Editor’s note: For years, our very own Andy Bottoms has been projecting the NCAA Tournament bracket.
Below is Andy’s latest set of projections for 2017. Expect weekly updates over the next five weeks.
A Super Bowl for the ages capped an exciting sports weekend, which included an extremely eventful Saturday on the hardwood. Six of the Top 10 teams went down, all but one to an unranked opponent.
The net result is an increasingly muddled picture at the top of the bracket as well as on the bubble, which continues to be a mess with less than five weeks until Selection Sunday. At least we’ll get an early idea of how the committee sees things shaping up when they announce the top four seed lines in each region this Saturday.
The #1 seeds
Since nearly every top team lost, the top line remains unchanged for now, although the gap between the current one seeds and the teams on the two line is shrinking.
Similarly, Villanova and Gonzaga have started to separate themselves at the top of the field. Given the key injuries for Creighton and Xavier along with Butler’s inconsistency, the Wildcats are well ahead of the pack in the Big East.
The Zags have a huge showdown at Saint Mary’s this Saturday night, and if they can clear that hurdle an undefeated regular season is a virtual certainty.
For now, Kansas and Baylor remain on the one line, although North Carolina is nipping at their heels should one of them slip up again as they did on Saturday.
The bubble and single-bid leagues
Just when you thought the mid-major picture couldn’t get worse, Middle Tennessee lost to sub-250 UTEP, UNC-Wilmington fell at home to Charleston, Akron lost by double-digits at Ohio, and Valparaiso got blown out at Green Bay.
Wichita State also exacted revenge by blowing out Illinois State to tie the Redbirds atop the Missouri Valley. Whoever doesn’t wind up with the auto-bid is in the at-large conversation, but neither of them can boast many high-end victories.
As for the bubble itself, The Sporting News’ Sam Vecenie and I spent a good chunk of this week’s podcast breaking it down.
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Here are my projections through the games from February 6.
I’ve also listed my last four in and first five out along with my reasoning for those selections.
|EAST (NEW YORK)||MIDWEST (KANSAS CITY)|
|Buffalo – March 16/18||Tulsa – March 17/19|
|1) Villanova||1) Kansas|
|16) Mount St. Mary’s / NC Central||16) Texas Southern|
|8) Iowa St.
|9) VCU||9) Minnesota|
|Milwaukee – March 16/18||Milwaukee – March 16/18|
|12) Arkansas / California||12) Valparaiso
|4) Wisconsin||4) Butler|
|13) Vermont||13) Akron|
|Buffalo – March 16/18||Salt Lake City – March 16/18|
|6) South Carolina||6) Maryland|
|11) Wichita St.||11) Clemson|
|3) West Virginia||3) Arizona|
|14) Princeton||14) UT-Arlington|
|Greenville – March 17/19||Indianapolis – March 17/19|
|7) USC||7) SMU|
|10) Miami (FL)||10) Kansas St.|
|2) North Carolina||2) Louisville|
|SOUTH (MEMPHIS)||WEST (SAN JOSE)|
|Tulsa – March 17/19||Salt Lake City – March 16/18|
|1) Baylor||1) Gonzaga|
|16) Sam Houston St. / UC Irvine||16) Weber St.|
|8) Virginia Tech||8) Michigan St.|
|9) Marquette||9) Oklahoma St.|
|Sacramento – March 17/19||Orlando – March 16/18|
|5) Purdue||5) Creighton|
|12) Nevada||12) UNC-Wilmington|
|4) UCLA||4) Cincinnati|
|13) New Mexico St.||13) Monmouth|
|Indianapolis – March 17/19||Greenville – March 17/19|
|6) Saint Mary’s||6) Notre Dame|
|11) Seton Hall / Syracuse
||11) Middle Tennessee|
|3) Kentucky||3) Virginia|
|14) Belmont||14) East Tennessee St.|
|Orlando – March 16/18||Sacramento – March 17/19|
|7) Xavier||7) Northwestern|
|10) Indiana||10) TCU|
|2) Florida St.||2) Oregon|
|15) Florida Gulf Coast||15) North Dakota St.|
Last Four In
The Razorbacks did the unthinkable and lost at Missouri on Saturday night. As it stands, Arkansas’ lone RPI Top 50 win is over fellow bubbler Tennessee, and while a 6-4 mark against the Top 100 is solid, they simply haven’t proven they can be tournament caliber teams with any regularity.
