2019 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 18, 2019

2019 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68

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    Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura
    Gonzaga's Rui HachimuraGregory Bull/Associated Press

    Gonzaga improved to 25-2 this week with two more road wins by double-digit margins, further cementing its spot as a projected No. 1 seed for the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament. The Bulldogs were No. 4 overall in the selection committee's top-16 reveal two weekends ago, but losses by former Nos. 2 and 3 on that list have paved the way for Gonzaga to climb up to the title of "Highest Seeded Team Not Named Duke."

    Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and their fellow Blue Devils are still asserting their dominance with nine consecutive wins, including the outrageous 23-point comeback at Louisville this week. But with four tough games remaining on their schedulenot to mention the ACC tournamentthey just might step aside, too, allowing Gonzaga to claim the No. 1 overall seed.

    Not that it matters. Gonzaga would be the top seed in the West Region regardless of where it lands on the top line. But it would be a fun bragging right for the former Cinderella that everyone seems to have forgotten about since mid-December.

    That's much more No. 1 seed banter than we usually have in the intro, but it feels necessary to get your hopes up about great teams before the abrupt descent into this year's bubble debate.

    For each of the four regions, we'll discuss one team that is in much better shape than it was in our Feb. 12 projection 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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    Indiana's Juwan Morgan
    Indiana's Juwan MorganMichael Hickey/Getty Images

    Last Team In: Utah State Aggies

    For the third consecutive week, Utah State is our last team in the projected field.

    The Aggies took care of business this past week with comfortable wins over Wyoming and Air Force. Those Quadrant 4 victories didn't do anything to help the Aggies, but avoiding those losses kept them in the picture.

    They'll need to continue avoiding losses in upcoming games against New Mexico, Boise State and San Diego State. If they can do that, they just might be able to sneak in even if they lose at home against Nevada on March 2. Of course, we would strongly recommend the Aggies win that one.


    Second-to-Last In: Nebraska Cornhuskers

    Heaven help us, 11-loss Nebraska is back in the field thanks to home wins over Minnesota and Northwestern last week. Neither was a great victory, but at this point, any non-loss is a good result for the Cornhuskers.

    Don't expect many more non-losses the rest of the way, though. Nebraska finishes out the regular season with this gauntlet: at Penn State, vs. Purdue, at Michigan, at Michigan State, vs. Iowa. The Huskers need at least two, probably three, wins in those five games if they want to enter the Big Ten tournament in good shape for a bid.


    Third-to-Last In: Florida Gators

    Florida just picked up its most impressive win of the season, beating Alabama by 18 points in Tuscaloosa. The Gators also won a home game against Vanderbilt.

    By stomping the Crimson Tide, Florida actually knocked them out of the projected field, so it wasn't that great of a win. But it was a much-needed Quadrant 1 victory for a team that has let too many of those slip away.

    The Gators will need at least one more of those Quadrant 1 wins from remaining games at LSU, vs. LSU and at Kentucky. (Plus they must win the other three games against Missouri, Vanderbilt and Georgia.) Otherwise, they'll have 14 losses and only a couple of decent wins, which isn't going to cut it.


    Fourth-to-Last In: Indiana Hoosiers

    Indiana has lost 10 of its last 11 games and is now 13-12 overall and 4-10 in Big Ten play. But we can't seem to kill the Hoosiers because they have three great wins (at Michigan State, vs. Marquette, vs. Louisville) and because they don't have any Quadrant 3 or Quadrant 4 losses.

    This predicament is quite similar to Oklahoma from last year. The Sooners started out 14-2 before losing nine of 11 games from mid-January through late February. Everyone screamed that Oklahoma didn't deserve to get into the NCAA tournament because of that extended skid, but in spite of the stockpile of losses, the Sooners had a respectable resume with several quality wins and no terrible losses. They ended up with a No. 10 seed.

    But to have any hope of remaining in the field, Indiana must snap out its funk immediately and win at least two of the next four against Purdue, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State.

First 4 Out

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    Alabama's John Petty
    Alabama's John PettyFrederick Breedon/Getty Images

    First Team Out: Alabama Crimson Tide

    It was a brutal week for Alabama, which dropped to the wrong side of the bubble after getting blown out by both Mississippi State and Florida.

    The Crimson Tide now have 10 losses, three of which (vs. Texas A&M, vs. Georgia State, vs. Northeastern) were far from ideal. They do have quality home wins over Kentucky, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, but those are effectively cancelled out by the three bad losses. Also, those wins feel like a lifetime ago, since Alabama has lost three of its last five games by a margin of at least 18 points.

