2020 Men's NCAA Tournament Projections at Mid-Point of Regular Season
Of the four current projected No. 1 seeds for the 2020 men's NCAA tournament, two (Duke and Kansas) are usual suspects while the other two (Baylor and Butler) have never received a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in program history.
If you're just dipping your toes into the hardwood now that college football is over and it's a little shocking to see Baylor and Butler sitting on top of the world, just wait.
It gets even weirder.
Remember last year's national champions? Virginia was a No. 1 seed in four of the previous six NCAA tournaments and hasn't done worse than a No. 5 seed since 2013. But the Cavaliers aren't even projected to make the tournament right now.
At least there's still hope they can turn things around, though. North Carolina, meanwhile, is an 8-8 disaster, scuffling through one of its worst seasons in at least half a century.
Also, Rutgers and Penn State are both in great shape to make the tournament as members of a Big Ten that would get at least 11, maybe even 12 bids if the Big Dance started today.
Forget about March Madness. This whole season has been pandemonium. But let's try to make sense of it anyway.
For each of the four regions, we'll discuss one team that wasn't in our Dec. 10 projections, one team that is in much better shape and another that—though still in position to dance—isn't as good as we once 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 5 In
The computer metrics are rough because two of USC's losses (at Washington, vs. Marquette in Orlando Invitational) were by a combined margin of 54 points. Meanwhile, the Trojans' best wins (vs. LSU, at TCU) were both by just two points. That's not great for the ol' efficiency margin.
But they're 13-3 with two Q1 wins, three Q2 wins and no atrocious losses. That should be a tournament team, right? Colorado is in a similar boat, and it is projected for a No. 6 seed, in large part because it didn't get absolutely trampled in any of its losses.
Second-to-Last In: Georgetown Hoyas (11-6, NET: 52, KP: 48)
Georgetown picked up a few quality wins in early December after losing James Akinjo and Josh LeBlanc. When Galen Alexander and Myron Gardner also left the program two games later, the Hoyas still managed to beat Syracuse.
But that roster attrition seems to have caught up to them. They've lost three of their last four games, each by at least a 14-point margin. Mac McClung and Omer Yurtseven are great, but this Big East grind is probably going to be more than this tournament resume can handle. As things currently stand, though, Georgetown would probably sneak into the field.
Third-to-Last In: VCU Rams (12-4, NET: 43, KP: 47)
VCU has one nice win (vs. LSU), one not-so-nice loss (vs. Rhode Island) and not much else aside from close calls in blown chances against Purdue and Tennessee. If the Rams don't win at Dayton on Tuesday night, they'll almost need to be perfect the rest of the way.
They may have caught a break in that game, though, as potential National Player of the Year Obi Toppin left Saturday's game against Massachusetts with an ankle injury and later returned to the bench with a boot on his foot. Hopefully, he will be fine in the long run, but he likely won't be at 100 percent for this game. VCU needs to capitalize.
Fourth-to-Last In: Houston Cougars (12-4, NET: 49, KP: 30)
Aside from beating Washington in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic, Houston didn't do itself any favors in nonconference play. Its three biggest opportunities to make a statement were against Oregon, BYU and Oklahoma State, but it lost all three of those games.
That was OK until the Cougars also lost at Tulsa on Saturday. Now they are in serious bubble trouble with limited opportunities for advancement in AAC play. They're probably going to need to go at least 11-4 the rest of the way, which means a minimum of two wins against Cincinnati, Memphis and Wichita State.
Fifth-to-Last In: Florida Gators (10-5, NET: 53, KP: 35)
To say this hasn't been the season Florida fans were anticipating would be an understatement, but at least the Gators are still in the tournament picture. That's better than North Carolina, Virginia or Utah State can say after also opening the season in the AP Top 25.
The good news for Florida is there haven't been any hopelessly unforgivable losses. Losing at Connecticut and falling by 16 at Missouri this past Saturday weren't exactly great results, but you can live with the occasional Quadrant 2 misstep. The Gators just need to pick up some quality wins. Games against Auburn, LSU and Baylor in the next two weeks will provide those opportunities.
