leave them on the outside looking in without any chances left in the regular season to make a statement.
On the Horizon
Maryland Terrapins (15-8, RPI: 52, KP: 39, SOS: 59)
Nebraska Cornhuskers (16-8, RPI: 65, KP: 60, SOS: 87)
The Big Ten is almost cemented as a four-bid league, but these two teams might still have a say in the matter. Maryland has a decent overall resume (if you don't look closely at the complete lack of quality wins), and Nebraska is currently in fourth place in the league with a 7-4 record.
Utah Utes (13-8, RPI: 49, KP: 66, SOS: 38)
UCLA Bruins (15-7, RPI: 66, KP: 57, SOS: 77)
Each of these Pac-12 teams has one impressive win away from home—Utah won at Arizona State this week; UCLA beat Kentucky in New Orleans in late December. But aside from that, what good have they done? That is UCLA's only win against a projected tournament team, and Utah's only other win was a home game against a Missouri team that is one loss away from falling out of the projected field. The Utes and Bruins are close enough to mention here, but they each need to add at least one or two more quality wins.
Georgia Bulldogs (12-8, RPI: 61, KP: 70, SOS: 51)
LSU Tigers (12-8, RPI: 81, KP: 64, SOS: 55)
Mississippi State Bulldogs (15-6, RPI: 70, KP: 72, SOS: 97)
The SEC already has nine teams in the projected field, and these three aren't that far removed from the conversation. Georgia hosts Florida on Tuesday. LSU and Mississippi State play at Tennessee and South Carolina, respectively, on Wednesday. So, by Thursday morning, all three of these teams could be right there on the bubble. Best of luck projecting what will happen in this conference tournament, but it's going to have major NCAA tournament ramifications.
St. Bonaventure Bonnies (14-6, RPI: 51, KP: 78, SOS: 84)
With five nonconference wins against the RPI top 80, St. Bonaventure is still in the running for a bid. However, the Bonnies cannot afford any more slip-ups in A-10 play. Even a home loss to Rhode Island or a road loss to VCU might put them in "Auto Bid or Bust" territory.
BYU Cougars (18-5, RPI: 69, KP: 52, SOS: 153)
BYU isn't actually that close to the field today, but it does still play two games against Gonzaga. If the Cougars go 7-1 the rest of the way to get to 25-6 with wins over Gonzaga and Utah, they'll at least enter the WCC tournament with a slim chance to dance.
East Region (Boston)
No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 16 North Carolina A&T / Texas Southern
No. 8 TCU vs. No. 9 Michigan
San Diego, California
No. 4 Texas Tech vs. No. 13 East Tennessee State
No. 5 Louisville vs. No. 12 Louisiana
No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 14 UC Santa Barbara
No. 6 Seton Hall vs. No. 11 Houston / Kansas State
No. 2 Cincinnati vs. No. 15 Bucknell
No. 7 Creighton vs. No. 10 North Carolina State
Moving Up: North Carolina State Wolfpack (New to the Field)
15-7, RPI: 62, KP: 62, SOS: 64
From a bird's eye view, NC State's resume isn't very impressive. How is a team that isn't in the top 60 in RPI, KP or SOS supposed to be one of the 36 best at-large candidates?
Take a look at the schedule, though, and the question changes to: How could the selection committee possibly omit this team? NC State has home wins over Duke and Clemson, a neutral-court win over Arizona and it got its best win of the season this weekend.
The Wolfpack were already on our radar seven days ago as one of the first few teams out of the field, and they jumped straight past the "Last 5 In" to a No. 10 seed after road wins over Pittsburgh and North Carolina. Obviously, the win over the Tar Heels was more impressive than the one against the Panthers, but the Wolfpack entered the week with just one win away from home all season, making it worth mentioning.
Yes, there were a couple of unflattering losses to UNC Greensboro and Northern Iowa, but the balance of quality wins to bad losses has clearly tipped in this team's favor over the past few weeks.
