2020 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68
For the third consecutive week, Baylor, Kansas, San Diego State and Gonzaga are the projected No. 1 seeds for the 2020 men's NCAA tournament.
We were told nonstop for the first two months of the season that there are no great teams this year, but those four have a combined record of 81-3 since Nov. 8, and it's actually 80-2 if we take out the head-to-head game between Baylor and Kansas.
That could change drastically, of course. Both Big 12 teams have a ton of tough games between now and Selection Sunday. Gonzaga still has to play Saint Mary's twice and has a road game against BYU. And, well, San Diego State should run the table at this point, but you never know.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, are we sure we can't shrink the field to something like 60 teams? The bubble is simply overrun with teams either lacking in quality wins or drowning in losses, and every night it feels like there are more teams playing their way out of the tournament conversation than into it.
That's February for you, though, and if the season ended today, 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 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 loss at Rhode Island on Friday was quite ugly. The final margin was 12, but VCU trailed by as many as 29 points in the second half before making things a little more respectable.
It wasn't a particularly bad loss, though, especially considering how hot URI has been for the past four weeks. And the 87-68 home win over Richmond earlier in the week helped soften that blow for VCU, enabling it to land as the "Last Team In" for a second consecutive week.
But the Rams are on very thin ice with a tough-by-Atlantic-10-standards schedule yet to play. VCU has two games remaining against Davidson, as well as a six-day stretch in which it must play at Richmond, vs. Dayton and at Saint Louis. Good luck.
Second-to-Last In: Georgetown Hoyas (13-9, NET: 48, kenpom: 52, SOS: 14)
Don't look now, but Georgetown has two Quadrant 1 wins, four Quadrant 2 wins and only one moderately disappointing loss (vs. UNC Greensboro).
Despite playing without star guard Mac McClung, the Hoyas rallied from a 17-point deficit in a road win over St. John's on Sunday to sneak onto the correct side of the bubble. To stay there, they probably need to win at least six of their remaining nine games. Considering five of those games are vs. Seton Hall, vs. Villanova, at Butler, at Creighton and at Marquette, it's more than a little unlikely they pull it off. But there's a chance.
Third-to-Last In: Virginia Cavaliers (14-6, NET: 58, kenpom: 54, SOS: 63)
As disappointing as this season has been at times, Virginia may have salvaged it with a home win over Florida State this week. Now the Cavaliers finally have a statement victory to at least somewhat counter-balance the not-great losses to Syracuse, NC State, South Carolina and Boston College.
They'll probably need one more big win, though. They play at Louisville this Saturday and will host Duke and Louisville, respectively, on the final two Saturdays of the regular season. If they go 0-3 in those opportunities, they had better go 7-0 in the other games. Otherwise, we're probably headed for a tournament without the reigning champion.
Fourth-to-Last In: Xavier Musketeers (14-8, NET: 47, kenpom: 51, SOS: 26)
Good luck finding a bubble team that picked up a bigger win in the past few weeks than Xavier's road victory over Seton Hall on Saturday. The Musketeers stormed to a 30-6 lead and managed to hold the Pirates at bay from there for a 12-point win.
Prior to that, Xavier didn't have a single win—home or away—over a projected tournament team. But the Musketeers also only had one bad loss (at Wake Forest), which meant they were perpetually one big win away from getting back into the conversation for a bid.
Like Virginia, Xavier still has three big opportunities on the schedule: two games against Butler and a home game against Villanova. And if they are unable to get any of those, they probably need to win the other six—two against DePaul, two against Providence and road games against Georgetown and St. John's.
Fifth-to-Last In: USC Trojans (17-5, NET: 45, kenpom: 58, SOS: 60)
We'll address USC as the "Noteworthy Slider" in the East Region, but let's just say for now that losing by three touchdowns to Colorado on Saturday night was not a great idea. Even though the Trojans only have five losses, they may drop out of next week's projected field if they don't win at Arizona on Thursday.
First 5 Out
First Team Out: Minnesota Golden Gophers (11-10, NET: 44, kenpom: 38, SOS: 19)
The record is troubling, to say the least. But it's worth noting Minnesota has played more than half of its games (11 of 21) against the NET Top 40. And in those 11 challenges, the Golden Gophers swept Ohio State and won home games against Penn State and Michigan.
They need to capitalize on what is a relatively favorable remaining schedule by the Big Ten's lofty standards. Minnesota has two games each against Indiana and Wisconsin and one each against Northwestern, Nebraska, Iowa, Penn State and Maryland. A 6-3 record against that slate should do the trick. A 5-4 mark would at least keep the Gophers in the hunt.
