2019 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68
Duke was the No. 1 overall seed in the men's NCAA tournament selection committee's top 16 reveal on Saturday afternoon, and the Blue Devils reinforced their spot atop the seed list with a 10-point road win over Virginia that evening.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Clemson and UNC Greensboro are in the projected field for the first time in months while Florida and Nebraska dropped out of the picture after picking up their 10th and 11th losses of the season.
That bubble situation is getting quite ugly, by the way. We have three teams from the AAC, three from the Big East and two from the Pac-12 projected for bids, but it's entirely possible that Houston, Cincinnati, Marquette, Villanova and Washington will be the only representatives from those conferences. The Big Ten and SEC are losing teams to the wrong side of the bubble, too.
As a result, there has never been a better year to be a great mid-major team that slips up in the conference tournament. In a perfect world, Nevada, Buffalo, Wofford, Lipscomb and Belmont will win their respective tournaments and earn auto bids, but each of those five teams is currently in position for an at-large bid, if necessary. UNC Greensboro, Furman, Utah State and Liberty are all in the conversation, too, with one month remaining.
With that, let's dive in to our latest projection.
For each of the four regions, we'll discuss one team that is in much better shape than it was in our Feb. 4 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
Utah State finally got a much-needed quality win at Fresno State this week, but the Aggies proceeded to snap their seven-game winning streak with a loss at San Diego State a few days later.
The net result? No change. They were our last team in one week ago and they are back in the same spot again.
However, unless they are able to win out—which would include a home win over Nevada in early March—this resume isn't going to get any stronger. Save for that game against the Wolf Pack, everything left on the docket is either Quadrant 3 or Quadrant 4.
Utah State needs to hope that other bubble teams bite the dust and that Saint Mary's and Fresno State play well the rest of the season, because the Aggies' wins over those two teams are right on the border between Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2. And a 2-3 Quadrant 1 record would look a lot better to the selection committee than an 0-3 record.
Second-to-Last In: Arizona State Sun Devils
Like Utah State, Arizona State had an eventful week that produced no movement on the S-curve. The Sun Devils suffered a no good, very bad home loss to Washington State—in blowout fashion, no less—but they rebounded for what might have been a season-saving win over Washington two nights later.
Paired with nonconference wins over Kansas, Mississippi State and Utah State, that victory over the Huskies gives Arizona State quite the quartet of quality wins. Most of the teams on the bubble are lucky if they have a combined total of four Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 wins, but the Sun Devils will have four Quadrant 1 wins if Washington (currently No. 31) can eke its way back into the NET top 30.
There's still the problem of the ugly home losses to Washington State, Princeton and Utah, but a 6-1 record the rest of the way would probably do the trick.
Third-to-Last In: UCF Knights
UCF blew the first of its four key opportunities, losing the home game against Houston this week. The Knights will get another game against the Cougars in early March, and they also have two games remaining against Cincinnati.
They currently have an 0-2 record in Quadrant 1 games, and they need to win at least one of those three remaining tests (possibly two of them) to remain in the hunt for a bid.
If they hadn't lost that home game against Florida Atlantic less than a week into the season, the Knights would be in much better shape. As is, it's hard to feel confident about a resume with a Quadrant 4 loss and nary a Quadrant 1 win.
Fourth-to-Last In: UNC Greensboro Spartans
Don't look now, but UNC Greensboro is one of 10 remaining teams with three or fewer losses. The Spartans have won eight in a row as well as 15 of their last 16 contests.
Granted, there aren't any great wins in the bunch. The road win over East Tennessee State just barely qualifies as a Quadrant 1 win and may well drop to Quadrant 2 any day now. A home win over Furman (NET No. 56) is the Spartans' only other victory over a team in the NET top 125.
