At this time last week, the Duke Blue Devils and Butler Bulldogs found themselves solidly on this bracket’s top line with significant home tests waiting for them later in the week. Meanwhile, the Auburn Tigers were a largely untested, yet unbeaten, two seed, with a pair of road games to come. The trio combined to go 0-6 over the next seven days, with the Blue Devils losing to both the Clemson Tigers on the road and the Louisville Cardinals at Cameron Indoor Stadium; the Bulldogs falling to the Seton Hall Pirates in the “Battle of the Big East Unbeatens” on Wednesday, then becoming the DePaul Blue Demons‘ first Big East victim of the season on Saturday; and the Tigers dropping to 15-2 after consecutive blowouts, courtesy of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Florida Gators.
Naturally, all three squads have tumbled. On the top line, the Kansas Jayhawks and Gonzaga Bulldogs replace Duke and Butler. Bill Self’s team ranks second overall, right behind a Big 12 rival in the Baylor Bears. Meanwhile, after dominating both the Santa Clara Broncos and BYU Cougars, the Zags claimed the fourth No. 1, right behind the still-undefeated San Diego State Aztecs. And thanks to the way the regions are assigned, that puts Mark Few’s team in the East. In this projection, Duke ends up as the Bulldogs’ No. 2 seed, with Seton Hall, the Dayton Flyers and Florida State Seminoles filling out the rest of the two line.
The Michigan State Spartans, the lone one-loss team in Big Ten play, leads off seed line No. 3, with Louisville, Butler and the West Virginia Mountaineers following. Bob Huggins’ club sandwiched a road loss to the Kansas State Wildcats between home blowouts of the TCU Horned Frogs and Texas Longhorns. The Oregon Ducks, who split a pair of games in the state of Washington, top the fourth seed line ahead of a pair of Wildcats in Villanova and Kentucky and the Maryland Terrapins. The Terps replaced the Wichita State Shockers in the top 16 after Gregg Marshall’s team fell victim to another surprise 0-2 week, following a loss at Temple with a shocking home defeat to the Houston Cougars.
As for Auburn, the Tigers currently reside among the five seeds, a quartet that includes a couple of familiar names in the Creighton Bluejays and LSU Tigers, and one that hasn’t been a part of the NCAA tournament since 1991 — the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. They’re one of 12 Big Ten teams in this bracket, for the second week in a row.
I’ll have more bracket thoughts after today’s full projection and rundown.
1. South Region (Houston)
St. Louis, Missouri (Thu./Sat.)
Albany, New York (Thu./Sat.)
St. Louis (Thu./Sat.)
Cleveland, Ohio (Fri./Sun.)
4. East Region (New York)
Spokane, Washington (Thu./Sat.)
Sacramento, California (Fri./Sun.)
Omaha, Nebraska (Fri./Sun.)
Greensboro, North Carolina (Fri./Sun.)
2. Midwest Region (Indianapolis)
Tampa, Florida (Thu./Sat.)
3. West Region (Los Angeles)
Bids by Conference: 12 Big Ten, 6 Big East, 5 ACC, 5 Big 12, 5 Pac-12, 5 SEC, 3 AAC, 3 WCC, 24 one-bid conferences
Last Four Byes: BYU, DePaul, Oklahoma, Purdue
Last Four IN: Saint Mary’s, Virginia Tech, Minnesota, NC State
First Four OUT: VCU, Alabama, Washington, Georgetown
Next Four Out: Virginia, Oregon State, St. John’s, Syracuse
Lowest-Ranked NET At-Large: DePaul (52)
Highest-Ranked NET Exclusion: Alabama (42)
New Today (13/68): DePaul, ETSU, Florida, Houston, Little Rock, Norfolk State, North Dakota State, North Texas, Prairie View A&M, Stephen F. Austin, Texas Tech, UC Irvine, USC
Leaving Today: Charlotte, Duquesne, Georgia State, Grambling State, Nicholls State, North Carolina A&T, Oregon State, St. John’s, South Dakota State, UC Riverside, Utah, VCU, Western Carolina
- Rutgers isn’t the only surprise team in the field, as DePaul is one of five new at-large or power conference auto bid teams in today’s projection, with Florida, Houston, Texas Tech and USC joining the Blue Demons, who last reached the NCAAs in 2004 — during head coach Dave Leitao’s first tenure in Chicago.
- Despite the Trojans’ entry into the field, it wasn’t a great week for the Pac-12, which saw both Oregon State and Utah drop out after 0-2 road swings.
- Note that the Atlantic 10 is down to one bid and the Mountain West remains a one bid league despite the high positions Dayton and San Diego State hold on the seed list.
- For the first time this season, I needed to move some teams around, thanks to the preponderance of Big Ten teams on seed line six and in 7 vs. 10 pods. So, one of the at-large First Four matchups, featuring Minnesota, is for a 12 seed in the First Round. Meanwhile, Purdue is bracketed as a 12 despite being a true 11 seed. They’ve been swapped with SoCon auto bid holder East Tennessee State.
- The top-two Elite Eight for this bracket features a nice mix of familiar and unusual matchups. Saturday’s doubleheader would likely begin with San Diego State and Florida State in Los Angeles, followed by Kansas and Seton Hall in Omaha. Sunday would see Baylor and Dayton start the day off in Houston, with a titanic Gonzaga-Duke matchup in New York to close the weekend.
- There’s plenty of regional flavor in the early rounds of this bracket too. Arkansas-Memphis features as the South’s 8 vs. 9 game, conveniently in St. Louis for both teams’ fan bases. That venue is also where the projected Arch Madness champion, Northern Iowa, is paired with Wisconsin. There’s a “Tom Crean Bowl” in Cleveland between Marquette and Indiana, with Hoosier head coach Archie Miller’s former program, Dayton, likely awaiting in the Second Round. There’s also an Auburn-Purdue game that probably featured in some other universe’s 2019 Final Four and a Kentucky-Stephen F. Austin potential upset special. Looking ahead toward the Round of 32, you could see an in-state showdown in Kansas-Wichita State, a surprising regional matchup in Rutgers-Villanova, Michigan-Florida State for the second time in three tournaments, LSU-Maryland for the second straight year and intriguing Auburn-Oregon and Iowa-Butler matchups, among others.
Ever since the NCAA tournament expanded by three at-large teams in 2011, we’ve seemingly had a never-ending race to find the softest bubble. This year’s might finally end the debate. I’ll discuss that more in my Friday post.