Second Team Out: Mississippi State Bulldogs (14-7, NET: 38, kenpom: 35, SOS: 24)
This is the first time we've had much cause to look at Mississippi State all season, but the Bulldogs have won five of their last six games, entering the fray of seven teams that might have an argument as the best in the SEC. They won at Florida and comfortably beat Tennessee this past week, and they could make a colossal statement at Kentucky on Tuesday.
Even if they don't beat the Wildcats, they should go 8-2 the rest of the way. They aren't quite in the projected field at the moment, but one has to believe getting to 22-9 would be enough.
Third Team Out: Cincinnati Bearcats (14-7, NET: 46, kenpom: 43, SOS: 25)
Beating Houston on Saturday was Cincinnati's best win of the season by far. The Bearcats also won a home game against SMU last week. However, they are 0-4 vs. Quadrant 1 with three Quadrant 3 losses to boot. Despite decent predictive analytics rankings, they have a lot of work to do. Winning at Wichita State on Thursday is almost mandatory.
Fourth Team Out: Purdue Boilermakers (12-10, NET: 39, kenpom: 28, SOS: 51)
Like Minnesota, the sheer number of losses isn't a great look for Purdue. But the Boilermakers do have wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin, Virginia, VCU and Minnesota, and the loss at Minnesota was the only reprehensible loss of the season. If they continue playing well at home and win all five remaining games at Mackey Arena (Iowa, Penn State, Michigan, Indiana and Rutgers), that might be enough.
Fifth Team Out: Throw a Dart
The bubble is overrun with teams that are one big win away from suddenly looking a lot better.
If Washington could ever win a close game again, it already has an amazing neutral-site victory over Baylor on its resume and has been hovering around the top 50 in the NET for most of the season. Problem is, its only remaining shot at a big win is at Arizona more than a month from now.
Alabama blew out Auburn two weeks ago and only has one bad loss (vs. Penn). If the Crimson Tide can win at least two of their next four games—vs. Tennessee, at Georgia, at Auburn, vs. LSU—it'll be in good shape for a bid.
And don't forget about DePaul. The Blue Demons are lurking with four Quadrant 1 wins—vs. Butler, at Iowa, at Minnesota, vs. Texas Tech—but an 0-2 record against Quadrant 2 isn't doing them any favors. They almost won at Seton Hall and at Marquette this week. Either one would've pushed them into the field. And there are plenty of opportunities remaining in Big East play.
East Region (New York City)
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Hofstra
No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 9 Oklahoma
No. 4 Villanova vs. No. 13 Stephen F. Austin
No. 5 Arizona vs. No. 12 East Tennessee State
Albany, New York
No. 3 Seton Hall vs. No. 14 Belmont
No. 6 Illinois vs. No. 11 USC
Greensboro, North Carolina
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Colgate
No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 10 Memphis
Noteworthy Riser: Arizona Wildcats (Up two seed lines)
Resume: 15-6, NET: 8, kenpom: 11, SOS: 5
At long last, Arizona won a true road game. In fact, the Wildcats pulled off a sweep of the Washington schools on their trip to the Northwest. In the process, they added a Quadrant 1 and a Quadrant 2 win to a resume that had been curiously light on quality victories.
Part of the reason Arizona's overall seed (18th) doesn't quite mesh with its impressive computer rankings is that three of its most impressive showings of the season were all losses. The Wildcats lost by five at Baylor, lost by four at home against Gonzaga and lost by one in overtime at Oregon. Those games are largely responsible for Arizona's incredible strength of schedule, and being close in all three looks good to the NET and kenpom. But, ultimately, the Wildcats didn't win any of them.
The other reason is that Arizona's two best wins—home games against Colorado and Illinois—were both 21-point blowouts. Getting two Quadrant 1 wins by that wide a margin is a great way to boost the metrics. But we'd still like to see a greater quantity of quality wins before considering this team for a spot on the top three seed lines.
If Arizona takes care of its business at home against USC and UCLA this week, though, it should at least climb up to a No. 4 seed next edition.
Noteworthy Slider: USC Trojans (Down three seed lines)
Resume: 17-5, NET: 45, kenpom: 58, SOS: 60
It was a dreadful week of offense for USC. The Trojans eked out a 56-52 home win over Utah before getting pounded 78-57 by Colorado.