But they don't have a single bad loss. As we've noted several times and will continue to point out for as long as UNC Greensboro remains in the mix, the Spartans only lost by six at LSU and held a lead with nine minutes remaining at Kentucky before the Wildcats took over. Their only other loss was to Wofford, which means their losses are to teams we're currently projecting as No. 2, No. 4 and No. 8 seeds.
This week is huge for UNCG, as it has road games against Furman and Wofford. Win either of those games and the Spartans should just need to avoid landmine losses the rest of the way to earn an at-large bid.
First 4 Out
First Team Out: Furman Paladins
I don't think the world is ready for a three-bid SoCon, but start prepping for the possibility, folks. Wofford is in excellent shape, UNC Greensboro is looking good and Furman—No. 56 in the NET and No. 58 on KenPom—isn't far behind.
The Paladins surged in both rankings this week thanks to a 30-point shellacking of East Tennessee State, bringing back to the bubble radar a team that began the season 12-0 with road wins over Villanova and Loyola-Chicago.
They do have one somewhat unsightly home loss to Samford, but the only other eyesore on this resume is the nonconference strength of schedule rank of 293. But if Iowa (No. 292) is projected for a No. 5 seed and North Carolina State (No. 353; AKA worst possible) is still in the projected field, why should that one detail immediately preclude Furman from the at-large conversation?
The Paladins probably need to go 4-1 the rest of the way to have a reasonable shot, which would mean a home win over either Wofford or UNC Greensboro and a revenge win at Samford. It won't be easy, but a first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1980 could be waiting for them.
Second Team Out: Florida Gators
Stop us if you've heard this one before, but Florida blew a couple big opportunities this week. This time, it was road games against Auburn and Tennessee.
The Gators are now 12-11 overall and 1-9 in Quadrant 1 games, and the one win (at NET No. 62 Arkansas) wasn't exactly a needle-mover. They are still well-represented in the NET and KenPom rankings, but they are going to need quality wins eventually.
Florida still plays two games against LSU, road games against Alabama and Kentucky and whatever lies ahead in the SEC tournament. The Gators need to find at least two, possibly even three Quadrant 1 wins from what's left on their plate.
Third Team Out: Nebraska Cornhuskers
It pains me to my core that we still need to consider an 11-loss team that didn't even play a top-200 nonconference schedule, but the NET still has Nebraska at No. 40.
In the Cornhuskers' defense, they do have two Quadrant 1 wins (at Indiana; at Clemson) and even their worst losses (at Rutgers; at Illinois) are merely Quadrant 2 missteps. There are only a couple of bubble teams who can boast at least two quality wins without any terrible losses, and this is one of them.
But when you have eight Quadrant 1 losses and 11 total losses, it's going to take more than just a couple of road wins over projected No. 11 seeds. In fact, it's going to take at least one win in Nebraska's remaining games against Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State—as well as wins in each of the other four games still to come. Anything less than 5-2 the rest of the way will allow us to mercifully write this team off.
Fourth Team Out: Pick a Big East Squad (Butler, Creighton, Georgetown and Seton Hall)
Outside of Marquette and Villanova, the Big East is a big bubble mess. St. John's has a little bit of separation as a projected No. 10 seed thanks to season sweeps of Marquette and Creighton, but the Red Storm still have a lot of work to do before it can feel comfortable about its spot in the field.
Beyond the Johnnies, it's a mediocre foursome of Butler, Creighton, Georgetown and Seton Hall, each of which has at least nine total losses and a sub-.500 Big East record. No one from the group belongs in the field today, but you have to believe at least one will have a bit of a surge in these final few weeks of the regular season.
Could the Hoyas be the ones to make that move? They quietly have amassed three Quadrant 1 wins and four Quadrant 2 wins, and they could take a big step forward by getting a road win over Seton Hall on Wednesday.
East Region (Washington, D.C.)
