2019 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68
Following a chaotic weekend in which Michigan and Virginia each suffered its first loss of the season, the race for the No. 1 seeds in the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament is tighter than ever.
Despite losing at Duke on Saturday night, Virginia has a loose grasp on the No. 1 overall seed. But the gap between No. 1 and No. 6 on the overall seed list is razor-thin.
The Big Ten is still projected to send 10 teams to the tourney. Both the ACC and Big 12 are tied for second with eight projected bids. But the Pac-12's allotment of bids has dropped from three to two and still may end up at just one.
For each of the four regions, we'll discuss one team that is in much better shape than it was in our Jan. 14 projection and one team that—though still in position to dance—isn'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
Last Team In: San Francisco Dons (15-3)
San Francisco's at-large dreams almost went up in smoke Thursday night at Pacific, but the Dons were able to escape with a one-point win—followed by a much-needed blowout of BYU late Saturday night.
By keeping the status quo, they're able to sneak into this week's projection. The resume leaves a lot to be desired, though. The Dons have a Quadrant 2 win over Saint Mary's, a Quadrant 3 loss to UC Santa Barbara and 17 other results that haven't done much to hurt or help them.
If they can go 10-1 the rest of the way, they'll be in good shape. But with road games remaining against Gonzaga, Saint Mary's, BYU and San Diego, that's going to be tough.
Second-to-Last In: Butler Bulldogs (12-7)
Butler remains in the exact same spot from one week ago. The Bulldogs held serve by winning at DePaul and beating St. John's at home, but neither of those games did much to move the needle.
The home game against Villanova on Tuesday, though? That's a huge opportunity. As is the subsequent road game against Creighton in a battle between the Big East's most bubble-y teams. If Butler goes 1-1 for the week, it'll probably be right back here again next time.
Third-to-Last In: UCF Knights (14-3)
UCF was one of our biggest risers last week, but the Knights responded by losing to Wichita State and barely winning at home against Tulsa. In the process, they dropped from No. 36 to No. 50 on KenPom.
Equally troubling for the Knights is that both Alabama and Temple dropped out of our projected field, leaving them without a single win over a tournament team. The three-loss record looks nice, but they're going to need probably two wins over Houston and/or Cincinnati.
Fourth-to-Last In: Baylor Bears (11-6)
Baylor wasn't even on the radar one week ago, but picking up two Quadrant 1 wins in one week is a fine way to make an impression.
The road win over Oklahoma State wasn't much to brag about, but the home win over Texas Tech on Saturday was huge. The Bears scored more points against the Red Raiders (73) than any other team all season, improving to 3-2 in Big 12 play in the process. They previously had home wins over Iowa State and Oregon and a road win over Arizona, so they're putting together a nice collection of victories.
What's going to keep Baylor on the bubble for the foreseeable future is the home losses to Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin and the road loss to Wichita State. The Bears dug themselves a gigantic hole in the first six weeks of the season with those results, and they'll probably need to finish 11-7 in conference play to feel safe about getting a bid.
First 4 Out
First Team Out: Alabama Crimson Tide (11-6)
Alabama let a gigantic opportunity slip through its fingers Saturday afternoon, losing by one possession at Tennessee. John Petty was sensational, finishing with 30 points. Unfortunately, he was called for traveling with three seconds remaining in a one-point game, and Alabama was unable to hit its Hail Mary attempt at the buzzer.
The Crimson Tide have now lost three out of four since their colossal home win over Kentucky, falling to 2-3 in SEC play. They are 6-3 overall against Quadrants 1 and 2, but the three Quadrant 3 losses are going to be tough to overcome.
They have a huge four-game stretch coming up against Ole Miss, Baylor, Mississippi State and Auburn. KenPom has Alabama projected to lose all four games, but three of them are supposed to be nail-biters. If the Crimson Tide can pull out two wins from that bunch, their odds of dancing will improve drastically.
Second Team Out: Arizona Wildcats (13-5)
Arizona's offense was a no-show in a 59-54 home loss to Oregon, and now the Wildcats are a no-show in the projected field.
The neutral-court win over Iowa State still looks great, but what's the next-best win on this resume? A road game against Connecticut? A home game against Oregon State? Either way, it's not pretty.
The Wildcats have done well to avoid devastating losses, but finding noteworthy wins the rest of the way in this dreadful conference is going to be tough. They probably need to win at least 10 of their remaining 12 regular-season games.
Third Team Out: Temple Owls (14-4)
Temple lost at home to Penn on Saturday, and that's going to be a tough one to bounce back from. I understand and appreciate that's a rivalry game in the Philadelphia Big 5, but it's still a Quadrant 3 loss for a team that only has one Quadrant 1 win (vs. Houston).