Of course, when USC does lose this season, it's usually ugly. The 21-point loss to the Buffaloes joins a collection that already included a 22-point loss to Marquette and a 32-point loss to Washington. And that's a troubling trend on a resume that doesn't have much good on it aside from a two-point "neutral-site" win over LSU in Los Angeles.
It's largely because of USC's mediocre scoring margin that the predictive analytics haven't shown much love to this 17-5 team, but that's something the Trojans are going to need to overcome with quality victories.
They still have two games remaining against Arizona, starting with the road game on Thursday. They'll also get a rematch at Colorado on Feb. 20. If they go 0-3, they'll likely be on the outside of the projected field when the Pac-12 tournament begins.
Midwest Region (Indianapolis)
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Monmouth/Sacred Heart
No. 8 Rutgers vs. No. 9 Wichita State
No. 4 Creighton vs. No. 13 Vermont
No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 12 Liberty
Albany, New York
No. 3 Maryland vs. No. 14 Wright State
No. 6 LSU vs. No. 11 Xavier/Virginia
St. Louis, Missouri
No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 15 Northern Colorado
No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 BYU
Noteworthy Riser: BYU Cougars (New to the field)
Resume: 17-7, NET: 26, kenpom: 19, SOS: 23
BYU would actually be on our No. 9 seed line were it not for their inability to play on Sundays. But No. 9 or No. 10 is less important than the fact that the Cougars are back in the projected field after Saturday night's win over Saint Mary's.
With about eight minutes remaining in the second half, they were down by eight with star big man Yoeli Childs on the bench with four fouls. It looked like they were going to come up short, which almost certainly would have necessitated a home win over Gonzaga on Feb. 22 in order to make the NCAA tournament.
But no need to have that debate anymore, because TJ Haws took over the game. The 24-year-old senior scored 11 of BYU's final 16 points, including the game-winning triple with less than 10 seconds to go that perhaps saved this season.
If the Cougars can go 6-1 the rest of the way—whether that means losing to Gonzaga or beating Gonzaga and taking a bad loss elsewhere—they should be in great shape. They certainly have a solid computer resume to support their case.
Noteworthy Slider: Wichita State Shockers (Down two seed lines)
Resume: 17-4, NET: 37, kenpom: 39, SOS: 92
The Shockers only played one game in the past week, losing at Tulsa on a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
It wasn't a terrible loss. At any rate, Houston and Memphis have also lost at Tulsa in the past month, and they're both still projected to make the tournament. But it was another missed opportunity for a Shockers team that hasn't had many of them.
Wichita State does have seven Quadrant 2 wins, but it is 0-2 vs. Quadrant 1. Its best wins were home games against VCU, Oklahoma and Memphis, each of which is a bubble team. Because of that, this is a volatile resume. Even a not-terrible loss can have a significantly negative impact on the overall case for a bid/seeding.
The Shockers could take a huge step back in the right direction this week, though. They host Cincinnati on Thursday, followed by a road game against Houston on Sunday. A 2-0 week would likely send them flying up the seed list, possibly jumping from a No. 9 to a No. 5. Let's see if they can pull it off.
South Region (Houston)
St. Louis, Missouri
No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Norfolk State/Prairie View A&M
No. 8 Houston vs. No. 9 Stanford
No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Akron
No. 5 Oregon vs. No. 12 Northern Iowa
No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 14 New Mexico State
No. 6 Kentucky vs. No. 11 Rhode Island
No. 2 Dayton vs. No. 15 UC Irvine
No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Saint Mary's
Noteworthy Riser: Rhode Island Rams (New to the field)
Resume: 16-5, NET: 40, kenpom: 45, SOS: 29
There's an old saying that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. But for Rhode Island, January came in like a wrecking ball and went out like a Ram.
URI opened the month with a dreadful loss to Brown, followed by a home loss to Richmond to open A-10 play. The Rams were 8-5 at that point and ranked well outside the kenpom Top 80. To say they weren't in the tournament picture would be an understatement.
Since then, however, they've won eight straight, including a season sweep of VCU and four other wins decided by at least 10 points. The Rams haven't faced Dayton yet—they'll square off on Feb. 11, March 4 and possibly in the A-10 championship—but they have clearly established themselves as the top challenger to the Flyers.
Rhode Island surged 40 spots in the kenpom rankings in the span of a little more than three weeks. Even if the Rams get swept by Dayton, they should go dancing if they can avoid acquiring any other regular-season losses.
Noteworthy Slider: Oregon Ducks (Down one seed line)
Resume: 18-5, NET: 18, kenpom: 21, SOS: 6
Rough week for Oregon, which has felt like the best team in the Pac-12 for most of the season.
