Way-Too-Early Projections for 2020 Men's NCAA Tournament Bracket
Preseason National Player of the Year favorite Cassius Winston and the Michigan State Spartans will open the 2019-20 men's college basketball season as a projected No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament and are joined by Kentucky, Kansas and Duke.
In-season bracket projections will be slathered with dialogue about KenPom.com rankings, strength of schedule, the NCAA's Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings and various other advanced statistics. Huge wins and awful losses will spur the conversation about the biggest movers.
For preseason projections, though, it's all about research and gut feelings. In each region, we'll discuss one team in the field that didn't go to the Big Dance last year, one team projected for a much better seed than last year and one team that—though still projected for a bid—isn't looking quite as strong as it was in 2018-19.
Before that, we'll start with the bubble, as we always do. And after the region-by-region breakdown is a list of overall seeds by conference as a handy reference guide.
Last 5 In
Last Team In: Wisconsin Badgers
For all the jokes about Perry Ellis at Kansas or the seemingly endless line of Plumlee brothers at Duke, didn't it feel like Ethan Happ's tenure at Wisconsin set some sort of NCAA record? It was only four seasons, but he was a starter from day one, instantly becoming one of the most important players right after Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker led the Badgers to back-to-back Final Fours.
Now that he's gone—after averaging 17.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists as a senior, no less—Wisconsin's frontcourt situation is a rather large question mark.
The Badgers also lost Khalil Iverson, who was the second-leading rebounder and a major factor on the defensive end. That leaves them with stretch 5 Nate Reuvers (38.1 percent three-point shooter on 84 tries), even stretchier 4 Aleem Ford (nearly four three-point attempts per two-point try) and the hope that Ohio State transfer Micah Potter can thrive in his new Big Ten home.
But they are loaded with capable three-point shooters and might sneak into the NCAA tournament with more of a recent Marquette brand of basketball in which they just shoot their way to 20 wins.
Second-to-Last In: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Bouncing back from a 19-loss season won't be easy, but the ACC's middle tier is completely up for grabs this year. While Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia all have national championship potential, fifth through seventh place is anyone's guess in a conference that has received at least six bids every year since expanding from 12 to 15 teams before the 2013-14 season.
So, why not Notre Dame?
The Fighting Irish lost D.J. Harvey to the transfer market (Vanderbilt), but that is the only departure of any consequence. More importantly, they get Rex Pflueger back as a fifth-year senior after he missed all but the first 10 games of last season. Combine that guy with the dual combo-guard backcourt of Temple Gibbs and Prentiss Hubb, plus double-double phenom John Mooney, and you've got a tournament-caliber roster.
Third-to-Last In: Georgetown Hoyas
Georgetown's tournament potential boils down to one simple question: How good will Omer Yurtseven be in D.C.?
The Hoyas, who had one of the worst defenses in the nation last season, lost their star (Jessie Govan), as well as their fifth-, seventh- and eighth-leading scorers. That's a lot of attrition for a team that ended up not coming all that close to making the big dance.
But they had three freshmen (Mac McClung, James Akinjo and Josh LeBlanc) in the starting lineup for most of the season, and they didn't have a rim protector anywhere near as good as Yurtseven was during his sophomore season with NC State. Even though they lost a lot of key contributors, marked improvement is the most likely trajectory for this team.
Don't be surprised if Georgetown ends up being the third-best team in the Big East.
Fourth-to-Last In: Mississippi State Bulldogs
Mississippi State finally made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, doing so as a No. 5 seed. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs were immediately eliminated by Liberty. Perhaps this year, they'll be the ones on the beneficial end of a first-round upset because a single-digit seed seems unlikely after losing Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters and Aric Holman.
There's still a good amount of talent on this roster, but how well the Bulldogs weather the storm of Nick Weatherspoon's season-opening 10-game suspension may well determine whether we're even considering this team on Selection Sunday.
If available, Weatherspoon would be a no-questions-asked starter in the backcourt, and Mississippi State needs to make sure it doesn't shoot itself in the foot without him. A loss to Villanova in the semifinals of the Myrtle Beach Invitational wouldn't be the end of the world. Nor would a neutral-site loss to Kansas State in mid-December. But anything worse than 8-2 would be tough to recover from.
Fifth-to-Last In: Providence Friars
The Friars get back six of the seven leading scorers from an 18-win team. That alone is cause for optimism in the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
They also got Luwane Pipkins as a graduate transfer from across the northern border in Massachusetts. An effective true point guard was the biggest thing lacking from Providence's roster last season, and Pipkins, who averaged 16.0 points, 5.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds last year with the Minutemen, should be more than able to fill that void.
