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

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 28, 2020

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

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    Kansas' Udoka Azubuike
    Kansas' Udoka AzubuikeOrlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Baylor and Kansas represented the Big 12 well in wins over the SEC this weekend, thus maintaining their spots on the projected No. 1 seed line for the 2020 men's NCAA tournament. The Bears and Jayhawks are joined by Gonzaga and San Diego State for a second consecutive week.

    It was a rare week of hoops normalcy, if you will. Aside from Michigan State (then No. 11 in the AP poll) losing at Indiana, there wasn't a single case of an unranked team beating an opponent ranked 17th or higher. And does losing on the road in the Big Ten even count as an upset considering we have 12 teams from that league currently projected for the tournament?

    As a result, there were hardly any changes among the top five seed lines from one week ago. In fact, all the Nos. 1-3 seeds are in the exact same spot in the bracket with just some minor tweaks to the order of the overall seed list.

    Beyond that upper crust, though, it was bubble chaos.

    We're still approximately three weeks away from hitting the heart of "how are we seriously going to come up with 68 teams?" season, when even the projected No. 9 seeds have a double-digit number in the loss column, several bad losses and only a handful of victories worth bragging about. But it's already getting difficult to pencil in the final few spots in the field. 

    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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    VCU's Marcus Santos-Silva
    VCU's Marcus Santos-SilvaMitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Last Team In: VCU Rams (15-5, NET: 39, kenpom: 43, SOS: 100)

    The Rams dropped out of the field after their back-to-back losses to Rhode Island and Dayton earlier this month, but they slide back in following road wins over Saint Joseph's and La Salle, though more so because both BYU and NC State lost Saturday night.

    There are two huge bubble games in the Atlantic 10 coming up this week. VCU hosts Richmond on Tuesday and plays at Rhode Island on Friday. A 2-0 record would push the Rams more comfortably into the field. If they lose one of those games, though, they might get replaced by the team that beats them.

            

    Second-to-Last In: Virginia Tech Hokies (14-6, NET: 52, kenpom: 66, SOS: 168)

    Virginia Tech has had a better season than anyone was realistically expecting, but it's also starting to fall to pieces. One week after a disappointing home loss to Syracuse, the Hokies acquired their worst L of the season at Boston College.

    The win over Michigan State in the Maui Invitational still looks great, but this team is 8-6 since that high point and now has an ugly mark on its resume. If the Hokies don't win the home game against Florida State on Saturday, it likely means they need to win one of the road games against Duke and Louisville later on.

             

    Third-to-Last In: Purdue Boilermakers (11-9, NET: 35, kenpom: 21, SOS: 44)

    Despite a 19-point win over Wisconsin on Friday, the Boilermakers stumbled closer to the bubble by getting blown out at home by Illinois earlier in the week. For a team that was already approaching a critical mass of losses, that was a rough one.

    And the schedule doesn't get any easier in the Big Ten. Five of Purdue's next seven are on the road, which isn't great news considering it is 2-7 away from Mackey Arena thus far this season. The Boilermakers might need to win at Rutgers on Tuesday, and good luck with that. The Scarlet Knights at 14-0 at home.

           

    Fourth-to-Last In: Alabama Crimson Tide (12-7, NET: 41, kenpom: 42, SOS: 37)

    Alabama jumped onto the tournament radar when it put an end to Auburn's undefeated season, and the Crimson Tide followed that up with consecutive wins over Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kansas State. None of those three wins was great. Heck, they were all Quadrant 3 results. But they helped Alabama sneak onto the correct side of the bubble.

    They won't face Florida or Kentucky again during the regular season. But in the next three weeks, they'll draw LSU twice, a rematch at Auburn and two home games against Arkansas and Tennessee. They must win at least two of those to have any hope of getting in. The way they're playing lately, though, there's a good chance that happens.