First, the Ducks had to erase a 54-47 deficit in the final 10 minutes against California—otherwise known as the worst team in the conference. (The Golden Bears are in the middle of the standings at 4-4, but both kenpom and the NET have them at least 25 spots worse than any other team in the league.) Despite Oregon shooting 10-of-18 from three-point range, that game was neck-and-neck for the first 36 minutes.
Then, Oregon went to Stanford and landed on the wrong end of a second-half rally. The Ducks were up 47-39 midway through the second half, but they were outscored 31-13 the rest of the way. The Cardinal's Oscar Da Silva (27 points, 15 rebounds) ate them alive while they struggled to put anything in the hoop.
Playing away from home has been a major challenge for the Ducks. They're now 5-5 in road/neutral games, and even in each of the five wins, they trailed at some point in the final eight minutes. Five of their final eight regular-season games are at home, but they're at Oregon State this weekend and still have the road trip to Arizona and Arizona State coming up before the end of the month.
Oregon might want to convincingly win at least one of those games for a change.
West Region (Los Angeles)
No. 1 San Diego State vs. No. 16 South Dakota State
No. 8 Texas Tech vs. No. 9 Florida
No. 4 Auburn vs. No. 13 Louisiana Tech
No. 5 Penn State vs. No. 12 Yale
Greensboro, North Carolina
No. 3 Butler vs. No. 14 Winthrop
No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 11 VCU/Georgetown
No. 2 West Virginia vs. No. 15 Georgia State
No. 7 Marquette vs. No. 10 Indiana
Noteworthy Riser: Texas Tech Red Raiders (Up three seed lines)
Resume: 13-8, NET: 29, kenpom: 22, SOS: 59
Texas Tech did itself a colossal favor this week by both picking up a quality win over West Virginia and only losing by three at Kansas.
The loss joins quite the collection of similar results. The Red Raiders also lost overtime games against Kentucky, Creighton and DePaul and gave Baylor a run for its money in early January.
Back in the RPI days, those would have been unfortunate misses. (Fun Fact: Texas Tech wouldn't even rank in the top 70 if we were still using RPI.) But now that college basketball has joined horseshoes and hand grenades in giving partial credit for almost-wins, those losses don't sting as much.
More importantly, the Red Raiders doubled their count of good wins to two. Prior to knocking off West Virginia, they had a neutral-site win over Louisville and, well, not much else aside from a bunch of Quadrant 4 wins and a complete lack of bad losses. Thus, beating the Mountaineers was a crucial boost for Texas Tech.
The rest of February is basically a minefield, though: two games each against Oklahoma and Texas, home games against TCU and Kansas State and road games against Iowa State and Oklahoma State. None of those teams currently rates higher than 48th in the NET, so even a 6-2 record would likely hurt Texas Tech more than it helps, especially with two likely losses to Baylor and Kansas looming at the end of the regular season.
Noteworthy Slider: Indiana Hoosiers (Down two seed lines)
Resume: 15-7, NET: 52, kenpom: 41, SOS: 38
I can't figure out why the metrics despise Indiana so much.
The Hoosiers have played 10 games against the NET Top 35, winning the home games against Michigan State, Ohio State and Florida State while losing the other seven. Four of those losses were decided by single digits, though, and they don't have anything close to a bad loss on their resume.
Texas Tech is in a similar boat, but the Red Raiders rank roughly 20 spots better than Indiana in both kenpom and the NET. And their average scoring margin (9.5 PPG) isn't that much better than Indiana's (6.3 PPG).
Alas, the Hoosiers have lost three straight and are rapidly approaching the bubble. And the schedule isn't getting any easier as they have already played all their games against Nebraska and Northwestern. They probably need to win five of their remaining nine games, which starts with a home outing against Purdue on Saturday. If Indiana lets that one slip away, it's hard to imagine it'll find five wins elsewhere on that slate.
Ranking the No. 1 Seeds
No. 4 Gonzaga Bulldogs (23-1, NET: 3, kenpom: 5, SOS: 158)
Gonzaga hasn't been tested often in the past six weeks, but it received quite the scare at San Francisco on Saturday. The Zags trailed for most of the game before finally taking control in the last few minutes.
It actually ended up being Gonzaga's fifth-best win of the season, but it was a vivid reminder of how high the standards are for this program. For most teams, eking out a road win against the fourth-best team in the conference is one heck of an achievement. For Gonzaga, it elicits an "Are we sure we can trust these guys?" type of response. Hardly seems fair.
