UPDATE 3:36 p.m. ET – With just two games left on Selection Sunday, the bracket has not shifted too much. Kentucky’s SEC title moves the Wildcats up to the No. 3 seed in the East, while Texas A&M falls to No. 4 in the West. Saint Joseph’s victory over VCU in the Atlantic 10 final doesn’t move anything. Arkansas-Little Rock’s merely locked it into the bracket.
The big fireworks could still boom in the American final. Should Memphis beat Connecticut it would cost another bubble team a berth, as the Tigers would certainly be stealing a bid.
Please believe Joe Castiglione if he says tonight on CBS that selecting the last few teams for the NCAA tournament was as challenging a task as he’s faced since he’s been on the committee. It won’t be bluster coming from the basketball committee chairman.
It will be the truth.
Go ahead and thank Louisville and Southern Methodist for being ineligible and creating some of these headaches. But even if they were in the field and there were two fewer teams to select, it wouldn’t be easy to parse the last dozen or so teams for a handful of spots.
It’s possible to argue for or against any of these 13 teams, some more compellingly than others. It would be quite the surprise that more than eight will get in, and that number gets sliced if Memphis knocks off Connecticut in the American Athletic title game Sunday afternoon. We’ll be updating this bracket as those final events unfold today, so check back often.
For now, a quick rundown of who sits at the edge of the field:
Michigan: A really tricky team. The Wolverines bagged a late victory over Indiana in the Big Ten tournament, and they have three top-25 victories. They’re also 4-12 against the top 100, which is even worse than UCLA’s 5-10, which proved good enough, a year ago. Michigan doesn’t have UCLA’s top-60 non-conference schedule strength, either. The inclination is to say the Wolverines are off to the NIT.
Monmouth: The Hawks’ three sins were beating name-brand teams that didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, losing to Iona in the Metro Atlantic final and getting bit by three teams outside the top 200 in the RPI (Army, Canisius, Manhattan). The first one’s not their fault, and there’s no shame in the second. But the third is a differentiator. Of course, it’s possible the committee falls in love with a 17-6 showing outside of West Long Branch. The guess here is the poor losses weigh more heavily.
Oregon State: The Beavers didn’t beat good teams on the road (no one better than Tulsa, anyway), and that’s a problem. The RPI likes Oregon State, while the analytics are decidedly more tepid. This might be a mildly surprising exclusion.
Pittsburgh: In another era, the Panthers — 21-11 overall, 9-9 in a power conference, decent enough away from home at 6-7 — would be a No. 8 or No. 9 seed. Given the committee’s leanings toward such teams last year, Pittsburgh probably gets in.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels split four games against the top 50 and are 6-3 against the top 100. They’re also 9-4 away from home, and metrics both basic and advance peg the Gaels as a team in the 30-40 range nationally. They’re far easier to include than exclude.
St. Bonaventure: Yes, the Bonnies lost to Davidson in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals. They also won at Dayton and Saint Joseph’s, shared the A-10 regular season title, have a top-30 RPI and winning records against the top 50 (3-2), top 100 (7-5) and on the road (8-6). What’s not to like? Advanced metrics place Bonaventure in the low 70s.
San Diego State: The Aztecs are regular season champions; they rolled through the Mountain West by three games before falling in the league title game last night against Fresno State. They have an incredible dark blot against them — a sub-300 loss to San Diego in an outdoor game in a baseball stadium — and only one top-50 victory. But that came against California on a neutral floor. Toss in the nation’s No. 6 non-conference schedule, and the Aztecs could slip in.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks prompt an incredible question — how does a power conference team play only two games against top-50 teams? South Carolina split those (with a win at Texas A&M), and it also is 8-5 against the top 100.
But the Gamecocks also played the No. 295 nonconference schedule, and there’s a decade-worth of evidence suggesting such teams get left out if they’re borderline, from 2007 West Virginia to 2008 Arizona State to 2009 Penn State and Kansas State to 2010 Virginia Tech to 2011 Alabama and Colorado to 2012 Mississippi to 2014 Southern Methodist. If the Gamecocks get in, kudos to them. But that’s some imposing history working against them.
