2019 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68
Selection Sunday is only six weeks away, and the projected No. 1 seeds as we head into the home stretch of the 2018-19 men's college basketball season are Virginia, Tennessee, Duke and Gonzaga.
A hearty welcome to those of you just now starting to pay attention to college hoops in order to stave off the depression of the next six months without football. We'll do our best to keep you entertained and well-informed on our beautiful, chaotic sport.
This projection should be a great place for you to dive in. Not only will it give you a sense of which teams are ranked where, but we've got brief write-ups on 21 teams ranging from the favorites to win the title to the bubble teams fighting just to get into the 68-team bracket.
For each of the four regions, we'll discuss one team that is in much better shape than it was in our Jan. 29 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: Utah State Aggies
What has Utah State done this season? Not a whole lot, really. The Aggies got an early neutral-site win over Saint Mary's, but I can't very well call that a quality win after my recent Twitter rant about Saint Mary's being overrated and the prime example of how the NCAA Evaluation Tool isn't necessarily better than RPI. But aside from that, USU's best win was a road game against UC Irvine that barely qualifies as a Quadrant 2 victory.
As is the case with Saint Mary's, though, the margin-of-victory-oriented metrics love Utah State because 14 of its 16 Division I wins have come by a margin of at least 15 points. The Aggies haven't beaten any tournament-caliber teams, but they have blown out most of their opponents. And that's apparently enough to be around 40th on both KenPom.com and in the NET.
They have a huge game at Fresno State coming up Tuesday. If the Aggies can avenge their earlier one-point loss to the Bulldogs, I'll feel much better about having them in the projected field.
Second-to-Last In: Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State made the slight but critical jump from second team out to second-to-last team in with a come-from-behind home win over Arizona in overtime. As a result—for this week at least—the Pac-12 is projected for multiple bids again.
The Sun Devils have quality wins over Kansas and Mississippi State, but they also have four losses to teams outside the KenPom top 125 (Princeton, Vanderbilt, Utah and Stanford). They are walking a tightrope with a bunch of coin-flip games remaining. They'll host Washington on Saturday prior to road games against Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona in the final month of the regular season.
If ASU can go 7-2 the rest of the way, it'll probably sneak in as a No. 11 seed for the second straight year. Anything less than that and the Pac-12's at-large hopes will likely be Washington or bust.
Third-to-Last In: UCF Knights
UCF got a much-needed home win over Connecticut this week, but that didn't do anything to help the Knights' resume. It just ensured it didn't get worse with what would have been a fifth loss to a team not projected for the tournament—not a good place to be with only one win over a KenPom top-50 team (vs. Alabama).
This week could be a huge turning point for the Knights, and it's up to them to decide which way they are turning.
They'll host one-loss Houston on Thursday before a road game against SMU on Sunday. KenPom has both games projected for one-point margins, so it could go either way. A 2-0 week would be huge, likely bumping UCF back up to a No. 9 or No. 10 seed. Conversely, an 0-2 week would mean we might not need to talk about this team again this season.
Fourth-to-Last In: Florida Gators
I hated Florida's resume last week, and that's still true. But I hate it a lot less after an overtime home win over Ole Miss and a valiant effort against Kentucky in which the Gators led by 11 in the second half before going ice-cold and losing by 11 instead.
They are still lacking in quality victories, but opportunity, meet doorstep. Four of Florida's next five games are on the road against Auburn, Tennessee, Alabama and LSU. If the Gators can win two of those contests—as well as the home game against Vanderbilt in the middle, please and thank you—that should just about lock up a bid, provided they don't crash and burn for the final two weeks of the season.
First 4 Out
First Team Out: Clemson Tigers
This is the current state of the bubble. Clemson's best win of the season was a home game against a team from the Atlantic Sun—a good Lipscomb team that we'll discuss further in a bit, but an Atlantic Sun team nonetheless. The Tigers' next-best win was either a home game against Pittsburgh or a road game against South Carolina, neither of which is even sniffing the projected field right now. Clemson is 3-5 in the ACC, and the wins were all home games against bottom-half-of-the-conference teams.
And yet, we had to take a good long look at Clemson's resume, because the Tigers have done well to avoid bad losses and are ranked around 50th on both KenPom and the NET. If they can go 2-0 this week (at Georgia Tech, vs. Virginia Tech), they'll be back to .500 in ACC play—not that that matters in the selection process—and will finally have a Quadrant 1 win in their pocket. That would probably be enough to sneak into next week's projected field.