                  

    Fifth-to-Last In: Northern Iowa Panthers (17-3, NET: 49, kenpom: 47, SOS: 92)

    Technically, Northern Iowa isn't on the bubble, as it is the projected Missouri Valley Conference auto bid. However, it's worth noting that in spite of the two-point loss at Southern Illinois this past week, the three-loss Panthers still have a better tournament resume than the last four at-large teams.

    They rank top-50 in both the NET and kenpom, and they had a great nonconference win at Colorado. Even their lone nonconference loss (60-55 vs. West Virginia in Mexico) painted the picture of a team that belongs in the NCAA tournament. They probably need to win all their remaining regular-season games in order to get an at-large bid if they were to lose in the MVC tourney, but that's certainly within the realm of possibility.

First 5 Out

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    NC State's C.J. Bryce
    NC State's C.J. BryceRyan M. Kelly/Getty Images

    First Team Out: BYU Cougars (15-7, NET: 29, kenpom: 23, SOS: 20)

    The Cougars were among our last five in one week ago, but a one-point loss at San Francisco on Saturday night nudged them onto the wrong side of the bubble.

    Even before that game, it already felt like they needed to win at least one of their remaining home games against Saint Mary's and Gonzaga. There were a couple of nice wins in nonconference playmost notably the road game against Houstonbut going 0-4 against the only other important WCC teams likely wasn't going to cut it.

    Now that BYU has added another disappointing loss to the resume, it definitely needs one of those games. And the first one is rapidly approaching. BYU will host Saint Mary's on Saturday night in what might as well be labeled a "Do or Die or Beat Gonzaga" game for both sides.

                       

    Second Team Out: Rhode Island Rams (14-5, NET: 47, kenpom: 56, SOS: 34)

    Third Team Out: Richmond Spiders (15-5, NET: 55, kenpom: 67, SOS: 76)

    Both of these A-10 teams suffered dreadful losses shortly before the short of conference play. Richmond lost to Radford by 15 on a neutral floor, and Rhode Island lost by 10 at Brown. Double yuck. But those were the only bad losses either one has suffered during their respective five-loss campaigns.

    Moreover, both teams have a quality nonconference winRichmond over Wisconsin and Rhode Island over Alabama. Each one has also picked up a solid road win thus far in conference play, as Richmond knocked off Rhode Island six days before the Rams upset VCU.

    As previously mentioned, both teams will get a shot at VCU this week. With a pair of victories, it's feasible they both appear in the subsequent bracket projection.

            

    Fourth Team Out: North Carolina State Wolfpack (14-7, NET: 50, kenpom: 48, SOS: 80)

    NC State's resume was always a little shaky thanks to a season-opening home loss to Georgia Tech. The Wolfpack subsequently lost a game to Memphis that looks less forgivable now than it did at the time, and they started January with a rough 11-point loss to Clemson. The road win over Virginia last Monday temporarily moved them into the projected field, but they had a lot of work to do in order to stay there.

    Losing for a second time to Georgia Tech was decidedly not a step in the right direction. They still have home games remaining against Louisville (this Saturday), Duke and Florida State, and going at least 1-2 in those opportunities is just about mandatory.

            

    Fifth Team Out: Tennessee Volunteers (12-7, NET: 54, kenpom: 49, SOS: 45)

    Tennessee gave Kansas a run for its money in the SEC-B12 challenge, but it ultimately fell short of getting a much-needed quality winas it did in a three-point loss to Florida State back in November. The Volunteers do have a pair of Quadrant 1 wins, but neither of the neutral-site victories over VCU and Washington is much of a feather in the cap.

    The good news is opportunities abound for Tennessee. It still has two games each against Kentucky, Auburn and Arkansas, as well as a home game against Florida and road games against Alabama and Mississippi State. There's not much on this resume at the moment, but that could change in a big way over these next six weeks.