First 5 Out
First Team Out: Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-7, NET: 41, KP: 38)
Even though we already have 11 of the 14 Big Ten teams in the projected field, Minnesota almost made it No. 12 after its win over Michigan on Sunday afternoon. The Golden Gophers also handed Ohio State its first loss back in mid-December, so that's two quality wins on the docket thus far.
It's not quite enough to make up for the seven losses, though, and there are a ton of likely losses left on Minnesota's schedule. It's going to take a lot more than two quality victories to carry this resume across the finish line.
Second Team Out: Tennessee Volunteers (10-5, NET: 70, KP: 52)
Tennessee has perhaps the most prototypical bubble resume in the nation at this point. It has no bad losses, but even the best wins—VCU, Washington, at Missouri—aren't all that special. The Volunteers could be one big win away from vaulting into the projected field as a No. 8 seed. They could also be one bad loss away from dropping out of the picture altogether.
Unfortunately for the Vols, opportunities for bad losses are in much greater supply than great wins in this year's SEC. They do have two games each against Kentucky and Auburn, but three of those four games come in the final two weeks of the regular season. Best hope they don't slip up against the likes of Vanderbilt and Texas A&M before then.
Third Team Out: TCU Horned Frogs (12-3, NET: 50, KP: 44)
TCU stormed into the conversation by opening January with three consecutive wins over Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs are currently tied with Baylor atop the Big 12 standings with that 3-0 record. But their best nonconference win was a home game against George Mason, so they entered conference play with a whole heck of a lot of work to do.
They do get a road game against Arkansas later this month in the SEC/B12 Challenge. A win there could spruce up the nonconference resume a bit. But the Horned Frogs probably need to win nine of their remaining 16 games to have a real case for a bid.
Fourth Team Out: Oklahoma State Cowboys (9-6, NET: 69, KP: 62)
After going 7-0 in November, Oklahoma State has lost six of its last eight games. Even worse, the Cowboys haven't bothered to show up for a Big 12 game yet, averaging 43.7 points in those three losses.
They need to flip the script, and soon. They get both Baylor and Kansas at home in the next two weeks, and it's hard to imagine this team getting to .500 in league play without winning at least one of those games.
Fifth Team Out: Washington Huskies (11-6, NET: 51, KP: 45)
This resume is ridiculous.
Washington opened the season with a neutral-site win over our current No. 1 overall seed (Baylor), played well in a loss to Gonzaga and defeated USC by 32 points. But the Huskies have also lost four of their last five games, including a pair of Quadrant 3 losses vs. UCLA and at California. Hopefully they figure things out because Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels would be a ton of fun in the NCAA tournament.
East Region (New York City)
Greensboro, North Carolina
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Quinnipiac/St. Francis (PA)
No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 9 Oklahoma
No. 4 Wichita State vs. No. 13 Belmont
No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 12 East Tennessee State
No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 14 New Mexico State
No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 Saint Mary's
No. 2 West Virginia vs. No. 15 Wright State
No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Xavier
New to the Field: Wichita State Shockers (15-1, NET: 9, KP: 25)
One month ago, Wichita State only had one win worth a darn. Granted, that 19-point road victory over Oklahoma State was enough to put the Shockers on the radar as our second team out, but they were a "Well, let's see what happens when the schedule stiffens up" type of team. After all, they barely beat Texas Southern and got a good scare from Oral Roberts.
Since then, though, they're 7-0 with a Quadrant 1 win over Memphis and a trio of Quadrant 2 victories (VCU, Oklahoma, at Connecticut). They almost blew that game against Connecticut, squandering a 69-60 lead with one minute remaining before winning in double overtime. Nevertheless, the Shockers are sitting at 15-1 and appear to be the best team in the AAC.
Noteworthy Riser: West Virginia Mountaineers (No. 11 seed to No. 2 seed)
West Virginia was 7-1 and rated 35th on KenPom at the time of our December bracket forecast. Coincidentally, its best win of the season at that point was a neutral-site game against Wichita State. But the Mountaineers had just lost to St. John's that weekend, landing barely on the right side of the bubble as a result of that sour taste.