Providence also got a sixth year of eligibility for Emmitt Holt. He only managed to play six games over the course of the past two seasons due to injuries, but he ranked second on the roster in points, rebounds and blocks back in 2016-17. Expecting a full return to that form might be a bit much, but just getting him back as a serviceable frontcourt reserve could be huge.
As with Georgetown, a third-place finish in the Big East is well within the realm of possibility here.
First Team out from Each Relevant Conference
ACC: Syracuse. The Orange lost four of their six leading scorers, didn't add a transfer and didn't sign anyone rated higher than 97th (Brycen Goodine) in this year's class, per 247Sports' composite rankings. For a team that backed its way into the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed, that should be a recipe for a year without dancing. But head coach Jim Boeheim has never had a losing season. He'll find a way to keep things interesting, per usual.
Big 12: Oklahoma. The Sooners have a lot in common with Syracuse, losing four of the six leading scorers from a team that finished 20-14. But at least Lon Kruger signed a top-50 freshman (De'Vion Harmon) and has a transfer (Austin Reaves from Wichita State) who should be a major contributor. Depth is the big question mark, though. One minor injury and things could spiral out of control for what figures to be a short rotation.
Big East: Butler. Kamar Baldwin is a star. No question about that. But Butler suffered 17 losses with him leading the way last year, and it's hard to imagine losing Paul Jorgensen, Joey Brunk and Nate Fowler will help matters. However, Khalif Battle is one of the highest-rated recruits in program history, and transfers Derrik Smits (Valparaiso) and Bryce Nze (Milwaukee) should be key pieces in the rotation. Getting a full year out of former Duke transfer Jordan Tucker—wasn't eligible until mid-December; wasn't a starter until late January—could be huge, too.
Big Ten: Iowa. Like every other team thus far on this list, Iowa suffered several significant losses this offseason. Leading scorer and rebounder Tyler Cook is the big one, but Isaiah Moss and Nicholas Baer hurt, too. The Hawkeyes have three obvious leaders in the mix in Luka Garza, Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp, but who knows after that. Fran McCaffery's sons (sophomore Connor and freshman Pat) will be responsible for keeping their dad off the hot seat.
Pac-12: Arizona State. Dating back to his time with Buffalo, transfers have always been a big part of head coach Bobby Hurley's equation. This year, JUCO transfers will be pivotal in the quest to replace Luguentz Dort and Zylan Cheatham, each of whom was named to the 2018-19 All-Pac-12 team. Khalid Thomas, Alonzo Verge Jr. and Andre Allen are those former JUCO guys. If two of the three pan out, the Sun Devils might be in the mix to win the conference.
SEC: Take your pick. We've got seven SEC teams in the projected field, but aside from Vanderbilt and maybe South Carolina, the entire league has NCAA potential. Arkansas and Texas A&M have new head coaches. Georgia will be putting a lot of faith in its freshman class. Missouri and Ole Miss both look like middle-of-the-pack teams. But we had to draw the line somewhere. This conference will be ridiculously deep.
American: South Florida. The oft-disputed seventh major conference might be a four-bid league for the second consecutive season if South Florida can build on last year's championship in the CBI. The Bulls bring back all five of their leading scorers and add a transfer from Oklahoma State (Zack Dawson), who could be the difference that gets them into the NCAA tournament for just the second time since 1992.
East Region (New York City)
St. Louis, Missouri
No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 16 Montana / Sacred Heart
No. 8 Creighton vs. No. 9 Cincinnati
No. 4 Baylor vs. No. 13 Missouri State
No. 5 Purdue vs. No. 12 Liberty
Albany, New York
No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 14 Toledo
No. 6 LSU vs. No. 11 Notre Dame / Wisconsin
Greensboro, North Carolina
No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Georgia Southern
No. 7 Colorado vs. No. 10 Iowa State
New to the Field: Creighton Blue Jays
Creighton almost snuck into last year's tournament by finishing the regular season on a five-game winning streak. However, an immediate loss to Xavier in the Big East tournament relegated the Blue Jays to a No. 2 seed in the NIT.
Aside from big man Martin Krampelj, most of that roster is back for another attempt at glory. In fact, one could say Creighton has established backcourt players out the wazoo with Southeast Missouri State transfer Denzel Mahoney (19.3 PPG in 2017-18) joining Ty-Shon Alexander, Davion Mintz, Mitch Ballock, Marcus Zegarowski and Damien Jefferson. That's one heck of a collection of players 6'5" or shorter.
Will a star emerge in the post, though?
