March Madness 2020: Predicting NCAA tournament field - Sports Illustrated

Bracket Watch: How Did the Weekend's Results Change the Field?

SI's latest look at the 2020 NCAA tournament field of 68.
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The joy of doing these bracket updates in such short proximity to each other (twice a week until Selection Sunday—strap in, folks) is seeing the incremental changes that happen from day-to-day. NC State loses to Boston College, Arkansas loses yet again (to a bubble rival, no less), Louisville took a week off (but the Cards’ opponents didn’t)...all of these results roll up into a similar (but different) bracket just a few days later.

That’s balanced by a need to look fresh at every résumé—if you merely make adjustments to the prior S-Curve, you can miss things (like a win falling from Quad 1 to Quad 2), and we try to avoid missing such key changes.

One thing I’d like to stress—Ky and I prepare these brackets completely independently, not seeing each other’s results until the very end. So if certain aspects look similar to each other, that’s not groupthink; in fact, that must mean they’re 100% correct! –JR

Bubble

The bubble picture is always murky this time of year with several “deserving” teams vying for just a couple spots in the field. Surprisingly, though, our current bubble pictures are eerily similar. Jim and I have three of the same four final byes, with USC and Xavier differing, respectively, and three of the same four final teams in the Dance. Jim wasn’t a coward and included Richmond, a team that has a sterling 19-6 record with four wins against Q1/Q2 competition, while I am still clinging onto Arkansas and its 11th-best non-conference strength of schedule.

One interesting team in this area is Purdue, a squad with seven Q1/Q2 wins that ranks 26th in KenPom and 33rd in the NET. Those are all great numbers, but the committee was not kind to teams with ugly records (the Boilers are 14-12) last year and in the Top 16 reveal, and Purdue has two bad losses and a 3-7 record on the road. With the Big Ten the way it is this season, we should expect to see a few teams around the 10, 11, and 12 seed-lines with a similar résumé: massive quality wins but an overall and conference record hanging around .500.

Also, it is worth noting Stanford fell out of both our fields from Friday. The Cardinal still sit 37th in the NET but have lost seven of their last eight games and currently stand 5-7 in Pac-12 play. –KM

Last Four Byes

KYJIM

Arizona State

Wichita State

Purdue

Arizona State

Xavier

USC

Wichita State

Purdue

Last Four In

KYJIM

Indiana

Virginia

Cincinnati

Cincinnati

Virginia

Indiana

Arkansas

Richmond

First Eight Out

KYJIM

Stanford

Stanford

NC State

NC State

Utah State

Alabama

Richmond

Mississippi State

Minnesota

Arkansas

Alabama

UNC Greensboro

VCU

Minnesota

Memphis

Utah State

Next Four Out

KYJIM

Providence

South Carolina

Mississippi State

Providence

South Carolina

Memphis

Tennessee

Syracuse

Georgetown basketball 2020 NCAA tournament

South Region

Georgetown has made the biggest leap out of any team in both my and Jim’s bracket. On Friday, we both had the Hoyas sitting in the First Four Out and now Patrick Ewing’s squad is not only in—it's comfortably in. Over the weekend, the Hoyas went to Hinkle Fieldhouse and took down Butler without their two best players. I have no idea how that happened, it doesn’t make any sense. But, thanks to that win (and a solid season-long body of work) Georgetown is projected to go dancing for the first time since 2015. Five wins against Q1 competition and another four against Q2 with zero bad losses will do that.

Kentucky is a team sure to rise up the seed-lines over the next few weeks. The Wildcats’ résumé is very good, but a relatively low NET (24), computer numbers (30 in KenPom), and that eyesore Q4 loss to Evansville compelled me to leave them on the 5-seed line for now. Jim is well within reason having UK as a No. 4, there are just so many teams right now with gorgeous résumés that haven’t done enough wrong in the past two days to make me knock them behind the 'Cats just yet. From a matchup perspective in this region, a 4/5 Wildcat affair between Villanova and Kentucky would be one of the best games of the entire tournament. –KM

KYJIM

(1) Baylor vs. (16) Murray State

(1) Baylor vs. (16) Robert Morris / NC Central

(8) Rutgers vs. (9) USC

(8) Wisconsin vs. (9) Georgetown

(5) Kentucky vs. (12) Indiana / Cincinnati

(5) Colorado vs. (12) Virginia / Cincinnati

(4) Villanova vs. (13) Stephen F. Austin

(4) Kentucky vs. (13) North Texas

(6) Ohio State vs. (11) Xavier

(6) Marquette vs. (11) Arizona State

(3) Auburn vs. (14) Winthrop

(3) Louisville vs. (14) Bowling Green

(7) LSU vs. (10) Georgetown

(7) Texas Tech vs. (10) Xavier

(2) Maryland vs. (15) Little Rock

(2) Maryland vs. (15) Little Rock

Midwest Region 

One of the guiding principles the selection committee is supposed to follow when building the bracket is the following: “The committee endeavors to achieve reasonable competitive balance in each region of the bracket”. This means that the best No. 1 seed should not be in the same region as the best No. 2 seed and the best No. 3 seed, etc. A good way to check the “balance” of each region is to assign the top 16 teams a value of 1-16 (i.e. Baylor is “1” and West Virginia is “16” for me). When you add up the values of the top four teams in a region, the total will be somewhere in the low-to-mid 30s. As long as every region is within about 4-5 points of one another, the regions are considered “balanced”.