East Region (New York City)

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    Syracuse's Buddy Boeheim
    Syracuse's Buddy BoeheimRobert Franklin/Associated Press

    Sacramento, California

    No. 1 San Diego State vs. No. 16 William & Mary
    No. 8 Stanford vs. No. 9 Michigan

    Tampa, Florida

    No. 4 Maryland vs. No. 13 Louisiana Tech
    No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 12 Yale

    Albany, New York

    No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 14 Colgate
    No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 11 Syracuse

    Albany, New York

    No. 2 Seton Hall vs. No. 15 South Dakota State
    No. 7 Houston vs. No. 10 Florida

           

    Noteworthy Riser: Syracuse Orange (new to the field)
    Resume: 13-7, NET: 64, kenpom: 50, SOS: 72

    Not even three weeks ago, Syracuse was 8-7 and hadn't done anything worth a darn. Its best win was a road game against Georgia Tech, and its second-best victory came at home against Colgate, neither of which is saying much.

    But the Orange hadn't suffered any unforgivable losses, meaning it wouldn't take much of a hot streak to surge into the tournament conversationparticularly given the putrid state of the bubble.

    After five straight wins, lo and behold, here's Syracuse.

    There wasn't a spectacular individual victory in the bunch, but three of those five wins63-55 in overtime at Virginia, 71-69 at Virginia Tech and 84-82 at Notre Damewere Quadrant 1 nail-biters. Taken collectively, they provided a huge boost to this resume. And with Duke coming to town Saturday, Syracuse could start to solidify its spot in the field.

           

    Noteworthy Slider: Michigan Wolverines (Down three seed lines)
    Resume: 11-8, NET: 36, kenpom: 32, SOS: 33

    While Syracuse has won five in a row, Michigan has been on the opposite trajectory with four consecutive losses.

    The first two (at Minnesota, at Iowa) weren't too damaging. After all, winning on the road in the Big Ten has felt impossible this season. But then the Wolverines continued their slide with home losses to Penn State and Illinois this week, plummeting toward the bubble.

    They're still in great shape for a bid thanks to prior victories over Gonzaga, Creighton and Iowa, but they now have eight losses with a lot of hurdles yet to come.

    Four of their final six games are on the road against Rutgers, Purdue, Ohio State and Maryland, each of which is projected to result in a loss. Within the next two weeks, Michigan also has home games against Ohio State and Michigan State, as well as a game against Rutgers on the road, all three of which are coin flips.

    Better hope at least two of those coins land in the right direction or this could get dicey.

Midwest Region (Indianapolis)

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

    Omaha, Nebraska

    No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Monmouth/Norfolk State
    No. 8 Marquette vs. No. 9 Arkansas

    Omaha, Nebraska

    No. 4 Villanova vs. No. 13 Liberty
    No. 5 Penn State vs. No. 12 VCU/Virginia Tech

    Cleveland, Ohio

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

    Tampa, Florida

    No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 15 UC Irvine
    No. 7 Arizona vs. No. 10 Minnesota

           

    Noteworthy Riser: Minnesota Golden Gophers (new to the field)
    Resume: 11-9, NET: 43, kenpom: 39, SOS: 15

    Minnesota had a bit of a backward week, winning at Ohio State before losing a home game against Michigan State. Regardless of the order in which it happened, though, a 1-1 record this week was a net positive for a bubble-y team.

    The Golden Gophers now have three Quadrant 1 wins and no bad losses, though the home loss to DePaul is starting to age about as well as week-old fruit. They do have nine losses overall, but 55 percent of their games have come against Quadrant 1. Plus, frankly, the pool of at-large candidates has started to get all sorts of ugly at this point.

    While the nine losses don't disqualify Minnesota, they do make the rest of the journey more of a tightrope walk. The Gophers need to go at least 5-5, probably 6-4, the rest of the way. Even if we pencil in the road game against Northwestern and the home games against Nebraska, Wisconsin and Indiana as wins, they're still going to have to come up with a few more tough wins to make it happen.

