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

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 25, 2019

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

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    Kentucky's PJ Washington
    Kentucky's PJ WashingtonJames Crisp/Associated Press

    Between Tennessee's overtime loss to LSU and Kentucky's 27-point thrashing of Auburn, Saturday afternoon's play resulted in an SEC swap in the No. 1 seed projections for the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament. The Volunteers are out and the Wildcats are in, joining Duke, Gonzaga and Virginia on the top line.

    That's about what we were expecting in the preseason, right? Kansas has fallen by the waysideand fell even further this week—but the current No. 1 seeds all began the year in the Top Five of the AP poll.

    That isn't to say this has been a predictable season. Who could have possibly guessed Wofford would be sitting pretty as a No. 6 seed right now, or that Indiana, West Virginia, Oregon and UCLA would be nowhere close to the projected field? But with three weeks remaining until Selection Sunday, the best of the best are who we thought they would be.

    For each of the four regions, we'll discuss one team that is in much better shape than it was in our Feb. 18 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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    Marcquise Reed (2) and Elijah Thomas (14)
    Marcquise Reed (2) and Elijah Thomas (14)Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    Last Team In: UCF Knights

    UCF let a big opportunity slip through its fingers this week, blowing a late lead at Cincinnati. The Knights did bounce back by pummeling SMU on Sunday afternoon, but they need to beat a quality opponent at some point.

    For better or worse, all they have left are chances to rectify their 0-3 Quadrant 1 record.

    UCF closes out the regular season at South Florida, at Houston, vs. Cincinnati and at Temple, each of which will be a Q1 game based on current NCAA Evaluation Tool rankings. The Knights must win at least two of those gamespreferably one of the wins would come against either Houston or Cincinnati. Anything short of that and they will have wasted Tacko Fall's entire career without reaching the NCAA tournament.

            

    Second-to-Last In: Butler Bulldogs

    You've got to love when your resume improves due to things out of your control.

    Last week, I admittedly overlooked Butler a bit because it had just one Quadrant 1 win as well as a Quadrant 3 loss. But with Georgetown beating Villanova and climbing into the NET top 75, Butler's previous road win over the Hoyas is now a Quadrant 1 result. Perhaps even more important, its home loss to Georgetown is now a Quadrant 2 game instead of Quadrant 3.

    Butler also climbed from No. 54 to No. 49 in the NET rankings, which is simultaneously a minor jump and a significant one.

    Thus—with help from basically every bubble team losing latelyeven though Butler went 0-1 this week with a loss at Marquette, it sneaks into the projected field with two games against Providence, a home game against Xavier and a road game against Villanova yet to come. If the Bulldogs go 3-1, that might do the trick.

             

    Third-to-Last In: Clemson Tigers

    It was a ho-hum week for Clemson, which laid an egg at home against a good Florida State team before winning a home game against a not-so-good Boston College squad. It was enough to remain on the right side of the cut line, but not by much.

    The Tigers—who have a home win over Virginia Tech and little else—have a bunch of iffy games left on the schedule. There are road games against Pittsburgh and Notre Dame as well as home games against North Carolina and Syracuse. Similar to Butler, going 3-1 would seem to be enough, but those three wins are going to be tougher for Clemson to get.

    This team's bid is likely to be determined by the ACC tournament, where all signs currently point toward Clemson getting the No. 9 seed and drawing North Carolina State as its first opponent. That could be a must-win game for both teams.

             

    Fourth-to-Last In: Temple Owls

    In a week in which any team that didn't suffer a loss looks better for it, Temple went 1-0 with a home win over Tulsa. That Quadrant 3 result did nothing to move the needle, but it was plenty for the Owls to hold their ground while the bubble slid backward like a landslide.

    They now have nine wins against the NET top 100albeit all but one of those against teams in the Nos. 60-100 range—and they have just the one disappointing loss at home against Penn.

    Similar to the projected Clemson vs. NC State game in the ACC tournament, Temple's impending matchup with UCF at the end of the regular season may be a do-or-die affair. The Owls best not get caught looking ahead, though, as they still have challenging road games against Memphis and Connecticut before then.

First 4 Out

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    Mac McClung
    Mac McClungNick Wass/Associated Press

    First Team Out: Furman Paladins

    Furman belongs in the field. The Paladins won road games against Villanova and Loyola-Chicago, and they battled well in their two losses to Wofford. Their lone non-Quadrant 1 loss of the season (vs. Samford) was the product of an improbable 14-2 run in the final four minutes.

