As frustrating as 2019’s version of the bubble has been (as I detailed both last Tuesday and Friday for good measure), the top of this season’s bracket has been remarkably consistent. For the third Tuesday in succession and the fourth time in five weeks, the same eight teams fill the No. 1 and 2 seed lines. The Duke Blue Devils hold the top spot overall for the third week in a row, followed by the Virginia Cavaliers and Tennessee Volunteers.
But with the Michigan State Spartans, last week’s third-ranked team overall, suffering an overtime loss to the struggling Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday, and the top No. 2 seed, the Michigan Wolverines, getting blown out on the Iowa Hawkeyes’ home floor 24 hours before that, selecting today’s final top seed wasn’t so simple. I eventually settled on John Beilein’s Wolverines over both the Spartans and the Gonzaga Bulldogs — Michigan’s quality wins were the difference, particularly in comparison to Gonzaga (another two-loss team). Mark Few’s Zags head up seed line No. 2, followed by Michigan State, the Kentucky Wildcats and Kansas Jayhawks.
If you’re looking for shuffling, you only need to glance at seed lines three and four. While the North Carolina Tar Heels and Marquette Golden Eagles continue to occupy the top two spots on line No. 3, they’re joined by a pair of newcomers in the Purdue Boilermakers and Houston Cougars. One of the two displaced threes, the Texas Tech Red Raiders, now finds itself on seed line No. 4 behind the Louisville Cardinals and the rising Wisconsin Badgers and Villanova Wildcats. The Virginia Tech Hokies, a four last week, and the formerly third-seeded Maryland Terrapins were both passed and find themselves at the top of line No. 5 today. The Hokies are a team to pay particularly close attention to, as their offense has been faltering with Justin Robinson on the shelf due to a left foot injury. As they illustrated in Monday’s loss to Louisville, Buzz Williams’ squad won’t be able to hold all of its opponents to comically-bad point totals.
After today’s full bracket and rundown, my attention will turn to the revolving door that is the bubble picture. As usual, the bracket starts with a look at the left side (East and West) followed by the right (South and Midwest).
Note: Auto bid holders in this section are noted by the conference names in parentheses. Arrows indicate movement up or down the seed list. New entrants are marked with an asterisk.
(1) East (Washington, D.C.)
Columbia, South Carolina (Fri./Sun.)
Hartford, Connecticut (Thu./Sat.)
Tulsa, Oklahoma (Fri./Sun.)
Des Moines, Iowa (Thu./Sat.)
(4) West (Anaheim, California)
Columbus, Ohio (Fri./Sun.)
San José, California (Fri./Sun.)
Salt Lake City, Utah (Thu./Sat.)
Salt Lake City, Utah (Thu./Sat.)
(2) South (Louisville, Kentucky)
San José (Fri./Sun.)
(3) Midwest (Kansas City, Missouri)
Jacksonville, Florida (Thu./Sat.)
Des Moines (Thu./Sat.)
Notes on today’s projection:
- With plenty of movement in seed lines five through 12, we don’t have any noteworthy situations where a top four seed faces a potentially tricky semi-road game in the Second Round (like the Kansas-Iowa matchup in Des Moines that featured in the last two projections).
- The West bracket, however, does feature a pair of potential in-state Second Round contests, both in Salt Lake City. Houston-Texas is a possibility in the West No. 3 seed pod, while a rematch of Gonzaga’s thrilling Dec. 5 win over Washington is an option in the No. 2 seed group.
- The 7/10 games are intriguing across the board, with the Baylor-Arizona State and Syracuse-St. John’s games really standing out.
- This week’s 1 vs. 2 Elite Eight matchups are all intriguing as usual. Saturday would likely start with the West final we didn’t get last year — Michigan vs. Gonzaga. The Southern nightcap would see Virginia meet a Michigan State program that knocked it out of the 2014 and 2015 NCAAs. Sunday would once again end with a Duke-Kentucky showdown in Washington, D.C., with a Midwest final serving as the appetizer. That contest would see Tennessee aiming to take down Kansas in the Jayhawks’ backyard.
Last Four Byes: Arizona State, Alabama, NC State, Texas
Last Four IN: Indiana, Seton Hall, VCU, Temple
First Four OUT: Nebraska, Florida, Butler, UCF
Next Four Out: Creighton, Belmont, Arizona, Oregon State
New Today: Bowling Green, Davidson, Georgia State, Illinois State, Jacksonville State, Lipscomb, Montana, New Mexico State, Old Dominion, Princeton
Leaving Today: Butler, Cal State Bakersfield, George Mason, Liberty, Loyola Chicago, Murray State, Northern Colorado, Texas State, UAB, Yale
Bids by Conference: 9 Big Ten, 8 ACC, 8 Big 12, 7 SEC, 4 Big East, 3 American, 2 Atlantic 10, 2 MAC, 2 Pac-12, 23 one-bid conferences
There’s just one new at-large team in today’s field, as Temple replaces Butler (and Florida from Friday’s bubble post). One spot disappeared, as Bowling Green enters the field as the MAC auto bid holder following Friday’s home win over Buffalo — that result and a five-game losing streak conspired to knock Nebraska to the wrong side of the cut line.
And with the the first eight teams out of last Tuesday’s bracket going a combined 4-9 in the seven days since, the group of teams sitting just outside of this projection features some new names. The Saint Louis Billikens, currently on a four-game skid, and Pittsburgh Panthers, winless in their last four, are both out of the picture for the foreseeable future. So are the San Francisco Dons, who have dropped two straight road games.
A pair of surprising names join Nebraska as newcomers in the top of the NIT crop for today. While one, the Oregon State Beavers, has perhaps an insurmountable climb with the quality of 2019’s Pac-12, the other, the Belmont Bruins, really has history working against it, as its Ohio Valley Conference isn’t known as a multi-bid league. But with the Bruins’ archrivals, Lipscomb, riding high as a nine seed — and serious at-large candidate — in their entry into the bracket as the ASUN leader today, Rick Byrd’s squad also deserves serious examination. Not only did Bruins swept the Bisons in their in-season home-and-home series, they’ve also won at Murray State (who aren’t really an at-large candidate because of an 0-4 record in Group 1 and 2 games). Heading into today, Belmont is 5-2 in Group 1 and 2 contests, with two Group 1 road victories in that mark. The one worrisome factor in the Bruins’ profile is a NET ranking of 62, their projected RPI of 47 would have given them real hope just a season ago.
We’ll have a better idea of how the Selection Committee is using its new tool very soon — on Saturday afternoon, in fact. For the third season in a row, the Committee will reveal its top 16 teams (CBS, 12:30 p.m. ET). And with the NET now in play instead of the RPI, I’m particularly curious to see where teams stand and why. As usual, this information will be quite influential in building future brackets, starting next Tuesday. Friday will bring yet another bubble update, and maybe I’ll be ready to hand out some locks at that point.