    As things currently stand, though, there's no good reason to keep this team out of the field.

           

    Noteworthy Slider: Arizona Wildcats (Down two seed lines)
    Resume: 13-6, NET: 10, kenpom: 12, SOS: 5

    Perhaps there will eventually be a week in which we don't need to highlight Arizona as a major mover, but the Wildcats just keep bouncing around thanks to perhaps the most bizarre resume this season.

    The predictive analytics adore Arizona, and it's not hard to see why. Nine of its 13 winsincluding all four of its victories against the top two Quadrantshave come by a margin of at least 16 points, and only one of its six losses was by more than five. The Wildcats have an average scoring margin of 15.0 points. That ranks eighth nationally, and it was accomplished against one of the toughest schedules.

    However, they have yet to win a true road game, and while the close losses to Baylor, Gonzaga and Oregon look nice, they were still losses. Home wins over Colorado and Illinois are their only noteworthy positive results. Thus, blowing a 22-point lead in Saturday night's loss to Arizona State was a major blow.

    Arizona has another two road games coming up this week against Washington and Washington State. The Wildcats better win those games, or we're going to need to discuss whether a team in the Top 25 of the NET could miss the tournament.

South Region (Houston)

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    Illinois' Kofi Cockburn
    Illinois' Kofi CockburnMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    St. Louis

    No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Sacred Heart/Prairie View A&M
    No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 USC

    Sacramento, California

    No. 4 Iowa vs. No. 13 Vermont
    No. 5 Colorado vs. No. 12 Akron

    Cleveland

    No. 3 Butler vs. No. 14 Northern Colorado
    No. 6 Illinois vs. No. 11 Texas Tech

    St. Louis

    No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 15 Wright State
    No. 7 Wichita State vs. No. 10 Saint Mary's

           

    Noteworthy Riser: Illinois Fighting Illini (Up three seed lines)
    Resume: 15-5, NET: 32, kenpom: 22, SOS: 82

    There's hot, and then there's Illinois hot.

    A six-game winning streak that began with a 63-37 shellacking of Purdue continued this week with another convincing win over the Boilermakers, this time by a 17-point margin on the road. The Illini also won at Michigan over the weekend when Ayo Dosunmu broke a 62-62 tie with less than one second remaining.

    Illinois, which lost to Missouri and Miami while doing absolutely nothing positive worth mentioning in nonconference play, has now picked up five Quadrant 1 wins since the beginning of January, surging into a tie with Michigan State for first place in the Big Ten standings.

    Don't lock the Illini in as a tournament team just yet, though. Their next six games (vs. Minnesota, at Iowa, vs. Maryland, vs. Michigan State, at Rutgers, at Penn State) are no joke, and they'll close out the regular season against Indiana, Ohio State (road) and Iowa.

    This 7-2 conference record could turn into 9-11 if they're not careful. And if you put together a sub-.500 league record after entering conference play with nothing better than a home win over Old Dominion, you're probably not going dancing.

           

    Noteworthy Slider: Texas Tech Red Raiders (Down three seed lines)
    Resume: 12-7, NET: 38, kenpom: 27, SOS: 91

    The reigning national champion (Virginia) is nowhere close to the at-large picture at the moment, and this first runner-up to the Cavaliers is also rapidly trending toward the NIT.

    Texas Tech almost scored a big win over Kentucky this weekend, but it ultimately fell short in overtime. The Red Raiders also lost in overtime to Creighton and DePaul earlier this season, and they had a close loss at home against Baylor. All told, they've had a lot of near-misses and only one hit: a neutral-site victory over Louisville.

    Worse yet, they also lost by double digits to TCU this week, adding a questionable misstep to a resume lacking quality wins.

    They could turn things around in a hurry over the next few days, as they'll host West Virginia on Wednesday before playing at Kansas on Saturday. Alternatively, those two major challenges could drop Texas Tech to 12-9 and out of the tournament picture.