    The selection committee might not see it that way, though. Even though it'll have no problem putting Iowa, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State in the field with atrocious nonconference strengths of schedule, it might use Furman's No. 305 rank in that categoryand its lack of quality wins aside from the Villanova gameas justification for sending the South Carolina school to the NIT instead.

    If the Paladins can win their final two regular-season games (at Samford, at Chattanooga) and then get a third shot at Wofford in the Southern Conference championship, that could be enough to dance—win or lose. They play one of the earliest conference tournaments, though, so they would then need to root for a lot of things to go their way on the major-conference bubble and in the "bid thieves" department.

            

    Second Team Out: Georgetown Hoyas

    Speaking of quality wins over Villanova, Georgetown surged into the bubble conversation this week with a 12-point win over the Wildcats that wasn't even that close. It was the Hoyas' fourth Quadrant 1 win of the season.

    Unfortunately, it was just their second win in February, and they followed it up with a 13-point loss at Creighton. Unless they plan on winning the road game against Marquette at the end of the regular season, the Hoyas must win their next three (vs. DePaul, vs. Seton Hall, at DePaul) to remain in the hunt.

            

    Third Team Out: Alabama Crimson Tide

    All Alabama had to do this week was win a pair of games against SEC bottom-feeders Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. But the Crimson Tide lost to the Aggies and are now in serious trouble.

    They are 16-11 overall with a great home win over Kentucky, a good home win over Mississippi State and unappealing losses to Northeastern, Georgia State and Texas A&M (twice). Worse yet, their remaining schedule (at South Carolina, vs. LSU, vs. Auburn, at Arkansas) is anything but simple. Alabama needs to win at least two of those games to have any realistic hope for an at-large bid.

            

    Fourth Team Out: Saint Mary's Gaels

    In late January, I put together a brief tweet thread about Saint Mary's and its debatable at-large candidacy. The moral of the story is that this team had blown chance after chanceacquiring three bad losses along the way, no lessbut had swindled its way into the bubble conversation by winning all its games by a double-digit margin.

    Since then, the Gaels are 6-1 with a decent home win over San Francisco and a 94-46 loss to Gonzaga. In other words, not much has changed, but they just keep on climbing in both the NET and KenPom.com. At this point, they appear as a top-40 team in both metrics and are starting to show up in projected brackets as a result.

    If they win the home game against Gonzaga on Saturday, then sure, let's consider putting the Gaels in the tournament. If they also blow that opportunity and fall to 20-11 overall, can we please stop pretending that a bunch of 20-point wins over bad teams is worthy of a bid?

             

    Also considered (in no particular order): Seton Hall, Dayton, Murray State, Nebraska, South Carolina

East Region (Washington, D.C.)

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    VCU's Marcus Evans
    VCU's Marcus EvansFrank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Columbia, South Carolina

    No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Lehigh

    No. 8 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Auburn

    San Jose, California

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

    No. 5 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 Utah State

    Tulsa, Oklahoma

    No. 3 Houston vs. No. 14 UC Irvine

    No. 6 Iowa vs. No. 11 Texas

    Des Moines, Iowa

    No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 Wright State

    No. 7 Louisville vs. No. 10 VCU

           

    Noteworthy Riser: VCU Rams (No. 12 seed to No. 10)

    VCU pushed its winning streak to eight games by laying the smackdown on Rhode Island and George Washington this week. The Rams smoked those opponents by a combined margin of 62 points.

    Even though that home game against GW was the weakest opponent the Rams have faced all season, the NET was still impressed. Since last weekend, VCU has climbed from No. 43 to No. 34 in the selection committee's primary sorting tool, which is a prime spot for at-large consideration.

    It's still going to be a tightrope walk to the finish line. The rams have four more games (vs. Saint Louis, at Richmond, at George Mason, vs. Saint Joseph's) against KenPom top 200 opponents. They should win all four to lock up a spot in the field, but any one of those opponents could be a tripping hazard.

             

    Noteworthy Slider: Louisville Cardinals (No. 5 seed to No. 7)

    Louisville is a prime example of how quickly things can unravel in this glorious, chaotic sport we love.

    Not two weeks ago, the Cardinals were 17-7 overall with nice wins over Michigan State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. They were projected for a No. 5 seed on the morning of Feb. 12, and that evening they opened up a 23-point lead over Duke. Winning that game would have vaulted Louisville to a No. 3 seed and given this team even more confidence for this closing stretch.