Even though shooting and committing turnovers has been a team-wide issue, they have added impressive wins over Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in the past couple of weeks, climbing 25 spots into the KenPom Top 10. They also benefited from a hard-fought road loss against Kansas. They grabbed 21 offensive rebounds in that game and kept it close throughout, validating their Elite Eight potential.
Noteworthy Slider: Xavier Musketeers (No. 7 seed to No. 10 seed)
Xavier enters the second half of the season in a funk after back-to-back home losses to Seton Hall and Creighton—each one by a 12-point margin. That dropped them to 1-3 in Big East play, where every game is going to be a challenge for the next two months. (Their lone league win was a home game against St. John's, which is the easiest game on the Big East schedule this year.)
What really hurt the Musketeers, though, was the loss to Wake Forest in mid-December. Even though it was a road game, that's their worst loss of the season by a long shot, and it left them needing to do even more in Big East play to earn a bid. Thus far, they haven't come close to delivering.
Midwest Region (Indianapolis)
St. Louis, Missouri
No. 1 Butler vs. No. 16 South Dakota State
No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 Texas Tech
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Louisiana Tech
No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Georgetown/USC
No. 3 Auburn vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin
No. 6 Iowa vs. No. 11 Liberty
No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 15 Colgate
No. 7 LSU vs. No. 10 Illinois
New to the Field: Iowa Hawkeyes (11-5, NET: 31, KP: 19)
It takes a big man to admit his mistakes, and I'll admit Iowa maybe should have been in the previous projection, which ran the morning after the Hawkeyes pummeled Minnesota 72-52. They already had wins away from home against Texas Tech and Syracuse, and that victory over the Golden Gophers vaulted them to No. 30 in the KenPom rankings.
Since then, they've added a 16-point road win over Iowa State, an 18-point home win over Maryland and a decent neutral-site victory over Cincinnati. That brings their season total to three Quadrant 1 and three Quadrant 2 wins. Even with the recent bad loss at Nebraska, I couldn't possibly overlook that resume this time around.
Luka Garza and Co. will need to start winning some Big Ten road games in order to stay in the hunt for a bid, though. At any rate, a loss at Northwestern on Tuesday night would require an immediate re-evaluation of Iowa's tournament worthiness.
Noteworthy Riser: LSU Tigers (No. 10 seed to No. 7 seed)
LSU has played a more difficult schedule than most, but it didn't amount to any quality wins until after Christmas. The Tigers reeled off three consecutive Quadrant 1 wins at that point, though, crushing Liberty and Tennessee before outrebounding Arkansas 53-24 en route to a two-point victory. They also narrowly avoided disaster over the weekend, beating Mississippi State by one on a buzzer-beating three by Skylar Mays.
They would have climbed even more than this, except the Tigers had losses to East Tennessee State and USC in mid-December. Really, they went from a No. 10 seed to "no business even being considered" all the way back to a No. 7 seed. Factor in the College Football Playoff and it has been one heck of a one-month ride in Baton Rouge.
Noteworthy Sliders: Louisville Cardinals (No. 1 seed to No. 4 seed) and Ohio State Buckeyes (No. 1 seed to No. 5 seed)
I've never highlighted multiple sliders in the same region before, but it seemed appropriate here since Louisville and Ohio State were our Nos. 1 and 2 overall seeds one month ago.
The Cardinals lost to Texas Tech about 12 hours after that projection published, and they have since lost to Kentucky and Florida State while merely adding a three-point, Quadrant 2 road win over Notre Dame to the list of good things they've done. Moreover, that home win over Michigan in the ACC/B1G Challenge doesn't look anywhere near as great now that the Wolverines have fallen on hard times of their own.
But at least Louisville hasn't crashed as much as Ohio State has.
