clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bracketology 2018: A first look at this year’s crowded tournament bubble

A Wednesday win at Florida boosted South Carolina’s bubble chances, but the same cannot be said for Penn State following its last-second win at Ohio State.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With a little more than six weeks to go until Selection Sunday arrives, it’s time to take our first look at the bubble picture for 2018. While it’s still a bit too early to anoint teams as NCAA tournament locks, we can break the field of 68 — and then some — into tiers of relative safety here in late January. Naturally, we’ll start at the top and work our way down to what’s a crowded bubble.

Note: All quality win, Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and strength of schedule (SOS) information referenced is courtesy and reflects games played through Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018.

Protected Seeds

No. 1 seeds No. 2 seeds No. 3 seeds No. 4 seeds
No. 1 seeds No. 2 seeds No. 3 seeds No. 4 seeds
1. Villanova* (5/9) 5. Virginia* (3/9) 9. Oklahoma (6/7) 13. Cincinnati* (4/7)
2. Kansas* (6/10) 6. North Carolina (5/9) 10. West Virginia (4/7) 14. Arizona* (2/7)
3. Purdue* (6/9) 7. Xavier (4/10) 11. Clemson (5/9) 15. Seton Hall (4/4)
4. Duke (4/7) 8. Auburn* (4/9) 12. Tennessee (3/7) 16. Texas Tech (3/5)
* = auto bid

Even though all four No. 1 seeds from Tuesday’s projection still hold their places, lines two through four have experienced some shuffling. The SEC-leading Auburn Tigers jump up to the two line, as do the Xavier Musketeers.

On the flip side, the Clemson Tigers and West Virginia Mountaineers slipped down to line three. The Tigers had an interesting Tuesday evening in Charlottesville — losing to the Virginia Cavaliers by a 61-36 score, despite leading the Cavaliers 23-16 with 6:32 to go in the first half. (Do the math. I’ll wait.) Brad Brownell’s squad has won just two of its last five games, and things won’t get easier without Donte Grantham in the lineup.

The other new No. 3 seed is a team on the upswing — the Tennessee Volunteers — though they almost gave a home game away to Vanderbilt on what was a busy Tuesday night.

As for the quartet of four seeds, the Cincinnati Bearcats and Seton Hall Pirates are the only returnees from Tuesday. The Arizona Wildcats dropped from the three line, while the Texas Tech Red Raiders moved up to replace a Florida Gators squad that followed up a big Saturday win at Kentucky with a disappointing home performance in a loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Here’s how I’ve assigned the top 16 to the four regions and eight first-and-second-round host sites.

Protected Seeds by Region

1. Villanova* (Pittsburgh) 1. Duke (Charlotte) 1. Kansas* (Wichita) 1. Purdue* (Detroit)
4. Cincinnati* (Boise) 4. Seton Hall (Boise) 4. Arizona* (San Diego) 4. Texas Tech (San Diego)
3. West Virginia (Nashville) 3. Oklahoma (Wichita) 3. Clemson (Dallas) 3. Tennessee (Dallas)
2. North Carolina (Pittsburgh) 2. Auburn* (Nashville) 2. Xavier (Detroit) 2. Virginia* (Charlotte)

With Virginia higher on the seed list than North Carolina, the Cavaliers are assigned to the second Charlotte pod. This causes a ripple effect, as the Tar Heels anchor the second Pittsburgh pod, which is a few miles closer to Chapel Hill than Nashville.

In turn, West Virginia heads to the Music City instead of the Steel City. That blocks Tennessee from its preferred site, so the Vols head up one of the two Dallas quartets. Additionally, four-seed Arizona must be placed in the Midwest instead of the West to keep the top Big East and Big 12 teams away from each other, per the bracketing principles and procedures document.

In Good Shape

No. 5 seeds No. 6 seeds No. 7 seeds
No. 5 seeds No. 6 seeds No. 7 seeds
17. Miami (Fla.) (3/5) 21. Ohio State (1/9) 25. Arizona State (3/5)
18. Michigan State (1/5) 22. Louisville (2/3) 26. Saint Mary's* (2/4)
19. TCU (3/5) 23. Kentucky (1/6) 27. Rhode Island* (1/4)
20. Florida (5/7) 24. Wichita State (2/8) 28. Michigan (2/4)
* = auto bid

Seed lines five through seven feature the 12 teams that are safe bets for selection on Jan. 26 but who all need to do a bit more to both lock down their places and improve their seeding. Many of these teams, like Florida, Miami and Saint Mary’s, have a questionable loss or two they need to make the Committee forget about. Others, with Michigan State, Kentucky, and Louisville standing out in particular, really need to pick up more quality wins.

When the Selection Committee announces its top 16 teams on Feb. 11, I’ll be paying particular attention to whether the Spartans make the cut. If last season is any indicator, Tom Izzo’s team won’t, simply because they don’t have the quality wins — a solitary Group 1 win out of five total quality victories — to compete with the teams currently among my projected top four seed lines.

However, the 2018 version of the Committee has indicated that it’s going to use advanced metrics more comprehensively than in the past. And that could be good news for an MSU squad that ranks just 28th in the NCAA’s RPI but fifth in the KenPom, ESPN’s BPI and Sagarin (and 27th in the KPI, developed by Kevin Pauga, the Spartans’ director of basketball operations, oddly enough).