    However, the Cardinals blew that huge lead, barely held on for a home win over Clemson a few days later and took double-digit losses to Syracuse and Virginia this week. It's as if that loss to Duke broke them.

    They aren't in any danger of missing the tournament, but if they continue to struggle by losing to Boston College and/or Notre Dame this week, they might slip another seed line or two and be forced to go through a No. 1 seed in the second round.

Midwest Region (Kansas City, Missouri)

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    Florida's KeVaughn Allen
    Florida's KeVaughn AllenMatt Stamey/Associated Press

    Columbus, Ohio

    No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 16 Canisius/St. Francis (PA)

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

    Salt Lake City

    No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 13 Hofstra

    No. 5 Virginia Tech vs. No. 12 Minnesota

    Des Moines, Iowa

    No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 14 South Dakota State

    No. 6 Florida State vs. No. 11 Arizona State

    Columbus, Ohio

    No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Drake

    No. 7 Cincinnati vs. No. 10 Florida

           

    Noteworthy Riser: Florida Gators (No. 12 seed to No. 10)

    Left for almost dead two weeks ago, Florida has put itself in great position for a bid with four consecutive wins.

    The Gators moved into last week's projected field thanks to a road win over Alabama, and their subsequent overtime win at LSU this week was cause for a jump of nine spots on the overall seed list. They darn near gave all that good mojo right back in Saturday's home game against Missouri, but the Gators were able to eke out another win.

    Those wins over Alabama and LSU are their only Quadrant 1 wins of the season. That's a little concerning since they have played 12 Quadrant 1 games. But Florida only has one bad loss, and that home game against South Carolina doesn't look anywhere near as bad now as it did in early January. As long as the Gators beat Vanderbilt and Georgia this week, they should be in the NCAA tournament. 

             

    Noteworthy Slider: Kansas Jayhawks (No. 3 seed to No. 4)

    Kansas is going to be an interesting litmus test in what matters most to the selection committee.

    If it's Quadrant 1 wins and/or strength of schedule, the Jayhawks are in great shape. No team has played a tougher schedule, which has resulted in nine Quadrant 1 wins. Only Michigan State (10) has more.

    But if road record (2-7), NET ranking (No. 20) and the eye test (gross) are more important factors, Kansas may end up as a No. 5 seed or worse for the first time since 2000.

    The X-factor in that debate is injuries/absences. The Jayhawks have played most of the season without Udoka Azubuike. Lagerald Vick has missed the last four games due to personal reasons, and Marcus Garrett just returned Saturday after a five-game absence due to injury. This team is barely even a shell of what it was in November, so the eye test should be more important than usual here.

    And let's just say Kansas failed the eye test in that 91-62 loss at Texas Tech this past weekend.

South Region (Louisville, Kentucky)

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    Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver
    Texas Tech's Jarrett CulverJohn Weast/Getty Images

    Columbia, South Carolina

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

    No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 9 TCU

    Hartford, Connecticut

    No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 13 Yale

    No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 12 Temple/Clemson

    Jacksonville, Florida

    No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Montana

    No. 6 Wofford vs. No. 11 Lipscomb

    Tulsa, Oklahoma

    No. 2 Texas Tech vs. No. 15 Texas State

    No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 10 NC State

           

    Noteworthy Riser: Texas Tech Red Raiders (No. 4 seed to No. 2)

    A word of advice: If you want to jump two seed lines in a week with only one game, dismantling Kansas by a 29-point margin in that game is a great way to do it.

    The Red Raiders had lost by 16 to the Jayhawks three weeks prior, allowing more than 73 points (79) in a game for the only time all season. They got their vengeance and then some, jumping out to a 25-point lead before the end of the first half. Texas Tech usually doesn't shoot well, but six Red Raiders drained multiple triples.

    This was par for the TTU course as of late, though. It was the Raiders' fifth consecutive win by a double-digit margin, four of which were decided by at least 25 points. On deck for this week are games against Oklahoma State and TCU, each of which Tech beat by at least 19 earlier this season. The onslaught should continue for another seven days.

             

    Noteworthy Slider: Nevada Wolf Pack (No. 4 seed to No. 7)

    It has been noted time and again for the past couple months that Nevada has not played a single Quadrant 1 game.

    When the Wolf Pack started 14-0 with decent wins over the likes of Utah State, Arizona State, USC and BYU, no one cared about the lack of marquee wins. They were doing what they could against their schedule, defending their ranking as a preseason Top 10 team.

