In both 2018 and 2019, the top four seed lines in my post-preview bracket were identical to those revealed by the Selection Committee over the previous weekend.
It’s a different story in 2020, as six of the committee’s top 16 teams lost after Saturday afternoon’s show ended. Just two of those defeats, Villanova Wildcats’ home loss to Seton Hall Pirates and the Florida State Seminoles‘ at Duke on Monday, came against a fellow top team.
Considering the committee’s picks for seed lines three and four already differed significantly from what I forecast Saturday morning, that made this projection just a little more difficult to build than I anticipated.
Sure, the top of the bracket was easy, as seven of the top committee’s top eight teams, remain in place, though their order now reflects the panel’s ranking. Plus, these squads comprised the top seven of last Tuesday’s bracket, That means the Baylor Bears (South) and Kansas Jayhawks (Midwest) are a Big 12 one-two punch, with the Gonzaga Bulldogs (West) and San Diego State Aztecs (East) completing the top line. While Duke, the Dayton Flyers and Louisville Cardinals continue to lead off seed line No. 2, the committee’s eighth-ranked team, the West Virginia Mountaineers, lost to the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday afternoon. Their replacement is a Maryland Terrapins squad I suspected would get the nod in the preview special, particularly after they recorded an impressive Friday win at Illinois Fighting Illini.
West Virginia finds itself among a reshuffled quartet of three seeds, ahead of Florida State, Seton Hall and the Auburn Tigers. The new SEC co-leader, who were the committee’s top No. 4 seed, replaces Villanova. As for the Wildcats, they lead off a four line that’s quite different than what the committee offered up on Saturday. The Kentucky Wildcats and Iowa Hawkeyes, considered for the final spots in the preview top 16 along with an LSU Tigers squad that lost a thriller at Auburn, find themselves on line No. 4 today. They replace the Oregon Ducks, losers at Oregon State, and the Michigan State Spartans, an odd choice for the final protected seed after consecutive losses. The Spartans are definitely out now, as they dropped a third straight game on Saturday — to arch-rival Michigan. On the other hand, the Butler Bulldogs remain a four even after Sunday’s loss at Marquette.
Thanks to some hellacious cable and internet issues, I was unable to write a bubble post on Friday as planned. That was probably for the best because it seems like things have settled down a bit since then. I’ll have more on the cut line picture after today’s full bracket and rundown.
Note: New entrants are marked with an asterisk (*) and arrows indicate a team’s movement up or down the bracket.
1. South Region (Houston)
St. Louis (Thu./Sat.)
1. Baylor (Big 12) vs. 16. Robert Morris (NEC)/NC Central (MEAC)
8. Michigan vs. 9. Arkansas
Sacramento, California (Fri./Sun.)
↓5. Creighton vs. 12. Stephen F. Austin (Southland)
↑4. Iowa vs. 13. New Mexico State (WAC)
Albany, New York (Thu./Sat.)
↓6. LSU vs. ↑11. Virginia
3. Seton Hall (Big East) vs. 14. Wright State (Horizon)
St. Louis (Thu./Sat.)
↓7. Illinois vs. ↑10. Oklahoma
2. Louisville (ACC) vs. ↓15. Bowling Green (MAC)
4. East Region (New York)
1. San Diego State (MW) vs. 16. North Florida (ASUN)
*8. Purdue vs. ↑9. Saint Mary’s
Spokane, Washington (Thu./Sat.)
↑5. Colorado (Pac-12) vs. 12. Furman (SoCon)
4. Butler vs. 13. UC Irvine (Big West)
6. Marquette vs. ↓11. Florida/Indiana
↓3. West Virginia vs. 14. Colgate (Patriot)
Greensboro, North Carolina (Fri./Sun.)
7. Ohio State vs. ↓10. USC
2. Duke vs. 15. Little Rock (Sun Belt)
2. Midwest Region (Indianapolis)
Omaha, Nebraska (Fri./Sun.)
1. Kansas vs. *16. Prairie View A&M (SWAC)/Rider (MAAC)
8. Houston (American) vs. 9. Rutgers
↓5. Oregon vs. *12. Yale (Ivy)
↑4. Kentucky vs. 13. North Texas (C-USA)
Tampa, Florida (Thu./Sat.)
↑6. BYU vs. 11. Northern Iowa (MVC)
3. Florida State vs. 14. Winthrop (Big South)
7. Wisconsin vs. ↓10. Stanford
2. Dayton (A 10) vs. 15. South Dakota State (Summit)
3. West Region (Los Angeles)
1. Gonzaga (WCC) vs. *16. Montana (Big Sky)
↑8. Texas Tech vs. ↑9. Rhode Island
5. Penn State vs. ↓*12. Wichita State/Arizona State
↓4. Villanova vs. 13. Vermont (Amer. East)
↓6. Michigan State vs. *11. VCU
↑3. Auburn (SEC) vs. *14. Hofstra (CAA)
↓7. Arizona vs. ↑10. Xavier
↑2. Maryland (Big Ten) vs. 15. Murray State (OVC)
Note that I had to shift BYU up to a six seed and Illinois down to a seven seed to ensure the Cougars were placed in both a Thursday/Saturday regional and first weekend site.