Idaho State transfer Kelvin Jones (9.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.5 BPG last year) will almost certainly start at center with Jacob Epperson and Christian Bishop expected to log significant minutes as reserves. If Jones is unable to successfully make the transition from the Big Sky to the Big East, Creighton is going to be in trouble. But as long as he's serviceable, the Blue Jays should be in great shape.
Noteworthy Riser: Baylor Bears (No. 9 seed to No. 4 seed)
Despite losing Makai Mason and King McClure, the return of Tristan Clark (14.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 1.1 SPG) looms large for the Bears.
They inexplicably got better for a few weeks after losing their best frontcourt player for the season in early January, but they lost eight of their final 13 games once their temporary lights-out three-point shooting underwent some regression to the mean. Getting Clark back means more balance on offense and a much better defense with his shot-blocking prowess at the heart of head coach Scott Drew's zone.
Baylor will also feature a pair of returning double-digit scorers (Mario Kegler and Jared Butler), an underappreciated do-it-all linchpin (Mark Vital) and two noteworthy transfers in Davion Mitchell (Auburn) and MaCio Teague (UNC-Asheville). Kansas should win the Big 12, but don't expect Baylor to be far behind the Jayhawks.
Noteworthy Slider: Iowa State Cyclones (No. 6 seed to No. 10 seed)
Iowa State losing players as early entrants to the NBA draft is highly unusual. Georges Niang stayed for four years. So did Monte Morris, Melvin Ejim, Matt Thomas, Naz Mitrou-Long (five years, actually) and pretty much everyone else recruited to Ames.
Thus, replacing underclassmen Lindell Wigginton, Talen Horton-Tucker and Cameron Lard all in one offseason—as well as seniors Marial Shayok and Nick Weiler-Babb—puts Steve Prohm and Co. in an unfamiliar position. The Cyclones should have a solid inside-outside duo in Tyrese Haliburton (who also declared for the draft before changing his mind) and Michael Jacobson, but who knows what else?
Transfers Prentiss Nixon (Colorado State) and Rasir Bolton (Penn State) will probably both start in the backcourt alongside Haliburton. That influx of talent, as well as the possibility that Solomon Young bounces back to sophomore-year form in the frontcourt after he appeared in just four games last year, at least keeps Iowa State in the hunt for a bid. But 20 wins with this roster is far from a sure thing.
Midwest Region (Indianapolis)
No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 16 Grambling / North Carolina Central
No. 8 Davidson vs. No. 9 Florida State
No. 4 Texas Tech vs. No. 13 UC Irvine
No. 5 Saint Mary's vs. No. 12 New Mexico State
No. 3 Virginia vs. No. 14 Belmont
No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 11 Georgetown / Mississippi State
No. 2 Florida vs. No. 15 South Dakota
No. 7 Marquette vs. No. 10 Texas
New to the Field: Davidson Wildcats
Davidson has never earned a single-digit seed in the NCAA tournament, so a No. 8 seed would be uncharted waters for head coach Bob McKillop.
Here's the thing, though: The Wildcats lost four of the top seven players from the 2017-18 A-10 tourney champs—including A-10 POY Peyton Aldridge—and they somehow fared better last year, winning 24 games. If they could improve while losing four key seniors, imagine what they could accomplish while losing nobody.
We already knew Kellan Grady and Jon Axel Gudmundsson had high-major talent and would be the team leaders. What we didn't know was that freshmen Luka Brajkovic and Luke Frampton would thrive as double-digit scorers immediately.
They weren't ready to beat the likes of Purdue or North Carolina in the first two months of last season, and they made matters worse with a few unfortunate missteps against Wake Forest, Massachusetts and La Salle. But watch out for this one-year-older bunch in 2019-20. Those Stephen Curry years were great, but this might be the most complete team McKillop has ever assembled.
Noteworthy Riser: Florida Gators (No. 10 seed to No. 2 seed)
Florida never clicked last year. KeVaughn Allen was supposed to be the leader, but he was wildly inconsistent. Fellow senior Jalen Hudson went from a three-point assassin in 2017-18 to a guy who often looked like he was shooting blindfolded. And that forced a talented freshman class of Noah Locke, Andrew Nembhard and Keyontae Johnson to shoulder a heavy load before it was ready.
This year, those guys will be the leaders, along with Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., who just might be the preseason favorite for SEC Player of the Year. The Gators will also get Gorjok Gak back from injury for some depth in the frontcourt while bringing along a trio of top-50 freshmen in Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann and Omar Payne.
As far as quantity and quality of talent are concerned, this is easily the most impressive roster Florida has had since winning back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007. It's just a question of whether a predominantly freshman-and-sophomore bunch can make it work, but count us among the believers.
