2019 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68
Thanks to losses by Kentucky and Michigan State over the weekend, there's a new projected No. 1 seed for the 2019 NCAA tournament: the North Carolina Tar Heels.
UNC had a close call Saturday night at Clemson, but it was able to eke out its 12th win in 13 games—a stretch that also includes victories over Duke, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Louisville, Syracuse and NC State. Factor in the nonconference wins over Gonzaga and Wofford, and that's one heck of a tournament resume.
But North Carolina isn't our highest-seeded team from the ACC. It isn't the second-highest team from the conference, either. Both Virginia and Duke are still ahead of UNC, meaning there would be three ACC teams on the top line (along with Gonzaga) if the NCAA tournament started today.
Toward the end of this projection, we'll dive a little further into the No. 1 seed debate and explain if/how the ACC could maintain that status on Selection Sunday.
For each of the four regions, we'll discuss one team that is in much better shape than it was in our Feb. 25 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: Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota kept hope alive with a road win over Northwestern, but its resume lost a little bit of luster thanks to Iowa dropping a dozen spots in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings. The Golden Gophers' home win over Iowa is now no longer a Quadrant 1 result. And silly as it may seem, those optics can make a difference when splitting hairs on the bubble.
Regardless, Minnesota needs to win at least one of its remaining games: vs. Purdue; at Maryland. Suffice it to say, neither one is going to be easy. But two losses would put the Gophers at 18-13 with losses to Rutgers, Illinois and Boston College and just the one great win (at Wisconsin). Barring a big upset in the Big Ten tournament, that likely wouldn't be enough.
Second-to-Last In: Temple Owls
Playing at Memphis has not been easy this season, and Temple found that out the hard way with an 81-73 loss at FedEx Forum on Tuesday. It wasn't a terrible loss for the Owls, but let's just say it didn't help matters.
Temple is now 21-8 with just a 1-6 record against Quadrant 1. The good news is the one win was a great one against Houston. The bad news is the Owls also have losses to Tulsa and Penn. And the worst news is that they are ranked outside the top 50 in the NET and are 73rd on KenPom.com. They haven't been inside the KenPom top 65 yet this season, and that's something the selection committee is bound to notice if it takes outside metrics into consideration.
The Owls play at Connecticut on Thursday followed by a home game against UCF. They definitely need to win at least one of those games, and they may well need to win them both.
Third-to-Last In: Indiana Hoosiers
This is going to be controversial, but it shouldn't be. The Hoosiers were a sub-.500 afterthought one week ago, but home wins over Wisconsin and Michigan State this week have brought them back from the dead and then some. Indiana now has six Quadrant 1 wins and no Quadrant 3 or Quadrant 4 losses.
You can scream about the 14 losses and the fact that they wouldn't even be in the conversation if not for a season sweep of Michigan State, but there's recent history to support this type of resume getting a bid.
In 2017, Vanderbilt was 19-15 on Selection Sunday with three great wins over Florida (RPI No. 8), three decent wins over teams just outside the RPI Top 20 and one horrendous loss to Missouri (RPI No. 252). Not only did the Commodores get into the NCAA tournament, but they did so as a No. 9 seed.
Come back to this season and Indiana is in a similar boat—in a year where the bar for bubble teams appears to be at an all-time low, no less. The Hoosiers only have two wins (thus far) against their top-10 opponent (Michigan State), but since they have avoided terrible losses, they arguably have an even better resume than Vanderbilt did.
Indiana still needs to win games against Illinois and Rutgers this week, but that would get the Hoosiers to 17-14 and would set up a colossal bubble battle with either Ohio State or Minnesota in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. If they also win that game, the Hoosiers might become a lock.
Fourth-to-Last In: Arizona State Sun Devils
This resume will be the death of bracketologists across the nation.
Arizona State has quality wins over Kansas, Mississippi State, Utah State and Washington. Arizona State also has dreadful home losses to Washington State and Princeton and a total of eight losses to teams nowhere close to the at-large conversation. The latest of those losses was a 79-51 shellacking at Oregon on Thursday, dropping the Sun Devils to 10-6 in what is unarguably the worst major conference.
They subsequently won at Oregon State to remain in the hunt and they should be OK if they can win at Arizona next weekend. Given how inconsistently they have played all season, though, only a madman would attempt to project the outcome of that game with any certainty.
