2020 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 21, 2020

2020 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68

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    San Diego State's Malachi Flynn
    San Diego State's Malachi FlynnGregory Bull/Associated Press

    Half of the 2020 men's NCAA tournament's projected No. 1 seeds (Baylor and Kansas) are from the same conference, while the other half (Gonzaga and San Diego State) don't even play in a major conference.

    Yeah, that sounds about right for this season of college hoops.

    Duke and Butler were on the top line one week ago, but bothas well as Auburn and Wichita Statesuffered a pair of losses in the past seven days. Also, West Virginia (at Kansas State), Oregon (at Washington State) and Kentucky (at South Carolina) lost to teams nowhere near the at-large conversation, opening the door for a few squads that played well (Florida State, Louisville and Seton Hall) to surge up to the No. 2 seed line.

    If you don't like it, though, just wait a week. There are wild upsets on a near-daily basis, which means there are almost 50 days of chaos remaining before Selection Sunday.

    If the season ended today, though, here's what the tournament bracket might look like.

    For each of the four regions, we'll discuss one team in much better shape than it was one week ago and another thatthough still in position to danceisn'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

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    DePaul's Paul Reed
    DePaul's Paul ReedMatt Marton/Associated Press

    Last Team In: Washington Huskies (12-7, NET: 47, KenPom: 45, SOS: 5)

    The Huskies blew a golden opportunity this weekend, surrendering a 16-point second-half lead and losing in overtime at home against Oregon. But it was still a positive week for Washington, which beat Oregon State before proving it could hang with arguably the best team in the Pac-12.

    The Huskies will eventually need to win some close calls, though. They have lost five of their last seven games, each by six points or fewer. A road sweep of Utah and Colorado this week would provide a ginormous boost to their resume.

           

    Second-to-Last Team In: North Carolina State Wolfpack (14-5, NET: 48, KenPom: 46, SOS: 68)

    NC State dug itself an early hole by opening the season with an overtime home loss to Georgia Tech—still easily the worst thing the Wolfpack have done thus far. But with Monday night's 53-51 win at Virginia, they have clawed back into the field.

    Even though the Cavaliers have been a disaster on offense compared to recent years, it was still a quality win. It pairs nicely with earlier victories over Wisconsin and UNC-Greensboro and pushed the Wolfpack to 5-3 in ACC play.

    They still have two shots remaining against Duke as well as home games against Louisville and Florida State. Even if they lose all four, winning the other games should be enough for a bid.

           

    Third-to-Last Team In: BYU Cougars (14-6, NET: 37, KenPom: 29, SOS: 30)

    No one realistically expected BYU to win at Gonzaga while playing without Yoeli Childs (dislocated finger), but the 92-69 final was difficult to swallow. After all, this was the team that won at Gonzaga in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and that gave the Zags a run for their money in a 2018 game at the Kennel that was tied in the final three minutes.

    Shake it off, though, right? BYU lost by 23, but it also won its previous two games (Portland and San Diego) by 26 and 23. The Cougars have already played both of their road games against Gonzaga and Saint Mary's, so now is their time to prove they deserve to be in the NCAA tournament.

    Wins away from home against Houston, Virginia Tech and Utah State still look good, but BYU probably needs to win a home game against Saint Mary's (Feb. 1) or Gonzaga (Feb. 22) to stay in the mix for a bid.

           

    Fourth-to-Last Team In: DePaul Blue Demons (13-5, NET: 51, KenPom: 53, SOS: 118)

    It was one heck of a week for DePaul. The Blue Demons went on the road and took Villanova to overtime. Then they came back home and scored a huge victory over Butler.

    DePaul now has four Quadrant 1 winsat Iowa, at Minnesota and vs. Texas Tech were the other three—and a strong NCAA tournament pulse in spite of its 1-4 Big East record.

