New Year Projections for the 2019 NCAA Tournament Bracket

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 3, 2019

New Year Projections for the 2019 NCAA Tournament Bracket

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    Duke's Cam Reddish (2) and Javin DeLaurier (12)
    Duke's Cam Reddish (2) and Javin DeLaurier (12)Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Duke is No. 1 in the AP poll, No. 1 in the NET rankings and No. 1 in the KenPom rankings, but are the Blue Devils the projected No. 1 overall seed for the 2019 NCAA tournament?

    You'll have to find out for yourself, but we can tell you that they are on the top seed line along with Kansas, Michigan and Virginia. At the opposite end of the spectrum, NCAA tournament regulars like Arizona, Maryland, Notre Dame and Providence are living perilously on the bubble as we dive headlong into conference play.

    For the first time this season, we're really digging into the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings. The data is still a little funky, suggesting that Houston is the fourth-best team in the country while Kansas, Nevada and Virginia Tech are outside the top 10. However, it's a lot better than it used to be, and it's improving by the day.

    In the interest of full disclosure, we will be viewing the NET rankings in the exact same light that we used to view the RPI, assuming the selection committee will do roughly the same. The only difference is we believe the metrics behind the new rating system are better. In other words, we'll still be talking about "Group" wins and comparing nitty-gritty sheets just like in previous yearsas well as incorporating predictive analytics like KenPom.

    For each of the four regions, we'll discuss one team that is in much better shape than it was in our Dec. 11 projections and one team thatthough still in position to danceisn't as good as we thought.

    Before that, we'll start with the bubble, like we always do. And after the region-by-region breakdown, there will be an explanation of why the No. 1 seeds are ranked in the order that they are. At the end is a list of overall seeds by conference as a handy reference guide.

Last 4 In

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    Arizona head coach Sean Miller
    Arizona head coach Sean MillerChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Last Team In: Arizona Wildcats

    Only two Pac-12 teams made the cut, and this one almost didn't.

    Arizona already has four losses, but at least there weren't any embarrassing missteps in that bunch. The home loss to Baylor wasn't great, but it's a whole heck of a lot more forgivable than, say, Oregon losing at home to Texas Southern or UCF losing at home to Florida Atlantic. More importantly, the Wildcats have quality wins away from home against Iowa State and Connecticut.

    They'll likely need to win at least 12 or 13 Pac-12 games to still be in the tournament picture on Selection Sunday, since there are only a couple of opportunities for noteworthy victories in that league.

               

    Second-to-Last In: Vanderbilt Commodores

    Despite losing Darius Garland to a knee injury in November, Vanderbilt has managed to tread water. Outside of losing by two points to Kent State on the night when Garland suffered the injury, there aren't any ugly losses. And the Commodores have since picked up a 16-point win over Arizona State.

    For the most part, though, they've been beating bad teams and losing to good ones. If that trend continues, they're headed for a lot of losses once SEC play begins.

              

    Third-to-Last In: Clemson Tigers

    Clemson does not yet have a Group 1 win, but it also does not yet have a loss to a team outside of that tier. It's a classic early January bubble resume. However, the Tigers will play road games against Duke, Syracuse, Florida State and North Carolina Stateplus a home game against Virginiabefore the end of January, so we should have a much better gauge of this team's tournament worthiness in the next few weeks.

                  

    Fourth-to-Last In: Maryland Terrapins

    Prior to knocking off No. 24 Nebraska at home on Wednesday night, Maryland's resume was little more than home wins over Penn State and Radford and blown opportunities against Virginia and Purdue. Watch out for this team, though. The Terps are one of the youngest teams in the country, but sophomore Bruno Fernando is a monster in the paint and this freshman class has already been special. They're only going to get better from here.

First Team Out from Each Relevant Conference

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    Notre Dame's TJ Gibbs
    Notre Dame's TJ GibbsMichael Hickey/Getty Images

    ACC: Notre Dame

    Notre Dame has three losses by a combined margin of 11 points, but those were two blown opportunities against Oklahoma and UCLA and a bad home loss to Radford. The neutral-court win over Purdue looks great, but that's the only good thing the Fighting Irish have done thus far. And with Rex Pflueger out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL, they'll need to traverse a tough ACC schedule without their veteran leader.

              

    Big 12: West Virginia

    In this case, "first team out" doesn't mean the Mountaineers are anywhere close to the projected field. But they are in slightly better shape than both Baylor and Oklahoma State, so they get the nod. Neutral-site losses to Rhode Island and Western Kentucky will be difficult to overcome.