Second Team Out: Butler Bulldogs
Butler narrowly averted disaster Saturday. The Bulldogs led Seton Hall by 17 with less than seven minutes remaining before allowing the Pirates to come all the way back to tie the game. But Paul Jorgensen hit a clutch bucket with 16 seconds left and Myles Powell's three-point attempt missed the mark, giving Butler a two-point victory.
Had the Bulldogs lost that game, they probably would have been toast. They are 13-10, but they would've been 12-11 with tough road games against Villanova, Marquette and St. John's still to come. They're still not in great shape, but avoiding a home loss to Seton Hall likely means they can now absorb an additional loss in one of those three aforementioned road games. We would strongly advise Butler go at least 6-2 in its remaining eight regular-season games, though.
Third Team Out: UNC Greensboro Spartans
With the exception of UNC Greensboro, every team with three or fewer losses (there are 12) is ranked in the KenPom top 30 and would be a lock to make the tournament as a single-digit seed if the season ended today. But the 18-3 Spartans are ranked 88th on KenPom, largely due to one awful performance at home against Wofford—a 72-43 loss.
They bounced back from that offensive nightmare with a home win over Furman and a road win over East Tennessee State in the following 10 days, finally putting both a Quadrant 2 and Quadrant 1 win on their resume.
Aside from the Wofford game, UNCG's other losses were a 97-91 game at LSU and a 78-61 game at Kentucky—and the Spartans had the lead with nine minutes remaining in the latter game. They at least deserve some consideration, even though they are feather light on quality victories.
Fourth Team Out: Arkansas Razorbacks
It was quite the Saturday evening for the Razorbacks. Not only did they go into LSU and get their biggest win of the season by far, but while that game was going on, Indiana—Arkansas's best win prior to this weekend—scored a road win over Michigan State to finally put an end to its monthlong tailspin.
Home losses to Western Kentucky and Georgia Tech mean the Razorbacks still have an uphill climb, but they have won three of their last four—and the one loss was a three-point game at Texas Tech. This young team (Arkansas plays two juniors and no seniors) might finally be putting it all together, and it should win the next three games against Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Missouri to get to 16-8 overall and 7-4 in SEC play.
East Region (Washington, D.C.)
Columbia, South Carolina
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Robert Morris/Norfolk State
No. 8 Kansas State vs. No. 9 Minnesota
San Jose, California
No. 4 Nevada vs. No. 13 Yale
No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 12 Florida/UCF
No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 14 Texas State
No. 6 LSU vs. No. 11 Nebraska
Des Moines, Iowa
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 UC Irvine
No. 7 Cincinnati vs. No. 10 Lipscomb
Noteworthy Riser: Lipscomb Bisons (No. 12 seed to No. 10 seed)
Last week we saw Wofford climb from a No. 12 seed to a No. 10 seed, and now it's Lipscomb's turn to make the same move.
The Bisons have won nine in a row and picked up a big statement win this week, stomping Liberty by 20 in a road game. Both teams were undefeated in Atlantic Sun play and ranked in the top 50 in the NET heading into that game, so that was one of the most noteworthy wins by any team in the past seven days. That Quadrant 1 win pairs nicely with the November road win over TCU and the December home win over Vermont.
Most important here is that Lipscomb doesn't have anything close to a bad loss. The Bisons were swept by Belmont, but neither game was decided by more than a four-point margin—and Belmont is doggone good. They also came within four points of winning a road game against Louisville. And their fourth and final loss was a road game against Clemson in which there is no shame.
Even if Lipscomb loses the rematch with Liberty on Feb. 13 and loses to Liberty a second time in the Atlantic Sun championship game, it should be in fine shape for an at-large bid as long as it doesn't slip up and acquire an awful loss in any of its other six remaining regular-season games.
Noteworthy Slider: Nebraska Cornhuskers (No. 7 seed to No. 11 seed)
Under the old RPI system, Nebraska wouldn't even be in the conversation right now. The Cornhuskers rank 110th in RPI with a 12-9 record overall and a 3-8 record in Big Ten play. They have a couple of decent wins over bubble-y Indiana, Clemson, Creighton and Seton Hall, but they also have bad losses to Rutgers and Illinois and have lost seven of their last nine.
But because four of their five best wins were by at least a 15-point margin and because most of their losses have been decided by just a few possessions, KenPom and the NET love Nebraska way more than they should. As of Sunday morning, the Cornhuskers rank top 30 in both metrics, which just about forces us to keep them in the field.
