This philosophy doesn’t work so well before any games are played. It also makes it the one time all season to go find something completely independent of the selection process and use it to guess at how things might look in four months.
So here’s an interesting tidbit: Over the past five seasons, only two programs that featured a top-five freshman recruiting class (per 247Sports’ rankings) earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Both came in 2015 — the Kentucky team that openly talked about going 40-0 and came within two victories of doing just that, and an eventual national champion Duke squad that effectively blended talented youth and tested veterans. To be clear, there’s no minimizing the role the talented youth (Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow) played for those Blue Devils.
They might get some company this year. Arizona, Duke and Kentucky all had top-five classes, and all three make most shortlists of credible national-title contenders. Duke is the No. 1 team in the preseason human polls; the other two are also in the top five.
But when you see two of those three programs on the No. 2 line in the preseason bracket projection below, remember it’s not easy for a freshman-filled team to sustain strong play all year. Skepticism is warranted for all three; few teams enjoy a season with no turbulence, even if their rosters brim with talent.
(1) Midwest vs. (4) West; (2) South vs. (3) East
(1) BIG TEN/Michigan State vs. (16) MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC/Norfolk State-NORTHEAST/Saint Francis (Pa.)
(8) Texas Christian vs. (9) Butler
(5) UCLA vs. (12) CONFERENCE USA/Middle Tennessee
(4) Miami vs. (13) AMERICA EAST/Vermont
(3) AMERICAN ATHLETIC/Wichita State vs. (14) OHIO VALLEY/Belmont
(6) Virginia vs. (11) MISSOURI VALLEY/Illinois State
(7) Missouri vs. (10) St. Bonaventure
(2) West Virginia vs. (15) PATRIOT/Bucknell
Michigan State is the top overall seed in this exercise. The Spartans have plenty of established knowns — probably as many as any of the teams on the top two lines. … Saint Francis (Pa.) hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1991, but it has a great chance to end that drought after the Northeast Conference was raided by high-majors in the offseason. …
A Miami–UCLA second-round game would match two potentially explosive backcourts. … Wichita State is the host school for the Wichita subregional, so it won’t get to stay in town for the first weekend of the tournament. … Reports of Virginia’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. … The Missouri Valley looks like a spin of the roulette wheel in its post-Wichita State era. Loyola-Chicago, Missouri State and Northern Iowa all join Illinois State as credible contenders. …
Said it before, will say it again: Missouri could have the largest range of possible outcomes of any high-major team this season. … St. Bonaventure’s backcourt of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley could cause all sorts of problems in a tournament setting. … West Virginia-to-Pittsburgh is one of the best bets in team-site matchups.
(1) BIG EAST/Villanova vs. (16) SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC/Texas Southern
(8) Alabama vs. (9) Virginia Tech
(5) WEST COAST/Saint Mary’s vs. (12) COLONIAL/College of Charleston
(4) Purdue vs. (13) MID-AMERICAN/Western Michigan
(3) Louisville vs. (14) SOUTHLAND/Stephen F. Austin
(6) Baylor vs. (11) Iowa/Vanderbilt
(7) Wisconsin vs. (10) Arkansas
(2) PAC-12/Arizona vs. (15) WESTERN ATHLETIC/New Mexico State
Perhaps there is excessive optimism in slotting Villanova on the top line, but this is a program that has gotten really good at navigating the regular season. It’ll be tougher without Josh Hart. … This might be Randy Bennett’s best team at Saint Mary’s. A lack of high-end opportunities will depress the Gaels’ seed, even if they put up a gaudy total in the win column. …
Here’s guessing David Padgett holds things together for Louisville. … Wisconsin gets counted out every time it loses a longtime contributor or two, and it always finds a way to finish in the top four of the Big Ten. Why should this year be any different? …
Arizona is the best team (as of now, anyway) caught up in the FBI investigation. It’s anyone’s guess how (or if) that impacts the Wildcats. … The WAC pick is New Mexico State, but don’t be surprised if Grand Canyon — coached by “Thunder” Dan Majerle and in its first season of eligibility for the NCAA tournament — wins the conference tournament.
(1) BIG 12/Kansas vs. (16) BIG SKY/Idaho-BIG WEST/UC Irvine
(8) Texas A&M vs. (9) Maryland
(5) Notre Dame vs. (12) HORIZON/Oakland
(4) Seton Hall vs. (13) METRO ATLANTIC/Iona
(3) North Carolina vs. (14) SUN BELT/Texas-Arlington
(6) Minnesota vs. (11) Virginia Commonwealth
(7) Gonzaga vs. (10) Providence
(2) Florida vs. (15) ATLANTIC SUN/Florida Gulf Coast
The only thing keeping the Wichita subregional from being an edition of “This Is Your Life” designed exclusively for Mark Turgeon is the absence of Jacksonville State — and the Gamecocks will contend in the Ohio Valley. … Remember how much fun the Michigan-Oklahoma State first-round game was last year? Notre Dame–Oakland would have the potential for similar entertainment value. …
Defending champion North Carolina probably won’t be as good as it was the past two years, but it isn’t going to fall off the grid, either. The Tar Heels will probably get the benefit of playing in Charlotte if they have a good season. … Gonzaga, the national runner-up last year, will have a difficult time matching that success. But this is still Gonzaga, and it is a good bet for a 20th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
(1) ATLANTIC COAST/Duke vs. (16) BIG SOUTH/UNC Asheville
(8) Michigan vs. (9) Oregon
(5) Xavier vs. (12) Florida State/Texas
(4) Cincinnati vs. (13) IVY/Yale
(3) Southern California vs. (14) SUMMIT/South Dakota State
(6) Northwestern vs. (11) MOUNTAIN WEST/Boise State
(7) ATLANTIC 10/Rhode Island vs. (10) Oklahoma
(2) SOUTHEASTERN/Kentucky vs. (15) SOUTHERN/Samford
A Duke–Kentucky regional final would double as a preview of the lottery portion of the 2018 NBA draft. … Both Michigan and Oregon played as well in the final month of last season as anyone that didn’t make it to the national title game. Both lost a lot, yet both have the potential to be sneaky good again this season. …
Makai Mason’s return from injury puts Yale back in position to win the Ivy League and perhaps an NCAA tournament game for the second time in three years. … Northwestern has a tested, veteran backcourt and a coach who knows what he’s doing. How often has that been a formula for success in March? …
With Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth experiencing coaching changes and taking some graduation hits, Rhode Island is the clear-cut favorite in the Atlantic 10. … After a step backward last year with an unusually young rotation, Oklahoma is going to contend for an NCAA berth. Much will hinge on the production of freshman (and Norman North High product) Trae Young.
Conference call: Atlantic Coast (8 projected bids), Big Ten (8), Southeastern (7), Big 12 (6), Big East (5), Pac-12 (4), Atlantic 10 (3), American Athletic (2), West Coast (2)
Ten others to keep an eye on: Brigham Young, Central Florida, Connecticut, Creighton, Georgia, Marquette, South Carolina, Southern Methodist, Stanford, Texas Tech
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