Columbia, South Carolina
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Loyola-Chicago
No. 8 Auburn vs. No. 9 Ohio State
San Jose, California
No. 4 LSU vs. No. 13 UC Irvine
No. 5 Villanova vs. No. 12 Arizona State/Utah State
No. 3 Houston vs. No. 14 Old Dominion
No. 6 Virginia Tech vs. No. 11 Indiana
Des Moines, Iowa
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Bucknell
No. 7 Buffalo vs. No. 10 St. John's
Noteworthy Riser: LSU Tigers (No. 6 seed to No. 4 seed)
LSU has had a solid resume all season, but it got some much-needed "oomph" in the past week. The Tigers won at Mississippi State in overtime before a five-point home win over Auburn. Neither their net efficiency nor their scoring margin got much of a bump, but those were their two best wins of the season as far as NET rankings are concerned.
LSU now has five Quadrant 1 wins, six Quadrant 2 wins and nary a Quadrant 3 or 4 loss. The Tigers also have a 5-1 road record, which is always a crowd-pleaser in the selection committee's room.
It was a little surprising that LSU didn't crack into the top 16 reveal on Saturday, but there have been significant changes since then. No. 13 Iowa State, No. 15 Louisville, No. 16 Wisconsin and No. 17 Villanova all suffered losses on Saturday while LSU—which was presumably No. 18 or No. 19—picked up that nice win over Auburn. The Tigers would almost certainly be a No. 4 seed if the top 16 reveal had been Sunday.
Noteworthy Slider: Virginia Tech Hokies (No. 3 seed to No. 6 seed)
Virginia Tech has played the last three games without its starting point guard and arguably its most important player, Justin Robinson. And there's no denying the negative impact of the foot injury he suffered on Jan. 30 against Miami. Virginia Tech has averaged just 54.0 points per game after putting up 78.8 in its first 20.
Wabissa Bede has taken on more of a point guard role, but he played 77 minutes in the past two games without scoring a single point. Hard to replace a senior who averages 14.4 points and 5.5 assists per game with a sophomore who rarely shoots.
Robinson's absence is self-evident on defense, too, as Louisville and Clemson shot a combined 24-of-55 (43.6 percent) from three-point range in Virginia Tech's two losses this week. Three-point defense has been a problem all season for the Hokies, but they are barely even contesting shots right now.
They are still No. 14 in the NET rankings thanks in large part to their zero bad losses and their 27.0 point average margin of victory in 12 games played against Quadrant 3 and 4 opponents. But this resume is starting to show cracks, and it might start to crumble if VT were to suffer a loss to Georgia Tech or Pittsburgh in the next week.
Midwest Region (Kansas City, Missouri)
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Sam Houston State
No. 8 Wofford vs. No. 9 Texas
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Hofstra
No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 12 Belmont
No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 14 Vermont
No. 6 Kansas State vs. No. 11 NC State
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Northern Kentucky
No. 7 Maryland vs. No. 10 Syracuse
Noteworthy Riser: Kansas State Wildcats (No. 8 seed to No. 6 seed)
Did any team have a better week than Kansas State?
The Wildcats had a disturbing loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, but they have won eight consecutive league games following a home win over Kansas and a road win over Baylor.
There was an 11-minute stretch in the Kansas game in which the Wildcats only scored four points, but they forced 23 turnovers to end the eight-game losing streak against their in-state rivals. And in the battle for first place in the Big 12, Kansas State closed the game on a 29-15 run, turning a seven-point deficit into a seven-point victory.
One month ago, Kansas State didn't have a single Quadrant 1 win and did not feel worthy of an at-large bid. Now, the Wildcats have five Quadrant 1 wins and have added a pair of Quadrant 2 wins, too. Funny how eight straight wins in a loaded conference can have that kind of effect.
If they can extend that streak to 10 games by beating Texas and Iowa State this week, they might move up to a No. 3 or No. 4 seed.
Noteworthy Slider: North Carolina State Wolfpack (No. 9 seed to No. 11 seed)
NC State didn't actually have a bad week. The Wolfpack suffered an understandable road loss against North Carolina and picked up a decent road win over Pittsburgh. That's a classic "no movement" type of two-game stretch for a bubble team.