The Buckeyes have lost four consecutive games and five out of seven overall since our last forecast. At least they won the neutral-site game against Kentucky on Dec. 21, but the offense has been cold as ice since then, scoring fewer than 60 points in each game of this losing streak.
Getting Kyle Young back should help, though. He had a mediocre game against West Virginia before undergoing an appendectomy later that day, missed the next two games and still didn't look right in Saturday's loss to Indiana. Before that, he was arguably Ohio State's most valuable player, so let's see how the next couple of games go before we start writing OSU's obituary.
South Region (Houston)
St. Louis, Missouri
No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Grambling State/Norfolk State
No. 8 Rutgers vs. No. 9 Virginia Tech
Albany, New York
No. 4 Maryland vs. No. 13 Akron
No. 5 Villanova vs. No. 12 Northern Iowa
No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 14 Georgia State
No. 6 Penn State vs. No. 11 Houston/VCU
No. 2 San Diego State vs. No. 15 William & Mary
No. 7 Arizona vs. No. 10 Marquette
New to the Field: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (12-4, NET: 30, KP: 32)
Rutgers wasn't even a candidate for the NIT five weeks ago, let alone for the NCAA tournament. The Scarlet Knights were 6-3 with a bad loss to St. Bonaventure and nothing even resembling a quality win. They were ranked 75th on KenPom.
Then they won six straight, including home wins over Wisconsin, Seton Hall and Penn State. They also stomped Nebraska in what has been a rare road win in Big Ten play this year. Out of nowhere, it looks like they might finally break one of the longest active NCAA tournament droughts, which dates back to 1991.
There's a lot of work left to be done in the nation's deepest conference, though. Upcoming home games against Indiana and Minnesota are basically must-win scenarios because the schedule gets brutal in a hurry after that.
Noteworthy Riser: Florida State Seminoles (No. 6 seed to No. 3 seed)
While several of the ACC's usual powerhouses (North Carolina and Virginia) have played their way completely out of the tournament conversation, Florida State has risen up and asserted itself as the top challenger to Duke.
The Seminoles have quietly become one of the best defensive teams in the nation, ranking top-10 in both block percentage and steal percentage, per KenPom. They had six of each and shot 11-of-23 from three-point range in the recent 13-point road win over Louisville. Florida State certainly doesn't always shoot like that, but it's going to be virtually unbeatable when it does.
Noteworthy Sliders: Arizona Wildcats (No. 3 seed to No. 7 seed)
Arizona is the obvious early candidate for the role of under-seeded team nobody wants to face.
The Wildcats are loaded with talent and have Final Four potential, but they keep coming up just short in every opportunity for a big win. At Baylor, they were down by one in the final two minutes before losing by five. At Oregon, they were up six in the final two minutes before losing in overtime. They also lost by four at home against Gonzaga.
But their best win was a home game against Illinois more than two months ago, and the losses to St. John's and Oregon State aren't helping matters. Plus, they simply aren't going to get many resume-boosting wins in this year's Pac-12. Unless they go at least 14-1 for the rest of the regular season, their ceiling might be a No. 4 seed.
West Region (Los Angeles)
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Winthrop
No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 Purdue
Albany, New York
No. 4 Seton Hall vs. No. 13 Vermont
No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 12 Yale
Greensboro, North Carolina
No. 3 Dayton vs. No. 14 UC Irvine
No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 11 Florida
No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 15 Northern Colorado
No. 7 Stanford vs. No. 10 BYU
New to the Field: BYU Cougars (13-5, NET: 32, KP: 26)
There always seems to be at least one bubble team with a "Don't forget it had to play like a dozen games without its best player" caveat to keep in mind. BYU looks like that team this year, as double-double machine Yoeli Childs was suspended for the first nine games and has missed the past two with a dislocated finger.
With him, the Cougars beat up on Nevada, got a solid neutral-site win over Utah State and took Utah to overtime before losing that road game. Childs has at least 13 points and seven rebounds in every game he has played. And if he is back to full strength once Selection Sunday rolls around, the committee might be willing to rate BYU a little higher than where its full-season resume would normally land.