    To still have that on Selection Sunday, it needs to go at least 6-7 the rest of the way. And given the top-to-bottom difficulty of the Big East, that means the Blue Demons all but have to win their home games against Creighton and St. John's this week. If they let one of those slip away, their quest to end a 15-year tournament drought will get a whole lot harder.

           

    Fifth-to-Last Team In: Saint Mary's Gaels (16-4, NET: 43, KenPom: 37, SOS: 106)

    As with BYU, Saint Mary's is in a West Coast Conference holding pattern.

    The Gaels entered league play in great shape for a bid, but early losses to Pacific and Santa Clara put them on the bubble. Even if they win all their non-BYU and non-Gonzaga games, they would finish 25-8 with a home win over BYU, a neutral-site win over Wisconsin and a few too many questionable losses.

    They would likely get in if the season ended today, but it's going to take at least one more big win for that to still be the case in mid-March.

First 5 Out

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    Minnesota's Daniel Oturu
    Minnesota's Daniel OturuHannah Foslien/Associated Press

    First Team Out: Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-8, NET: 41, KenPom: 36, SOS: 22)

    Minnesota kept the status quo in the Big Ten this week, beating Penn State at home before losing at Rutgers. The Golden Gophers are 4-0 at home in league play and 0-4 on the road.

    Three of those wins were against Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, which is keeping Minnesota in the conversation despite a lackluster nonconference slate. Wins over Oklahoma State and Clemson were its only remotely high points, but neither of those teams is close to earning an at-large bid.

    If the trend continues and the Gophers lose at Ohio State and then win at home game against Michigan State, there's a good chance they'll be back in this same spot next week.

           

    Second Team Out: Georgetown Hoyas (12-7, NET: 52, KenPom: 51, SOS: 23)

    Georgetown fell right on the cut line for a second straight week. Makes sense, since the Hoyas' two games were a three-point win over Creighton and a four-point loss to Marquette, both at home.

    The win over Creighton was arguably their best of the season. It's just a shame they couldn't back it up with what would have been a seventh consecutive home win. And the schedule is set to get daunting, as the next fourat Xavier, vs. Butler, at St. John's, vs. Seton Hallcould bury this team. Even a 2-2 record against that slate would be a net positive.

           

    Third Team Out: Alabama Crimson Tide: (10-7, NET: 42, KenPom: 43, SOS: 12)

    Out of nowhere, Alabama has played its way into the conversation, boasting a top-50 ranking in each of the predictive analytics.

    Beating a previously undefeated Auburn by 19 can have that type of effect. The Crimson Tide also played well in losses away from home against Kentucky, Florida, Penn State and North Carolina—back when the Tar Heels had Cole Anthony and that was an acceptable loss. And now they finally have a quality win to present to the selection committee.

    However, they also have a Quadrant 4 loss to Penn from the first day of the season, and they won't get another game against Kentucky or Florida at least until the SEC tournament. Trying to find more quality wins could be like squeezing blood from a stone, but Alabama might be able to sneak in just by avoiding any further bad losses.

           

    Fourth Team Out: Xavier Musketeers (12-6, NET: 68, KenPom: 59, SOS: 35)

    Xavier fell to 1-4 in Big East play with a 20-point loss to Marquette. It was the Musketeers' third consecutive loss by double digits, and they simply don't have the quality wins to take those lumps. A road win over TCU and overtime wins against Missouri and Connecticut aren't much in the way of bragging rights.

    If they miss the tournament, it won't be for lack of opportunity. Four of their next five games are Quadrant 1 chances.

           

    Fifth Team Out: VCU Rams (13-5, NET: 45, KenPom: 47, SOS: 69)

    VCU doesn't have any horrendous losses, but where are its good wins? Aside from eking out a two-point home win over LSU in November, the best thing it's done was win at Charlestonwhich isn't even projected to win the Colonial Athletic Association.