But there's something unsettling about NC State giving up 113 points to UNC three days after the Wolfpack scored just 24 points in the historically embarrassing loss to Virginia Tech. They seemed to pass the eye test by taking Virginia to overtime before those two games, but they failed the stomach test during those 80 minutes, nauseating bracketologists around the globe.
For a while there, we were willing and able to look past NC State's lack of quality wins and just trust that KenPom and the NET were right about this team needing to be in the NCAA tournament. Now that the Wolfpack are 1-6 in Quadrant 1 games with a bad loss to Wake Forest to boot, they need to prove they belong in the tournament.
No time like the present for that. NC State hosts Syracuse on Wednesday and plays at Duke on Saturday. Win either of those games and the Wolfpack will be in good shape. Lose them both, though, and the road game against Florida State on March 2 might become a do-or-die proposition.
South Region (Louisville, Kentucky)
Columbia, South Carolina
No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 16 Rider/Prairie View A&M
No. 8 Lipscomb vs. No. 9 Baylor
Salt Lake City
No. 4 Nevada vs. No. 13 Yale
No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 12 UCF/UNC Greensboro
No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 14 Texas State
No. 6 Mississippi State vs. No. 11 Clemson
Des Moines, Iowa
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 Montana
No. 7 Cincinnati vs. No. 10 Oklahoma
Noteworthy Riser: Clemson Tigers (New to the Field)
Clemson was our first team out last week, and now the Tigers are somewhat comfortably in the field following back-to-back wins over the ACC's Tech schools.
They stomped Georgia Tech on Wednesday and capitalized on a struggling Virginia Tech over the weekend, limiting those teams to 46.5 points per game. Elijah Thomas and Marcquise Reed spearheaded that defensive effort. The former blocked 12 shots in 43 minutes of action while the latter recorded seven steals.
The Tigers are still on thin ice. The best thing about their resume prior to the Virginia Tech win was a lack of bad losses. If they were to lose at Miami on Wednesday or lose the home game against Boston College on the final Saturday in February, they could slide right back to the wrong side of the bubble. But a 5-3 record the rest of the way ought to be enough for a second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
Noteworthy Slider: Baylor Bears (No. 7 seed to No. 9 seed)
Let's take an already nerdy subject (bracketology) and make it even nerdier with a comparison to role-playing games. Sometimes in RPGs, your character will get poisoned or otherwise afflicted in a way that causes damage to be taken at a higher rate than normal.
That's more or less what Baylor is dealing with because of the Quadrant 4 losses suffered against Stephen F. Austin and Texas Southern during nonconference play.
Under typical circumstances, Baylor's losses to Texas and Kansas State this week wouldn't have been a huge deal. Both of those teams are in the KenPom top 30, so maybe you would expect a drop of one seed line—as was the case for Indiana after its losses to Iowa and Ohio State.
But those terrible losses from earlier in the season almost serve as a multiplier, making just about any loss seem questionable. Despite entering the week on a six-game winning streak, the Bears took a bit of a nosedive. And it could turn into a full-blown tailspin soon, as they play at Texas Tech on Saturday, at Iowa State next Tuesday and still have road games against Kansas and Kansas State in March.
It was a fun story when Baylor suddenly surged to first place in the Big 12 standings, but the Bears are going to need to win at least one of those road games if they want to get into the NCAA tournament.
West Region (Anaheim, California)
Salt Lake City
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Robert Morris/Norfolk State
No. 8 Washington vs. No. 9 Ole Miss
San Jose, California
No. 4 Texas Tech vs. No. 13 New Mexico State
No. 5 Louisville vs. No. 12 VCU
No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 14 South Dakota State
No. 6 Florida State vs. No. 11 Alabama
No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Radford
No. 7 TCU vs. No. 10 Minnesota
Noteworthy Riser: TCU Horned Frogs (No. 11 seed to No. 7 seed)
It took three months, but TCU finally got a Quadrant 1 win—and a darn fine one at that.