Temple's three remaining games in January—vs. Memphis, vs. Cincinnati, at Houston—are all crucial, largely because the Owls' schedule beyond that is a joke. They'll need to avoid a disappointing loss to Memphis and then pick up at least one quality win against either Cincinnati or Houston. If they lose two of those three games, they'll already be in "Auto Bid or Bust" territory.
Fourth Team Out: Saint Louis Billikens (14-4)
The Billikens remain on the fringe of the at-large picture after improving to 5-0 in A-10 play this week. Nonconference wins over Seton Hall and Butler still look great, even though those Big East teams are smack dab on the bubble.
Unfortunately, Saint Louis won't be able to do much to improve its stock in the next month. Home games against Dayton and Davidson and the road game against Rhode Island are all right on the border between Quadrant 2 and Quadrant 3, and that's as good as it gets until back-to-back road games against Dayton and VCU in late February.
If the Billikens can take care of business and get to 22-4 overall before those two games, though, they should be able to slowly but surely claw their way into the projected field.
East Region (Washington, D.C.)
Columbia, South Carolina
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Wagner/Norfolk State
No. 8 Kansas State vs. No. 9 Ohio State
No. 4 Buffalo vs. No. 13 Vermont
No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 VCU
Des Moines, Iowa
No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 14 Loyola-Chicago
No. 6 Villanova vs. No. 11 Baylor/UCF
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 South Dakota State
No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 10 St. John's
Noteworthy Riser: Kansas State Wildcats (No. 11 seed to No. 8 seed)
After sleepwalking through the first two months of the season, Kansas State is finally starting to show signs of living up to its preseason potential.
At one point the Wildcats were 10-4 overall and 0-2 in Big 12 play with nothing better than a neutral-site victory over Missouri. They were also trailing West Virginia by 21 points in the second half and appeared destined for dead last in the conference.
Since then, they rallied to beat the Mountaineers, won road games against Iowa State and Oklahoma and handled TCU at home. Out of nowhere, Kansas State has three Quadrant 1 wins and is tied for first place in the Big 12 standings.
Getting Dean Wade back from injury has been an obvious boost. He had 20 points against Oklahoma and 16 points and six assists against TCU. And for the first time since November, Kansas State looks like it knows how to score again. Two of the next three conference games are at home against Texas Tech and Kansas, so the Wildcats could even create some separation atop the Big 12 if they keep playing well.
Noteworthy Slider: Oklahoma Sooners (No. 3 seed to No. 5 seed)
While Kansas State has surged to the top of the Big 12, Oklahoma has fallen into eighth place with a 2-4 record. The Sooners lost to Kansas State and fell just short at Texas this week. They previously lost road games against Kansas and Texas Tech.
They still have a great resume, though, thanks to one of the best nonconference strength of schedules in the country. We've mentioned it in previous weeks, but it bears repeating: Oklahoma did not play a single Quadrant 4 game, and it has only played four Quadrant 3 games. Even if they crash and burn like last year and end up going 8-10 in the Big 12, the Sooners are going to have a ton of quality wins.
But now that they have five losses, they're starting to slip in the seeding. And if they continue to lose games against Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt, Baylor and West Virginia over the next two weeks, they could really start to free-fall toward the bubble.
Midwest Region (Kansas City, Missouri)
Columbia, South Carolina
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Lehigh
No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 TCU
San Jose, California
No. 4 Houston vs. No. 13 New Mexico State
No. 5 Louisville vs. No. 12 Lipscomb
No. 3 Maryland vs. No. 14 Northern Kentucky
No. 6 Ole Miss vs. No. 11 Butler/San Francisco
No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 15 UC Santa Barbara
No. 7 Nebraska vs. No. 10 Syracuse
Noteworthy Riser: Syracuse Orange (New to the Field)
In typical Syracuse fashion, just when it looked like the Orange were down and out, they go pull off a colossal road win over Duke.
Yes, Cam Reddish missed the entire game and Tre Jones left early with a shoulder injury, but Syracuse still walked into Cameron Indoor Stadium and did just enough to score a win against the national championship favorites who got 58 points out of the likely top two picks in the 2019 NBA draft. That's no small feat.
Syracuse followed it up with a nice home win over surging Pittsburgh.
The Orange are still on the bubble, though. The road win over Ohio State seems to be losing value by the hour, and they have four losses to teams not currently projected for the Big Dance: Old Dominion, Georgia Tech, Oregon and Connecticut. If they can pick up another huge road win over Virginia Tech this coming weekend, they'll move more comfortably into the field as a single-digit seed. That's a big ask, though.
Noteworthy Slider: Indiana Hoosiers (No. 6 seed to No. 8 seed)
Indiana just went through one of the toughest four-game stretches any team will face all season, playing road games against Michigan, Maryland and Purdue and a home game against Nebraska—each of which ranks in the top 20 in both the NET and KenPom.
