Bracket Watch: How High Can the Big East's Top Teams Climb?

Here's how the projected NCAA tournament bracket looks heading into a big weekend.
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It’s Friday and we know you’re not working, so why not dip your toes into some Bracketology with March only a week away?

Usually around this time, there’s a major jumble of bubble teams all jostling for position, all with their own particular features and blemishes dotting their résumé. And while that is partially the case, the bubble has tightened somewhat; as a result, the greater intrigue may be at the top of the bracket, where the 3-6 seeds are a “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” mess of legitimately solid résumés.

Due to the hyper-competitive nature of the league, the Big East teams have all accumulated an excess of Q1 wins. How will the committee account for this? Is it a distinguishing factor for those teams, or will it be seen as a sort of “grade inflation” for them? That remains to be seen, although the Top 16 reveal did hint that the committee likes what Butler and Villanova are bringing to the table. –JR

Bubble

Lots of changes around the bubble since Monday. Cincinnati was the main victim of midweek mayhem, as the Bearcats picked up their fourth “bad loss” of the year against UCF. With a NET in the mid-50s and just two Q1 wins, Cincy’s next two contests against Wichita State and Houston, respectively, are John Brannen’s biggest games of his young Bearcat career.

Purdue is another team worth highlighting on the bubble. The Boilers have five Q1 wins and rank 32nd in the NET but are just one game over .500 (14-13). Record matters to the committee, so if Purdue can’t extend that win total to 17, it’ll be looking to repeat Texas’s prior year run in the NIT.

Finally, Stanford got back into the good graces of the 3MW bracketologists after a Q1 win at Washington last night. The Cardinal’s résumé is just solid enough to put them above the cut line, but the margin of error remains razor thin. –KM

Last Four Byes

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Georgetown

Rhode Island

Indiana

Oklahoma

Wichita State

Virginia

Virginia

USC

Last Four In

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Oklahoma

Indiana

NC State

NC State

Purdue

Richmond

Stanford

Stanford

First Eight Out

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Cincinnati

Purdue

Utah State

Mississippi State

Richmond

Providence

Arkansas

Cincinnati

Providence

Utah State

Mississippi State

Arkansas

Alabama

South Carolina

Minnesota

Memphis

Next Four Out

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VCU

UNC Greensboro

Memphis

Alabama

South Carolina

Tennessee

UNC Greensboro

Syracuse

South Region

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(1) Baylor vs. (16) Siena / Prairie View A&M

(1) Baylor vs. (16) St. Francis (PA) / Norfolk St.

(8) Arizona State vs. (9) Florida

(8) Illinois vs. (9) St. Mary’s

(5) Butler vs. (12) Purdue / Stanford

(5) Butler vs. (12) Richmond / Stanford

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

(4) Kentucky vs. (13) Vermont

(6) Iowa vs. (11) Oklahoma / NC State

(6) Iowa vs. (11) Virginia

(3) Villanova vs. (14) Hofstra

(3) Villanova vs. (14) Wright State

(7) LSU vs. (10) Georgetown

(7) Texas Tech vs. (10) Georgetown

(2) Maryland vs. (15) Little Rock

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

Jim and I are pretty aligned on this region, featuring the same Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 10 seeds. Kentucky continues its rapid climb up the S-curve, rattling off a five-game winning streak since losing to Auburn on Feb. 1. The Wildcats hold a two-game lead in the SEC, but a relatively low NET (22) and that Evansville Q4 loss might prevent them from elevating past the 3-seed line once the bracket is revealed. 