    A 14-point loss at Dayton this week was a big missed opportunity. The Rams need to tread water until February, when they get Dayton (home) and Saint Louis (road) in back-to-back games. If they don't win either one, it's probably auto bid or bust.

East Region (New York City)

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    Arizona's Nico Mannion
    Arizona's Nico MannionRick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Sacramento, California

    No. 1 San Diego State vs. No. 16 Montana
    No. 8 Texas Tech vs. No. 9 Stanford

    Tampa, Florida

    No. 4 Maryland vs. No. 13 Louisiana Tech
    No. 5 Arizona vs. No. 12 East Tennessee State

    Albany, New York

    No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 14 Colgate
    No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 Purdue

    Albany, New York

    No. 2 Seton Hall vs. No. 15 William & Mary
    No. 7 Rutgers vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech

           

    Noteworthy Riser: Arizona Wildcats (Up two seed lines)
    Resume: 13-5, NET: 11, KenPom: 14, SOS: 10

    After getting swept during its road trip against the Oregon schoolsincluding a blowout loss at Oregon StateArizona put together a much-needed and emphatic bounce-back week at home against Utah and Colorado.

    Beating the bubble-y Utes by 16 was impressive, but smoking the still-projected-for-a-sixth-seed Buffaloes by 21 was a statement. And the latter came when neither Josh Green nor Nico Mannion had a particularly strong performance, reminding everyone that this team is a lot more than just a couple of star freshmen.

    Even though Arizona's strength of schedule is solid, it hadn't done much prior to that win. The Wildcats entered the week with a 1-5 record against teams in the KenPom Top 80, and their lone win was at home against Illinois.

    They must start playing better away from home, though. Arizona doesn't have a true road win, and its three neutral-site victories were close games against not-great teams (Pepperdine, Penn and Wake Forest). The Wildcats play at Arizona State, Washington and Washington State in their next three, and they better win at least two of them.

           

    Noteworthy Slider: Purdue Boilermakers (Down two seed lines)
    Resume: 10-8, NET: 36, KenPom: 17, SOS: 33

    Aside from a few projected auto bids on the No. 15 and No. 16 seed lines, Purdue is the only team in our field with at least eight losses. Six of those came away from home against opponents comfortably projected for the tournament, the most recent of which came at Maryland on Saturday.

    That's not a bad loss by any means, but the Boilermakers are quickly becoming the annual "How many not-bad losses is actually bad?" dilemma team.

    They lost four nonconference games (Texas, Marquette, Florida State, Butler), which means a 10-10 Big Ten record would put them at 17-14 heading into the conference tournament. That's not great, but they also already have wins over VCU, Virginia, Minnesota and Michigan State. And all 13 of their remaining games are either Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 2.

    If Purdue follows the Big Ten trend and keeps winning its home games and losing its road games, that should be enough. But this team is going to flirt with bubble trouble for the foreseeable future.

Midwest Region (Indianapolis)

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    USC's Onyeka Okongwu
    USC's Onyeka OkongwuKelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Omaha, Nebraska

    No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Monmouth/Norfolk State
    No. 8 LSU vs. No. 9 Illinois

    Omaha, Nebraska

    No. 4 Villanova vs. No. 13 Akron
    No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 12 NC State/Washington

    Cleveland, Ohio

    No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 14 New Mexico State
    No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 11 Northern Iowa

    Tampa, Florida

    No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 15 UC Irvine
    No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 USC

           

    Noteworthy Riser: USC Trojans (Up two seed lines)
    Resume: 15-3, NET: 46, KenPom: 62, SOS: 77

    There were a bunch of wild upsets Saturday, but perhaps the most significant development was USC erasing a 21-point second-half deficit en route to an overtime win over Stanford.

    Both teams entered with a great record but were in dire need of a quality win. USC needed it more, though, because it was well behind Stanford as far as both the NET and KenPom were concerned. If the Trojans had gotten blown out at home, they would've dropped out of the tournament conversation altogether, at least temporarily.