Unfortunately, the Hoosiers lost all four of those games and have now gone more than a month without a single Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 2 victory.
Nonconference home wins over Marquette and Louisville are still holding up nicely, but they're going to need to start winning some Big Ten games that matter. Because if they finish 10-10 in league play with six of those wins coming against Rutgers, Illinois and Northwestern, that's probably not going to be enough to make the NCAA tournament.
They still have home games against Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio State, so the opportunities will be there. They just need to seize a few of them. Both games this week (at Northwestern, vs. Michigan) are coin-flip propositions for the Hoosiers.
South Region (Louisville, Kentucky)
No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 16 Rider
No. 8 Texas vs. No. 9 Florida State
No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 13 Hofstra
No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 12 Murray State
Salt Lake City
No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 14 North Texas
No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 11 Arizona State
No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Radford
No. 7 Auburn vs. No. 10 Minnesota
Noteworthy Riser: Purdue Boilermakers (No. 7 seed to No. 4 seed)
Purdue's nonconference resume was nothing special. The Boilermakers put up solid fights away from home against Virginia Tech, Florida State, Texas and Notre Dame, but they ended up going 6-4 with nothing better than a neutral-court victory over Davidson.
The good news is they have flipped the script in Big Ten play. They are 5-2 with wins over Maryland, Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana. And the two losses—though they were both blowouts—are the two losses you would expect any Big Ten team to have this year: at Michigan and at Michigan State.
This past week, the Boilermakers slaughtered Rutgers by a 35-point margin and got a statement rivalry win over Indiana. And this coming week will be even more important, as they play at Ohio State on Wednesday before hosting Michigan State on Sunday. Another pair of wins and they'll be surging even further up the seed list.
Noteworthy Slider: Florida State Seminoles (No. 5 seed to No. 9 seed)
The 'Noles are in one heck of a tailspin.
Since coming one last-second Cam Reddish three-pointer away from stunning the Blue Devils, Florida State has lost consecutive games against Pittsburgh and Boston College.
Though it's hard to win on the road in conference play, the Seminoles had to have at least one of those games. But after blowing a 15-point lead against Boston College, they are now 1-4 in ACC play and have squandered almost all of the goodwill they gained by going 12-1 with wins over Purdue, LSU and Florida during the nonconference portion of the season.
The good news is they still have eight games remaining against Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Notre Dame and Miami, so there's still an attainable path to a .500 record in ACC play. But the idea of this being a top-10 team—or even a top-25 team, really—vanished in a hurry.
West Region (Anaheim, California)
Des Moines, Iowa
No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 16 Abilene Christian/Texas Southern
No. 8 NC State vs. No. 9 Cincinnati
San Jose, California
No. 4 Nevada vs. No. 13 Yale
No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 12 Wofford
No. 3 Virginia Tech vs. No. 14 Texas State
No. 6 Iowa State vs. No. 11 Seton Hall
Salt Lake City
No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 15 Montana
No. 7 LSU vs. No. 10 Washington
Noteworthy Riser: Iowa State Cyclones (No. 8 seed to No. 6 seed)
Outside of Syracuse knocking off Duke, there was no bigger win this week than Iowa State going on the road and handing Texas Tech just its second loss of the year—a victory the Cyclones desperately needed after close losses to Baylor and Kansas State in the previous week.
Coupled with the 77-60 home win over Kansas from earlier in the month, Iowa State now has wins over both of the best teams in the Big 12. That has really turned around a resume that was devoid of Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 wins in nonconference play.
The Cyclones can further fix things with road games against Kansas and Ole Miss this week.
Getting a season sweep of the Jayhawks would be huge. Suddenly adding a Quadrant 1 nonconference win in late January would also be huge. Getting both of those wins might be enough to vault the Cyclones to a No. 3 or No. 4 seed next week.
Noteworthy Slider: North Carolina State Wolfpack (No. 5 seed to No. 8 seed)
NC State's house of cards came crashing down with a road loss to Wake Forest this week.
It was disturbing that the Wolfpack were able to climb as high as they did in the NET rankings, considering nine of their first 12 wins were home games against Quadrant 4 opponents.
They only have one win over a projected tournament team (vs. Auburn), but they were 17th in the NET rankings one week ago. It was enough to make one wonder if the alleged 10-point cap on margin of victory in the NET formula was just a big ol' lie the NCAA was selling.
But the Wolfpack dropped outside the NET top 30 following the loss to the Demon Deacons, which feels more in line with what they have actually accomplished thus far this season. And the ACC is about to put them to the test with Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Louisville and Clemson all on the docket in the next eight games.