    The Tide should win games against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt this week, but that won't do much to help them. Rather, it's the four-game closing stretch—at South Carolina, vs. LSU, vs. Auburn, at Arkansas—that may decide their fate. If they go 2-2 in those contests, they will be smack dab on the bubble at the start of the SEC tournament.


    Second Team Out: Arizona State Sun Devils

    Arizona State has four Quadrant 1 wins (Kansas, Washington, Mississippi State and Utah State) keeping it in the conversation. Any team with at least two Quadrant 1 wins is at least worth taking a second look at, so twice that many is a great starting point for the Sun Devils' bubble argument.

    However, they now have seven losses to teams outside the NCAA Evaluation Tool's top 75, including a pair of Quadrant 4 losses to Washington State and Princeton. This week, they went 1-1 with a loss at Coloradothe least terrible of their bad losses, but still a loss that a bubble team cannot afford to take.

    If Arizona State wins out, it should get in. That means getting road wins over Arizona, Oregon and Oregon State, though—good luck with that.


    Third Team Out: Seton Hall Pirates

    Seton Hall has quietly but definitively emerged as the fourth-best tournament candidate from the Big East.

    The Pirates have won four of their last five, including a season sweep of Creighton and a convincing home win over Georgetown. Add in the road win over Maryland and neutral-site victory over Kentucky in December, and it's hard to understand how this team entered the weekend ranked outside the top 60 on both KenPom.com and the NET.

    Getting swept by DePaul and losing a home game against Saint Louis didn't do the Pirates any favors, but they now have three Quadrant 1 wins and a total of 10 wins against the top two quadrants. The problem is that nine of those 10 wins were by a margin of seven points or fewer, so they don't register as impressively as they arguably should.

    If they win the next three against Xavier, St. John's and Georgetownor if they happen to pick up a home win over Marquette or Villanova in the final week of the regular seasonthe Pirates should go dancing.


    Fourth Team Out: Any Mid-Major with 5 Losses or Fewer

    We already have 22-5 Furman as a projected at-large team, as well as 22-3 Buffalo, 23-4 Wofford, 22-4 New Mexico State, 17-4 Yale, 21-5 Lipscomb, 21-5 Vermont, 22-5 Hofstra, 21-5 Texas State and 22-5 UC Irvine as projected auto bids. But those aren't the only mid-major teams hanging around the bubble conversation.

    There's also 21-4 Murray State, which hasn't beaten anyone better than Austin Peay, but which also hasn't suffered a Quadrant 3 or Quadrant 4 loss. If the Racers win out before losing to Belmont in the Ohio Valley championship, they might have a chance.

    Liberty (22-5) is also in decent shape following its road win over Lipscomb this week. Similar to Murray State, if the Flames can avoid taking any more losses before an Atlantic Sun finals rematch with Lipscomb, they'll be in the hunt.

    UNC Greensboro (22-5), Toledo (20-5) and even Stony Brook (21-5) are worth monitoring as we close in on Selection Sunday on St. Patrick's Day. With the major-conference bubble consisting of teams that already have 10-12 losses, there's never been a better year to throw a bone to some of the little schools racking up wins.

East Region (Washington, D.C.)

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    Mississippi's Breein Tyree
    Mississippi's Breein TyreeThomas Graning/Associated Press

    Columbia, South Carolina

    No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Norfolk State/Canisius

    No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 9 Ohio State

    San Jose, California

    No. 4 Texas Tech vs. No. 13 Vermont

    No. 5 Virginia Tech vs. No. 12 Nebraska/Utah State

    Tulsa, Oklahoma

    No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 14 UC Irvine

    No. 6 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Minnesota

    Des Moines, Iowa

    No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 South Dakota State

    No. 7 Cincinnati vs. No. 10 North Carolina State


    Noteworthy Riser: Ole Miss Rebels (No. 9 seed to No. 8)

    Mississippi picked up a quality road win over Auburn this week and subsequently pushed its winning streak to four games with a home victory over Missouri. That's a fine bounce-back from losing five out of six beginning in mid-January.

    Defense was the biggest issue during that skid. The Rebels allowed an average of 83.0 points in those five losses, but they have yet to allow more than 71 during this winning streak. That defense showed up in a big way against Missouri, forcing 25 turnovers to win a game in which the Rebels got destroyed on the glass.