              

    Big East: Providence

    For the second straight year, Providence has dug itself an early hole because of a bad loss to Massachusetts. The Friars rebounded with an impressive road win over Texas, but that one result isn't anywhere near enough. They'll need at least 11 Big East wins to go dancing for a sixth consecutive year.

              

    Big Ten: Northwestern

    If we were talking about horseshoes or hand grenades, Northwestern would be in great shape. The Wildcats lost by two to Indiana, fell by the same margin against Michigan and dropped an overtime game to Oklahoma. Close but no cigar. Coupled with the blowout loss to Fresno State and the dearth of Group 1 or Group 2 wins, they have a lot of work to do in what might be the best conference in the country.

              

    Pac-12: Washington

    Washington doesn't have any bad losses and it had one heck of a solid close call against Gonzaga, losing a road game to a potential No. 1 seed on a Rui Hachimura buzzer-beater. But the Huskies need to actually win a good game at some point, as they are 0-4 in Group 1 and Group 2 games.

              

    SEC: Missouri

    The Tigers have a couple of decent wins over UCF and Oregon State, but they got smoked by Iowa State and Kansas State in their only games against projected tournament teams. They'll open SEC play at home against Tennessee for what might as well already be a must-win affair.

               

    Other: Saint Louis (Atlantic 10)

    The Billikens are dreadful on offense, but they have defended their way to nice wins at Seton Hall and at home against Butler and Oregon State. They might need to go 15-3 in A-10 play, as the league only has two other teams in the NET Top 100 (VCU and Dayton). But three wins over major-conference opponents should be worth a good deal come Selection Sunday.

East Region (Washington, D.C.)

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    Oklahoma's Christian James and Brady Manek
    Oklahoma's Christian James and Brady ManekQuinn Harris/Getty Images

    Columbia, South Carolina

    No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Grambling/Morgan State

    No. 8 Creighton vs. No. 9 Purdue

          

    San Jose, California

    No. 4 Mississippi State vs. No. 13 New Mexico State

    No. 5 North Carolina vs. No. 12 Hofstra

           

    Tulsa, Oklahoma

    No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 14 Northern Kentucky

    No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 11 Clemson/Vanderbilt

           

    Tulsa, Oklahoma

    No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 15 Stony Brook

    No. 7 Cincinnati vs. No. 10 Texas

           

    Noteworthy Riser: Oklahoma Sooners (No. 6 seed to No. 2 seed)

    Oklahoma has faced one of the toughest schedules in the country. The season opener at UT Rio Grande Valley is the only Group 4 game the Sooners have playedand they certainly won't be adding to that list now that Big 12 conference play is underway.

    Not only have the Sooners faced a tough schedule, but they have thrived against it. They entered Wednesday's game against Kansas with an 11-1 record, suffering their only loss at the hands of Wisconsin. Oklahoma has more than made up for that acceptable loss with one win against each of the other major conferences, including neutral-court victories over Florida and Notre Dame.

    Since our last projection, Oklahoma has added wins over USC, Creighton and Northwestern, the latter coming on the road. They may not have a household name like Trae Young on the roster anymore, but Christian James and Co. have a remarkable resume all the same.

             

    Noteworthy Slider: Purdue Boilermakers (No. 5 seed to No. 9 seed)

    Purdue probably should have been a No. 7 seed last time. Its loss to Texas was one of the last games prior to the previous projection, and the full impact of that game didn't hit the computer metrics until it was too late.

    Either way, the Boilermakers would have slipped a couple of seed lines after the subsequent loss to Notre Dametheir fifth L of the season and the worst to date. All the predictive analytics still like this team, but five losses by mid-December with little to brag about aside from a home win over bubbly Maryland would be a tough sell to the selection committee.

    Purdue needs to turn things around in a big way in conference play, because even a 10-8 record the rest of the way might not be enough for a bid.

Midwest Region (Kansas City, Missouri)

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    Minnesota's Jordan Murphy
    Minnesota's Jordan MurphyAndy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    Columbus, Ohio

    No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 16 Weber State

    No. 8 Kansas State vs. No. 9 Seton Hall

          

    Hartford, Connecticut

    No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 Texas State

    No. 5 Houston vs. No. 12 North Texas

           

    Columbus, Ohio

    No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 14 Drake

    No. 6 Indiana vs. No. 11 Florida

           

    Salt Lake City, Utah

    No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 15 Abilene Christian

    No. 7 TCU vs. No. 10 Minnesota

           

    Noteworthy Riser: Minnesota Golden Gophers (New to the Field)

    Minnesota hasn't had any noteworthy results in the past three weeks. Home wins over North Florida, North Carolina A&T and Mount St. Mary's did nothing to move the needle. If anything, those games hurt Minnesota by putting three more Group 4 games on their resume.

