March Madness bracket prediction before championship week - Sports Illustrated

Bracket Watch: There's Plenty Still to Be Decided by Conference Tournaments

Should San Diego State still be a No. 1 seed? That's one of many questions to be answered during championship week.
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Championship week is upon us and the autobids are starting to pour in. Already we’ve seen heartbreak since our last update—as MVC tournament favorite Northern Iowa fell to Drake in the quarterfinals—and jubilation, as Utah State left no doubt about its presence in the field of 68, knocking off San Diego State in the Mountain West final.

With the madness of March comes “bid stealers,” teams like Utah State who make others like Texas and NC State nervous about their chances at punching an at-large bid. We’re sure to see more craziness as the week goes on, but that’s always been the charm of the best month of the year. –KM

Should Dayton now be a No. 1 seed in SI's bracket projections?

Should Dayton now be a No. 1 seed in SI's bracket projections?

Bubble

The bubble squeezed Saturday night with Utah State’s thrilling win over San Diego State in the Mountain West championship, as the Aggies are now locked into the field—a team Ky and I likely had on the outside looking in without that victory. Northern Iowa fell in the MVC quarterfinals; Ky and I both agree that was simply too early to keep the Purple Panthers in the field at this point (unclear what a loss in the title game would have done), and now UNI has to watch from the clubhouse as plenty of other bubble teams can still knock in some birdies to improve their standing.

Monday night, bubble backers everywhere will be donning their ETSU hats and cheering wildly for the Buccaneers, as a loss in the SoCon final likely creates a more compelling bubble case than the one UNI now offers. San Francisco still lurks as a possible bid stealer in the WCC, and any of a number of A-10 teams can wreak havoc by toppling mighty Dayton.

Away from the one-bid leagues, Texas and UCLA each took a shot to their impressive climbs back towards at-large status, and the Longhorns getting routed by Oklahoma State was particularly harmful. That opened the door for Richmond to sneak into both of our projected fields, but that status is quite tenuous at this stage.

One final note: I bestowed the American automatic bid on tournament No. 1 seed Cincinnati, so you won’t see the Bearcats in my bubble picture. If I joined Ky and just gave it to Houston, the league’s best team, Wichita would likely rise into my Last Four In. Those two squads should have a chance to settle things once and for all in the AAC semifinals. –JR

Last Four Byes

KYJIM

Texas Tech

Rutgers

Xavier

Saint Mary's

Rutgers

Indiana

Stanford

Xavier

Last Four In

KYJIM

Indiana

Texas Tech

Richmond

Stanford

Wichita State

NC State

UCLA

Richmond

First Eight Out

KYJIM

NC State

Wichita State

Texas

UCLA

Northern Iowa

Texas

Cincinnati

Northern Iowa

Purdue

Purdue

Mississippi State

Mississippi State

Rhode Island

Tennessee

Arkansas

Rhode Island

Next Four Out

KYJIM

Memphis

Saint Louis

Tennessee

Memphis

South Carolina

South Carolina

Saint Louis

Arkansas

Midwest Region

KYJIM

(1) Kansas vs. (16) St. Francis PA / NC Central

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

(8) Illinois vs. (9) USC

(8) Michigan vs. (9) Providence

(5) Ohio State vs. (12) Wichita State / UCLA

(5) BYU vs. (12) Vermont

(4) Auburn vs. (13) Akron

(4) Louisville vs. (13) Akron

(6) West Virginia vs. (11) East Tennessee State

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

(3) Louisville vs. (14) Bradley

(3) Michigan State vs. (14) Bradley

(7) Iowa vs. (10) Marquette

(7) LSU vs. (10) Rutgers

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

(2) Villanova vs. (15) Colgate

The age-old debate rages for Kansas this week: with the No. 1 overall seed completely locked up (not even a 100-point loss in the Big 12 quarters would change things), how aggressively should the Jayhawks pursue a Big 12 tournament crown? I’m certainly not saying they should roll out the tank brigade, but resting guys like Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike, both of whom have dealt with nagging injuries this year, has its merits at this stage.

You’ll notice Dayton still residing on the two line for Mr. McKeon—I debated this for far too long (should they ascend to the East’s No. 1 spot over San Diego State??), which is largely a pointless exercise considering Dayton’s performance in the A-10 tournament likely decides things one way or the other.