    Instead, they picked up a third Quadrant 1 win, adding a nail-biter at home to a close call at TCU and a white-knuckler against LSU on a "neutral" court in Los Angeles.

    Now the question is: Can the Trojans back it up with a few more nice victories? They'll play at Oregon on Thursday and still have two games each against Arizona and Colorado.

           

    Noteworthy Slider: Ohio State Buckeyes (Down two seed lines)
    Resume: 12-6, NET: 19, KenPom: 13, SOS: 39

    It wasn't an especially bad week for the Buckeyes. They won a home game against Nebraska and lost at Penn State. Both were expected.

    They have lost five of their last six games, however, and the cumulative effect is starting to take a toll.

    Once No. 1 in the NET, Ohio State is barely hanging on to a spot in the top 20. And those "quality" nonconference wins over Cincinnati, North Carolina and Kentucky aren't carrying as much water as they once did.

    The Buckeyes don't have any bad losses, though, and aren't anywhere close to slipping onto the bubble. That could change in a hurry if their losing ways continue. Their next three are against Minnesota (home), Northwestern (away) and Indiana (home), which are three of the easiest games left on their schedule (all Quadrant 2).

    Lose any of those three games and even getting to 8-12 in Big Ten play is going to take an uphill climb.

South Region (Houston)

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    Houston's Quentin Grimes
    Houston's Quentin GrimesMarco Garcia/Associated Press

    St. Louis, Missouri

    No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 St. Francis (PA)/Prairie View A&M
    No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 Arkansas

    Sacramento, California

    No. 4 Auburn vs. No. 13 Stephen F. Austin
    No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 Yale

    Cleveland, Ohio

    No. 3 Butler vs. No. 14 Belmont
    No. 6 Kentucky vs. No. 11 Saint Mary's

    St. Louis, Missouri

    No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 15 Wright State
    No. 7 Houston vs. No. 10 Oklahoma

           

    Noteworthy Riser: Houston Cougars (Up four seed lines)
    Resume: 14-4, NET: 34, KenPom: 23, SOS: 89

    No team had a better week than Houston. Not only did the Cougars convincingly pick up a Quadrant 1 road win over Wichita State, but they also won a home game against SMU and had a Quadrant 2 win get bumped up to Quadrant 1 (neutral-site victory over Washington). Effectively, they added a pair of Quadrant 1 wins and jumped 15 spots from No. 49 to No. 34 in the NET rankings.

    It's safe to say Kelvin Sampson has a mid-major juggernaut brewing.

    After earning a No. 6 seed in the 2018 NCAA tournament, Houston inexplicably got even better after losing Rob Gray Jr. and Devin Davis. And now despite losing four of their five starters from last year's team, the Cougars appear to be the best squad in the American Athletic Conference.

    Houston should get to 17-4 by the end of January, as its next three contests are at home against Connecticut and South Florida and at East Carolina. Win at Cincinnati on Feb. 1, too, and the "Well, now that the Super Bowl is over, let's check in on college basketball" crowd may well discover Houston in the Associated Press Top 25 and on the projected No. 5 seed line.

           

    Noteworthy Slider: Butler Bulldogs (Down two seed lines)
    Resume: 15-3, NET: 7, KenPom: 11, SOS: 60

    When Butler was 15-1 with merely a loss to our No. 1 overall seed (Baylor), it wasn't too concerning that it didn't have any signature wins. Butler had still done enough to earn a projected No. 1 seed.

    But after they lost to Seton Hall and DePaul this week, it's more problematic that the Bulldogs don't have anything better than neutral-site victories over Stanford and Purdue on their resume. They do have a bunch of nice Quadrant 2 wins, most notably home victories over Creighton and Florida. Still, they have fewer and less impressive Quadrant 1 wins than anyone else on the top three seed lines.

    Duke also lost twice this week, but at least the Blue Devils have wins over Kansas and Michigan State to fall back on. That's why they only dropped one seed line while Butler fell two.