The Horned Frogs had been held to 70 points or fewer in each of their previous six games, but they went into Iowa State and dropped 92 points in a win over the Cyclones. Freshman Kendric Davis came off the bench for a career-high 22 points while three TCU starters scored 17 each. Iowa State usually suffocates opponents who come to Ames, but the Horned Frogs were on fire.
That lone result elevated TCU from the bubble to a No. 7 seed. Prior to beating the Cyclones, the Horned Frogs were undefeated against Quadrants 2-4 and winless against Quadrant 1. It was one of those precarious situations where either one great win or one bad loss could send them flying several seed lines in either direction. Fortunately for Jamie Dixon's squad, they chose the great win route.
The other good news is there aren't any potential bad losses the rest of the way. Even a road loss to either Oklahoma State or West Virginia wouldn't hurt much, provided it isn't part of a lengthy losing streak. TCU probably just needs to go 3-4 the rest of the way to dance.
Noteworthy Slider: Minnesota Golden Gophers (No. 9 seed to No. 10 seed)
As seems to be the case with most of the Big Ten's bubble teams, Minnesota has lost more games than it has won since early January. The Golden Gophers are 4-6 in their last 10 and are currently on a three-game losing streak.
Those recent losses to Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan State weren't bad by any stretch of the imagination. But when you're on the bubble, you simply have to capitalize on at least one of those opportunities.
The Gophers didn't, and now they are in some trouble.
They travel to Nebraska on Wednesday prior to a home game against Indiana on Saturday. They definitely need to win one of those games, and they probably need both of them unless they plan on winning one of the upcoming home games against Michigan and Purdue. They also have remaining road games against Rutgers, Northwestern and Maryland—must-win games that won't be easy.
Ranking the No. 1 Seeds
Just Missed: Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky almost blew an 18-point second-half lead at Mississippi State on Saturday, but the Wildcats hung on for their fifth Quadrant 1 win in three weeks.
They have now won 10 consecutive games, most of them in convincing fashion. It'd be hard to argue anyone is hotter right now, and it's getting harder by the day to deny Kentucky a spot on the No. 1 seed line.
If it can push that winning streak to 12 games with a pair of home wins over LSU and Tennessee this week, it will finally jump to the coveted top line.
No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia had a respectable split against the Tobacco Road titans, losing at home against Duke before going on the road to defeat North Carolina 48 hours later.
Had the Cavaliers won both of those games, they would be the No. 1 overall seed, no question about it. As is, they entered the weekend at No. 3 overall in the eyes of the selection committee, and they did suffer a loss while Gonzaga annihilated its last two opponents. That necessitated a slight drop from No. 3 to No. 4, but we're going to keep Virginia on the top line at least until it loses a game to a team not named Duke.
After all, the Wahoos now have seven Quadrant 1 wins and seven road wins. They're the only team in the country who can claim that many victories in both categories.
No. 3 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Gonzaga beat the snot out of both San Francisco and Saint Mary's over the last week, but what else is new? The Zags have won 14 consecutive games by double digits, and four of their last five victories were by at least 30 points. And we're talking about games against supposedly the top challengers in the West Coast Conference.
Because of that constant barrage of blowouts, Gonzaga has climbed all the way to No. 1 in the NET rankings and entered Monday just a fraction of a point behind Virginia for the No. 2 spot in the KenPom rankings.
If the selection committee hadn't had Tennessee at No. 2 and Gonzaga at No. 4 in its top 16 reveal, I would have a harder time not placing the Zags ahead of the Vols right now—even though Tennessee won the head-to-head game two months ago. If Gonzaga can make it through one more month of smashing everyone in its path, it just might climb all the way to the No. 1 overall seed.
