• Which teams are trending in the right direction—and which aren't—in our latest NCAA tournament field of 68 projection?
By Michael Beller
January 24, 2019

With February just around the corner, every Bracket Watch update feels more and more like the real thing. There’s still plenty of basketball and changes to our working field of 68 ahead, but teams contending for at-large bids are starting to separate into three distinct groups: locks, likely tournament teams, and firm bubble teams. Think of the teams on the top three lines in this Bracket Watch as locks (or close to it), teams seeded fourth through seventh as likely tournament teams, and everyone else firmly on the bubble at this stage of the season. A handful of teams are bound to bounce between the latter two groups over the next six weeks, while some will move from group two to the coveted status found in group one. We’re still a ways off from that part of the season, but we’re close enough to it that we can start thinking about it.

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Last Four Byes

Ohio State

Last Four In

Seton Hall
Arizona State

First Eight Out

San Francisco
Saint Louis
Fresno State
South Carolina

Next Eight Out

Utah State
Saint Mary’s

East Region

Let’s talk about VCU. We’ve had the Rams in every edition of the Bracket Watch this season as the lone representative from the Atlantic 10. As the season wears on, it’s becoming more and more likely that the A-10 will be a one-bid league. Saint Louis, Davidson and Dayton can all still dream of longshot at-large bids, and even VCU could be in trouble if it doesn’t win the conference tournament. It’s also becoming increasingly easy to see VCU setting for an NIT bid. At 4–2, the Rams are fifth in the conference standings, trailing George Mason, Davidson, Saint Louis and Duquesne. They lost at Davidson and Rhode Island, neither of which are terrible losses, but both of which call into question their primacy in the conference. The Rams are excellent on defense, ranking fifth in adjusted efficiency, but they’re 242nd in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency. They score barely one point per possession, are dreadful from behind the arc and have trouble scoring if point guard Marcus Evans isn’t creating for himself and everyone. We kept VCU in for now, but one more loss could change the equation.

(1) Duke vs. (16) Robert Morris/Prairie View A&M
(8) Ole Miss vs. (9) St. John's
(5) Texas Tech vs. (12) VCU
(4) Purdue vs. (13) South Dakota State
(6) Buffalo vs. (11) Ohio State
(3) Houston vs. (14) Old Dominion
(7) Mississippi State vs. (10) Indiana
(2) Kansas vs. (15) Loyola-Chicago

South Region

You know which team isn’t getting enough attention? Marquette. The Golden Eagles are 17–3 overall and 6–1 in the Big East, behind only Villanova in the conference. They own wins over Wisconsin, Louisville, Kansas State and Buffalo. Their losses were to Kansas, Indiana and St. John’s, all away from home. Point guard Markus Howard is one of the most dynamic scorers in the country and leads a coterie of shooters, including Sam Hauser and Joey Hauser, that has Marquette ranked 22nd in the country in three-point percentage. They can run teams out of the gym, as they did in their 103–85 win over Buffalo, or win a slower-paced game, such as win they took down Wisconsin by a 74–69 score in overtime. Despite being a team oriented toward its backcourt, Marquette does a good job on the boards, ranking 24th in defensive-rebounding rate, something that has been an issue for Steve Wojciechowski’s team in previous seasons. This is not the same old all-offense, no-defense Marquette team of recent vintage.

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(1) Tennessee vs. (16) Sam Houston State/Norfolk State
(8) NC State vs. (9) Texas
(5) Wisconsin vs. (12) Arizona/UCF
(4) Louisville vs. (13) Hofstra
(6) Iowa vs. (11) Wofford
(3) Marquette vs. (14) Northern Kentucky
(7) Oklahoma vs. (10) Alabama
(2) Michigan vs. (15) Montana

West Region

You think Kansas State missed Dean Wade? The senior center went down with a foot injury in the middle of December that initially called for an eight-week recovery timetable. The Wildcats held serve against their next few unimpressive non-conference opponents, but lost their first two games in conference play to Texas and Texas Tech by a combined 26 points. On Jan. 9, they took care of business against West Virginia. Then, on Jan. 12, just one month after Wade injured his foot, he returned for a huge win over Iowa State. The Wildcats have ripped off three more consecutive wins since then, knocking off Oklahoma, TCU and Texas Tech. Wade scored 20, 16 and 13 points in those three games, and the Wildcats have allowed an average of 54.5 points per game since he returned.

(1) Virginia vs. (16) Rider
(8) TCU vs. (9) Cincinnati
(5) LSU vs. (12) Lipscomb
(4) Maryland vs. (13) Yale
(6) Kansas State vs. (11) Washington
(3) Kentucky vs. (14) Texas State
(7) Florida State vs. (10) Minnesota
(2) Gonzaga vs. (15) Radford

Midwest Region

In the first Bracket Watch of this week, we pointed out that Virginia Tech had yet to be really tested this season. Its non-conference strength of schedule ranked 288th in the country, and despite playing about one-third of an ACC season to date, its overall strength of schedule is still a bland 129th. On Monday, the day that our last Bracket Watch came out, the Hokies got embarrassed by North Carolina, allowing 103 points and 1.36 points per possession in a 21-point loss that was never close. It’s fair to wonder what the ceiling really is for a team with one win against a likely tournament team—Purdue—at this point of the season. Over the next few weeks, Virignia Tech will play Syracuse, NC State and Louisville. All will be huge games for a team desperate to prove it belongs in the Final Four conversation.

(1) Michigan State vs. (16) Bucknell
(8) Auburn vs. (9) Syracuse
(5) Iowa State vs. (12) Seton Hall/Arizona State
(4) Virginia Tech vs. (13) New Mexico State
(6) Villanova vs. (11) Murray State
(3) Nevada vs. (14) Vermont
(7) Nebraska vs. (10) Baylor
(2) North Carolina vs. (15) UC-Irvine

Full SI.com NCAA Tournament Bracket Watch (as of Jan. 24)

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