    The subsequent 27-point loss to New Mexico was troublesome for a few days, but as Nevada racked up one blowout win after another to get to 24-1, it seemed to be comfortably positioned on the No. 4 seed line.

    Now that the Wolf Pack have added another not-great loss (at San Diego State), the lack of Quadrant 1 games is becoming more problematic.

    Of particular intrigue is a comparison between Nevada and Wofford. The latter has three Quadrant 1 wins and no losses to teams outside the NET top 40. Considering Nevada's numbers in those categories are zero and two, respectively, it's almost impossible to justify having Nevada seeded ahead of Wofford based on anything other than preseason expectations.

    The Wolf Pack could help themselves out a lot by winning at Utah State this Saturday. If they instead lose to the Aggies, you might be looking at the best No. 8 or No. 9 seed since Kentucky went to the 2014 national championship game from that starting spot.

West Region (Anaheim, California)

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    Tennessee's Grant Williams (2) and Jordan Bone (0)
    Tennessee's Grant Williams (2) and Jordan Bone (0)Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Salt Lake City

    No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Norfolk State/Prairie View A&M

    No. 8 Washington vs. No. 9 Syracuse

    San Jose, California

    No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Old Dominion

    No. 5 Kansas State vs. No. 12 Butler/UCF

    Hartford, Connecticut

    No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 14 Vermont

    No. 6 Villanova vs. No. 11 Belmont

    Jacksonville, Florida

    No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Radford

    No. 7 Buffalo vs. No. 10 Ohio State

           

    Noteworthy Riser: Kansas State Wildcats (No. 6 seed to No. 5)

    This was supposed to be an uneventful week for the Wildcats, playing back-to-back games against the two worst teams in the Big 12. But they turned nothing into something by winning at West Virginia by 14 before absolutely embarrassing Oklahoma State in an 85-46 beatdown.

    In addition to a lackluster nonconference strength of schedule, margin of victory had been one of the main things holding Kansas State back from being seeded as well as the projected Big 12 champion deserves. After bumping that average scoring margin from plus-5.6 up to plus-7.2 this week, the Wildcats have matched their highest KenPom ranking since mid-December.

    If Kansas State happens to win at Kansas on Monday night, get ready to see this team surge ahead another seed line or two.

             

    Noteworthy Slider: Tennessee Volunteers (No. 1 seed to No. 3)

    In a vacuum, an overtime loss at LSU is not a good reason to penalize a team. Even though the Tigers were playing without Tremont Waters, there's still a ton of talent on that roster.

    But we gave Tennessee the benefit of the doubt last week for its loss to Kentucky, and now it's time to scrutinize this resume more than we had been when the Volunteers were No. 1 in the AP poll. And compared to most of the teams vying for spots on the top three seed lines, Tennessee simply doesn't have that many great wins.

    Neutral-site victories over Gonzaga and Louisville still look great, However, in the 11 weeks since the most recent of those key wins, a road W over Florida is the only remotely impressive outcome the Volunteers have had. There are a dozen teams with at least seven Quadrant 1 wins while Tennessee only has fivetwo of which (at Memphis; at Texas A&M) weren't against teams anywhere close to the at-large conversation.

    The Vols could bounce back and earn a No. 1 seed, considering their remaining regular-season games are against Ole Miss, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Auburn. If they win those four games and proceed to win the SEC tournament, heck, the No. 1 overall seed might still be in play here. For now, though, they need to re-prove that they deserve to be considered a Top 10 team.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Virginia's De'Andre Hunter
    Virginia's De'Andre HunterLee Luther Jr./Associated Press

    Just Missed: North Carolina Tar Heels

    It'd be hard to ask for a better week than the one North Carolina just had. Put a Zion Williamson-sized asterisk on the first game if it helps you sleep at night, but the Tar Heels won at Duke by 16 before an 18-point home win over Florida State.

    They now have seven Quadrant 1 wins and nary a loss in a game outside that group.

    And here's a fun fact that I cannot recall seeing in all of my years of doing bracketology: North Carolina has already faced all four teams currently projected for a No. 1 seed, beating Duke and Gonzaga and losing to Kentucky and Virginia. The Heels also lost to Michigan earlier this season, and one could make a strong case for the Wolverines as a No. 1 seed, too.

    North Carolina should win its next three (vs. Syracuse, at Clemson, at Boston College) before the rematch with Duke on March 9. Depending on how that game and the ACC tournament shake out, don't rule out the possibility of three No. 1 seeds from this conference.

