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  • North Carolina and Kentucky broke into the top line with impressive wins in their regular season finales. Where does the rest of the bracket stand?
By Michael Beller
March 10, 2019

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The top of the tournament field has a new look going into championship week as the dust settles on the regular season. Gone from the top line are Duke and Tennessee, replaced by North Carolina and Kentucky. It’s now hard to see the Blue Devils, which spent more time as our No. 1 overall seed than any other team, being at the top of any region, with Virginia and North Carolina safely ahead of them on the seed list. Kentucky has a leg up on Tennessee and LSU for a No. 1 seed, but it’s likely that one SEC team ends up on the top line. Virginia and Gonzaga have all but guaranteed themselves top seeds, while the Big Ten and Big 12 will likely be left out of the No. 1 seed picture. For more analysis of the bubble teams below, check out our latest edition of Bubble Watch.

Last Four Byes

Temple
Ohio State
St. John’s
Florida

Last Four In

Arizona State
Clemson
Indiana
Creighton

First Four Out

Texas
NC State
Alabama
Belmont

Next Four Out

Georgetown
Furman
Lipscomb
UNC-Greensboro

Automatic bid recipients in bold below.

East Region

Virginia goes into the ACC tournament as the No. 1 overall seed in our field of 68. The Cavaliers finished off the regular season with a win over Louisville on Saturday, and won’t have to play in the ACC tourney until Thursday, when they meet the winner of NC State and Clemson. What would it take for the Cavaliers to fall off the top line? A lot. Here’s one possibility: First, they’d have to lose to NC State or Clemson in any scenario where they end up as a No. 2 seed. Then, Michigan State would need to win the Big Ten tournament, while North Carolina and Kentucky hold serve in their respective conferences. That could give us a top line of Gonzaga, North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan State. Even in that scenario, there’s no guarantee that the Spartans, or even the Wildcats, would be ahead of Virginia on the seed list. And, of course, that’s all moot if Virginia simply beats the NC State–Clemson winner. So, yeah, Virginia is going to be a No. 1 seed.

(1) Virginia vs. (16) Fairleigh Dickinson/Norfolk State
(8) Oklahoma vs. (9) Washington
(5) Mississippi State vs. (12) Murray State
(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Yale
(6) Nevada vs. (11) Ohio State
(3) Houston vs. (14) Old Dominion
(7) Iowa State vs. (10) Seton Hall
(2) Tennessee vs. (15) Sam Houston State

West Region

Gonzaga’s path to the top line is similarly clear. Like Virginia, the Zags likely don’t need to win their conference tournament to get a top seed. Getting to the championship game should be good enough for Gonzaga to be the No. 1 seed out west. Should they win the WCC tournament and Virginia lose in the ACC tournament, particularly to a team not named North Carolina or Duke, Gonzaga could be the field’s No. 1 overall seed.

(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Iona/Prairie View A&M
(8) Ole Miss vs. (9) Syracuse
(5) Marquette vs. (12) Arizona State/Clemson
(4) Virginia Tech vs. (13) Vermont
(6) Auburn vs. (11) Temple
(3) Texas Tech vs. (14) Northern Kentucky
(7) Louisville vs. (10) Utah State
(2) Michigan State vs. (15) Nebraska-Omaha

South Region

Here’s where things get interesting on the top line. North Carolina had phenomenal finish to the season, winning its final seven games, including a sweep of Duke and individual wins over Florida State, Clemson and Syracuse. The Tar Heels are undeniably deserving of a No. 1 seed heading into the ACC tournament. What do they need to do to stay there? We think two wins should do the trick. If chalk holds, that would mean a second win over Louisville and a third triumph over Duke. Should that happen, it wouldn’t matter—from a No. 1 seed perspective, at least—if North Carolina lost to Virginia in the ACC championship or if Michigan State won the Big Ten tournament. The Heels would be a No. 1 seed.

(1) North Carolina vs. (16) Gardner-Webb
(8) UCF vs. (9) VCU
(5) Maryland vs. (12) Liberty
(4) Kansas vs. (13) Hofstra
(6) Buffalo vs. (11) St. John’s
(3) Michigan vs. (14) Georgia Southern
(7) Wofford vs. (10) TCU
(2) LSU vs. (15) Colgate

Midwest Region

Kentucky leads the way among the SEC’s three competitors for a No. 1 seed, even though LSU won the regular season title outright. Kentucky bests LSU in NET ranking, Q1 wins and strength of schedule, which has it just barely ahead of the conference’s regular season champs at the start of the SEC tournament. However, that is not set in stone. If LSU wins the SEC tournament, it will be impossible to argue that Kentucky deserves a higher seed than the Tigers. Kentucky has to go through Tennessee just to get to the SEC championship game, while LSU will have to play the winner of Florida and Arkansas, and then, if chalk holds, Auburn, to get to the final. If LSU or Kentucky wins the SEC tournament, that team will be a No. 1 seed. If Tennessee—or, for that matter, anyone else—does, the door will be open for Michigan State to get to the top line.

(1) Kentucky vs. (16) Bradley
(8) Baylor vs. (9) Iowa
(5) Florida State vs. (12) Creighton/Indiana
(4) Kansas State vs. (13) New Mexico State
(6) Villanova vs. (11) Florida
(3) Purdue vs. (14) UC-Irvine
(7) Cincinnati vs. (10) Minnesota
(2) Duke vs. (15) Montana

Full SI.com NCAA Tournament Bracket Watch (as of March 10)

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