Then again, BYU picked up quality wins away from home against Houston and Virginia Tech without him and has an at-large-worthy resume right now without any sort of Childs-based massaging of the numbers.
Noteworthy Riser: Stanford Cardinal (No. 11 seed to No. 7 seed)
I cannot figure out the NET's obsession with Stanford. KenPom (No. 41), Sagarin (No. 43) and ESPN's BPI (No. 64) all rate the Cardinal as a bubble team, but the NET (No. 11) thinks they're the bee's knees. They only have one Quadrant 1 win, and it's not even a particularly good one (vs. Oklahoma in Kansas City).
Frankly, their most impressive game of the season was the one-point loss to Butler the day after that win over Oklahoma.
Nevertheless, Stanford is 14-2, both of its losses were against projected No. 1 seeds, and it has blown out most of its lackluster competition. Even if it goes winless in the five league games against Oregon, Colorado and Arizona, it should be comfortably in the tournament if it continues to avoid bad losses.
Noteworthy Slider: Purdue Boilermakers (No. 4 seed to No. 9 seed)
Not only did Purdue drop five seed lines, but it would've fallen out of the projected field were it not for the 71-42 win over Michigan State on Sunday.
The Boilermakers lost by 14 at Nebraska in their first game after our most recent projection, and then they proceeded to put up 37 points in a blowout loss to Illinois. Plus, their used-to-be-marquee win over Virginia in the ACC/B1G Challenge is now teetering between Quadrants 2 and 3, which meant they entered the weekend with a 9-7 record, a neutral-site win over VCU and not much else.
But for the second time this season, they won by 29 against one of last year's Final Four teams. That's one way to get some positive attention from the selection committee. Now, they just need to figure out how to play that well on the road for once.
Ranking the No. 1 Seeds
No. 5 Gonzaga Bulldogs (18-1, NET: 7, KP: 8)
No, they didn't change the format of the NCAA tournament to include five No. 1 seeds. But it's necessary to address why the No. 1 team in the AP poll isn't quite on the top seed line.
Simply put, Gonzaga has played too many meaningless games. Granted, nobody could have guessed before the season that the home game against North Carolina would be a Quadrant 3 result, but the Zags have only played three games against projected tournament teams, beating Oregon by one in overtime, winning by four at Arizona, which has lost five of its last seven games, and losing by 18 to Michigan.
The good news is that Michigan beatdown was their only loss of the season. If they do what they usually do and get through West Coast Conference play with zero or one losses, the Bulldogs will remain squarely in the hunt for a No. 1 seed.
But this isn't one of those years in which they enter the second half of the season as an obvious choice for the top line and simply hope there aren't enough major-conference teams that catch them from behind by stockpiling Quadrant 1 wins.
At least they're going to have home-court advantage for the first two rounds, though. What a ridiculous loophole that Idaho is technically hosting the opening-weekend games in Spokane, allowing Gonzaga to play less than one mile from campus. Best of luck to the three other teams that land in that pod.
No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks (12-3, NET: 5, KP: 2)
It's bizarre to have a three-loss team in the running for a No. 1 seed in mid-January, but that's Bill Self's reward for putting together one of the toughest nonconference schedules.
Not only are there no bad losses in the bunch—vs. Baylor, at Villanova, Duke on a neutral court—but the Jayhawks are also leading the nation with six Quadrant 1 wins. Even the early home victories over UNC Greensboro and East Tennessee State were respectable.
That aggressive scheduling should help prepare them for the annual rigors of the Big 12 gauntlet. The Jayhawks have five games in the next 14 days, but they should be able to win all of them, potentially making a push for the No. 1 overall seed by the end of January.
No. 3 Butler Bulldogs (15-1, NET: 2, KP: 4)
Butler's only loss was a 53-52 game on the road against our No. 1 overall seed, meaning there is a strong case for this former Cinderella story to be in the top spot right now.
We're still waiting for that signature win, though.