    But maybe we're seeing this resume through rose-tinted lenses in light of Eric Curry's return to action. Curry missed all of 2017-18 and the first eight weeks of this season due to a nasty knee injury suffered last fall, but he made his long-awaited debut against Mount St. Mary's and should quickly become a major factor in this frontcourt rotation.

    Minnesota has a great home win over Nebraska and good neutral-court victories over Washington and Oklahoma State. Aside from a road loss to Boston College, the Gophers haven't done anything wrong, either. And they'll have one of the less arduous Big Ten schedules with two games each against Illinois and Rutgers.

                      

    Noteworthy Slider: None

    As luck would have it, there wasn't much backward sliding among the teams in this region—which almost never happens.

South Region (Louisville, Kentucky)

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    Marquette's Markus Howard
    Marquette's Markus HowardDylan Buell/Getty Images

    Columbia, South Carolina

    No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Purdue Fort Wayne

    No. 8 Villanova vs. No. 9 LSU

          

    Hartford, Connecticut

    No. 4 Nebraska vs. No. 13 UNC Greensboro

    No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 12 VCU

           

    San Jose, California

    No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 14 UC Santa Barbara

    No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Butler

           

    Jacksonville, Florida

    No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 15 Holy Cross

    No. 7 Iowa State vs. No. 10 St. John's

           

    Noteworthy Riser: Marquette Golden Eagles (No. 8 seed to No. 5 seed)

    Despite losing the Big East opener at St. John's, Marquette moved up a couple seed lines thanks to a statement win over Buffalo.

    In addition to victories over Wisconsin and Louisville, dropping 103 points on the Bulls gave the Golden Eagles three Group 1 wins. Markus Howard scored 40 points in the second half (45 overall) while Marquette shot an unconscious 18-of-29 (62.1 percent) from three-point range.

    Howard averaged 31.7 points in the month of December, as he also had 45 in a quality win over Kansas Statewhich is currently a Group 2 win but will eventually be Group 1 if the Wildcats continue to figure things out. If he keeps scoring like that, Marquette should rally from this 0-1 start to win the Big East.

                

    Noteworthy Slider: Villanova Wildcats (No. 4 seed to No. 8 seed)

    We were willing to give Villanova a mulligan for the November home loss to Furmanespecially since the Wildcats quickly made up for it with neutral-court wins over Oklahoma State and Florida State in the AdvoCare Invitational. But the subsequent mid-December loss to Penn showed that this team is a far cry from the versions that won two of the last three national championships.

    And yet, the Wildcats came out four days later and almost won a road game against Kansas in spite of shooting 8-of-28 from three-point range, so who knows what to make of Villanova?

    What we do know is this resume needs a ton of help if the Wildcats want to earn either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed for a sixth consecutive year. At a minimum, they probably need 15 Big East wins to pull it off, which is unlikely given the inconsistent offense and mediocre defense. (By Villanova standards, at any rate.)

West Region (Anaheim, California)

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    Alabama's Donta Hall
    Alabama's Donta HallRob Carr/Getty Images

    Des Moines, Iowa

    No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Niagara/St. Francis (NY)

    No. 8 Louisville vs. No. 9 Arizona State

          

    Des Moines, Iowa

    No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Yale

    No. 5 North Carolina State vs. No. 12 Belmont

           

    Jacksonville, Florida

    No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 14 Gardner Webb

    No. 6 Auburn vs. No. 11 Maryland/Arizona

           

    Salt Lake City, Utah

    No. 2 Nevada vs. No. 15 NJIT

    No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 10 Alabama

           

    Noteworthy Riser: Alabama Crimson Tide (New to the Field)

    Alabama has benefited from wins that look better now than they did at the time. Ball State and Murray State are a combined 14-2 since losing to the Crimson Tide, and Liberty scored a home win over UCLA less than two weeks after its loss to Alabama. That neutral-site victory over Liberty is currently a Group 1 win, though it's unlikely to still be that strong on Selection Sunday.

    But Alabama also had home wins over Arizona and Penn State in December, which has helped to make up for disappointing early losses to Northeastern and Georgia State.

    All told, the Crimson Tide are now 4-1 against Groups 1 and 2, which is hard to ignore in spite of their poor rankings on KenPom (No. 63) and in the NET (No. 73). They have a huge home game against Kentucky this Saturday to prove that they belong in the field.

              

    Noteworthy Slider: Auburn Tigers (No. 3 seed to No. 6 seed)

    There's no shame in either of Auburn's losses: at NC State by seven and on a neutral court against Duke by six.

    But where are the quality wins? And why did this supposed title contender have such a hard time pulling away from the likes of Xavier, Murray State and UAB?