First 4 Out
First Team Out: Furman Paladins
The Paladins were our first team out one week ago, and road wins over Samford and Chattanooga would have pushed them into the field were it not for Indiana flying in out of nowhere.
Still, a two-bid SoCon remains a possibility. It would definitely happen if Wofford fails to secure the league's auto bid, and it could happen if Furman reaches the SoCon finals before falling to Wofford.
Thanks in large part to the November road win over Villanova, Furman is 44th in the NET rankings. Neutral-site wins over Mercer and UNC Greensboro followed by a loss to Wofford might be enough to bump Furman into the top 40, depending on the margins of those games.
If that's how things play out, hopefully the selection committee does the right thing here. But given its recent history of overlooking deserving mid-major teams like Saint Mary's, Monmouth, Murray State and others, we're less than optimistic.
Second Team Out: Clemson Tigers
So, Clemson is cursed, right?
The Tigers are 0-5 this season in games decided by one or two points. The loss to NC State was the most memorable collapse, but they also had chances to win against Nebraska, Miami, Louisville and North Carolina before letting them all slip away. If they were 5-0 in those games, they'd probably be a No. 5 seed right now.
Instead, the most recent missed opportunity at home against North Carolina leaves Clemson in dire straits. Both KenPom (No. 30) and the NET (No. 40) would have this team in the field today, but lack of quality wins is a major concern.
Even if the Tigers beat Notre Dame and Syracuse this week, they're going to enter the ACC tournament with 12 total losses and a 1-9 record in Quadrant 1 games. They are either going to draw Louisville or North Carolina State in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 second-round game of the ACC tournament. They probably need to win that one, too, especially if teams like Gonzaga, Nevada or Wofford lose in their conference tournaments to shrink the bubble.
Third Team Out: Murray State Racers
Under normal circumstances, Murray State would be in "auto bid or bust" territory without a second thought. Sure, the Racers are 25-4, but 21 of those wins were either Quadrant 4 or non-D1 games. They don't have a single win over a team in the NET top 130.
But these aren't normal circumstances.
There's no question that Murray State passes the eye test. This team almost won at Alabama in November, almost won at Auburn in December, and its other two losses (vs. Belmont, at Jacksonville State) can be somewhat attributed to Ja Morant rolling his ankle early in the Belmont game and still not looking quite right until after the Jacksonville State game.
Murray State is ranked 50th in the NET and is just outside the top 50 on KenPom (54). The Racers have a double bye into the Ohio Valley Conference semifinals, where they will likely draw Jacksonville State on Friday for the right to face Belmont in the championship game. If that's how things shake out and they lose a close battle with the Bruins on Saturday, it's going to be a long eight days of deliberation until Selection Sunday.
Fourth Team Out: Georgetown Hoyas
It took two overtimes, but Georgetown kept itself on the bubble with a home win over Seton Hall on Saturday.
The Hoyas are 18-11 and just might end up with the No. 3 seed in the Big East tournament. The Feb. 20 home win over Villanova is what vaulted them into the conversation, but they also have nice wins over St. John's, Butler, Illinois, Liberty and now Seton Hall.
A road win over DePaul on Wednesday would keep the at-large dream intact. A subsequent road win over Marquette on Saturday would likely push Georgetown into the projected field ahead of championship week.
East Region (Washington, D.C.)
Columbia, South Carolina
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Colgate
No. 8 VCU vs. No. 9 St. John's
Salt Lake City
No. 4 Marquette vs. No. 13 Yale
No. 5 Maryland vs. No. 12 Alabama
No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 South Dakota State
No. 6 Cincinnati vs. No. 11 TCU
Des Moines, Iowa
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 Radford
No. 7 Auburn vs. No. 10 NC State
Noteworthy Riser: Auburn Tigers (No. 9 seed to No. 7)
For the longest time, Auburn's resume was lacking anything close to a signature win. There are home victories over Florida and Washington and a road win over Texas A&M that bounce back and forth between Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2, but the Tigers were winless in seven chances against teams that are locks for the tournament.
Emphasis on "were," because they finally got that key win against Mississippi State on Saturday. Bryce Brown and Anfernee McLemore combined for nine three-pointers while Auburn was able to stave off a late rally by the Bulldogs.
Given how much the metrics love this team (No. 21 in NET, No. 16 on KenPom), Auburn could surge up the seed list with a strong finish. The Tigers play at Alabama on Tuesday and host Tennessee in the regular-season finale. If they win both of those games before reaching the semifinals of the SEC tournament, they could easily climb up to a No. 4 or No. 5 seed.