The good news—not for Nebraska fans, but for those of us with common sense who think you need to beat quality opponents from time to time—is that the Cornhuskers have six brutal games remaining. They host Maryland this week and Iowa in the regular-season finale, they play at Michigan and Michigan State, and they still have the full home-and-home series with Purdue. To back up their KenPom/NET ranking and remain in the field, they're probably going to need to win at least two of those games.
Midwest Region (Kansas City, Missouri)
Columbia, South Carolina
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Lehigh
No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 9 Ohio State
San Jose, California
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 New Mexico State
No. 5 Louisville vs. No. 12 St. John's
Des Moines, Iowa
No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 14 Northern Kentucky
No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 11 TCU
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Loyola-Chicago
No. 7 Florida State vs. No. 10 Indiana
Noteworthy Riser: Marquette Golden Eagles (No. 4 seed to No. 3 seed)
Did you know Marquette is 19-3 with five Quadrant 1 wins, no bad losses and wins in 16 of its last 17 games?
The Golden Eagles have quietly crept up into the Top 10 of the AP poll, but they are still outside the top 25 on KenPom for some reason. Winning at Butler by an 18-point margin this week bumped them up from No. 35 to No. 26—and from a No. 4 seed to a No. 3 seed in our eyes—but still, not much KenPom/NET love for one of the hottest teams in the nation.
Most of Marquette's best wins (Wisconsin, Louisville, at Creighton) were nail-biters decided in overtime, but they were still victories, darn it. This is one of many instances where it's a shame we abandoned RPI. The Golden Eagles are No. 12 in the old rating system, which is perfectly fair.
There's a big week ahead for Marquette to back up its promotion to a No. 3 seed. The Golden Eagles will host St. John's on Tuesday for a chance to avenge their only loss since Thanksgiving, and then they get a home game against Villanova on Saturday to help determine who is the best team in the Big East.
Noteworthy Slider: Louisville Cardinals (No. 4 seed to No. 5 seed)
Aside from Nebraska and Oklahoma going into free-fall mode, there wasn't much negative movement in this week's projection. Louisville only slipped from No. 14 to No. 18 on the overall seed list, but that was the biggest drop among teams in this region.
The Cardinals beat the heck out of Wake Forest on Wednesday before losing a home game to North Carolina on Saturday. Not a bad week by any means, and it was mighty kind of North Carolina and Louisville to exchange road wins by a double-digit margin this season. Both teams benefited from that trade-off, even though it slightly hurt Louisville this week.
That UNC game was just the start of the meat grinder the Cardinals need to run through the rest of the way. This week, they have road games against Virginia Tech and Florida State. After that, there's a home game against Duke, a road game against Syracuse and two games against Virginia. A 3-3 record in those six games should keep Louisville on the No. 4 or No. 5 seed line. But if the Cardinals get hot and go 5-1, they'll be knocking down the door for a No. 2 seed.
South Region (Louisville, Kentucky)
No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 16 Sam Houston State
No. 8 Washington vs. No. 9 North Carolina State
No. 4 Villanova vs. No. 13 Hofstra
No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 12 VCU
No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 14 South Dakota State
No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 11 Alabama
No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Radford
No. 7 Auburn vs. No. 10 Texas
Noteworthy Riser: Auburn Tigers (No. 9 seed to No. 7 seed)
Auburn just completed quite the yo-yo stretch.
The Tigers were one of our noteworthy sliders last week, dropping from a No. 7 seed to a No. 9 seed following road losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State. At that point, they were 2-4 in SEC play (wins over lowly Georgia and Texas A&M) and only had one win over a team somewhat comfortably in the field—a home game against Washington four days into the season.
But now Auburn is right back on the No. 7 seed line after slaughtering Missouri and Alabama at home.
Offense has never been the problem for the Tigers. They entered the week averaging 83.8 points in their previous five games. They finally got some solid defensive efforts, though, holding the Tigers and Crimson Tide to 60.5 points per game. Auburn had 13 steals against Alabama and held both opponents below 50 percent shooting on two-point attempts. When the Tigers play like that, they can hang with anyone.
Will the yo-yo ride continue? The Tigers host Florida and then play at LSU, both of which could be losses. If they're able to protect home court before losing in Baton Rouge, they should hang around the No. 7 line for another week.
Noteworthy Slider: Buffalo Bulls (No. 5 seed to No. 6 seed)
Have we reached the point now where we need to start seriously dissecting Buffalo's resume?
