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 two months.
With less than seven weeks until Selection Sunday, the bubble picture seems more cloudy than ever while this week brought movement at the top of the bracket as well.
The #1 seeds
Villanova, Kansas, and Baylor remain unchanged from a week ago, but UCLA’s home loss to Arizona opened up the one seed out West with Gonzaga, Kentucky, and Florida State emerging as the top candidates.
The Zags are the nation’s lone unbeaten team, and I can’t see any way that they wouldn’t get a one seed if they run the table. While some may criticize their schedule, it’s worth noting that Gonzaga still has three Top 25 wins and a non-conference schedule ranked inside the Top 50.
Much like Gonzaga, I could easily see Kentucky winning out in the regular season, and if that happens, they have a solid chance of ending up on the one line as well. For now, their best wins are over North Carolina in Vegas and South Carolina at home with a handful of other decent victories over the likes of Arkansas and Michigan State. A win over Kansas on Saturday would go a long way toward earning that one seed.
NBC’s Rob Dauster and I discussed the chances of the ACC Champ getting a one seed on the Bracketology.FM podcast this week, and for now Florida State is in a good spot. The ‘Noles have seven Top 25 wins so far with their only losses at North Carolina (understandable) and in New York against Temple (a bit more confusing). If you want to nitpick, they have just one true road win, but their remaining schedule is road-heavy, which will provide the opportunity to rectify that.
Ultimately I wouldn’t argue with any of these three as a one seed, which should make for an intriguing next seven weeks.
The bubble and single-bid leagues
It seems like most of the major conferences have roughly the same story: a clear-cut top tier followed by a jumbled mess of teams in the middle with projected league records right around .500. As a result, the bubble picture is cloudy at best while we wait for some separation among those crowded middle tiers.
Further muddying the waters is the fact that very few at-large candidates have emerged outside of the major conferences with teams like Middle Tennessee, UNC-Wilmington, and potentially Illinois State the main contenders.
With all that as backdrop, I felt like I stared for quite a while at the last handful of teams, which is a relatively unimpressive bunch to say the least. Something tells me I had better get used to that feeling for the foreseeable future.
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Here are my projections through the games from January 23.
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) Sam Houston St. / UC Irvine|
|8) Virginia Tech
|9) Middle Tennessee||9) Arkansas|
|Buffalo – March 16/18||Orlando – March 16/18|
|12) Pittsburgh / VCU||12) Nevada
|4) West Virginia||4) Creighton|
|13) Valparaiso||13) New Mexico St.|
|Sacramento – March 17/19||Sacramento – March 17/19|
|6) Florida||6) Saint Mary’s|
|11) Texas Tech||11) Clemson|
|3) Oregon||3) UCLA|
|14) Belmont||14) Winthrop|
|Orlando – March 16/18||Greenville – March 17/19|
|7) Indiana||7) Xavier|
|10) Marquette||10) UNC-Wilmington|
|2) Florida St.||2) North Carolina|
||15) Georgia Southern|
|SOUTH (MEMPHIS)||WEST (SAN JOSE)|
|Tulsa – March 17/19||Salt Lake City – March 16/18|
|1) Baylor||1) Gonzaga|
|16) Weber St.||16) Texas Southern|
|8) Northwestern||8) USC|
|9) Seton Hall||9) Michigan St.|
|Milwaukee – March 16/18||Greenville – March 17/19|
|5) Cincinnati||5) Maryland|
|12) Michigan / Wake Forest||12) Akron|
|4) Notre Dame||4) Virginia|
|13) Chattanooga||13) Monmouth|
|Indianapolis – March 17/19||Milwaukee – March 16/18|
|6) Duke||6) South Carolina|
|11) Kansas St.
||11) Illinois St.|
|3) Butler||3) Louisville|
|14) Florida Gulf Coast||14) Vermont|
|Indianapolis – March 17/19||Salt Lake City – March 16/18|
|7) SMU||7) Minnesota|
|10) Iowa St.||10) TCU|
|2) Kentucky||2) Arizona|
|15) Bucknell||15) North Dakota St.|
Last Four In
The Panthers are off to an ugly 1-5 start in the ACC, but that lone league win over Virginia is among the main reasons they remain in the field. They also boast wins at Maryland and against Marquette on a neutral floor, but a blowout home loss to Miami as well as sub-100 losses to Syracuse and Duquesne make them anything but a sure thing.
Pitt needs to make some noise this with home dates against Louisville and Clemson this week.
After splitting games with Wisconsin and Illinois last week, the Wolverines are essentially in the same spot as they were a week ago. November wins over SMU and Marquette continue to pay dividends, but an 0-5 road record doesn’t help their cause.
This week Michigan hosts Indiana before heading to East Lansing on Sunday.
This one is an interesting case. Wake is 0-7 against the RPI Top 50 but has no other losses. Unfortunately, the Demon Deacons also don’t have any great wins with victories at NC State, at Charleston, and Miami their best. Luckily, two of those three came against other teams right on the cut line.
Wake heads to Syracuse early this week before hosting Duke this weekend, which makes a split the minimum requirement.
The Rams picked up an ugly loss by losing at Fordham in overtime, but they rebounded to dismantle La Salle on Sunday. They are now just 3-3 against the Top 100 with a handful of close but questionable losses.
The next three games are important with home dates against Dayton and Richmond followed by a trip to St. Bonaventure.
First Five Out
Monday’s win at Duke was obviously huge, but it doesn’t completely erase all the bad on NC State’s profile either. Their only other notable wins came at home against Virginia Tech and Pitt, but they also lost by double-digits to fellow bubblers Illinois and Miami on the road, got beat by 10 at home to Georgia Tech, and dropped a game at Boston College. The non-conference performance was equally uninspiring, so in my eyes there is still work to do.
The talent is there, but it will be interesting to see how they deal with success starting with Sunday’s trip to Louisville.
Aside from a November neutral court win over Cincinnati, there simply isn’t much of note on URI’s profile. In fact, a home win over Belmont is the Rams’ only other Top 100 win. The losses aren’t terrible, although a double-digit home loss to La Salle isn’t exactly ideal. And with the A-10 struggling, there just aren’t many good wins to be had on the schedule. For now, they just need to keep piling up victories.
The Bears have exactly one Top 100 win, which came on the road against a suddenly struggling USC by a single point. A top-heavy Pac-12 doesn’t leave many chances for signature wins, which means the Bears need to go 3-0 with their next trio of games at home.
After dropping two road games last week, the Illini have now lost three straight and four of their last five. They are 1-5 against the RPI Top 50 with all of their best wins coming against teams in the last four in or first four out category. Illinois is also 0-4 in true road games, but luckily for Jon Groce’s club, they have three of their next four games at home.
The ‘Canes seemed to be on their way to a huge road win at Duke, but they got blitzed early in the second half and lost by 12 points. Their three Top 100 wins have come at Pittsburgh, against Stanford on a neutral court, and at home against NC State. Those obviously won’t move the needle too much, but Miami has a chance to change that with three straight home games coming up with the last two coming against North Carolina and Florida State.
Here is how the bids broke down by conference:
ACC (10): Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Big Ten (8): Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin
Big 12 (7): Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, TCU, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Big East (6): Butler, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova, Xavier
Pac-12 (4): Arizona, 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: Illinois State
Mountain West: Nevada
Northeast: Mount St. Mary’s
Ohio Valley: Belmont
Southland: Sam Houston St.
Summit: North Dakota State
Sun Belt: Georgia Southern
SWAC: Texas Southern
WAC: New Mexico State
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