Syracuse: What’s going in Syracuse’s favor? Victories away from home over Duke (road), Texas A&M (neutral) and Connecticut (neutral). Those things have a way of being rewarded, even for teams with a so-so RPI. If the Orange doesn’t make it, it can look back on a mid-December loss at St. John’s as the difference.
Temple: The Owls won the American regular season crown, and they swept home-and-homes from Cincinnati and Connecticut. They’re also 10-6 away from home and have just two losses outside the top 100. If the committee is looking for an excuse to nudge them out, advanced metrics are not kind at all to Fran Dunphy’s team (No. 85 Sagarin, No. 89 KenPom). They’re in a similar boat as St. Bonaventure.
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane owns a better profile than it gets credit for, and it doesn’t have glaring deficiencies. It also isn’t overwhelming, and a 22-point loss to Memphis in the conference tournament is a dreadful final impression to leave the committee.
Vanderbilt: Here is the best candidate to be this year’s UCLA. The Commodores are 7-10 against the top 100 but played a great schedule (especially non-conference). If they miss, they have only themselves to blame after flaming out of the SEC tournament against Tennessee. The guess here is Vanderbilt is excluded.
Wichita State: The darling of analytics (No. 12 KenPom, No. 25 Sagarin) will be a great test case for whether advanced metrics have greater sway. The Shockers could also get a bump from factoring in how much Fred VanVleet’s early-season injury mattered during three losses in a Thanksgiving tournament. The thinking is that they get in, but the Shockers are a true wild card.
(1) BIG 12/Kansas vs. (16) ATLANTIC SUN/Florida Gulf Coast-SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC/Southern
(8) AMERICAN/Connecticut vs. (9) Butler
(5) California vs. (12) SUN BELT/Arkansas-Little Rock
(4) Indiana vs. (13) MOUNTAIN WEST/Fresno State
(3) Utah vs. (14) BIG WEST/Hawaii
(6) Iowa State vs. (11) St. Bonaventure
(7) Iowa vs. (10) Saint Mary’s
(2) Xavier vs. (15) BIG SKY/Weber State
Regional breakdown: Kansas is the top overall seed. That’s the easiest part of this bracket. … Connecticut wouldn’t gain much by beating Memphis in the American final, but some team on the edge of the field (Syracuse? Tulsa? Michigan?) is definitely rooting for the Huskies today. … Indiana is the last of the No. 4 seeds and gets a trip west for its trouble. …
If any team warrants a little bit of geographic help in the bracket, it is Hawaii. There’s no Spokane-bound team on the 3 line, but Denver will do as a destination for the Warriors. … Analytics don’t like St. Bonaventure, but Mark Schmidt’s team checks nearly every other box. They’ll rue a loss at La Salle if they don’t make it. …
Iowa’s nosedive is one of the biggest stories of the middle of the bracket, but that segment usually doesn’t get as much attention. … Xavier is the last of the No. 2 seeds, but a case for Utah for that spot can be made. It’d be easier if the Utes didn’t just get throttled last night.
(1) PAC-12/Oregon vs. (16) OHIO VALLEY/Austin Peay
(8) Wisconsin vs. (9) Cincinnati
(5) BIG EAST/Seton Hall vs. (12) SOUTHERN/Chattanooga
(4) Purdue vs. (13) SOUTHLAND/Stephen F. Austin
(3) SOUTHEASTERN/Kentucky vs. (14) CONFERENCE USA/Middle Tennessee
(6) Texas vs. (11) Oregon State/Pittsburgh
(7) Texas Tech vs. (10) Virginia Commonwealth
(2) Virginia vs. (15) BIG SOUTH/UNC Asheville
Regional breakdown: If North Carolina is going to get rewarded with a No. 1 seed as a double champion, Oregon (a team with a better profile on paper than the Tar Heels) should be rewarded as well. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. … Wisconsin’s seeding is going to depend on how heavily the committee weighs some of the Badgers’ losses before mid-January. An 8 splits the difference between perhaps as high as a 6 or as low as a 10. Seeding wise, they’re a wild card. …
Seton Hall helped itself more than any other team on the top seven lines this week. Beating Xavier and Villanova will do that. … Purdue could get itself to Des Moines for a subregional, especially with a victory over Michigan State and a Kentucky loss to Texas A&M. Even one of those occurrences would help the Boilermakers stay closer to home. …
Yes, Oregon State is in this projected field, but the Beavers are vulnerable if quality road performances are weighted more heavily this year. … Bump Virginia Commonwealth up a line with a victory over Saint Joseph’s today.