    Those questions bumped Auburn from the bottom No. 3 seed down to the top No. 6 seed.

    Both the loss to NC State and the close calls against Murray State and UAB happened since the last projection, so Auburn's stock has slipped a bit. The Tigers are still in great shape, but they'll need to prove something in SEC play to get back in the running for a top-four seed. The good news is that with home games against Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Florida, they'll have plenty of chances to do so.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Michigan's Charles Matthews
    Michigan's Charles MatthewsCarlos Osorio/Associated Press

    4. Kansas Jayhawks

    Kansas lost to Arizona State, yet it moved up one spot thanks to the combined force of its wins over Villanova and Oklahoma, Gonzaga's loss to North Carolina and the No. 1 strength of schedule rating in the country.

    The Jayhawks started strong with neutral-court wins over Michigan State, Tennessee and Marquette, and they have yet to face a team ranked outside the KenPom Top 200. Nor will they face another opponent currently ranked outside the KenPom Top 90, so don't expect that SOS rank to go anywhere soon.

    One could reasonably argue that Nevada should be in this spot, considering the Wolf Pack beat Arizona State and have not yet lost a game this season. But if Nevada keeps on winning, it will eventually find its way to the No. 1 seed line. No need to jump the gun on that move just yet.

             

    3. Duke Blue Devils

    Duke already has neutral-site victories over Texas Tech, Kentucky and Auburn, as well as a home win over Indiana. Those four Group 1 wins put Duke in a three-way tie with Michigan and Wisconsin for the most in the country.

    Despite the one loss, the Blue Devils are ahead of undefeated Virginia and Michigan in the latest NET and KenPom rankings. Because of that, there's a strong case to be made that they should be the No. 1 overall seed.

    However, we're giving a slight edge to the teams with a zero in the loss column for the time being. After all, there will be at least two head-to-head battles with Virginia in the next six weeks to sort out that ACC pecking order.

               

    2. Virginia Cavaliers

    1. Michigan Wolverines

    Not much has changed for either of these undefeated squads. Both Michigan and Virginia waltzed through finals week and the holidays while picking up a few Group 3 and Group 4 wins.

    Defense remains the driving force for both clubs, although Virginia did pop off for 100 points in a 76-possession track meet with Marshall. It was the Cavaliers' first time hitting the century mark in a game since the 2008-09 season opener, so that's fun.

    Michigan still has the upper hand, though, because its wins over North Carolina, Purdue and Villanova are more impressive than Virginia's best wins against Wisconsin and Maryland. It should be a fun debate if both of these teams remain undefeated for a few more weeks, as three of Virginia's first five ACC games are against Florida State, Virginia Tech and Duke.

Seeding by Conference

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    Kentucky's Ashton Hagans
    Kentucky's Ashton HagansAndy Lyons/Getty Images

    In case seeded regions aren't enough 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.

    American (2): 19. Houston; 26. Cincinnati

    ACC (8): 2. Virginia; 3. Duke; 12. Florida State; 14. Virginia Tech; 17. NC State; 18. North Carolina; 32. Louisville; 44. Clemson

    Big 12 (7): 4. Kansas; 8. Oklahoma; 11. Texas Tech; 25. TCU; 27. Iowa State; 30. Kansas State; 39. Texas

    Big East (6): 20. Marquette; 29. Villanova; 31. Creighton; 34. Seton Hall; 37. St. John's; 42. Butler

    Big Ten (10): 1. Michigan; 10. Michigan State; 13. Wisconsin; 16. Nebraska; 22. Ohio State; 23. Indiana; 28. Iowa; 36. Purdue; 38. Minnesota; 43. Maryland

    Pac-12 (2): 33. Arizona State; 46. Arizona

    SEC (8): 6. Tennessee; 9. Kentucky; 15. Mississippi State; 21. Auburn; 35. LSU; 40. Alabama; 41. Florida; 45. Vanderbilt

    Other (25): 5. Nevada; 7. Gonzaga; 24. Buffalo; 47. VCU; 48. Belmont; 49. North Texas; 50. Hofstra; 51. UNC Greensboro; 52. New Mexico State; 53. Yale; 54. Texas State; 55. Drake; 56. Northern Kentucky; 57. Gardner Webb; 58. UC Santa Barbara; 59. Holy Cross; 60. Stony Brook; 61. Abilene Christian; 62. NJIT; 63. Weber State; 64. Purdue Fort Wayne; 65. St. Francis (NY); 66. Niagara; 67. Grambling; 68. Morgan State

                                      

    Advanced stats courtesy of KenPom.com. NET rankings courtesy of NCAA.com.

    Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.