However, as we've previously noted, it really doesn't matter. Gonzaga is the only team anywhere close to the No. 1 seed conversation that would prefer to be placed in the West Region. Whether the Bulldogs are No. 1 or No. 4 overall, as long as they are on the top line, their journey to the Final Four will go through Salt Lake City and Anaheim, California.
No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers
Congratulations to Tennessee on its 18-game winning streak, but it's been a long time since the Volunteers played anyone good, hasn't it? Since clipping Gonzaga 76-73 on a neutral court Dec. 9, they have not faced a single opponent in the NET top 40.
That's about to change in a big way, though.
Aside from the home game against South Carolina on Wednesday and the home game against Vanderbilt next Tuesday, every game left on Tennessee's schedule is a Quadrant 1 opportunity. The Vols have two games left against Kentucky (NET No. 5), road games against LSU (No. 17), Ole Miss (No. 36) and Auburn (No. 20) and a home game against Mississippi State (No. 29).
As things stand, their resume isn't any better than Houston's. Both teams have one loss, a 4-1 Quadrant 1 record, a decent-not-great nonconference strength of schedule, etc. I have no clue how the committee chose to put one at No. 2 overall and the other at No. 11 overall.
But if Tennessee is still a No. 1 seed by Selection Sunday, it will have had to earn it.
No. 1 Duke Blue Devils
The selection committee had Duke at No. 1 overall in its top 16 reveal, and then the Blue Devils went out and convincingly won a road game over Virginia a few hours later. So, yeah, this is the obvious No. 1 team right now.
Duke still has quite a gauntlet remaining before the NCAA tournament, though. Zion Williamson and Co. play at Louisville on Tuesday night, face back-to-back road games against Syracuse and Virginia Tech in late February and still have both games against North Carolina.
But even if they lose two of those before winning the ACC tournament, you're still talking about a 30-4 team with zero terrible losses, a ton of quality wins and about an entire calendar year's worth of hype that this is one of the most incredible rosters ever assembled. That's definitely a No. 1 seed and probably the No. 1 overall seed unless Tennessee refuses to lose another game.
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 the overall seeds broken down by conference. The first four out are in italics.
ACC (9): 1. Duke; 4. Virginia; 7. North Carolina; 17. Louisville; 21. Virginia Tech; 23. Florida State; 37. Syracuse; 43. Clemson; 44. NC State
American (3): 12. Houston; 26. Cincinnati; 47. UCF
Big 12 (8): 10. Kansas; 16. Texas Tech; 18. Iowa State; 22. Kansas State; 28. TCU; 34. Baylor; 36. Texas; 39. Oklahoma
Big East (3): 11. Marquette; 20. Villanova; 38. St. John's; 72. Butler/Creighton/Georgetown/Seton Hall
Big Ten (9): 6. Michigan; 8. Michigan State; 9. Purdue; 15. Wisconsin; 19. Iowa; 25. Maryland; 33. Ohio State; 40. Minnesota; 41. Indiana; 71. Nebraska
Mountain West (2): 13. Nevada; 49. Utah State
Pac-12 (2): 29. Washington; 48. Arizona State
SEC (7): 2. Tennessee; 5. Kentucky; 14. LSU; 24. Mississippi State; 32. Auburn; 35. Ole Miss; 42. Alabama; 70. Florida
Southern (2): 30. Wofford; 46. UNC Greensboro; 69. Furman
Other (23): 3. Gonzaga; 27. Buffalo; 31. Lipscomb; 45. Belmont; 50. VCU; 51. Hofstra; 52. New Mexico State; 53. UC Irvine; 54. Yale; 55. Vermont; 56. Old Dominion; 57. Texas State; 58. South Dakota State; 59. Northern Kentucky; 60. Montana; 61. Radford; 62. Bucknell; 63. Loyola-Chicago; 64. Sam Houston State; 65. Rider; 66. Prairie View A&M; 67. Robert Morris; 68. Norfolk State
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.