Bracket Watch: Who's Making a Late Push Up the NCAA Tournament Seed Lines?

SI's latest look at the projected March Madness field of 68.
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Changes abound in our latest bracket update, as the bubble picture continues to change and evolve on a daily basis. A few auto-bids changed hands this week, as well (Bowling Green enters as the MAC representative, Siena is back from the MAAAAAAC, and Northern Colorado sneaks in from the Big Sky). Plus, Duke dropped another game to an unranked foe, further boosting the confidence of the next aspiring Mercer/Lehigh as the tournament approaches.

Plenty stayed the same, though: the four No. 1 seeds remain unchanged, and the Big Ten continues to have 10 teams in both of our projected fields (with Purdue attempting to claw its way to an 11th bid for the league). This is the final “full slate Saturday” of the season, as leagues like the Mountain West and SoCon break for tournament play following this Saturday’s contests. That means that more changes will take place before Monday—aka our first bracket in the glorious month of March. –JR

College basketball March Madness Wisconsin Badgers

Bubble

Things are getting frantic on the bubble as teams continue to jostle with minimal margin for error for the last few spots in the field of 68. Rhode Island is starting to fall out of favor with Jim and I, toppling all the way down to 40th in the NET with only one Quad 1 win on its résumé. Like all good bracketologists, we differ on a few teams around the cutline. I feel teams like Stanford, which has won three straight now and sits 30th in the NET, and Wichita State with its 21-7 record and eight Q1/Q2 combined wins, are safer than Jim. On the flip side, Jim values Providence’s and NC State’s gaudy Q1 wins (seven and five, respectively) far more than their bad losses (four and three, respectively). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

We agree on 67 of 68 total teams in the field, the two exceptions being Cincinnati and Utah State. I finally put the Aggies in the field after several weeks of debate. Their 21-7 record and No. 37 NET ranking helps make up for their relatively low total of quality wins (four Q1/Q2 combined) and so-so strength of schedule (124). The Bearcats might truly be the better team, but a No. 53 NET ranking, two Q1 wins (though eight combined Q1/Q2), and especially four bad losses, has me slightly higher on USU. –KM

Last Four Byes

KYJIM

USC

Rutgers

Wichita State

Oklahoma

Rutgers

Providence

Oklahoma

NC State

Last Four In

KYJIM

Rhode Island

Wichita State

Providence

Rhode Island

NC State

Cincinnati

Utah State

Stanford

First Eight Out

KYJIM

Cincinnati

Richmond

Richmond

Utah State

Purdue

Arkansas

Arkansas

UCLA

Georgetown

Mississippi State

Mississippi State

Georgetown

UCLA

Purdue

Memphis

Memphis

Next Four Out

KYJIM

South Carolina

Syracuse

Alabama

Furman

Texas

Alabama

Syracuse

South Carolina

Midwest Region

KYJIM

(1) Kansas vs. (16) St. Francis PA / North Carolina A&T

(1) Kansas vs. (16) St. Francis PA / North Carolina A&T

(8) Houston vs. (9) Illinois

(8) Houston vs. (9) St. Mary’s

(5) West Virginia vs. (12) Northern Iowa

(5) BYU vs. (12) Cincinnati / Stanford

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

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

(6) Butler vs. (11) Rutgers

(6) Wisconsin vs. (11) Northern Iowa

(3) Louisville vs. (14) Wright State

(3) Villanova vs. (14) Bowling Green

(7) Ohio State vs. (10) Xavier

(7) LSU vs. (10) Oklahoma

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

(2) Florida State vs. (15) Little Rock

Kansas has established itself as the clear top overall seed at this point, but man I wouldn’t feel comfortable if I were the Jayhawks with this draw. Aside from one of the toughest No. 8 seeds in the field in Houston, the Midwest region features either Dayton / Louisville / Penn State / WVU or Florida State / Villanova / Penn State / BYU. Those are both hellish regions for any top-seed to navigate, even if it is the best team in the country.

You’ll notice a new No. 6 seed in this iteration of Bracket Watch for both Jim and myself. The Wisconsin Badgers scored their eighth win against Q1 competition at Michigan on Thursday night, boosting their résumé into an elite tier. Only four teams have more Q1 wins than the Badgers this season, and two others also have eight. A strong finish to Big Ten play and a run in the Big Ten tournament may boost Greg Gard’s squad even higher up the S-curve before Selection Sunday. –KM

South Region

KYJIM

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

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

(8) Florida vs. (9) Saint Mary’s

(8) Florida vs. (9) Illinois

(5) Colorado vs. (12) Providence / Utah State

(5) Michigan vs. (12) Wichita St. / Rhode Island

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

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

(6) Arizona vs. (11) Oklahoma

(6) Ohio State vs. (11) NC State

(3) Villanova vs. (14) Belmont

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

(7) Iowa vs. (10) USC

(7) Arizona vs. (10) Xavier

(2) Florida State vs. (15) Little Rock

(2) Maryland vs. (15) Hofstra

Quite a few similarities here, as Baylor and its accompanying play-in game, plus Florida, Kentucky, Stephen F. Austin, and Arizona all reside in the South for both of us (though the Tucson Wildcats’ seed differs). Both of us having Kentucky facing Duke-slaying Stephen F. Austin to kick things off made me smile; how much of a national darling would the Lumberjacks become if they took down both bluebloods in one season?