There is still work to be done. The Wolfpack are currently 5-4 in ACC play and likely need to finish 9-9 or better. Per KenPom, every remaining game on their schedule is projected to be decided by six points or fewer. We'll see how many of those coin flips land favorably for them, but at least they're now playing to remain in the field as opposed to trying to earn a spot in it.
Moving Down: TCU Horned Frogs (↓ Seven Spots)
15-6, RPI: 24, KP: 26, SOS: 17
It's not easy to win a game against West Virginia and still drop nearly two full seed lines in a week, but TCU found a way.
Losing at Vanderbilt in the SEC/B12 Challenge was, by far, the worst loss the Horned Frogs have suffered this season.
They are now 3-6 in their last nine games. Meanwhile, their quality nonconference wins over Nevada, SMU and St. Bonaventure have lost some value, causing them to slip closer to the bubble.
TCU still plays two games against Texas Tech, as well as road games against Kansas and West Virginia. Regardless of how the other six remaining games go, an 0-4 record in those tests would result in serious questions whether this team belongs in the tournament.
Midwest Region (Omaha)
No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 16 Princeton / UNC Asheville
No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 9 Texas
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 Loyola Chicago
No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Buffalo
San Diego, California
No. 3 Arizona vs. No. 14 Belmont
No. 6 Wichita State vs. No. 11 Missouri
Charlotte, North Carolina
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Wright State
No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 10 Alabama
Moving Up: Arkansas Razorbacks (↑ Eight Spots)
15-6, RPI: 22, KP: 47, SOS: 24
Arkansas hasn't exactly been flexing its muscles, but it is winning games, which is what really matters.
In the past seven days, the Razorbacks won at Georgia in double overtime—their first road win of the season—and eked out a one-point home win over Oklahoma State.
Fun stat: Arkansas is 4-1 in its last five games, but it has been outscored by five points during that stretch, losing by 15 to Florida and beating Missouri, Ole Miss, Georgia and Oklahoma State by a combined margin of 10 points. As a result, Arkansas has actually dropped 12 spots in the KenPom rankings during that time.
If the Hogs can protect home court the rest of the way, it would mean wins over Auburn, Kentucky and Texas A&M. Even if they don't win another game away from home, that might be enough for an invite to the Big Dance, given the previous quality wins over Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Moving Down: Nevada Wolf Pack (↓ Eight Spots)
18-4, RPI: 15, KP: 18, SOS: 52
Playing at Wyoming has long been regarded as one of the toughest trips in the nation. It's not because of the raucous home crowd, but rather because of the elevation and the treacherous journey to get there. Plenty of good teams have taken a loss in Laramie to a Cowboys team they would almost certainly defeat on a neutral court.
So, no, we're not concerned about Nevada falling in double overtime at Wyoming.
However, it was the only game the Wolf Pack played this week, and they had to be punished a little bit for it.
Despite only one Group 1 win this year—a home game against Rhode Island on the fourth day of the regular season—Nevada remains in excellent shape for an at-large bid. The loss to the Cowboys does remove a significant amount of cushion, though. The Wolf Pack get two mulligans in Mountain West Conference play before we start to worry about them falling onto the bubble, and that was one of them.
South Region (Atlanta)
Charlotte, North Carolina
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Stephen F. Austin
No. 8 Arizona State vs. No. 9 Texas A&M
No. 4 Rhode Island vs. No. 13 South Dakota State
No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 12 Marquette / South Carolina
No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 Montana
No. 6 Florida vs. No. 11 Syracuse
No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 15 Rider
No. 7 Florida State vs. No. 10 Providence
Moving Up: Florida State Seminoles (↑ 11 Spots)
16-5, RPI: 31, KP: 19, SOS: 61
One week ago, Florida State was 2-4 in Group 1 games. Now, the Seminoles are 5-4 in that category.
How does that happen in a week where one of their two games was at home against Georgia Tech?
Simple: Both Syracuse and Virginia Tech jumped enough spots in the RPI rankings for those previous victories to suddenly look even better.