This week brings a home date with Vandy followed by a can’t-lose trip to LSU.
Following wins over Utah and Colorado, the Bears have won four straight and seven of their last eight. The bad news is they have just one Top 50 win (at USC), but they don’t have a truly bad loss. Cal plays five of its last seven on the road, starting with this week’s trip to the Arizona schools, where a split is the minimum requirement.
The Pirates split road games with Xavier and Georgetown last week to maintain a spot in the field. They don’t have a bad loss, but they have just two Top 50 victories, both of which came on neutral floors against South Carolina and Cal. Seton Hall also has a win over Marquette, but they are just 7-8 against the Top 200.
Four of Seton Hall’s next five games are at home with the lone road game during that stretch coming at St. John’s.
I was somewhat surprised to give the last spot to the Orange, who have three sub-100 losses this year. However, they are 6-6 against the Top 100 with wins over Florida State, Virginia, and Wake during their current four-game winning streak. Syracuse is just 1-7 in road and neutral games, which may not bode well with three of their next four away from home.
First Five Out
The Jackets dropped a pair of road games last week, both by 12 points. Five Top 50 wins are something most bubble teams can’t claim, but Georgia Tech is currently two games under .500 against the Top 200 at 8-10. Luckily the schedule gets a bit easier down the stretch with very few games left against the ACC’s top teams.
A Top 30 RPI is great, but the reality is that Wake is 0-8 against the Top 50 with their best RPI victories coming at Charleston and at home against Miami and Georgia Tech. The Demon Deacons hit the road for three of their next four, and they can ill afford to go winless in that trio of games.
The Vols snapped their four-game winning streak with Saturday’s loss in Starkville. They are now just 2-7 against the Top 50 with wins over Kentucky and Kansas State. Tennessee also has a few nice road wins, but in a down SEC there are far more landmines than chances to pick up quality wins. With four of their next five at home, the Vols need to keep on stacking victories, as the margin for error is slim with 10 losses already.
It’s the same old story with the Rams again this week. There is very little of note on their profile outside of November wins over Cincinnati and Belmont to go with seven losses against the Top 100. Friday’s home date with Dayton is one of just two games remaining on their schedule against at-large contenders.
Following Saturday’s disappointing home loss to Ohio State, the Wolverines are just 6-9 against the Top 100 with their two best wins coming in November over SMU and Marquette. They have yet to win a true road game, which isn’t great news for a team with five of its final eight games away from home. The home games aren’t much easier with Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Purdue all coming to Ann Arbor.
Here is how the bids broke down by conference:
ACC (10): Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Louisville, Miami (FL), North Carolina, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Big Ten (7): Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin
Big 12 (7): Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU, West Virginia
Big East (6): Butler, Creighton, Marquette, Seton Hall, Villanova, Xavier
Pac-12 (5): Arizona, California, Oregon, UCLA, USC
SEC (4): Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina
American (2): Cincinnati, SMU
Atlantic 10 (2): Dayton, VCU
West Coast (2): Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s
America East: Vermont
Atlantic Sun: Florida Gulf Coast
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: Winthrop
Big West: UC Irvine
Conference USA: Middle Tennessee
MEAC: NC Central
Missouri Valley: Wichita State
Mountain West: Nevada
Northeast: Mount St. Mary’s
Ohio Valley: Belmont
Southern: East Tennessee State
Southland: Sam Houston State
Summit: North Dakota State
Sun Belt: UT-Arlington
SWAC: Texas Southern
WAC: New Mexico State
Follow Andy on Twitter (@andybottoms) for more thoughts on college hoops and to receive an update whenever new brackets are posted.