The South ended up being my “strongest” region in terms of the “true seed” of the top four teams, and as a result, I can already hear John Calipari protesting against the injustice of his team’s placement; of course, that would likely happen even if the Wildcats received a bye to the Elite Eight.

Each of our first rounds bring an especially tantalizing first-round matchup; for me, the Sean Miller Bowl in the 7/10 game would be an absolute delight, while Ky’s Florida versus Saint Mary’s tilt would be a tremendous showdown between a disappointing power conference squad and a well-coached smaller school. –JR

West Region

KYJIM

(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Northern Colorado

(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Radford

(8) Arizona State vs. (9) Virginia

(8) Texas Tech vs. (9) Indiana

(5) Michigan vs. (12) Yale

(5) West Virginia vs. (12) Yale

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

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

(6) BYU vs. (11) Rhode Island / NC State

(6) Colorado vs. (11) Providence

(3) Seton Hall vs. (14) Bowling Green

(3) Louisville vs. (14) UC Irvine

(7) LSU vs. (10) Stanford

(7) Iowa vs. (10) USC

(2) Duke vs. (15) UC Irvine

(2) Creighton vs. (15) Northern Colorado

Kudos to Jim for keeping Creighton on the 2-seed line. Like a coward, I bowed to the almighty bluebloods and gave the nod to Duke, a team that does outrank the Jays in the NET but falls far short on quality wins. I have no excuse when looking at the two résumés side-by-side, I just have this funny feeling the committee will cater to Duke and hand them a No. 2 seed on Selection Sunday (the chair of the selection committee is the Duke AD, which is not a conflict of interest at all). At least I have a couple more weeks to grow a spine.

Jim’s placement of Colorado on the 6-seed line is interesting. It’s definitely reasonable to have the Buffs there at this point, but I’m intrigued for a different reason. The selection committee has leniency to move teams up and down seed lines if it helps make the geography of the bracket better for all teams involved. For instance, I have Colorado as a No. 5 seed, but because Oregon is already the No. 4 seed in the West, I cannot put the Buffs there. This may be seen as “unfair” to Colorado, which now has to play in a further region, and also for a team more central or eastern in the US to be shipped west in their place (BYU obviously does not fit this scenario above). In this instance, Colorado could conceivably be lowered to a No. 6 seed to better fit the geography. I have a suspicion this happened in 2016 when Oregon State was given a No. 7 seed, an egregious overseeding by the committee. The Beavers should have been a 9, possibly an 8 that year, but they would not have been able to play in the West region due to Oregon occupying the No. 1 seed. –KM

East Region

KYJIM

(1) San Diego State vs. (16) Radford

(1) San Diego State vs. (16) South Dakota State

(8) Texas Tech vs. (9) Indiana

(8) Arizona State vs. (9) Virginia

(5) Michigan State vs. (12) Liberty

(5) Michigan State vs. (12) Liberty

(4) Auburn vs. (13) Vermont

(4) Auburn vs. (13) Vermont

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

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

(3) Creighton vs. (14) Colgate

(3) Duke vs. (14) Belmont

(7) Marquette vs. (10) Wichita State

(7) Marquette vs. (10) Rutgers

(2) Maryland vs. (15) Hofstra

(2) Dayton vs. (15) Colgate

Regardless of which bracket you look at here, top-seeded San Diego State faces the unexciting prospect of taking on a 2019 national championship game participant just to reach the Sweet 16, as Ky and I have Texas Tech and Virginia, respectively, lurking as potential second-round opponents for the Aztecs. Welcome back to the Big Dance, Brian Dutcher!

My East region would likely fuel plenty of indignation across the college hoops landscape, as placing San Diego State and Dayton would be viewed by mid-major fans as a way to ensure that both cannot make the Final Four; meanwhile, putting Duke in a region with a No. 1 eed from the Mountain West and a No. 2 seed from the Atlantic 10 would fuel the “Duke gets an easy draw every year” haters for years.

Shockingly, we both have the exact same 4/5/12/13 pod, so Michigan State can start preparing for Liberty’s “Mini Virginia” style, while Vermont’s Anthony Lamb should watch some Isaac Okoro film ASAP. The valuable lesson here: given the committee’s history and the guidelines it must follow, both geographically and in terms of spreading out conference foes, the field often ends up having a “correct” way of being slotted. I know that hurts to hear, conspiracy theorists, but it’s true—intentionally building narratives into the bracket is largely untenable. –JR

Ky's full projected NCAA tournament bracket (as of Feb. 28):

2020-bracket-watch-ky-feb-28

Jim's full projected NCAA tournament bracket (as of Feb. 28):

2020-bracket-watch-jim-feb-28