Noteworthy Slider: Florida State Seminoles (No. 4 seed to No. 9 seed)
There's a bit of a Newton's third law situation taking place in the Sunshine State with Florida State dropping down to make room for Florida, but these things happen when you lose six of your eight leading scorers.
Credit to head coach Leonard Hamilton for exploring all avenues of restocking the roster, though.
He signed 5-star forward Patrick Williams, top-100 center Balsa Koprivica, a pair of highly touted JUCO guards (RayQuan Evans and Nathanael Jack) and Ole Miss graduate transfer Dominik Olejniczak. Throw in sat-a-year transfer Malik Osborne (Rice) and redshirt walk-on freshman Ty Hands and you've got every form of roster addition except for international import.
But will it be enough for a team bringing back little more than guards Trent Forrest and M.J. Walker? Florida State should still be the fifth- or sixth-best team in a not-deep ACC, but Miami, Notre Dame and Syracuse aren't just going to roll over, either. The 'Noles will need to work to earn this bid.
South Region (Houston)
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Sam Houston State
No. 8 NC State vs. No. 9 Washington
No. 4 Seton Hall vs. No. 13 Vermont
No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Harvard
No. 3 Memphis vs. No. 14 Colgate
No. 6 VCU vs. No. 11 Providence
St. Louis, Missouri
No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 15 Radford
No. 7 Tennessee vs. No. 10 Illinois
New to the Field: Memphis Tigers
We're used to Duke and Kentucky hitting the reset button every offseason and still vying for a spot in the Final Four, but can Penny Hardaway and Memphis pull it off?
The Tigers lost five of the six leading scorers from a 22-win team that missed the NCAA tournament, but their recruiting class is outlandish, boasting two 5-star standouts and a quintet of 4-star guys.
Both UCLA and Arizona did something similar during the 2012 offseason, each missing the dance before signing a trio of 5-star recruits and earning No. 6 seeds the following season. But those Pac-12 teams had a much more difficult path to 25 wins than what lies before Memphis.
The Tigers do face a trio of SEC teams (Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee), in addition to games against NC State and Oregon. But that early contest against the Ducks is the only one against a preseason AP Top 25 opponent. Maybe they let a couple of games slip away due to the sheer amount of inexperience on the roster, but James Wiseman and Co. should win at least 30 games to lock up a strong seed in the NCAA tournament.
Noteworthy Riser: Seton Hall Pirates (No. 10 seed to No. 4 seed)
Seton Hall had more than enough talent to be a No. 4 seed last year. The neutral-site win over Kentucky and the March victories over Marquette (twice) and Villanova demonstrated what the Pirates were capable of doing. But getting swept by DePaul and losing back-to-back games to Nebraska and Saint Louis did their resume no favors.
With an almost identical roster led by Myles Powell, Seton Hall should take a big step forward in the consistency department to comfortably secure a single-digit seed this year.
The only player the Pirates lost was Michael Nzei, a forward who rarely shot the ball and wasn't that big of a factor on the glass. Florida State transfer Ike Obiagu is five inches taller and should have little difficulty filling that void.
Noteworthy Slider: Tennessee Volunteers (No. 2 seed to No. 7 seed)
It was a fun two-year run for Tennessee as a Final Four contender, but the Volunteers should come crashing back to earth after losing Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone and Kyle Alexander—otherwise known as the four guys who started all 37 games and averaged a combined 56.2 points.
Josiah-Jordan James, a 5-star freshman combo guard, was an excellent pickup by head coach Rick Barnes. Pairing him with seniors Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner should give the Volunteers one of the better starting backcourts in the country.
The frontcourt could be a disaster, though.
John Fulkerson is Tennessee's most experienced big man, and he hasn't logged 20 minutes in a game since December 2016. Yves Pons is incredibly athletic and figures to start as a small-ball 4, but he was so inconsistent that he was barely even playable for the final two months of his sophomore season. And good luck figuring out which of the reserves becomes a key contributor.
Honestly, a No. 7 seed feels overly optimistic for Tennessee. This roster has "bubble" written all over it, especially in a conference deep enough to eat an average team alive. But we're giving Barnes the benefit of the doubt here by only dropping the Vols this far. He may not be any good at leading deep runs into the NCAA tournament, but he usually gets his team into the dance.