It was an early November road win over West Virginia that originally put the Bulls on the radar, but that win is nowhere near as valuable as it once seemed. And with San Francisco losing its last two games against San Diego and Saint Mary's, Buffalo's neutral-court win over the Dons has lost a lot of its luster, too.
The road win over Syracuse still looks lovely, but losses to Northern Illinois and Bowling Green in the past two weeks have sort of cancelled that out on the ledger. At this point, the Bulls have one Quadrant 1 win, two low Quadrant 2 losses and a 14-0 record in Quadrant 3/4 games in which the zero is far more important than the 14.
Buffalo is still safely in the field for now, but each loss from here on out is likely going to come with a drop of two seed lines. So, hypothetically, if they go 8-1 the rest of the way before losing in the MAC tournament, a No. 10 seed would be a reasonable expectation. Of course, that will hinge somewhat upon what other at-large candidates do in the next month, but that's a loose guideline for this mid-major squad.
West Region (Anaheim, California)
Salt Lake City
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Rider/Prairie View A&M
No. 8 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Syracuse
Salt Lake City
No. 4 Houston vs. No. 13 Vermont
No. 5 Texas Tech vs. No. 12 Arizona State/Utah State
No. 3 Virginia Tech vs. No. 14 Old Dominion
No. 6 Mississippi State vs. No. 11 Belmont
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 Montana
No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 10 Wofford
Noteworthy Riser: Baylor Bears (No. 8 seed to No. 7 seed)
Our last projection was published just a few hours after Baylor's 30-point road win over Oklahoma, so the full effect of that blowout hadn't hit the data yet. We moved the Bears up two seed lines after that game, but we weren't able to give them their due as a noteworthy riser.
(I did, however, write this past week about their rise to unexpected top challenger to end Kansas's Big 12 streak, so the Bears weren't completely overlooked.)
They kept the freight train rolling with Makai Mason scoring 40 in a 26-point win over TCU on Saturday, climbing even higher on the overall seed list. Baylor now has nine Quadrant 1 and 2 wins, and the top of its resume is similar to that of Kentucky, Purdue, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
There is one major problem, though: home losses to Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin during nonconference play. This monthlong stretch of dominance in Big 12 play has propelled Baylor comfortably into the projected field, but there has to be somewhat of a glass ceiling for a team with two Quadrant 4 losses, right?
Those early slip-ups also leave Baylor in a precarious situation if it cools off and goes 5-5 the rest of the way to finish at 20-11. But for now, things are looking up in Waco.
Noteworthy Slider: Oklahoma Sooners (No. 6 seed to No. 8 seed)
Not only did Oklahoma get its teeth kicked in by Baylor, but it lost a game to sub-.500 West Virginia over the weekend.
The Sooners entered Big 12 play in glorious shape. They were a No. 2 seed in our post-New Year's Day projection of the field, thanks to an 11-1 record against one of the toughest schedules in the country. Since then, they have lost six of 10 games, and none of the four wins (vs. TCU, at Oklahoma State, vs. Oklahoma State, vs. Vanderbilt) were of the Quadrant 1 variety.
Until this week, the losses were just blown opportunities against quality opponents—most of them by a slim margin. Now that they have been blown out at home in one loss and finally acquired a Quadrant 2 loss, things aren't looking so good.
The schedule doesn't get any easier, either. Oklahoma will host Iowa State and Texas Tech this week, followed by road games against Baylor and TCU next week. The way things are going lately, don't be shocked if they go 0-4 and slide into serious bubble trouble.
Ranking the No. 1 Seeds
Just Missed: Kentucky Wildcats (18-3)
Remember when Kentucky lost an overtime game to Seton Hall and it seemed like the Wildcats might be headed for a bit of a disappointing season?
Well, in their last 11 games, they have road wins over Louisville, Auburn and Florida, home wins over Kansas and Mississippi State and a neutral-site win over North Carolina. Not a shabby turnaround. And with both Michigan and Michigan State suffering losses this weekend, Kentucky has surged all the way onto the No. 1 seed bubble.
But in comparing Kentucky and Gonzaga for the final spot on the top line, the main thing that stood out is that the Zags have just two losses away from home against a projected No. 1 seed and a projected No. 2, while Kentucky has losses to Alabama and Seton Hall. Plus, Gonzaga won its neutral-site game against Duke while Kentucky got annihilated by the Blue Devils.
Even with those factors in play, it was tempting to give Kentucky a No. 1 seed. That's how good the Cats have been lately.