But the real reason Florida State surged a fair amount in this week's projected bracket was the home win over Miami. The 'Noles needed overtime to get the job done, but six guys scored at least 13 points while they somehow withstood Miami shooting 17-of-34 from three-point range to secure one of their best wins of the season.
The schedule makers did Florida State no favors early in ACC play, forcing this team to host North Carolina and Louisville and travel to Duke and Miami in its first four games. Since going 1-3 against that impossible slate, the Seminoles have won four out of five games to get back into great shape.
As long as they handle their business against inferior competition the rest of the way, they'll get to at least 10 ACC wins and a second straight NCAA tournament.
Moving Down: West Virginia Mountaineers (↓ 11 Spots)
16-5, RPI: 33, KP: 15, SOS: 45
A little over two weeks ago, West Virginia was 15-1 and in great position for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Since then, the Mountaineers are 1-4 and have plummeted out of that conversation altogether.
Not one of the losses was bad, nor were any of them by a large margin. Taken as a whole, though, it's a bunch of missed opportunities and a net negative.
The two losses this week to TCU and Kentucky were troubling, even though they both came by a single-digit spread.
TCU was playing just its third game without starting point guard Jaylen Fisher, which is usually a recipe for disaster against Press Virginia. Instead, Alex Robinson and Kenrich Williams paced the Horned Frogs beautifully en route to victory. And West Virginia led by as many as 17 points against Kentucky before Jevon Carter went ice cold and Kevin Knox got hotter than the sun in leading the Wildcats to a comeback win.
The Mountaineers should get back on track this week against Iowa State and Kansas State, but they no longer feel like a serious threat to reach the Final Four.
West Region (Los Angeles)
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Wagner
No. 8 Butler vs. No. 9 Gonzaga
No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 13 Vermont
No. 5 Saint Mary's vs. No. 12 New Mexico State
No. 3 North Carolina vs. No. 14 Northeastern
No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 USC
No. 2 Xavier vs. No. 15 Lipscomb
No. 7 Miami vs. No. 10 Middle Tennessee
Moving Up: Kentucky Wildcats (↑ 11 Spots)
16-5, RPI: 12, KP: 25, SOS: 5
Remember one week ago when Kentucky lost back-to-back games against South Carolina and Florida, and we started wondering if the Wildcats might be headed for some bubble trouble?
Following Saturday night's road win over West Virginia, that's no longer a possibility worth considering.
Kevin Knox was the star of the show, smashing his old career high with 34 points against the Mountaineers. Combined with his performance against Mississippi State four days earlier, Knox shot 9-of-12 from three-point range for the week. If this is the start of him consistently serving as the go-to guy for the Wildcats, they'll be a much bigger threat to win it all.
If someone else answers the call to be a reliable second fiddle, even better. Hamidou Diallo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PJ Washington and Nick Richards each had one good game this week and one not-so-good game. This makes it impossible to know what Kentucky is going to do from one night to the next, but it does feel like this team is about to go on one heck of a run.
Moving Down: Ohio State Buckeyes (↓ Eight Spots)
18-5, RPI: 21, KP: 14, SOS: 32
After winning 13 out of 14 games, Ohio State came back to earth a bit with a home loss to Penn State.
From an eye-test perspective, it wasn't a bad loss. Penn State has more pro talent than arguably every Big Ten team except for Michigan State. The Nittany Lions just haven't been able to piece it together on most nights. But they shot 11-of-14 from three-point range and simply outscored the Buckeyes in a high-efficiency battle.
From a resume perspective, though, this was ugly. It was a home loss to a team which is still outside the RPI top 100. And it was a bad loss for a team that only has one Group 1 win thus far this season.
I've been saying for a while that it wouldn't take much for Ohio State's resume to lose a lot of its luster, given its dearth of quality wins in nonconference play. If the Buckeyes were to lose another home game to either Indiana or Illinois this week, don't be surprised if they drop another two or three seed lines.
Ranking the No. 1 Seeds
No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks
17-4, RPI: 7, KP: 9, SOS: 2
Despite a road loss to Oklahoma this week, Kansas maintains its spot on the top line, thanks in large part to Duke losing to Virginia.