          

    No. 4 Kentucky Wildcats

    Kentucky almost made the jump to a No. 1 seed last week, and Tennessee's loss to LSU paved the way for the Wildcats to climb back to the top line for the first time since the preseason.

    In the past 10 weeks, Kentucky has wins over North Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas, Louisville, Mississippi State (twice), Auburn (twice) and Florida. After beating no one worth mentioning in their first 10 games, the Wildcats incredibly have nine Quadrant 1 victories and one of the best resumes in the country.

    They do still have the rematch at Tennessee this Saturday, but even if they lose that game, they'd still be in good shape for a No. 1 seed if they come back and win the SEC tournament.

                   

    No. 3 Virginia Cavaliers

    This week easily could have been a bit of a mess for Virginia. The Cavaliers had to play road games at both Virginia Tech and Louisvilletwo of the six best teams in the ACC by all accounts. But the Cavaliers shut down VT's potent three-point attack (three of 28), and the pack-line defense limited Louisville to just five two-pointers and six free throws.

    In typical Virginia fashion, it didn't score 65 in either game, yet the outcome wasn't in doubt at any point in the final five minutes.

    Following those wins, it was at least tempting to vault Virginia back ahead of Duke. However, the head-to-head sweep served as a tiebreaker between two strong ACC resumes. If they meet for the third time in the ACC championship game, that may determine who gets the No. 1 seed in the East Region and who goes to the South Region.

                 

    No. 2 Duke Blue Devils

    I'm not going to sit here and try to convince you that the home loss to North Carolinaafter Williamson left with an injury 30 seconds into the gamedoesn't matter. It does. The Tar Heels played well, Duke shot horribly and we all sort of overlooked how impressive that UNC performance was.

    But I'm also not going to try to convince you it was a bad loss, or that Duke's resume should be ripped up and thrown away because of it. Rather, the Blue Devils bounced back for yet another Quadrant 1 win (at Syracuse), giving the Blue Devils eight of those and a total of 15 wins over the top two quadrantstied with Michigan for the most in the nation as of the start of play on Sunday.

    They still have a season sweep of Virginia and neutral-court victories over both Kentucky and Texas Tech. Best of luck trying to find another team with a quartet of wins similar to that.

                

    No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs

    This team is a runaway freight train, and I dedicated a column last week to making sure you all know just how ridiculously good the offense is.

    Since then, Gonzaga has beaten Pepperdine by 28 and BYU by 34. It's getting out of hand.

    The Zags may well get jumped by the ACC, Big Ten and/or SEC tournament winners between now and Selection Sunday, but they are going to be a No. 1 seed if they can get through two more weeks without a loss. Considering they've won 18 straight by a double-digit margin, those odds are good.

Seeding by Conference

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    Gonzaga's Brandon Clarke
    Gonzaga's Brandon ClarkeYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    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): 2. Duke; 3. Virginia; 5. North Carolina; 19. Virginia Tech; 22. Florida State; 25. Louisville; 35. Syracuse; 40. NC State; 48. Clemson

    American (4): 11. Houston; 28. Cincinnati; 47. Temple; 50. UCF

    Big 12 (8): 9. Texas Tech; 14. Kansas; 17. Kansas State; 18. Iowa State; 32. Oklahoma; 33. Baylor; 36. TCU; 42. Texas

    Big East (4): 10. Marquette; 24. Villanova; 30. St. John's; 49. Butler; 70. Georgetown

    Big Ten (8): 6. Michigan State; 8. Michigan; 13. Purdue; 15. Wisconsin; 16. Maryland; 21. Iowa; 38. Ohio State; 46. Minnesota

    Mountain West (2): 27. Nevada; 45. Utah State

    Pac-12 (2): 29. Washington; 43. Arizona State

    SEC (7): 4. Kentucky; 9. LSU; 12. Tennessee; 20. Mississippi State; 31. Ole Miss; 34. Auburn; 39. Florida; 71. Alabama

    Other (24): 1. Gonzaga; 23. Wofford; 26. Buffalo; 37. VCU; 41. Belmont; 44. Lipscomb; 51. New Mexico State; 52. Yale; 53. Hofstra; 54. Old Dominion; 55. UC Irvine; 56. Vermont; 57. South Dakota State; 58. Montana; 59. Texas State; 60. Radford; 61. Drake; 62. Wright State; 63. Lehigh; 64. Sam Houston State; 65. Prairie View A&M; 66. Norfolk State; 67. St. Francis (PA); 68. Canisius; 69. Furman; 72. Saint Mary's

          

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

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