Ranking the No. 1 Seeds
Just Missed: Kansas Jayhawks (15-3) and Michigan State Spartans (16-2)
Kansas has eight Quadrant 1 wins, which is more than any other team in the country. Several of them are just barely on the right side of the Q1/Q2 border, but they do have neutral-court victories over Tennessee and Michigan State that are going to look great all year long. Not surprisingly, the Jayhawks also have the top-rated strength of schedule.
Had they been able to hang on to win at West Virginia on Saturday, they would have made the leap to the top seed line. However, they fell victim to a "Country Roads" comeback for their third loss of the year. Kansas' next four games are vs. Iowa State, at Kentucky, at Texas and vs. Texas Tech, so there's a great opportunity to climb to a No. 1 seed in the next two weeks.
The Spartans are also oh-so-close to a No. 1 seed following a road win over Nebraska on Thursday. They are now 7-0 in Big Ten play to go along with solid nonconference wins over Texas and Florida.
It was a close call between Michigan and Michigan State, but if the Spartans keep winning, they will absolutely be a No. 1 seed in the next projection. They play three games before our next update, and all three—vs. Maryland, at Iowa, at Purdue—are Quadrant 1 opportunities. They might even enter February as the No. 1 overall seed if they can get to 10-0 in the Big Ten by winning those three games.
4. Michigan Wolverines (17-1)
3. Duke Blue Devils (15-2)
2. Tennessee Volunteers (16-1)
1. Virginia Cavaliers (16-1)
In all my years of doing bracketology, I cannot remember a time when the separation between the No. 1 seeds was this microscopic. These four teams clearly belong on the top tier, but the order is in the eye of the beholder.
Tennessee probably deserves to be No. 1 in the AP poll, but the Volunteers have only played three games against projected tournament teams, beating Gonzaga (sans Killian Tillie) and Louisville and losing to Kansas. Is that really enough for the No. 1 overall seed?
Michigan was our No. 1 overall seed one week ago, but it is 0-1 since then with a loss to a Wisconsin team that had been 1-4 since Christmas. If we're keeping Kansas off the top line for losing at West Virginia, don't we also need to penalize Michigan a bit for its road loss against a struggling opponent? The Wolverines are also the lowest-ranked No. 1 seed on KenPom (No. 6).
Duke has more Quadrant 1 wins (six) than any of the others and has played the most difficult schedule among the quartet, but the Blue Devils have multiple losses, including a home loss to Syracuse that is by far the worst misstep of the bunch. How much should it be "discounted" since Cam Reddish didn't play and Tre Jones got hurt early in the first half, though?
Virginia is still No. 1 on KenPom, but it did just lose to a Duke team playing without its starting point guard. They were neck-and-neck for the entire night, and it was a road game for the Cavaliers, so can we not focus too much on that one result and keep them ahead of Duke? They did annihilate Virginia Tech earlier in the week, after all.
Lots of questions and not many concrete answers, but this is the order we settled on. No reason to sweat it too much with eight weeks remaining until Selection Sunday. These things have a way of working themselves out.
Seeding by Conference
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. First four out are in italics.
American (3): 13. Houston; 36. Cincinnati; 44. UCF; 71. Temple
ACC (8): 1. Virginia; 3. Duke; 8. North Carolina; 12. Virginia Tech; 19. Louisville; 32. NC State; 35. Florida State; 37. Syracuse
Big 12 (8): 6. Kansas; 10. Texas Tech; 18. Oklahoma; 22. Iowa State; 31. Kansas State; 29. Texas; 33. TCU; 43. Baylor
Big East (5): 17. Marquette; 23. Villanova; 38. St. John's; 42. Seton Hall; 45. Butler
Big Ten (10): 4. Michigan; 5. Michigan State; 9. Maryland; 16. Purdue; 20. Iowa; 24. Wisconsin; 25. Nebraska; 30. Indiana; 34. Ohio State; 39. Minnesota
Pac-12 (2): 40. Washington; 41. Arizona State; 69. Arizona
SEC (6): 2. Tennessee; 11. Kentucky; 21. Ole Miss; 26. Auburn; 27. LSU; 28. Mississippi State; 70. Alabama
West Coast (2): 7. Gonzaga; 46. San Francisco
Other (24): 14. Buffalo; 15. Nevada; 47. VCU; 48. Murray State; 49. Wofford; 50. Lipscomb; 51. Hofstra; 52. Vermont; 53. New Mexico State; 54. Yale; 55. North Texas; 56. Loyola-Chicago; 57. Texas State; 58. Northern Kentucky; 59. South Dakota State; 60. Radford; 61. Montana; 62. UC Santa Barbara; 63. Lehigh; 64. Rider; 65. Abilene Christian; 66. Texas Southern; 67. Wagner; 68. Norfolk State; 72. Saint Louis
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.