Ky has two play-in teams here (Wichita State and UCLA) who are my first two out. The Shockers are still hiding behind two fringe Q1 wins—at UConn, at Oklahoma State—that don’t stand up to a lot of scrutiny, and although both of those teams are quietly trending up, I’d still like to see Wichita take down Cincinnati to feel better about moving it in. The Bruins, on the other hand, finally lost a game after an impressive seven-game winning streak vaulted them into this position, and they’ll be the ultimate test case of “how much do analytic rankings like KenPom and the NET really matter for inclusion?” UCLA is still lagging well behind in both (77th KenPom, 76th NET). –JR 

South Region

KYJIM

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

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

(8) LSU vs. (9) Saint Mary’s

(8) Arizona vs. (9) Marquette

(5) BYU vs. (12) Liberty

(5) Butler vs. (12) Cincinnati

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

(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Liberty

(6) Virginia vs. (11) Indiana / Richmond

(6) Penn State vs. (11) NC State / Richmond

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

(3) Creighton vs. (14) UC Irvine

(7) Houston vs. (10) Texas Tech

(7) Illinois vs. (10) Utah State

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

(2) Florida State vs. (15) Winthrop

Baylor’s loss on Saturday at West Virginia didn’t affect its seed, as the Bears still boast the second best résumé in college basketball. Only Kansas has more quality wins this season, and Baylor still ranks fifth in the NET despite losing three of its last five games.

Cincinnati won the AAC tiebreaker to capture the No. 1 seed in its conference tournament, so Jim did the courteous thing and included the Bearcats in the Dance as an auto-bid. I was more of a jerk and left them squarely on the bubble. Wisconsin climbed to a No. 4 seed for Jim, a very defensible take after the Badgers earned a share of the Big Ten title. Texas Tech crashed all the way down to the 10-seed line for me and into the play-in game for Jim.

Sitting at the No. 6 seed is the defending champion Virginia Cavaliers. Tony Bennett finished 15-5 in the ACC after a rough start, and really only his team’s 42nd NET ranking and 218th ranked NCSOS is holding it back from rising higher. Keep an eye on UVA in the ACC tournament, as a No. 5 seed is very much in play with a deep run or conference tourney championship. –KM

West Region

KYJIM

(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Eastern Washington

(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Eastern Washington

(8) Arizona State vs. (9) Oklahoma

(8) Oklahoma vs. (9) USC

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

(5) West Virginia vs. (12) Stephen F. Austin

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

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

(6) Colorado vs. (11) Utah State

(6) Iowa vs. (11) Xavier

(3) Kentucky vs. (14) Belmont

(3) Kentucky vs. (14) Wright State

(7) Arizona vs. (10) Rutgers

(7) Colorado vs. (10) Saint Mary’s

(2) Villanova vs. (15) UC Irvine

(2) San Diego State vs. (15) Little Rock

The top half of this region is nearly identical for us, with Ky’s Arizona State/Wisconsin combination and my USC/West Virginia duo being the only two distinctions. Tournaments can still move things, but after the Zags grabbed a wild overtime win against Oregon in Atlantis back in November, I’d certainly be pleased with a rematch in the Sweet 16.

The decision on the final No. 2 seed was a tough one for both of us, as the three Big East winners (Villanova, Creighton, and Seton Hall) can all make a case for it, and Kentucky is lurking in that discussion, as well. Just don’t let John Calipari hear you mention “Evansville” as a reason for keeping the ‘Cats as a No. 3 seed. Michigan State and Maryland aren’t out of the question as No. 2 seed candidates, either. Ultimately, we both independently settled on Villanova for that slot, as Jay Wright’s crew has an extra Q1 win on Creighton and two fewer losses than the Pirates. –JR

East Region

KYJIM

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

(1) Dayton vs. (16) North Dakota State

(8) Providence vs. (9) Florida

(8) Florida vs. (9) Arizona State

(5) Butler vs. (12) Yale

(5) Ohio State vs. (12) Yale

(4) Maryland vs. (13) Vermont

(4) Seton Hall vs. (13) North Texas

(6) Penn State vs. (11) Stanford

(6) Auburn vs. (11) Texas Tech / Stanford

(3) Creighton vs. (14) Colgate

(3) Maryland vs. (14) Hofstra

(7) Michigan vs. (10) Xavier

(7) Houston vs. (10) Indiana

(2) Duke vs. (15) Hofstra

(2) Duke vs. (15) Belmont

This region hasn’t changed a whole lot for me since the last update on Friday, but one team that’s risen is Providence, who now sits at a No. 8 seed after winning its sixth straight game on Saturday. If the Friars didn’t have four bad losses from the non-conference portion of the year, we’d be talking about Ed Cooley’s group as a No. 5 seed or higher. A deep run in the Big East tournament could vault it a few seed-lines higher on Selection Sunday.

Xavier, like its Big East colleague Marquette, is on a major slide right now. Jim has the Musketeers as a No. 11 seed while I moved them to my second worst No. 10 seed. That 7-1 record against Q2 competition looks nice, but a 3-11 Q1 record is sure to be punished by the selection committee.

In Jim’s version of the region, you’ll notice Seton Hall as a No. 4 seed, the lowest the Pirates have been in our Bracket Watch. You could make a case for all of our current No. 4 seeds to be No. 3 seeds and vice versa—the résumés are really that close. I do like Jim rewarding Michigan State and Maryland by putting the co-Big Ten champs on the 3-seed line, but I just can’t quite nudge the Pirates and their 10 Q1 wins down the S-curve. Hopefully these conference tournaments will sort everything out. –KM