No. 4 Gonzaga Bulldogs (21-2)
Gonzaga has been quietly going about its business, hanging around the No. 2 seed line, just waiting for a little bit of carnage to open the door. That moment has finally arrived, and now the most efficient offense in the nation is in the driver's seat for the No. 1 seed in the West Region.
The Bulldogs have won their last 12 games by an average margin of 34 points per game. It's embarrassing how unchallenged they have been since losing at North Carolina on Dec. 15. They did get a bit of a scare at San Francisco in mid-January, but they eventually flexed their muscles and won by 13 points—their slimmest margin of victory in those dozen games.
If they keep winning, they might still have a shot at the No. 1 overall seed. However, it doesn't really matter, since no other team in the conversation would want to be in the West. Whether they finish at No. 1 or No. 4, they'll be headed to Anaheim, California, for the second weekend.
No. 3 Duke Blue Devils (19-2)
It's kind of wild how much head-to-head action there has been among the No. 1 seeds. Duke beat Virginia by two points, Gonzaga beat Duke by two points, and Tennessee beat Gonzaga by three points. And Duke will play Virginia again this weekend.
Of the bunch, the Blue Devils are the only one to have suffered anything close to a bad loss, but that home game against Syracuse—in which Cam Reddish didn't play (sick) and Tre Jones left early in the first half (shoulder injury)—is of no real concern. What's more important is that they are destroying teams now that they're healthy. Poor Notre Dame and St. John's were sacrificial lambs on the Zion Williamson altar this week, as Duke won those two games by a combined margin of 52 points.
The schedule is about to get a lot tougher, though. From Feb. 9 through March 9, the Blue Devils will play road games against Virginia, Louisville, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and North Carolina, plus home games against UNC and NC State. A loss or two is almost inevitable. But if they can go 8-2 against that slate, they'll enter the ACC tournament in excellent shape for a No. 1 seed.
No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers (19-1)
Since the overtime game against Vanderbilt, Tennessee has made mincemeat of the opponents it ought to handle with ease. The Volunteers beat West Virginia, South Carolina and Texas A&M each by at least a 17-point margin.
Both games this week were tight midway through the second half, but they eventually cruised to easy wins.
There should be more cruising in the near future, too, as the next three are at home against Missouri, Florida and South Carolina. That should put them at 23-1 in advance of the colossal road game against Kentucky in less than two weeks.
No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers (20-1)
Virginia had some uncharacteristically sloppy games this week, needing overtime to win at NC State before struggling on offense in a home win over Miami. Neither result was concerning enough to consider bumping the Cavaliers out of the top spot, but UVA committed twice as many turnovers as its opponents this week, which is bizarre.
Ty Jerome hurt his back early in the NC State game and didn't play against Miami, which goes a long way toward explaining that (presumably) temporarily issue. But with Duke on deck, the Cavaliers best get that figured out pronto.
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. The first four out are in italics.
American (3): 13. Houston; 26. Cincinnati; 47. UCF
ACC (8): 1. Virginia; 3. Duke; 6. North Carolina; 12. Virginia Tech; 18. Louisville; 28. Florida State; 35. Syracuse; 36. North Carolina State; 69. Clemson
Big 12 (8): 9. Kansas; 17. Iowa State; 19. Texas Tech; 25. Baylor; 31. Kansas State; 32. Oklahoma; 38. Texas; 41. TCU
Big East (3): 11. Marquette; 15. Villanova; 45. St. John's; 70. Butler
Big Ten (10): 7. Michigan State; 8. Michigan; 10. Purdue; 14. Wisconsin; 20. Iowa; 22. Maryland; 33. Minnesota; 34. Ohio State; 39. Indiana; 42. Nebraska
Mountain West (2): 16. Nevada; 49. Utah State
Pac-12 (2): 29. Washington; 48. Arizona State
SEC (8): 2. Tennessee; 5. Kentucky; 21. LSU; 24. Mississippi State; 27. Auburn; 30. Ole Miss; 43. Alabama; 46. Florida; 72. Arkansas
Other (24): 4. Gonzaga; 23. Buffalo; 37. Wofford; 40. Lipscomb; 44. Belmont; 50. VCU; 51. Hofstra; 52. New Mexico State; 53. Vermont; 54. Yale; 55. Texas State; 56. South Dakota State; 57. Northern Kentucky; 58. Old Dominion; 59. UC Irvine; 60. Montana; 61. Radford; 62. Loyola-Chicago; 63. Lehigh; 64. Sam Houston State; 65. Rider; 66. Prairie View A&M; 67. Robert Morris; 68. Norfolk State; 71. UNC Greensboro
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.