Noteworthy Slider: TCU Horned Frogs (No. 9 seed to No. 11)
TCU is 3-7 in its last 10 games, including an 0-2 record this past week.
Thankfully for the Horned Frogs, two of the three wins came against Iowa State, bolstering a resume that previously had a few home wins over bubble teams and not much else. But the triple-overtime loss to West Virginia on Tuesday—coupled with the previous week's loss to Oklahoma State—did not help TCU's case for an at-large bid.
The Horned Frogs will wrap up the regular season with a home game against Kansas State and a road game against Texas. If they split, that should be enough to get into the NCAA tournament. If they lose both, though, they'll probably at least need a win over the No. 1 seed in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.
Midwest Region (Kansas City, Missouri)
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 Sam Houston State
No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 9 Oklahoma
San Jose, California
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 New Mexico State
No. 5 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 Lipscomb
No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 14 Old Dominion
No. 6 Florida State vs. No. 11 Utah State
No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 15 Northern Kentucky
No. 7 Louisville vs. No. 10 Washington
Noteworthy Riser: Tennessee Volunteers (No. 3 seed to No. 2)
Dropping Tennessee all the way to the bottom No. 3 seed last week was, admittedly, a bit harsh. Watching the Volunteers lose to Tremont Waters-less LSU one week after they got smashed by Kentucky probably clouded my judgment. But I did note at the time that if they turn things around and finish the year on a seven-game winning streak, the No. 1 overall seed could still be in play.
Two down, five to go. Tennessee won a wild back-and-forth battle at Ole Miss before returning the favor to Kentucky with a 71-52 drubbing of the Wildcats.
Up next are a home showdown with Mississippi State and a road trip to Auburn, both of which are tough but winnable games. Get both of those to finish the regular season at 28-3 with wins over Gonzaga, Kentucky and about a half-dozen other tournament teams, and the Vols will be right back in the mix for a No. 1 seed.
Noteworthy Slider: Washington Huskies (No. 8 seed to No. 10)
From the moment Washington began Pac-12 play with a 9-4 record and nothing close to a quality win, the path to an at-large bid was relatively clear: Win at least 15 Pac-12 games while making sure that none of the losses come against California or Washington State.
The Huskies (14-2) are probably going to get those 15 wins, but it appears they forgot about the second part of that mandate. They suffered a horrible, Quadrant 4 loss at California on Thursday—this less than two weeks after barely escaping with a two-point win over Washington State.
Washington has two Quadrant 1 wins, but neither one—at Oregon (NET No. 64); at Colorado (NET No. 75)—is particularly worth mentioning. The Huskies went 0-3 against definite tournament teams (Gonzaga, Virginia Tech and Auburn) and 0-2 against bubble teams (Arizona State and Minnesota), and now they have an albatross loss to boot.
If they can close out the regular season with home wins over Oregon State and Oregon, they should be OK. Even an immediate Pac-12 tournament loss to an opponent like USC, Stanford or Arizona wouldn't be that bad. But they can probably only afford one more loss if they want to dance. It's up to them whether that comes during the regular season or in the conference tournament.
South Region (Louisville, Kentucky)
Columbia, South Carolina
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Iona/Fairleigh Dickinson
No. 8 Iowa vs. No. 9 Baylor
San Jose, California
No. 4 Houston vs. No. 13 UC Irvine
No. 5 Kansas State vs. No. 12 Arizona State/Indiana
No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 14 Vermont
No. 6 Villanova vs. No. 11 Belmont
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Drake
No. 7 Buffalo vs. No. 10 UCF
Noteworthy Riser: UCF Knights (No. 12 seed to No. 10)
UCF isn't quite a lock for an at-large bid yet, despite what all the pundits were saying in the moments immediately after the Knights' massive road win over Houston on Saturday.
They have a tough remaining schedule, hosting Cincinnati on Thursday before a road game against Temple on Saturday. And if they lose both of those games, they would likely be the No. 4 seed in the AAC tournament, drawing Memphis—which is hosting the tournament—in the quarterfinals. It's entirely possible UCF loses three straight and slides right back onto the bubble, especially if there are a few bid thieves.
But UCF went from 50/50 odds of making the tournament to probably around a 95 percent chance of dancing by upsetting the Cougars. Sophomore big man Collin Smith had a phenomenal performance, finishing with 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists. He and Tacko Fall were also key in shutting down Houston's frontcourt in a nearly must-win game.