West Region (Los Angeles)

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    Memphis' Penny Hardaway and Boogie Ellis
    Memphis' Penny Hardaway and Boogie EllisJoe Murphy/Getty Images

    Spokane, Washington

    No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Murray State
    No. 8 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Oklahoma

    Spokane, Washington

    No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 13 Stephen F. Austin
    No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Alabama/Purdue

    Greensboro, North Carolina

    No. 3 Dayton vs. No. 14 Georgia State
    No. 6 LSU vs. No. 11 Memphis

    Greensboro, North Carolina

    No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Winthrop
    No. 7 Rutgers vs. No. 10 East Tennessee State

           

    Noteworthy Riser: East Tennessee State Buccaneers (Up two seed lines)
    Resume: 18-3, NET: 42, kenpom: 57, SOS: 118

    When it feels like all the bubble teams are falling by the wayside, someone has to benefit, right?

    Not only did major-conference teams like Texas Tech, Purdue, NC State, Virginia Tech and others go into free-fall mode this week, but mid-majors Northern Iowa and Liberty each suffered losses, leaving East Tennessee State as the last, best hope for people who like to see mid-majors get at-large bids.

    The Buccaneers didn't do anything worth noting in the past seven days. They merely won a home game against Chattanooga. But simply by not losing, they're suddenly in the mix for a No. 10 seed.

    That could be a theme for the next month, too, as there's a reasonable chance they'll win the rest of their regular-season games. If that happens, I look forward to a second consecutive year spending the first half of March entertaining the possibility of a two-bid SoCon.

           

    Noteworthy Slider: Memphis Tigers (Down three seed lines)
    Resume: 14-5, NET: 51, kenpom: 61, SOS: 64

    It initially seemed like Memphis might be able to get along just fine without James Wiseman. The Tigers won each of the first 10 games played after his suspension began, including quality victories away from home against Tennessee and NC State.

    But this young team has hit quite the speed bump in January, losing four of its last six games with an 0-2 record in the past week.

    Not only did they lose two more games, but they didn't bother to show up at all in the 80-40 loss at Tulsa. There's allegedly a 10-point cap on the effect of scoring margin in the NET, but that one clearly hurt Memphis, which dropped from 28th to 52nd in the NET rankings last week.

    Blowing a 12-point lead in the final seven minutes of the subsequent home loss to SMU didn't help matters, either.

    If Memphis expects to stay in the tournament picture, it needs to win its next four against UCF, Connecticut, Temple and South Florida.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Gonzaga's Killian Tillie
    Gonzaga's Killian TillieYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    No. 4 San Diego State Aztecs (21-0, NET: 2, kenpom: 8, SOS: 174)

    For the first time in nearly two months, San Diego State had to sweat out a close finish on Sunday. The Aztecs never trailed UNLV by more than two points, but it was a 40-minute battle they narrowly won to remain undefeated and on the projected No. 1 seed line.

    Two more serious tests await SDSU this week. It'll travel to New Mexico on Wednesday to take on a Lobos team that is 13-0 at home this season. Three days after that, the Aztecs will host a Utah State team that desperately needs to win in order to get back into the at-large conversation.

    If they can get through those two games unscathed, there's going to be a much stronger case for pushing the Aztecs ahead of Gonzaga and into position for the No. 1 seed in the West Region.

            

    No. 3 Gonzaga Bulldogs (21-1, NET: 3, kenpom: 3, SOS: 204)

    Gonzaga made quick work of a light week, smashing Pacific 92-59 in its only game between Jan. 19 and Jan. 29. Six Zags scored in double figures, and a seventh (freshman center Drew Timme) came off the bench for a career-high five blocked shots.

    The Bulldogs received one minor scare from Pepperdine on Jan. 4, but they have destroyed everything else in their path since mid-December. Nine of their last 10 wins have come by at least 13 points, and the average margin of their past five victories is 35 points.