Another Wildcat team also currently on fire is the Fighting Jay Wrights of Villanova. Few teams in the country can touch Villanova’s eight Q1 wins (tied for third most) and strength of schedule (third best). With zero bad losses and a 20-6 record, the Cats will be vying back-and-forth with conference rivals Creighton and Seton Hall for the top Big East spot in the Field of 68. –KM

Midwest Region

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

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

(8) Illinois vs. (9) Saint Mary’s

(8) LSU vs. (9) Rutgers

(5) Auburn vs. (12) Northern Iowa

(5) Oregon vs. (12) Yale

(4) Colorado vs. (13) Akron

(4) Penn State vs. (13) North Texas

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

(6) Marquette vs. (11) USC

(3) Florida State vs. (14) Wright State

(3) Florida State vs. (14) Winthrop

(7) Michigan vs. (10) USC

(7) Ohio State vs. (10) Xavier

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

(2) Dayton vs. (15) Hofstra

I’m drooling over the possibility of a four-team pod in Cleveland that features Dayton, Ohio State and Xavier. I’m not sure the winner of that grouping would even care about reaching the Final Four; the Ohio bragging rights would be more than enough satisfaction. And there’s the dream chaos scenario of Hofstra ripping through that group with zero regard for the Buckeye State.

Elsewhere, Marquette finds itself once again in the cozy No. 6 seed slot, one that worked out flawlessly last season, while LSU has tumbled to a No. 8 seed while losing four of its last five games. Three of its next four games are on the road, so the descent down the bracket may not be over yet, either. –JR

West Region

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(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Montana

(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Montana

(8) Houston vs. (9) Xavier

(8) Wisconsin vs. (9) Arizona State

(5) Michigan State vs. (12) Yale

(5) Auburn vs. (12) Indiana / NC State

(4) Oregon vs. (13) North Texas

(4) West Virginia vs. (13) Liberty

(6) Arizona vs. (11) Wichita State

(6) Michigan State vs. (11) Oklahoma

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

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

(7) BYU vs. (10) Indiana

(7) BYU vs. (10) East Tennessee State

(2) Creighton vs. (15) UC Irvine

(2) Louisville vs. (15) UC Irvine

Creighton is a No. 2 seed in my latest bracket, which is kind of a hot take compared to other bracketologists around the country. But when examining the Bluejays’ résumé, it’s nearly impossible to make the argument they don’t deserve it. The two biggest contenders currently to Creighton’s No. 2 seed campaign are Louisville and Florida State. While those two teams have marginally better records, Creighton has four more Q1 wins than Louisville (8 to 4), a better NET than Florida State (11 to 14), and a better strength of schedule than both (22 compared to 27 and 47). Knowing the committee, they would likely put Louisville on the 2-seed line if the tourney started today (as Jim predicted below), but I’ll take a stand in this write-up and vouch for the superiority of Creighton’s résumé.

The other team worth mentioning in this region is Michigan State, a team that Jim and I have as a No. 6 and No. 5 seed, respectively. That is as dangerous of a No. 5 5 or 6 seed we’ve seen in the history of the bracket. Vegas would likely agree, as Sparty would be favored in neutral matchups over Creighton, Louisville, Oregon and Auburn, per KenPom. All four of which appear on higher seed lines than Michigan State below. –KM

East Region

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

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

(8) Texas Tech vs. (9) Rutgers

(8) Wichita State vs. (9) Florida

(5) Penn State vs. (12) Liberty

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

(4) Seton Hall vs. (13) Vermont

(4) Colorado vs. (13) Akron

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

(6) Arizona vs. (11) Northern Iowa

(3) West Virginia vs. (14) Colgate

(3) Seton Hall vs. (14) Colgate

(7) Wisconsin vs. (10) Rhode Island

(7) Houston vs. (10) Rhode Island

(2) Duke vs. (15) Winthrop

(2) Maryland vs. (15) Little Rock

One team I’m taking a mini stand on is Michigan. Almost exclusively a No. 7 or 8 seed at bracketmatrix.com, I have a sneaking suspicion that the Wolverines will appear a couple seed lines higher. With Isaiah Livers, they have been terrific, and their predictive metrics (13th in KenPom) would be borderline unfair to pit against a No. 1 or 2 seed in the second round. So instead, I’ve got them as the No. 5 seed in San Diego State’s region, instantly making them everyone’s favorite “upset pick” to the Elite Eight. –JR

Ky's full projected NCAA tournament bracket as of Feb. 21:

2020-bracket-watch-ky-feb-21

Jim's full projected NCAA tournament bracket as of Feb. 21:

2020-bracket-watch-jim-feb-21