    Ole Miss is now 4-7 in Quadrant 1 games without a single loss outside of that group. If the Rebels continue taking care of business against the SEC's teams ranked outside the KenPom top 50, that means four more wins against South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas and Missouri in the next three weeks. Even if they get blown out in remaining home games against Kentucky and Tennessee, a 4-2 finish should be enough for the Rebels to land in an 8/9 game.


    Noteworthy Slider: Minnesota Golden Gophers (No. 10 seed to No. 11)

    Minnesota destroyed Indiana on Saturday, but the Golden Gophers lost to Nebraska earlier in the weektheir fourth consecutive L. Beating up on the Hoosiers kept them from falling out of the projected field altogether, but the 1-1 week against the Big Ten's bubble resulted in a slight drop on the overall seed list.

    The Gophers still have three games remaining against Michigan, Purdue and Maryland, as well as road games against Rutgers and Northwestern. A 3-2 finish would get them to 20-11 overall and .500 in Big Ten play, which would probably mean the No. 7 seed in the Big Ten tournament—and what might be a do-or-die bubble battle with Nebraska or Indiana in the second round of that tourney.

    Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves with those potential projections, though, because the only game KenPom is projecting Minnesota to win is against Rutgerswith only a 51 percent chance of winning. It could be a rough finish for a team that started 12-2 with wins over Wisconsin, Washington and Nebraska.

Midwest Region (Kansas City, Missouri)

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    UCF Knights
    UCF KnightsJessica Hill/Associated Press

    Columbus, Ohio

    No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 16 Loyola-Chicago

    No. 8 TCU vs. No. 9 St. John's

    San Jose, California

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

    No. 5 Louisville vs. No. 12 VCU

    Tulsa, Oklahoma

    No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 14 Texas State

    No. 6 Mississippi State vs. No. 11 UCF

    Des Moines, Iowa

    No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Montana

    No. 7 Wofford vs. No. 10 Syracuse


    Noteworthy Riser: UCF Knights (No. 12 seed to No. 11)

    There has been a lot of talk about the major-conference bubble being terrible and mid-major teams deserving at-large consideration because of it. But as a member of the "somewhere between major and mid-major" AAC, UCF has kind of flown beneath the radar for the past two weeks, rallying from a home loss to Houston with three consecutive wins over SMU, South Florida and Memphis.

    Those aren't fantastic wins by any stretch of the imagination, but for a Knights team that is 0-2 against Quadrant 1, those represent three of their seven best wins of the season. In conjunction with other bubble teams falling by the wayside, that was enough for them to move up five spots on the overall seed list to get out of the play-in games range.

    They are eventually going to need to beat either Cincinnati or Houston, though, and they'll get three more shots at those teams during the regular season. If the Knights win one of those—as well as the other remaining games against SMU, South Florida and Temple—that should do the trick.

    At the beginning of February, it felt like UCF probably needed to win two of the four games against Cincinnati and Houston. Thanks to the Big Ten and SEC bubble teams falling apart, things have changed.


    Noteworthy Slider: TCU Horned Frogs (No. 7 seed to No. 8)

    TCU was one of our top risers last week following its road win over Iowa State. However, that is the only Quadrant 1 victory the Horned Frogs have this season, so their margin for error is still smaller than it is for most teams. And losing a home game against Oklahoma this weekTCU's worst loss of the season as far as the NET is concerned—necessitated a slight drop.

    The Horned Frogs are now 17-8 and two games below .500 in Big 12 play with a tough schedule remaining. They still have road games against Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas as well as home games against Iowa State, Texas Tech and Kansas State.

    If they go 3-3—the most likely outcome of six coin flipsthey are likely to end up as either the No. 7 or No. 8 seed for the Big 12 tournament, which would mean another game against either OK State or WVU in the first round. If they lose that game and finish at 20-12 with only one or two great wins, they might need to settle for winning the NIT for a second time in three years.

South Region (Louisville, Kentucky)

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    Furman's Matt Rafferty
    Furman's Matt RaffertyRichard Shiro/Associated Press

    Columbia, South Carolina

    No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Sam Houston State

    No. 8 Auburn vs. No. 9 Texas

    Salt Lake City

    No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Hofstra

    No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 12 Clemson

    Jacksonville, Florida

    No. 3 Houston vs. No. 14 Old Dominion

    No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 11 Furman

    Columbus, Ohio

    No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Northern Kentucky

    No. 7 Florida State vs. No. 10 Lipscomb


    Noteworthy Riser: Furman Paladins (New to the Field)

    Hey, remember these guys? The Paladins started the season 12-0 with an incredible road win over Villanova and a looked-better-at-the-time road win over Loyola-Chicago, making it into the AP Top 25 for the first time in program history.