    This Gonzaga team probably wouldn't beat the ones that earned No. 1 seeds in 2017 and 2019, but it does seem to be every bit as good compared to the rest of the country as it was in those seasons. Forget about this team at your own peril. 

             

    No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks (17-3, NET: 4, kenpom: 1, SOS: 1)

    Let's address the elephant in the room first: No, the brawl against Kansas State and the subsequent suspensions from it won't have an impact on Kansas' case for a No. 1 seed. Silvio De Sousa barely played any meaningful minutes as it was, so losing him for 12 games is whatever. And by the time you're reading this, David McCormack's two-game suspension will already be over.

    Thus, the Jayhawks are effectively at full strength and can simply focus on what lies ahead.

    That said, Kansas took care of business again this week, winning home games against Kansas State and Tennessee before going on the road and keeping Oklahoma State winless in Big 12 play. They have been outstanding on defense, and that Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike guard-center combo on offense is second to none.

    Road games against West Virginia and Baylor in mid-February may eventually trip this team up again, but the Jayhawks seem destined for what would be their 14th No. 1 seed in the past 29 years.

        

    No. 1 Baylor Bears (17-1, NET: 1, kenpom: 4, SOS: 88)

    Florida starts two 6'10" big men, and Baylor only has one guy taller than 6'5" in its primary six-man rotation. You might think that would have been a disadvantage for the Bears playing on the road against the Gators on Saturday night, but it wasn't a problem at all. Baylor held Omar Payne and Kerry Blackshear Jr. to a combined 11 points while also dominating Florida on the glass in a 72-61 victory.

    At this point, it's starting to feel like the only way to beat Baylor is hope you catch fire from three-point range against an excellent defense. Some blueprint, eh? Only three teams have shot 39 percent or better against the Bears: Washington beat them, Oklahoma State almost beat them, and Coastal Carolina led by seven in the second half before Baylor went on a 30-8 run to end that upset bid.

    If that defense holds up, Baylor might not lose again.

Seeding by Conference

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    Seton Hall's Myles Powell
    Seton Hall's Myles PowellSarah Stier/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): 27. Houston; 28. Wichita State; 43. Memphis

    Atlantic 10 (2): 9. Dayton; 48. VCU; 70. Rhode Island; 71. Richmond

    Atlantic Coast (5): 6. Florida State; 7. Louisville; 8. Duke; 42. Syracuse; 47. Virginia Tech; 72. NC State

    Big 12 (5): 1. Baylor; 2. Kansas; 11. West Virginia; 35. Oklahoma; 41. Texas Tech

    Big East (5): 5. Seton Hall; 10. Butler; 14. Villanova; 23. Creighton; 29. Marquette

    Big Ten (12): 12. Michigan State; 15. Maryland; 16. Iowa; 18. Penn State; 21. Wisconsin; 22. Illinois; 26. Rutgers; 30. Indiana; 31. Ohio State; 34. Michigan; 39. Minnesota; 46. Purdue

    Pac-12 (5): 13. Oregon; 20. Colorado; 25. Arizona; 32. USC; 36. Stanford

    Southeastern (6): 17. Auburn; 19. Kentucky; 24. LSU; 33. Arkansas; 35. Florida; 45. Alabama; 73. Tennessee

    West Coast (2): 3. Gonzaga; 38. Saint Mary's; 69. BYU

    Other (23): 4. San Diego State; 40. East Tennessee State; 44. Northern Iowa; 49. Yale; 50. Akron; 51. Liberty; 52. Louisiana Tech; 53. Vermont; 54. Stephen F. Austin; 55. New Mexico State; 56. Georgia State; 57. Colgate; 58. Northern Colorado; 59. Wright State; 60. Winthrop; 61. UC Irvine; 62. South Dakota State; 63. Murray State; 64. William & Mary; 65. Prairie View A&M; 66. Sacred Heart; 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.