The Bulldogs should face another stiff test this coming Saturday at Saint Mary's.
No. 3 San Diego State Aztecs (23-0, NET: 1, kenpom: 4, SOS: 121)
For a few weeks, we had Jan. 29 and Feb. 1 circled on the calendar as the most likely stumbling points for San Diego State. The former was a road game against New Mexico, which is typically a tough place to play even in seasons during which the Lobos are struggling. The latter was a home game against a Utah State team desperately trying to put another quality win on its bubble-y resume.
The Aztecs simply annihilated New Mexico, though, jumping out to a 20-2 lead and later extending it to 65-30. They won by 28. And while Utah State put up a fight for about 25 minutes, the Aztecs eventually cruised to a 12-point victory in that game, too.
They have six games remaining in the regular season, and it's hard to imagine they'll lose any of them. And if they can maintain that perfect record through the Mountain West Conference tournament, they'll have a strong case for the No. 1 overall seed. As long as they finish ahead of Gonzaga, though, they'll get to stay close to home on the top line in the West Region.
No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks (19-3, NET: 4, kenpom: 1, SOS: 1)
With a 78-75 home win over Texas Tech on Saturday, Kansas further improved a resume that already featured more Quadrant 1 wins than any other team can boast. The Jayhawks are now 9-3 against that collection of teams with several more opportunities on the horizon.
The big ones are the road games against West Virginia (Feb. 12) and Baylor (Feb. 22). If the Jayhawks are able to either finish off a season sweep of the Mountaineers or avenge their home loss to the Bears, they would become a mortal lock for a No. 1 seed.
No. 1 Baylor Bears (20-1, NET: 2, kenpom: 3, SOS: 91)
Ho-hum. Baylor smoked both Iowa State and TCU last week, then it took care of Kansas State on Monday night to extend its winning streak to 19 games. The Bears couldn't buy a three-pointer against Iowa State and struggled mightily from inside the arc against TCU, but it didn't matter. Their defense simply suffocated the opposition, as has been the case for most of the season.
At some point, we need to reach a consensus on who Baylor's best player is because this team deserves to have somebody in the National Player of the Year race. My pick would be Freddie Gillespie, but all five starters have a case, which is a testament to why Baylor has been so difficult to beat. Even when one guy has an off night, there are plenty of others willing and able to pick up that slack.
Baylor should at least get that winning streak to 21 games before the schedule stiffens up. The Bears will host West Virginia and Kansas on back-to-back Saturdays (Feb. 15 and Feb. 22) with a road game against Oklahoma in between. They'll also wrap up the regular season with consecutive games against Texas Tech and West Virginia.
If any team can flawlessly navigate that obstacle course, Baylor's the one.
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 Athletic (3): 30. Houston; 35. Wichita State; 40. Memphis; 71. Cincinnati
Atlantic 10 (3): 7. Dayton; 41. Rhode Island; 46. VCU
Atlantic Coast (4): 5. Louisville; 6. Duke; 12. Florida State; 44. Virginia
Big 12 (5): 1. Baylor; 2. Kansas; 8. West Virginia; 32. Texas Tech; 37. Oklahoma
Big East (7): 9. Seton Hall; 10. Butler; 15. Creighton; 16. Villanova; 27. Marquette; 43. Xavier; 45. Georgetown
Big Ten (10): 11. Maryland; 14. Michigan State; 17. Penn State; 20. Iowa; 22. Illinois; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Ohio State; 28. Michigan; 29. Rutgers; 38. Indiana; 69. Minnesota; 72. Purdue
Pac-12 (5): 18. Arizona; 19. Oregon; 21. Colorado; 34. Stanford; 42. USC
Southeastern (5): 13. Auburn; 23. Kentucky; 24. LSU; 31. Arkansas; 36. Florida; 70. Mississippi State
West Coast (3): 4. Gonzaga; 33. BYU; 39. Saint Mary's
Other (23): 3. San Diego State; 47. Northern Iowa; 48. Yale; 49. East Tennessee State; 50. Liberty; 51. Akron; 52. Louisiana Tech; 53. Vermont; 54. Stephen F. Austin; 55. New Mexico State; 56. Winthrop; 57. Wright State; 58. Belmont; 59. Northern Colorado; 60. UC Irvine; 61. Colgate; 62. Georgia State; 63. South Dakota State; 64. Hofstra; 65. Sacred Heart; 66. Monmouth; 67. Prairie View A&M; 68. Norfolk State
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.