West Region (Los Angeles)
Greensboro, North Carolina
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Iona
No. 8 Houston vs. No. 9 Michigan
No. 4 Arizona vs. No. 13 Western Kentucky
No. 5 Utah State vs. No. 12 East Tennessee State
No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 14 Wright State
No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 11 Alabama
Albany, New York
No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 15 Hofstra
No. 7 Auburn vs. No. 10 Dayton
New to the Field: Arizona Wildcats
The ACC has four legitimate national championship contenders, a couple of middling teams that should make the tournament and then a sizable basement.
The Pac-12 is in a similar boat, except scaled down a few rungs. There may well be a four-way battle for first place between Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, but they're probably fighting for No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in the NCAA tournament rather than the No. 4 and No. 5 overall seeds. And those are the only four teams from the conference projected to make the tournament.
That said, I like Arizona's chances of rebounding from an awful, distraction-filled season to win this conference. The Wildcats have a solid returning inside-outside tandem in Dylan Smith and Chase Jeter, they snagged an excellent graduate transfer in Max Hazzard, and a freshman class led by Nico Mannion and Josh Green should rank among the best in the nation.
Noteworthy Riser: Maryland Terrapins (No. 6 seed to No. 2 seed)
It defies logic for a team to lose a nightly double-double and actually improve, but Maryland looks positioned to do so.
Replacing Bruno Fernando (13.6 PPG, 10.6 RPG) won't be easy, but at least he was the only noteworthy player the Terrapins lost. That means they bring back five of the six guys who averaged at least 8.0 points per game last season, including now-senior point guard Anthony Cowan and a big man (Jalen Smith) who absolutely could have gone the one-and-done route had he wanted.
Mark Turgeon's recruiting class is loaded with frontcourt options, too. Early in the season, 6'9" twins Makhi and Makhel Mitchell and 7'2" center Chol Marial should each see a ton of action as the Terps try to determine which one works best alongside Smith in the post. If and when it gets that figured out, Maryland should rival Michigan State for the Big Ten crown.
Noteworthy Slider: Michigan Wolverines (No. 2 seed to No. 9 seed)
Not only did Michigan lose all three of its double-digit scorers (Ignas Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews), but the Wolverines also need to adjust to life without head coach John Beilein. He had led them to the NCAA tournament in eight of the past nine seasons—six times as a No. 4 seed or better—but now it's time to find out if Juwan Howard can fill his shoes.
Michigan still has a solid core of point guard Zavier Simpson, stretch 4 Isaiah Livers and big man Jon Teske, plus a bunch of guys who might be more than enough to make up for all this team lost.
Brandon Johns, David DeJulius and Colin Castleton barely saw the court last year, but all three of those sophomores were 4-stars in last year's class. They also signed 4-star recruits Cole Bajema and Franz Wagner this year, though Mo Wagner's younger brother likely won't play until December after fracturing his wrist.
Counting on all of them to pay off in a big way this year would be a bit foolish, but enough of them should pan out that Michigan at least finds its way into the tourney—just not as a No. 2 seed.
Seeding by Conference
In case seeded regions aren't enough and you want to know where the "top" 68 teams stand in relation to one another, here is a list of each team's overall seed, broken down by conference.
American (3): 12. Memphis; 32. Houston; 36. Cincinnati
Atlantic 10 (3): 22. VCU; 29. Davidson; 39. Dayton
ACC (7): 4. Duke; 5. Louisville; 8. North Carolina; 9. Virginia; 31. NC State; 33. Florida State; 45. Notre Dame
Big 12 (5): 3. Kansas; 13. Texas Tech; 15. Baylor; 38. Texas; 40. Iowa State
Big East (7): 10. Villanova; 14. Seton Hall; 24. Xavier; 28. Marquette; 30. Creighton; 42. Providence; 44. Georgetown
Big Ten (7): 1. Michigan State; 7. Maryland; 17. Purdue; 18. Ohio State; 34. Michigan; 37. Illinois; 46. Wisconsin
Pac-12 (4): 16. Arizona; 23. Oregon; 26. Colorado; 35. Washington
SEC (7): 2. Kentucky; 6. Florida; 21. LSU; 25. Auburn; 27. Tennessee; 41. Alabama; 43. Mississippi State
West Coast (2): 11. Gonzaga; 19. Saint Mary's
Other (23): 20. Utah State; 47. Harvard; 48. New Mexico State; 49. East Tennessee State; 50. Liberty; 51. Western Kentucky; 52. Vermont; 53. UC Irvine; 54. Missouri State; 55. Toledo; 56. Belmont; 57. Wright State; 58. Colgate; 59. Georgia Southern; 60. Radford; 61. Hofstra; 62. South Dakota; 63. Iona; 64. Sam Houston State; 65. Montana; 66. Sacred Heart; 67. Grambling; 68. North Carolina Central
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.