As I went through the bracketing exercise last night, it became clear my Midwest region was way too good. Hence the move of Dayton to the West and Florida State to the Midwest. –KM

KYJIM

(1) Kansas vs. (16) Montana

(1) Kansas vs. (16) Rider / Prairie View A&M

(8) Illinois vs. (9) Saint Mary’s

(8) Rutgers vs. (9) Rhode Island

(5) Colorado vs. (12) Liberty

(5) Butler vs. (12) Stephen F. Austin

(4) Penn State vs. (13) Akron

(4) Oregon vs. (13) Wright State

(6) Iowa vs. (11) Northern Iowa

(6) LSU vs. (11) Purdue

(3) Seton Hall vs. (14) Wright State

(3) Penn State vs. (14) Colgate

(7) BYU vs. (10) Purdue

(7) Ohio State vs. (10) Wichita State

(2) Florida State vs. (15) North Dakota State

(2) Dayton vs. (15) UC Irvine

West Region

Gonzaga remains above San Diego State by the thinnest of margins; in fact, had the Top 16 reveal not happened, I would have the Aztecs No. 3 overall. But the committee gave the nod to the Zags, and nothing that’s happened since then has given me enough reason to override the initial reveal.

What results is a fairly difficult region however you slice it. Ky and I both have Houston potentially awaiting the Zags in the second round (or OU/Florida, neither of whom is a slouch), and Arizona is obviously loaded with talent.

The nagging question with the West: Would San Diego State prefer to be the two here, rather than the top seed in the East? Unfortunately, the Aztecs don’t get to make that choice, at least until the NCAA finally adds a bracket draft, which would be outrageously fun. Hey, rule changes worked for the NBA All-Star game—who says change can’t be good? –JR

KYJIM

(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Saint Peter’s / Prairie View A&M

(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) North Florida

(8) Houston vs. (9) Oklahoma

(8) Houston vs. (9) Florida

(5) Butler vs. (12) Virginia / Arkansas

(5) Arizona vs. (12) Yale

(4) Oregon vs. (13) North Texas

(4) Creighton vs. (13) New Mexico State

(6) Arizona vs. (11) Wichita State

(6) Michigan State vs. (11) USC

(3) Louisville vs. (14) New Mexico State

(3) West Virginia vs. (14) Winthrop

(7) Michigan vs. (10) Arizona State

(7) BYU vs. (10) Illinois

(2) Dayton vs. (15) UC Irvine

(2) Florida State vs. (15) Montana

East Region

San Diego State versus Duke in the Elite Eight would almost certainly be a situation where the No. 2 seed would be favored over the No. 1, but being doubted hasn’t bothered the Aztecs one bit this year. Ky’s second-round matchups for the Aztecs are terrifying: Texas Tech has Jahmi’us Ramsey and Chris Beard, while Florida has an abundance of talent and Mike White—wait, maybe the Gators aren’t that frightening.

We have some clear similarities in the lower seeds: ETSU as the 11, Vermont as the 13, Hofstra present in some fashion. Let that be an indicator of how geographical these things can be; oftentimes, the committee isn’t creating any narratives, there’s simply a “correct” way of bracketing based on the rules governing the process. Those rules can sometimes remove choice from the process entirely, but that doesn’t stir controversy! –JR

KYJIM

(1) San Diego State vs. (16) Robert Morris / NC Central

(1) San Diego State vs. (16) Austin Peay

(8) Texas Tech vs. (9) Florida

(8) St. Mary’s vs. (9) Oklahoma

(5) Michigan State vs. (12) Yale

(5) Villanova vs. (12) Indiana / Richmond

(4) Creighton vs. (13) Vermont

(4) Auburn vs. (13) Vermont

(6) Marquette vs. (11) East Tennessee State

(6) Michigan vs. (11) East Tennessee State

(3) West Virginia vs. (14) Colgate

(3) Seton Hall vs. (14) Hofstra

(7) Wisconsin vs. (10) Rhode Island

(7) Iowa vs. (10) Northern Iowa

(2) Duke vs. (15) Hofstra

(2) Duke vs. (15) South Dakota State

Ky's full NCAA tournament projection as of Feb. 17:

2020-bracket-watch-ky-feb-17

Jim's full NCAA tournament projection as of Feb. 17:

2020-bracket-watch-jim-feb-17