    They dropped off the radar after losses in five of the next nine games following that hot start, but they are back thanks to six consecutive wins by a double-digit margin.

    Two weeks ago, Furman blew out a good East Tennessee State team by 30 to get back into the bubble picture. This past week, the Paladins beat UNC Greensboro (projected for an at-large bid last week) by 10 points before destroying VMI. Big man Matt Rafferty has quietly been one of the most valuable players in the country.

    There's still work to be done, though. Furman hosts Wofford on Saturday before a road game against Samford the following Thursday. Both of those teams beat the Paladins in January, and they must avenge at least one of those losses to have a chance for an at-large bid.

    Regardless of how this ends, it's pretty cool that we're into the second half of February and still legitimately talking about multiple at-large candidates from the Southern Conference.


    Noteworthy Slider: Lipscomb Bisons (No. 8 seed to No. 10)

    Two weeks after obliterating Liberty on the road, Lipscomb lost to the Flames in Nashville this past Wednesday. It wasn't a terrible loss by NET or KenPom standards, but when more than half of your games are Quadrant 4 wins, every loss is going to hurt a bit.

    Moreover, Lipscomb's best win of the season (at TCU) lost a little bit of value with the Horned Frogs going 0-2 this week. Also, Lipscomb's 17-point loss to Clemson looks a little less forgivable after the Tigers lost a pair of one-point games this week.

    That combination resulted in a drop of two seed lines, but we still like Lipscomb as a potential at-large candidate.

West Region (Anaheim, California)

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    Oklahoma's Christian James
    Oklahoma's Christian JamesLM Otero/Associated Press

    Salt Lake City

    No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 St. Francis (Pa.)/Prairie View A&M

    No. 8 Washington vs. No. 9 Oklahoma

    Hartford, Connecticut

    No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 13 Yale

    No. 5 Villanova vs. No. 12 Indiana/Florida

    Hartford, Connecticut

    No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Radford

    No. 6 Iowa vs. No. 11 Belmont

    Jacksonville, Florida

    No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Bucknell

    No. 7 Buffalo vs. No. 10 Baylor


    Noteworthy Riser: Oklahoma Sooners (No. 10 seed to No. 9)

    Oklahoma has only played one game since our last projection, winning at TCU on Saturday. It was the Sooners' first Quadrant 1 win in Big 12 play and arguably their most impressive win of the season.

    Prior to that game, Oklahoma was one of the primary teams everyone was annoyed with having in the at-large picture, since it was 3-9 in conference play and had lost five consecutive games. Keep in mind, though, conference record doesn't matter, and it's the entire resume that the committee looks atnot just the past month.

    And Oklahoma's entire resume is definitely worthy of a bid right now. The Sooners have four Quadrant 1 wins and only one loss (at West Virginia) to a team outside the NET top 40. In fact, since the season opener at UT Rio Grande Valley (No. 173), the Sooners haven't played a single game against a team outside the top 140.

    Oklahoma's complete lack of Quadrant 4 games should go a long way with the selection committee. Even if the Sooners only go 2-3 the rest of the way, they'll be in decent shape.


    Noteworthy Slider: Purdue Boilermakers (No. 3 seed to No. 4)

    Purdue's eight-game winning streak came to an end this week in a 14-point loss at Maryland.

    No big deal, really. The Boilermakers bounced back with a home win over Penn State and still look like the third-best team in the Big Ten. If they can finish with six straight wins over Indiana, Nebraska, Illinois, Ohio State, Minnesota and Northwestern, they'll be back on the No. 3 or maybe even the No. 2 line.

    However, there were a lot of teams on the No. 3 and No. 4 seed lines who didn't suffer a loss this week, including LSU scoring a colossal (albeit controversial) road win over Kentucky as well as Kansas, Marquette and Nevada destroying teams from the basement of their respective conferences. Purdue's drop was a product of those teams thriving rather than the Boilermakers struggling.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Duke's Zion Williamson
    Duke's Zion WilliamsonLance King/Getty Images

    Just Missed: Kentucky Wildcats and Michigan State Spartans

    This is a much tougher call than it had been for the past few weeks.

    Kentucky didn't just beat Tennessee on Saturday; it smoked the Volunteers by a 17-point margin. Keeping the Wildcats one spot behind a team it blew out is inevitably going to ruffle some feathers, but Kentucky lost a home game to LSU just a few days before this game to create a much wider gap behind Tennessee.

    Even with the impressive home win, the Wildcats are still ever-so-slightly behind Tennessee, in large part because they have two losses to teams not currently projected to make the tournament (Seton Hall and Alabama).