(1) BIG TEN/Michigan State vs. (16) NORTHEAST/Fairleigh Dickinson-PATRIOT/Holy Cross
(8) Providence vs. (9) Colorado
(5) Baylor vs. (12) SUMMIT/South Dakota State
(4) Duke vs. (13) METRO ATLANTIC/Iona
(3) Miami vs. (14) MID-AMERICAN/Buffalo
(6) Arizona vs. (11) San Diego State/Syracuse
(7) Dayton vs. (10) Temple
(2) Oklahoma vs. (15) WESTERN ATHLETIC/Cal State Bakersfield
Regional breakdown: Outside of a two-week stretch, Michigan State has been the country’s second-best team this year. Here’s guessing the committee sees it that way if the Spartans beat Purdue today. … Iona would ruthlessly push the pace against Duke’s shallow roster. That’d be a fun game. …
Buffalo edges out Wisconsin-Green Bay for the last of the No. 14 seeds. … Syracuse is the last team in the projected field, but to be perfectly candid, the Orange should have no complaints if it gets left out. Jim Boeheim’s bunch is included here based on the committee’s history of rewarding teams with high-level wins away from home. …
Arizona could land on the No. 5 line, but there isn’t a great argument for the Wildcats to warrant that sort of seeding. They just haven’t done a whole lot. … Former Mississippi coach Rod Barnes is back in the NCAA tournament with Cal State Bakersfield, which edged New Mexico State to win the WAC.
(1) ATLANTIC COAST/North Carolina vs. (16) MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC/Hampton
(8) Southern California vs. (9) WEST COAST/Gonzaga
(5) Maryland vs. (12) MISSOURI VALLEY/Northern Iowa
(4) Texas A&M vs. (13) COLONIAL/UNC Wilmington
(3) West Virginia vs. (14) AMERICA EAST/Stony Brook
(6) Notre Dame vs. (11) IVY/Yale
(7) ATLANTIC 10/Saint Joseph’s vs. (10) Wichita State
(2) Villanova vs. (15) HORIZON/Wisconsin-Green Bay
Regional breakdown: North Carolina won both the ACC regular season and tournament championships, and looked the part of a No. 1 seed in its last four games. The committee loves double champions, so while the Tar Heels probably don’t have one of the four best profiles, they’ll get a 1 seed anyway. … No way around it: That’s a brutal draw for Maryland. …
West Virginia is as solid a No. 3 seed as there is. … Notre Dame looks like a No. 6 or a No. 7 at this point. The Irish could be either, and they surely would get a test from Yale. … Originally had Villanova, Saint Joseph’s and Temple all in that Brooklyn pod, but an easy switch with Temple and Wichita State avoiding a first-round rematch.
Last four teams included: San Diego State, Oregon State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
First four just on the outside: South Carolina, Tulsa, Michigan, Vanderbilt
Next four on the outside: Monmouth, Florida, Alabama, George Washington
Conference call: Atlantic Coast (7), Big 12 (7), Pac-12 (7), Big Ten (6), Big East (5), Atlantic 10 (4), American Athletic (3), Missouri Valley (2), Mountain West (2), Southeastern (2), West Coast (2)
Moving in: Buffalo, Cal State Bakersfield, Fresno State, St. Bonaventure, Southern
Moving out: Akron, Jackson State, Michigan, New Mexico State, South Carolina