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  • Our midweek update to the NCAA tournament picture brings a new overall No. 1 and plenty of jockeying among seed lines.
By Michael Beller
February 28, 2019

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This is the final Bracket Watch before the start of conference tournament season. Next Monday, the Atlantic Sun Conference will kick off its tournament, beginning a two-week sprint to Selection Sunday. In that time, 32 teams will earn automatic bids to the big dance, and while some of them will be assured a place in the field no matter what they do, others will be playing for their tournament lives every time they take the floor.

There has been plenty of jockeying for seed position in the middle of the tournament field since our last Bracket Watch, but no major changes. Among the 68 teams in our current field, 67 were in when the week began. The lone exception is Colgate, which is now tied with Bucknell and Lehigh atop the Patriot League standings after winning its seventh straight game on Wednesday. At the top of the field, Virginia is now our No. 1 overall seed, followed by Gonzaga, Duke and Kentucky. The Blue Devils fell off their perch as the top team in the entire field after losing to Virginia Tech on Tuesday, and could ultimately fall off the top line entirely depending on what happens over the next two weeks.

Last Four Byes

Arizona State
Alabama
Minnesota
Texas

Last Four In

Seton Hall
UCF
Temple
Utah State

First Eight Out

Clemson
Georgetown
Furman
Indiana
Belmont
Memphis
Butler
Saint Mary's

Next Eight Out

Xavier
Dayton
UNC-Greensboro
Nebraska
Creighton
Liberty
Toledo
San Francisco

East Region

The SI.com Bracket Watch Committee had a few tough seeding decisions toward the top of the field, and that’s where we’re going to focus in our regional breakdowns. Kansas nearly moved back up to a No. 3 seed, but was ultimately edged out by LSU and Texas Tech. Despite remaining on the four-line for at least another few days, Kansas is somehow lurking under the radar among Final Four contenders, an odd spot for a perennial powerhouse that has wins over Michigan State, Tennessee, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Villanova this season. Udoka Azubuike was active for the Michigan State and Tennessee games, but this team still has nearly as high a ceiling as any in the country. The Jayhawks will be favored in all three of their remaining regular season games and sit one game behind Texas Tech and Kansas State in the Big 12 standings. Don’t bet against them extending the most impressive streak in all of college basketball to 15 years by making up that game on both teams and earning a share of the Big 12 regular season title.

(1) Virginia vs. (16) Rider/Norfolk State
(8) Washington vs. (9) Florida
(5) Mississippi State vs. (12) Murray State
(4) Kansas vs. (13) Yale
(6) Villanova vs. (11) Arizona State
(3) Michigan vs. (14) Old Dominion
(7) Buffalo vs. (10) Oklahoma
(2) Tennessee vs. (15) Wright State

West Region

We’ve been down on Virginia Tech in this space all season, so if you’ve been following along it might be a surprise to see them as a No. 4 seed, up from a No. 6 earlier this week. The metrics—specifically NET, KenPom, Sagarin and T-Rank—have loved the Hokies all season. We’ve held them down on the seed list, though, because they lacked signature victories. That changed earlier this week with a win over Duke. Even without Zion Williamson, the Blue Devils are one of the best teams in the country. Pair that with an early-season win over Purdue, and the Hokies now have the wins to go with their glittering metrics. They’re now 4–6 in Q1 games and 10–6 in Q1 and Q2 games combined.

(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) St. Francis (PA)/Prairie View A&M
(8) Ole Miss vs. (9) NC State
(5) Maryland vs. (12) UCF/Utah State
(4) Virginia Tech vs. (13) South Dakota State
(6) Nevada vs. (11) Minnesota
(3) Texas Tech vs. (14) Hofstra
(7) Cincinnati vs. (10) Syracuse
(2) Michigan State vs. (15) Radford

Midwest Region

Wisconsin has been a No. 4 seed in the Bracket Watch—no higher or lower—for a month now. It may seem a puzzling choice to keep the Badgers there after this week’s loss at Indiana. They haven’t won a game against a likely tourney team since beating Maryland back on Feb. 1, losing to Michigan and Michigan State, as well as Indiana, in that time. We have to guard against recency bias, and Wisconsin’s entire body of work is still that of one of the top-16 seeds in the field. The Badgers are ranked 16th or better by all key overall metrics, own seven Q1 victories, and are 11–9 in Q1 and Q2 games, with zero losses in the bottom-two quadrants. Their final regular season games are against Penn State and Iowa at home, and at Ohio State, which makes us confident they’ll be able to hold onto one of the top-16 seeds going into the Big Ten tournament.

(1) Duke vs. (16) Sam Houston State
(8) Auburn vs. (9) St. John's
(5) Iowa State vs. (12) Lipscomb
(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) New Mexico State
(6) Louisville vs. (11) Texas
(3) LSU vs. (14) Texas State
(7) Iowa vs. (10) VCU
(2) Houston vs. (15) Colgate

South Region

Kansas State was in the mix for a No. 5 seed, sitting neck and neck with Florida State, Iowa State and Mississippi State, and comfortably ahead of fellow No. 6 seeds Louisville, Villanova and Nevada. Mississippi State has the second-highest NET ranking and nine Q1 wins, by far the most of the bunch, so it slotted into the five-line first. Then came Iowa State, thanks to a NET rating of 14, best in the group by six spots, and 14 spots ahead of Kansas State. That left Florida State, which has a nearly identical résumé to the Wildcats. Florida State ranks 24th in NET. Kansas State is 28th. Florida State ranks 54th in strength of schedule. Kansas State is 53rd. Florida State is 6–4 in Q1 games, 4–2 in Q2 games, and undefeated in the bottom-two quadrants. Kansas State is 6–5 in Q1 games, 4–2 in Q2 games, and undefeated in the bottom-two quadrants. So, how did we make our decision? Bracketing principles. With Iowa State already on the five-line and Louisville headed for a No. 6 seed, we would’ve ended up violating one bracketing principle or another if we didn’t separate the teams that share a conference. When the margin between teams is this thin, bracketing principles can drive which team gets the higher seed. It isn’t completely satisfying, but it’s a tiebreaker by which all teams abide.

(1) Kentucky vs. (16) Montana
(8) Baylor vs. (9) Ohio State
(5) Florida State vs. (12) Seton Hall/Temple
(4) Marquette vs. (13) Vermont
(6) Kansas State vs. (11) Alabama
(3) Purdue vs. (14) UC-Irvine
(7) Wofford vs. (10) TCU
(2) North Carolina vs. (15) Loyola-Chicago

Full SI.com NCAA Tournament Bracket Watch (as of Feb. 28)

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