    If Butler can go 2-0 this week, thoughat Villanova, vs. Marquetteit would be right back in the thick of the race for a spot on the top line.

West Region (Los Angeles)

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    Marquette's Markus Howard
    Marquette's Markus HowardAaron Gash/Associated Press

    Spokane, Washington

    No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Winthrop
    No. 8 Marquette vs. No. 9 Indiana

    Spokane, Washington

    No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 13 Vermont
    No. 5 Penn State vs. No. 12 BYU/DePaul

    Greensboro, North Carolina

    No. 3 Dayton vs. No. 14 Georgia State
    No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 Liberty

    Greensboro, North Carolina

    No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 South Dakota State
    No. 7 Wichita State vs. No. 10 Florida

           

    Noteworthy Riser: Marquette Golden Eagles (Up two seed lines)
    Resume: 13-5, NET: 30, KenPom: 32, SOS: 38

    Markus Howard had a good week, which means Marquette had a good week. The nation's leading scorer padded his standing considerably with 35 points against Xavier and a 42-point effort at Georgetown.

    He certainly could have gone for more against the Musketeers, as he had 32 of those 35 points with nearly 13 minutes left. Xavier, however, was unable to keep pace in a 20-point blowout. Against the Hoyas, though, he scored 28 of Marquette's 42 second-half points in a game that neither team led by more than eight. He willed the Golden Eagles to a critical 84-80 road victory.

    Marquette is 8-1 when he scores at least 28 points, and it'll need his best effort in Friday's road game against Butler. Win that one (and Tuesday's home game against St. John's), and the Golden Eagles will likely climb another two seed lines in our next projection.

           

    Noteworthy Slider: Wichita State Shockers (Down three seed lines)
    Resume: 15-3, NET: 31, KenPom: 42, SOS: 83

    Not only did Wichita State suffer the aforementioned loss to Houston, it also lost by a dozen at Temple. Among teams that were in last week's projected field, Wichita State dropped furthest on the overall seed list as a result. The Shockers also dropped from No. 10 to No. 31 in the NET rankings.

    They have been iffy on offense all season long, and those struggles took a turn for the worse this week.

    They were dreadful against Temple, scoring 53 points in a 74-possession game. Starters Tyson Etienne and Erik Stevenson shot a combined 0-of-15 and were held scoreless. Hard to win like that. And in the loss to Houston, they went nearly 15 minutes of game time without making a single field goal.

    Wichita State is entering a "get healthy" stretch, though. It has a road game against South Florida on Tuesday and a home game against UCF on Saturday—two likely victoriesand then the Shockers don't play again until February. With any luck, Gregg Marshall will be able to use this lighter portion of the calendar to fix some correctable issues for the home stretch.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Baylor's Freddie Gillespie
    Baylor's Freddie GillespieRod Aydelotte/Associated Press

    No. 4 San Diego State Aztecs (19-0, NET: 2, KenPom: 8, SOS: 154)

    It was a ho-hum week for the Aztecs, who won a pair of Quadrant 3 games against Fresno State and Nevada. Neither one was a blowout nor a nail-biter. Simply two more examples of San Diego State's elite defense and more-than-competent offense, which should help it make a run in the NCAA tournament.

    External factors worked in favor of the Aztecs, though, as Butler and Duke went a combined 0-4 to drop off the top line. Moreover, the teams that were right behind San Diego State on last week's overall seed list—Oregon, West Virginia and Auburnlost at least once, meaning there wasn't much of a case for any program to bypass this team, either.

    (Not that we're searching for a reason to keep SDSU off the top line, but Auburn certainly would've had a case if it had beaten Alabama and Florida instead of losing both games.)

    If San Diego State runs the table, it's going to be a No. 1 seed. It's going to have to battle Gonzaga for the top spot in the West Region, though.