    With such little separation between the SEC's top two teams, there's an argument to be made that they should both land on the No. 2 seed line in favor of Michigan State, which has a nation-best 10 Quadrant 1 wins. But with five total losses and a couple of not-great ones against Indiana and Illinois in the past few weeks, we're going to keep the Spartans on the No. 2 line at least until the road game against Michigan next Sunday.


    No. 4 Tennessee Volunteers

    As just mentioned, Tennessee got its teeth kicked in by Kentucky in Rupp Arena. It was a bad look on prime-time television in what was the Volunteers' first real challenge in more than two months.

    But the Vols entered the day at No. 2 on the overall seed list, and losing a road game against one of the top five teams in the countryno matter the marginis no reason to penalize a team more than a spot or two.

    As discussed last week, though, this was just the start of Tennessee's "prove you belong" stretch to close the regular season. The Volunteers somehow dodged the other top six teams in the SEC for the first seven weeks of conference play, but they've got LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn and a rematch with Kentucky yet to come before the SEC tournament. They don't drop from the top line yet, but check back in a week or two and it could be a much different story.


    No. 3 Virginia Cavaliers

    No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs

    No. 1 Duke Blue Devils

    Nothing new to report on any of these teams. Duke's incredible comeback against Louisville and subsequent home win over NC State keeps the Blue Devils at No. 1 overall. Gonzaga and Virginia won a combined three close-but-not-too-close games against teams with no hope for an at-large bid, with each moving up one spot due to Tennessee's loss.

    Gonzaga's remaining schedule should be a cakewalk. Even the road game against Saint Mary's doesn't figure to be a problem, considering the Zags beat the Gaels by 48 one week ago. Barring either an unforeseeable loss or some four-team combination of Duke/Virginia/North Carolina, Kentucky/Tennessee, Michigan/Michigan State and Kansas winning all of their remaining games, Gonzaga is just about locked in as a No. 1 seed.

    Duke and Virginia have much tougher roads to Selection Sunday.

    The Cavaliers' next two are at Virginia Tech and Louisville, and then they close out the regular season at Syracuse and vs. Louisville. Duke also has road games remaining against VT and Syracuse, as well as two games against North Carolina. Even though both ACC teams have been comfortably on the No. 1 line for most of the season, it's feasible that both could fall victims to those schedules and drop a seed or two.

Seeding by Conference

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    Caleb Martin
    Caleb MartinJonathan Devich/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 the overall seeds broken down by conference. The first four out are in italics.

    ACC (9): 1. Duke; 3. Virginia; 8. North Carolina; 17. Louisville; 18. Virginia Tech; 25. Florida State; 38. Syracuse; 40. NC State; 46. Clemson

    American (3): 11. Houston; 26. Cincinnati; 42. UCF

    Big 12 (8): 9. Kansas; 16. Texas Tech; 19. Iowa State; 23. Kansas State; 32. TCU; 34. Oklahoma; 35. Texas; 37. Baylor

    Big East (3): 10. Marquette; 20. Villanova; 33. St. John's; 71. Seton Hall

    Big Ten (10): 6. Michigan State; 7. Michigan; 14. Purdue; 15. Wisconsin; 21. Maryland; 22. Iowa; 36. Ohio State; 44. Minnesota; 47. Indiana; 49. Nebraska

    Mountain West (2): 13. Nevada; 50. Utah State

    Pac-12 (1): 30. Washington; 70. Arizona State

    SEC (7): 4. Tennessee; 5. Kentucky; 12. LSU; 24. Mississippi State; 29. Ole Miss; 31. Auburn; 48. Florida; 69. Alabama

    Southern (2): 27. Wofford; 43. Furman

    Other (23): 2. Gonzaga; 28. Buffalo; 39. Lipscomb; 41. Belmont; 45. VCU; 51. New Mexico State; 52. Yale; 53. Hofstra; 54. Vermont; 55. UC Irvine; 56. Old Dominion; 57. Texas State; 58. Radford; 59. South Dakota State; 60. Northern Kentucky; 61. Montana; 62. Bucknell; 63. Loyola-Chicago; 64. Sam Houston State; 65. Prairie View A&M; 66. St. Francis PA; 67. Norfolk State; 68. Canisius; 72. Liberty/Toledo/Murray State/UNC Greensboro/Stony Brook


    Advanced stats courtesy of KenPom.com. NET rankings and Quadrant data courtesy of WarrenNolan.com. NET rankings accurate through start of play Saturday.

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


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