Bids by Conference: 11 Big Ten, 6 Big East, 6 Pac-12, 5 Big 12, 5 SEC, 4 ACC, 3 A 10, 3 WCC, 2 AAC, 23 one-bid conferences
Last Four Byes: Xavier, Stanford, VCU, Virginia
Last Four IN: Florida, Indiana, Wichita State, Arizona State
First Four OUT: ETSU, Cincinnati, Alabama, Mississippi State
Next Four OUT: Utah State, Georgetown, Richmond, Minnesota
Lowest-Ranked NET At-Large: Indiana (61)
Highest-Ranked NET Exclusion: Minnesota (40)
New Today (7/68): Arizona State, Hofstra, Montana, NC Central, Purdue, Rider, VCU
Leaving Today: Eastern Washington, Memphis, Mississippi State, Monmouth, North Carolina A&T, Tulsa, William & Mary
Three new at-large teams
The Purdue Boilermakers return to the field, and they’re safely in as an eight seed after winning four of their last five. The VCU Rams also snuck back in, though their at-large hopes are likely to come down to a three-game stretch that begins with Saturday’s crosstown rematch with the Richmond Spiders, who have their own bid hopes to worry about. But it’s the Arizona State Sun Devils who claimed today’s final at-large spot, thanks in no small part to a thrilling last-minute home win over the USC Trojans on Saturday night.
Two of the three departures are from the American Athletic Conference. The Tulsa Golden Hurricane dropped from first to third following back-to-back defeats, first to the UConn Huskies at home, then to the UCF Knights in Orlando. The Memphis Tigers also picked up a loss to a Sunshine State squad, as they followed a midweek win over the Temple Owls with a disappointing home loss to the South Florida Bulls. The third team leaving today’s bracket, the Mississippi State Bulldogs, managed to beat the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday, but Ben Howland’s club really needed to record an unlikely win at Kentucky to remain.
The shape-shifting bubble
With a little less than five weeks to go before Selection Sunday, the bubble hasn’t exactly shrunk, though there are currently three teams in the NET top 75 that are at or below .500 and, therefore, out of the picture for now. But many of the names have changed. Gone are the DePaul Blue Demons and Virginia Tech Hokies, thanks to serious struggles in conference play. The same can almost be said for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who are the highest-ranked NET exclusion. They’re currently 40th in the metric with a 12-11 record that needs a few more wins to get them into the field.
But a few teams, long thought of as NIT material, suddenly have new life. We’ll start with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who now rank 50th in the NET. Theoretically, that ranking means they’ll get a look in the committee room. However, Mike Brey’s squad has just one Quad 1 victory, which came against 65th-ranked Syracuse Orange. That means the Irish don’t yet have a win over a team in the field, and that deficiency means Notre Dame is not quite in true bubble territory yet.
Then you have Oregon State, now 66th in the NET. The Beavers had fallen completely off the radar thanks to a 1-5 stretch. But Saturday’s home win over arch-rival Oregon was their fourth Quad 1 win and third victory over a team in the NET top 25. So why isn’t Wayne Tinkle’s squad among the “First Eight Out?” Well, Oregon State also has four losses to teams ranked 99th or worse, which is problematic. Still, with six straight games against Pac-12 contenders, the Beavers are very much alive.
So are the Utah Utes, the first of those opponents. Last week, the Utes swept the Bay Area teams at home, Thursday’s victory over the enigmatic Stanford Cardinal being the most vital. The Utes have three Quad 1 wins and a quartet of top 40 ones — and, troublingly, two losses to teams ranked 185th or worse. In other words, Larry Krsytkowiak’s team still has a lot of work to do, but they’ll play five of their final seven over contenders, so don’t write them off either.
However, the weirder this season gets, the better the chances get for a surprise on Selection Sunday. Last season, the Southern Conference’s UNC Greensboro Spartans ended up as the first team out of the field. In today’s bracket, one of UNCG’s conference rivals, the East Tennessee State Buccaneers, find themselves in the same spot. Steve Forbes’ squad recorded an impressive 74-63 victory at LSU on Dec. 18, a result that boosts its profile significantly. However, a pair of sub-100 losses, including a shocking home setback against the 220th-ranked Mercer Bears, weigh the Bucs’ profile down a bit. And while ETSU shares the SoCon lead, a 65-56 loss to the Furman Paladins means they currently hold the league’s auto bid over the Buccaneers. They’ll meet again in Johnson City, Tennessee, on Feb. 19 and perhaps for a third time in the SoCon final on Monday, March 9.
I’ll be back on Friday with a full bubble update. In the meantime, you can check out my nightly TV previews on Blogging the Bracket and listen to my bracketology interviews on the College Basketball Coast to Coast podcast.