Bubble In

No. 8 seeds No. 9 seeds No. 10 seeds
No. 8 seeds No. 9 seeds No. 10 seeds
29. Arkansas (3/5) 33. Florida State (2/4) 37. Butler (2/4)
30. Creighton (1/7) 34. Nevada* (1/4) 38. Marquette (2/4)
31. USC (2/6) 35. Alabama (2/6)
32. Gonzaga (4/4) 36. Texas (4/6)
* = auto bid

The 10 teams in this group have all dealt with inconsistency over the first 12 weeks of the season. The Alabama Crimson Tide, Arkansas Razorbacks, and Texas Longhorns, in particular, have been on a roller coaster for much of the season. But there are also teams here that are trying to live up to sky-high preseason expectations (USC) or build upon great 2016-17 campaigns (Gonzaga and Florida State). Then there are the three Big East teams — Creighton, Butler, and Marquette — who are all trying to keep their heads above water in a difficult conference.

Cut Line

Last Four Byes Last Four In First Four Out Next Four Out
Last Four Byes Last Four In First Four Out Next Four Out
39. Texas A&M (3/5) 43. Kansas State (2/5) 69. St. Bonaventure (2/6) 73. WKU (1/5)
40. Providence (2/6) 44. South Carolina (3/5) 70. SMU (2/5) 74. N.C. State (3/3)
41. Houston (3/4) 45. Syracuse (1/5) 71. Georgia (2/5) 75. Maryland (0/1)
42. Washington (3/3) 46. Missouri (3/5) 72. Notre Dame (2/4) 76. Utah (1/5)

Today’s breakdown features two new at-large entrants when compared to Tuesday’s projection, as South Carolina (based on its aforementioned win at Florida) and the Syracuse Orange (impressive victors over Boston College) replace the SMU Mustangs, who lost at UConn on Thursday, and the Georgia Bulldogs, losers of two straight. Note that the Missouri Tigers would have dropped out had the Mustangs won last night — thanks to their loss to Auburn on Wednesday.

Of the teams on the good side of the cut line, the Texas A&M Aggies, boasting both three Group 1 wins and a 2-6 SEC record, are in the most danger. They travel to current projected No. 1 seed Kansas for the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday, knowing an unexpected win over their former conference rival would give their profile a huge boost.

Also Considered

Teams 77-81 Teams 82-85 Teams 86-89 Teams 90-93 Teams 94-97
Teams 77-81 Teams 82-85 Teams 86-89 Teams 90-93 Teams 94-97
77. Colorado (2/4) 82. Wyoming (1/4) 86. Boston College (1/2) 90. Oregon (1/4) 94. Stanford (1/5)
78. LSU (3/6) 83. UCF (1/3) 87. Missouri State (1/4) 91. Iowa State (2/2) 95. Temple (4/5)
79. Virginia Tech (1/4) 84. Oklahoma State (2/3) 88. BYU (0/2) 92. Baylor (1/2) 96. UConn (0/4)
80. Boise State (0/3) 85. Nebraska (0/3) 89. Mississippi State (1/1) 93. Ole Miss (0/4) 97. Tulane (1/3)
81. UCLA (1/3)

I could have made what’s already a large group of 20 even bigger — I didn’t include every team ranked in the RPI Top 100. That’s because teams like South Dakota State (63rd), Toledo (69th), and UC Santa Barbara (81st), among others are highly unlikely to pick up the quality wins needed to truly remain in the picture.

In fact, it’s going to be difficult for Boise State, Wyoming, and Missouri State to stay alive as well, but at least these squads have games left against teams with respectable at-large chances. The Cowboys even picked one up on Wednesday by defeating Nevada in Laramie.

Note that Penn State, which stunned Ohio State in Columbus last night at the buzzer, does not appear on this list. Even after that win, the Nittany Lions’ RPI still ranks 115th, so they missed the cut for consideration. But that’s only for now, as Penn State has a schedule that features a considerable number of quality win chances the rest of the way — at least for a team playing in a down Big Ten. Pat Chambers’ squad still has six potential Group 1 or 2 win chances on its schedule. Conversely, Nebraska, with an RPI of 65, has just one left.

Auto Bid Only?

No. 12 seeds No. 13 seeds No. 14 seeds No. 15 seeds No. 16 seeds
No. 12 seeds No. 13 seeds No. 14 seeds No. 15 seeds No. 16 seeds
47. New Mexico State* (1/1) 51. Louisiana* 55. South Dakota* 59. Montana* 63. Wagner*
48. Middle Tennessee* (1/3) 52. Belmont* 56. Northeastern* 60. Radford* 64. FGCU*
49. Loyola (Ill.)* (1/4) 53. ETSU* 57. Wright State* 61. Canisius* 65. Penn*
50. Buffalo* (0/2) 54. Vermont* 58. Bucknell* 62. Hawai'i* 66. Nicholls State*
* = auto bid 67. Ark.-Pine Bluff*
68. Bethune-Cookman*

I placed the question mark at the top of the final table because the 12 seeds in the above all have a chance at earning an at-large should things go wrong in March. Loyola of Chicago owns what should be a great true road win over Florida and the top of the Missouri Valley is stronger than anticipated, which could help the Ramblers late.

However, I’m not as confident in New Mexico State‘s or Middle Tennessee‘s chances as I was when the Diamond Head Classic wrapped up on Christmas night. I also highly doubt Buffalo will get the nod without a single Group 1 win, even with a top 30 RPI. Everyone else on this list has to make it through their respective league tournaments, however.

A busy weekend awaits, so expect plenty of changes when my next full projection arrives on Tuesday morning.