Noteworthy Slider: Iowa Hawkeyes (No. 6 seed to No. 8)
Short of suffering a major injury, it's hard to imagine a team having a week worse than the one Iowa just endured.
The Hawkeyes got blown out at Ohio State on Tuesday, after which head coach Fran McCaffery cursed out a referee, called him a cheater and subsequently got suspended for two games. And in their first game without him, the Hawkeyes lost by 14 at home against Rutgers.
The Rutgers loss was by far their worst of the season. And taking the 20-point margin into consideration, it's easy to argue that the Ohio State game was their second-worst loss. If they proceed to lose road games against Wisconsin and Nebraska this week, followed by an immediate exit from the Big Ten tournament—their most likely first opponent appears to be Illinois—things could get dicey.
They should get in regardless, because, my goodness, have you seen the resumes on the bubble? But the Hawkeyes were right on the border between a No. 5 and a No. 6 seed one week ago, and now it's not hard to see a double-digit seed in their future.
West Region (Anaheim, California)
Salt Lake City
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Norfolk State/Prairie View A&M
No. 8 Syracuse vs. No. 9 Ohio State
No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 Hofstra
No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 12 Temple/Minnesota
No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 14 Texas State
No. 6 Wofford vs. No. 11 Florida
Des Moines, Iowa
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Montana
No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 10 Texas
Noteworthy Riser: Texas Longhorns (No. 11 seed to No. 10)
Texas didn't climb much, but the Longhorns are a noteworthy riser because they are rather comfortably in the field with 13 losses—including questionable missteps against Radford, Georgia and Oklahoma State. People love to gripe that Indiana doesn't belong in the field because it has 14 losses, but is there really that much of a difference between 13 and 14?
Back to Texas, though. It picked up a 17-point win over Iowa State on Saturday, following a mid-week, one-point, overtime loss at Baylor. As far as 1-1 weeks go, that's a good one.
The win over Iowa State was the Longhorns' fifth against Quadrant 1, joining an already impressive list of North Carolina, Purdue, Kansas and Kansas State. As long as they win one of their final two regular-season games (at Texas Tech, vs. TCU), they should be in the NCAA tournament.
Noteworthy Slider: Florida Gators (No. 10 seed to No. 11)
One of the biggest bubble no-nos is losing a home game to a team that was previously 1-14 in conference play, but that's precisely what Florida did Saturday night.
After the outstanding road win over LSU on Feb. 20, all the Gators needed to do was avoid disaster the rest of the way. They flirted with it in a home game against Missouri, but they won that game and the subsequent game at Vanderbilt. As long as they took care of business at home against Georgia, they'd be set.
But they didn't. All five starters were held to single digits, and Florida's frontcourt had no answer for Nicolas Claxton (25 points, three blocks).
The Gators are now 17-12 with one great road win over LSU and several not-great losses to Georgia, South Carolina and Butler. And they finish the regular season against LSU and Kentucky, so they'll probably be 17-14 at the start of the SEC tournament. That could set up a do-or-die No. 8 vs. No. 9 first-round game between Florida and Alabama.
Ranking the No. 1 Seeds
Just Missed: Kentucky Wildcats
Two weeks after stomping Tennessee in Rupp Arena, Kentucky landed on the opposite end of that blowout in Knoxville, losing by 19 to the Volunteers. Jordan Bone and Grant Williams were phenomenal for Tennessee, but Kentucky repeatedly shot itself in the foot with 17 turnovers and the inability to make shots from anywhere on the floor.
But even with that poor performance fresh in our minds, there's no question this is still one of the best resumes in the country. Kentucky has eight wins against teams in the NET top 25, and it would almost certainly jump back onto the top line if it beats Ole Miss and Florida this week before winning the SEC tournament.
The Wildcats are currently projected for the No. 3 seed in the SEC tournament, which would likely set up a path to the SEC championship of South Carolina, Tennessee and LSU. Beating the Gamecocks wouldn't do anything for their resume, but adding victories over the Volunteers and the Tigers ought to be more than enough to earn a No. 1 seed.
No. 4: North Carolina Tar Heels
No. 3: Duke Blue Devils
No. 2: Virginia Cavaliers
We might as well address these three ACC teams together, since that's going to be the narrative for the next two weeks.