Baylor defeated both Butler and Kansas. Duke took care of Kansas and Michigan State. Kansas has a ton of quality wins. And Butler...beat Stanford by one on a neutral floor? Heck, Kansas won at Stanford by 16.
Don't get me wrong. Butler is a stout team with a phenomenal resume. I'm not hating on the Bulldogs. I'm just explaining why I'm a tiny bit lower with their overall seed than some. If they comfortably win the home game against Seton Hall on Wednesday night, there will be a much better argument for them at No. 1 overall.
No. 2 Duke Blue Devils (15-1, NET: 3, KP: 1)
It has been a ho-hum month for the Blue Devils. They got a bit of a fright on the road against Georgia Tech last week but ultimately won that game by nine. Each of their other five games since mid-December were victories by at least 25 points.
As they should have been. Not only is the ACC having a down year, but Duke's last four games were also against arguably the four worst teams in the league. Add in the two home games against Wofford and Brown to wrap up nonconference play and it's no surprise it has been Blowout City.
A big game is coming up on Saturday, though. Vernon Carey Jr. and Co. will host Louisville in what will be the only regular-season matchup between those programs. If the Blue Devils win, it'll officially be time to start wondering if they're going to go 20-0 in the ACC.
No. 1 Baylor Bears (13-1, NET: 1, KP: 3)
If you had told me before the season that Baylor would be projected for a No. 1 seed, it would have been a little surprising but not jaw-dropping news. After all, the Bears were No. 16 in the preseason AP Top 25.
However, if you had told me they would be the projected No. 1 overall seed despite getting next to nothing from Tristan Clark thus far this season, I wouldn't have believed it.
Clark was Baylor's lone preseason All-Big 12 representative. In his return from a knee injury, he was supposed to be one of the most important players in the entire country. But they are thriving in spite of his inability to play more than a few minutes per game.
He scored just two points in each of Baylor's road wins over Texas Tech and Kansas this past week—a two-game stretch that cements the Bears as the clear early favorite to win the Big 12.
Despite his limited presence, they have been incredible on defense and tenacious on the offensive glass, already boasting five Quadrant 1 wins with just one neutral-court loss to Washington more than two months ago. And now that they've gone through two of the toughest games in conference play, it might be mid-February before the Bears face a legitimate challenge again.
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. The first five out are italicized.
American (3): 15. Wichita State; 31. Memphis; 44. Houston
Atlantic 10 (2): 12. Dayton; 45. VCU
ACC (4): 2. Duke; 11. Florida State; 14. Louisville; 35. Virginia Tech
Big 12 (5): 1. Baylor; 4. Kansas; 8. West Virginia; 33. Texas Tech; 36. Oklahoma; 71. TCU; 72. Oklahoma State
Big East (7): 3. Butler; 13. Seton Hall; 18. Villanova; 23. Creighton; 38. Xavier; 40. Marquette; 46. Georgetown
Big Ten (11): 10. Michigan State; 16. Maryland; 17. Ohio State; 20. Michigan; 21. Penn State; 24. Iowa; 26. Wisconsin; 29. Indiana; 30. Rutgers; 34. Purdue; 37. Illinois; 69. Minnesota
Pac-12 (5): 7. Oregon; 22. Colorado; 25. Arizona; 28. Stanford; 47. USC; 73. Washington
SEC (5): 9. Auburn; 19. Kentucky; 27. LSU; 32. Arkansas; 43. Florida; 70. Tennessee
West Coast (3): 5. Gonzaga; 39. BYU; 41. Saint Mary's
Other (23): 6. San Diego State; 42. Liberty; 48. Northern Iowa; 49. East Tennessee State; 50. Yale; 51. Akron; 52. Vermont; 53. Louisiana Tech; 54. Belmont; 55. Stephen F. Austin; 56. Georgia State; 57. New Mexico State; 58. UC Irvine; 59. Wright State; 60. Northern Colorado; 61. Colgate; 62. William & Mary; 63. South Dakota State; 64. Winthrop; 65. St. Francis (PA); 66. Quinnipiac; 67. Grambling State; 68. Norfolk State
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.