Really, though, it's because the Jayhawks have a 6-2 record against Group 1, 11-4 against Groups 1 and 2 and a 7-1 record away from home. That ridiculous strength of schedule allows them to lose the occasional game to a quality opponent and still look like one of the four best teams in the country.
Moreover, they bounced back nicely from the loss to the Sooners with an 11-point win over Texas A&M. Per usual, the Jayhawks were lethal from three-point range, shooting 12-of-26 as a team. Depth will always be a serious concern for this team, but there aren't many opponents who can keep pace with this offense.
No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers
21-2, RPI: 8, KP: 3, SOS: 42
It has been nearly three months, and it's still baffling that Purdue is this good after losing Caleb Swanigan. Aside from reserve center and redshirt freshman Matt Haarms, it's not like the Boilermakers added much of anything to the roster. They just subtracted Swanigan and became one of the favorites to win the national championship. Fascinating stuff.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that Purdue is better because it got rid of Swanigan. That'd be silly. He was one of the most valuable players in the nation last season. That version of the Boilermakers probably would have lost 20 games if you were to simply remove him from the roster.
Rather, the reason Purdue has become so difficult to beat is because it has four seniors in the starting lineup, and the sophomore in the quintet (Carsen Edwards) is arguably the most improved player in all of college basketball. It doesn't hurt matters that the one noteworthy addition (Haarms) is a shot-blocking machine. It's just strange that the Boilermakers lost such a crucial component and improved considerably.
Roster marveling aside, Purdue has now won 17 consecutive games—a streak that began in November with a 25-point victory over Arizona and one that continued this week with hard-fought wins over Michigan and Indiana. That should extend to 19 this week at home against Maryland and on the road against Rutgers, prior to back-to-back can't-miss showdowns with Ohio State and Michigan State.
No. 2 Villanova Wildcats
20-1, RPI: 2, KP: 1, SOS: 39
Villanova was put to the test at Marquette on Sunday afternoon, but the Wildcats survived 85-82.
It was their fourth true road win in a span of 16 days, which is more than most teams have in the entire season. It was also their first game without Phil Booth, who is out indefinitely with a broken hand. Good thing Villanova already had a sixth starter in Donte DiVincenzo, who put up 23 points in Booth's absence.
After all those road games, Villanova now gets four in a row at home against Creighton, Seton Hall, St. John's and Butler, which should get Jay Wright's bunch to 24-1 in mid-February.
No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers
20-1, RPI: 1, KP: 2, SOS: 22
What a week for the Cavaliers. Not only did they annihilate Clemson by a 25-point margin, but they went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and picked up a massive road win over Duke.
Seven days ago, I dropped Virginia to the No. 2 line due to a lack of quality wins. It was 2-1 against Group 1 with a home win over North Carolina and a neutral-court win over Rhode Island. But—just like Florida State—Virginia "added" two Group 1 wins this week when previous victories over Syracuse and Virginia Tech improved in value. Factor in the recent wins over Clemson and Duke, and the Wahoos are suddenly 6-1 vs. Group 1.
Virginia is also now the runaway favorite to win the ACC. It is 9-0 in conference play, and Louisville (6-2) is the only other team with fewer than three losses. And with Virginia hosting the Cardinals on Wednesday, it could all but officially wrap up an outright conference title in a few days.
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.
24. Wichita State
12. North Carolina
28. Florida State
40. North Carolina State
69. Virginia Tech
14. Texas Tech
19. West Virginia
45. Kansas State
23. Seton Hall
17. Michigan State
21. Ohio State
39. Middle Tennessee
71. Western Kentucky
72. Boise State
29. Arizona State
35. Texas A&M
47. South Carolina
18. Saint Mary's
16. Rhode Island
39. Middle Tennessee
49. New Mexico State
51. Loyola Chicago
52. East Tennessee State
54. South Dakota State
57. UC Santa Barbara
59. Wright State
63. Stephen F. Austin
66. UNC Asheville
67. North Carolina A&T
68. Texas Southern
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.