The last (and only) time that there were three No. 1 seeds from the same conference was when the Big East did it in 2009. But depending on how things shake out in the ACC, Big Ten and SEC conference tournaments, we could be headed for three ACC teams on the top line this year.
Each of these three teams has at least eight Quadrant 1 wins, and the only non-Q1 loss of the bunch was Duke's home game against Syracuse (sans Tre Jones and Cam Reddish). All three have been outstanding on the road this season, boasting a collective 26-3 record. Duke and North Carolina played the toughest nonconference schedules among the teams being considered for a No. 1 seed, and Virginia scored nonconference wins over Wisconsin, Maryland and VCU.
They should go 5-1 the rest of the way. Virginia has should-win games against Syracuse and Louisville. Duke and North Carolina have better-win games against Wake Forest and Boston College, respectively, before the head-to-head rematch on Saturday.
If Virginia enters the ACC tournament with a 28-2 record—with both losses coming against Duke—it will just about be a lock for a No. 1 seed. The winner of next week's Tobacco Road showdown should be comfortably on the top line, too. And if the loser of that game turns around and wins the ACC tournament, it might have an even better argument than the other two teams.
Now, if Tennessee or Kentucky wins the SEC tournament or if Michigan or Michigan State wins the Big Ten tournament, the selection committee may well decide to reward one or both of those teams with a No. 1 seed instead of the teams that bow out of the ACC tournament. However, it's at least possible that all three of these teams remain on the top line on Selection Sunday.
And if you thought people were mad when two SEC teams made the College Football Playoff two years ago, just wait for the backlash to three ACC teams as No. 1 seeds.
No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Gonzaga closed out its incredible regular season with a couple more never-in-doubt road wins over Pacific and Saint Mary's.
The Bulldogs will enter the WCC tournament on a streak of 20 consecutive wins by a double-digit margin. Provided they can win two more games and lock up that auto bid with a 31-2 record, there's no scenario in which they receive anything other than the No. 1 seed in the West Region.
Despite only boasting four Quadrant 1 wins, Gonzaga is No. 1 in the NET with a neutral-site win over Duke. Its only two losses were a nail-biter against Tennessee on a neutral court and a weird December road game against North Carolina in which the Tar Heels committed 23 turnovers but made 13 threes and scored 27 second-chance points.
And remember, the Zags didn't have Geno Crandall or Killian Tillie for a good chunk of nonconference play. Crandall has been a huge asset as a backcourt reserve over the past two months, and Tillie might be able to return from injury for the NCAA tournament.
This team has been great, and it might get even better. Debate the three ACC No. 1 seeds scenario all you want, but Gonzaga is arguably the best team in the country.
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 (8): 2. Virginia; 3. Duke; 4. North Carolina; 14. Virginia Tech; 21. Florida State; 28. Louisville; 31. Syracuse; 38. NC State; 70. Clemson
American (4): 13. Houston; 24. Cincinnati; 40. UCF; 50. Temple
Big 12 (8): 9. Texas Tech; 12. Kansas; 17. Kansas State; 18. Iowa State; 34. Oklahoma; 35. Baylor; 37. Texas; 42. TCU
Big East (3): 16. Marquette; 22. Villanova; 36. St. John's; 72. Georgetown
Big Ten (9): 7. Michigan; 8. Michigan State; 11. Purdue; 15. Wisconsin; 19. Maryland; 29. Iowa; 33. Ohio State; 49. Indiana; 51. Minnesota
Mountain West (2): 26. Nevada; 41. Utah State
Ohio Valley (1): 43. Belmont; 71. Murray State
Pac-12 (2): 39. Washington; 48. Arizona State
Southern (1): 23. Wofford; 69. Furman
SEC (8): 5. Kentucky; 6. Tennessee; 10. LSU; 20. Mississippi State; 27. Auburn; 30. Ole Miss; 44. Florida; 47. Alabama
Other (22): 1. Gonzaga; 25. Buffalo; 32. VCU; 45. Lipscomb; 46. New Mexico State; 52. Hofstra; 53. Yale; 54. UC Irvine; 55. Old Dominion; 56. Vermont; 57. South Dakota State; 58. Texas State; 59. Montana; 60. Radford; 61. Northern Kentucky; 62. Drake; 63. Colgate; 64. Sam Houston State; 65. Fairleigh Dickinson; 66. Iona; 67. Prairie View A&M; 68. Norfolk State
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.