            

    No. 3 Gonzaga Bulldogs (20-1, NET: 3, KenPom: 4, SOS: 237)

    Like the Aztecs, Gonzaga benefited from losses elsewhere.

    Unlike the Aztecs, the Zags eviscerated their "competition" this week, throttling Santa Clara by 50 prior to a 23-point victory over BYU.

    Expect more of the same for the next few weeks, as a road game against Saint Mary's on Feb. 8 figures to be the next time this team might get challenged.

             

    No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks (14-3, NET: 4, KenPom: 1, SOS: 1)

    In a week in which ranked teams dropped like flies when playing away from home, Kansas flexed its muscles on defense in consecutive road wins over Oklahoma and Texas.

    Even though star point guard Devon Dotson didn't play against the Sooners, the Jayhawks held them to a season-worst 52 points. The Longhorns were only slightly more successful, finishing with 57.

    Kansas has now held seven of its last eight opponents to 57 points or fewer and is leading the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Jayhawks also have more Quadrant 1 wins (seven) than any other team.

             

    No. 1 Baylor Bears (16-1, NET: 1, KenPom: 3, SOS: 78)

    Baylor got quite the scare from Oklahoma State, trailing by as many as 12 points in that road game. Still, the Bears kept their composure and extended their winning streak to 14 games. Five of those 14 wins have come against teams projected for single-digit seeds, most notably a road win over Kansas, which gives them a significant leg up on the Jayhawks.

    It's often a different leader from one week to the next at Baylor, and this week was Freddie Gillespie's turn to shine.

    The big man shot 6-of-8 from the field in each of the two winsthe Bears also won a home game against Iowa State—finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds against the Cyclones before matching a career high of 17 points with four blocks against the Cowboys.

    It has become virtually impossible to find anything negative to say about this team. We'll see if the next seven weeks do anything to change that.

Seeding by Conference

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    Penn State's Patrick Chambers and Lamar Stevens
    Penn State's Patrick Chambers and Lamar StevensGary M. Baranec/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 each team's overall seed, broken down by conference. The first five out are italicized.

    American Athletic (3): 25. Houston; 26. Wichita State; 31. Memphis

    Atlantic 10 (1): 11. Dayton; 73. VCU

    Atlantic Coast (5): 5. Florida State; 6. Louisville; 8. Duke; 40. Virginia Tech; 47. NC State

    Big 12 (5): 1. Baylor; 2. Kansas; 12. West Virginia; 32. Texas Tech; 39. Oklahoma

    Big East (6): 7. Seton Hall; 10. Butler; 16. Villanova; 22. Creighton; 30. Marquette; 45. DePaul; 70. Georgetown; 72. Xavier

    Big Ten (11): 9. Michigan State; 14. Maryland; 18. Iowa; 19. Wisconsin; 20. Penn State; 23. Michigan; 27. Rutgers; 28. Ohio State; 33. Illinois; 36. Indiana; 41. Purdue; 69. Minnesota

    Pac-12 (6): 13. Oregon; 17. Arizona; 24. Colorado; 34. Stanford; 38. USC; 48. Washington

    Southeastern (5): 15. Auburn; 21. Kentucky; 29. LSU; 35. Arkansas; 37. Florida; 71. Alabama

    West Coast (3): 3. Gonzaga; 42. Saint Mary's; 46. BYU

    Other (23): 4. San Diego State; 43. Liberty; 44. Northern Iowa; 49. East Tennessee State; 50. Yale; 51. Akron; 52. Louisiana Tech; 53. Vermont; 54. Stephen F. Austin; 55. Belmont; 56. New Mexico State; 57. Georgia State; 58. Colgate; 59. Wright State; 60. South Dakota State; 61. William & Mary; 62. UC Irvine; 63. Montana; 64. Winthrop; 65. St. Francis (PA); 66. Prairie View A&M; 67. Monmouth; 68. Norfolk State

           

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