One of the great curiosities each preseason is realizing the value so many people place on an NCAA tournament run the previous year. Couple that with a solid returning core group, and expectations immediately shoot through the roof when they probably shouldn’t.
Take a pair of teams that made surprise Elite Eight appearances last year.
Kansas State went 25-12, but what everyone remembers is the Wildcats dismissing Creighton, UMBC and especially Kentucky before getting smacked by Loyola Chicago in the South Region final. And, it should be noted, K-State won those games largely without forward Dean Wade (he came off the bench in the Kentucky game).
Also worth mentioning: Bruce Weber’s team was a combined 0-7 against Kansas, Texas Tech and West Virginia, the top tier of the Big 12. (It was 11-2 against the rest of the league, so it’s place in the pecking order was clear). It was a solid top-30ish bunch and it has nearly everyone back. It’s also fair to wonder how much hype the Wildcats would generate if they had lost a game or two earlier in March.
Florida State is similar. The Seminoles went 23-12, but by the end of the regular season they’d split into two teams: One that usually did fine in Tallahassee, and another that couldn’t get out of its own way on the road in February and early March: A 15-point loss at Notre Dame (which didn’t have Bonzie Colson). A 20-point rout at N.C. State. A 13-point setback at Clemson. And an eight-point setback against Louisville in the ACC tournament in which they trailed by 26 in the final 12 minutes.
Both of these are capable teams, both should be better than they were in the regular season last year and both could easily find themselves in the second weekend of the tournament again come March. (Both also played weak nonconference schedules in 2017-18, which partially explains why they were No. 9 seeds.)
Still, it feels like three games in March are being overvalued while sizing up both teams. The preseason is the only time the bracket projection isn’t a heavily (or entirely) data-driven exercise. Florida State and Kansas State will be fine, but they’re probably a couple seed lines lower here than their preseason buzz suggests.
(1) Midwest vs. (4) West; (2) South vs. (3) East
(1) BIG 12/Kansas vs. (16) BIG SOUTH/Radford
(8) ATLANTIC 10/Saint Joseph’s vs. (9) Vanderbilt
Salt Lake City
(5) Marquette vs. (12) SUMMIT/South Dakota State
(4) Clemson vs. (13) BIG SKY/Montana
(3) BIG TEN/Michigan State vs. (14) IVY/Harvard
(6) Florida State vs. (11) MID-AMERICAN/Buffalo
(7) Washington vs. (10) Texas
(2) Tennessee vs. (15) ATLANTIC SUN/Lipscomb
There’s a pretty good chance Kansas gets a Tulsa-Kansas City-Minneapolis path to the Final Four, especially if the Jayhawks win the Big 12 regular season yet again. … Vanderbilt wasn’t very good last year. Freshmen Darius Garland and Simi Shittu will ensure that isn’t a problem this year. … Not sure if there’s a better bet than South Dakota State to win a one-bid league besides maybe Gonzaga. The Summit League will be glad when the Jackrabbits finally say farewell to Mike Daum after this season. …
Harvard and Penn look like the top teams in the Ivy League. Fortunately for the Crimson, they won’t have to beat the Quakers on Penn’s home floor to win the league this year. The Ivy tournament will shift to Yale in March. … Washington vs. Texas would be a pretty good Fiesta Bowl and a great Alamo Bowl this season. … Couldn’t help but to pair Tennessee with an in-state foe, even if the game has to be played more than 300 miles from Knoxville.
Salt Lake City
(1) WEST COAST/Gonzaga vs. (16) BIG WEST/Cal State Fullerton-SWAC/Arkansas-Pine Bluff
(8) Xavier vs. (9) N.C. State
(5) Kansas State vs. (12) Notre Dame/Southern Cal
(4) Mississippi State vs. (13) SUN BELT/Georgia State
(3) MOUNTAIN WEST/Nevada vs. (14) WESTERN ATHLETIC/New Mexico State
(6) Purdue vs. (11) Alabama
(7) AMERICAN ATHLETIC/Cincinnati vs. (10) Davidson
(2) Duke vs. (15) SOUTHERN/Wofford
I’m giving Gonzaga’s exceptional roster the benefit of the doubt for now, but Killian Tillie will miss up to eight weeks with a stress fracture in his ankle. That covers the portion of the schedule when the Bulldogs can prove they warrant a lofty seeding. … Xavier never falls off too far, so consider this a vote of confidence. … Mike Brey’s talked a lot this offseason about Notre Dame’s history of exceeding expectations when it gets counted out. He’s right. T.J. Gibbs and Rex Pflueger are the centerpieces of a team that should not be overlooked ….
There is so much to like about Nevada, which was already a late-night viewing treat even before it had a couple wild rallies in the NCAA tournament. Now, the Wolf Pack is deep, too. Caleb Martin is a potential first-team all-American. … I’ve got a sneaking suspicion Purdue won’t fall off quite as much as many believe with Carsen Edwards still around. … Cincinnati vs. Davidson would be a great contrast in styles. … Duke having to play a team from South Carolina in South Carolina. Where have we heard that before?
(1) SOUTHEASTERN/Kentucky vs. (16) PATRIOT/Colgate-NORTHEAST/Saint Francis (Pa.)
(8) TCU vs. (9) Butler
(5) Syracuse vs. (12) Houston-Saint Louis
(4) Michigan vs. (13) HORIZON/Northern Kentucky
(3) PAC-12/Oregon vs. (14) SOUTHLAND/Stephen F. Austin
(6) Florida vs. (11) Nebraska
(7) Providence vs. (10) Iowa State
(2) North Carolina vs. (15) AMERICA EAST/Hartford
Stanford transfer Reid Travis was one of the best additions any team made. Kentucky nabbed a veteran interior presence who also happened to be a first team all-Pac-12 pick last year. … What do TCU Coach Jamie Dixon and Butler have in common? You can count on both of them to figure out a way to make the field of 68 a very large percentage of the time. … Syracuse’s projection probably hinged on one player more than anyone else. The Orange’s ceiling is considerably higher with Tyus Battle back in the fold. …
Someone from the Pac-12 is probably going to end up a No. 3 or No. 4 seed, and Oregon probably has the best chance. … Nebraska has never won an NCAA tournament game, but this team has the potential to finally end that drought. … An America East team facing an ACC power? Again? In all seriousness, look out for Hartford, which is poised to reach the tournament for the first time.
(1) ATLANTIC COAST/Virginia vs. (16) MID-EASTERN/Bethune-Cookman
(8) Wisconsin vs. (9) Central Florida
(5) Louisiana State vs. (12) CONFERENCE USA/Marshall
(4) West Virginia vs. (13) COLONIAL/Northeastern
(3) Auburn vs. (14) METRO ATLANTIC/Iona
(6) Virginia Tech vs. (11) UCLA
(7) Indiana vs. (10) MISSOURI VALLEY/Loyola Chicago
(2) BIG EAST/Villanova vs. (15) OHIO VALLEY/Belmont
Virginia probably won’t dominate the ACC like it did a year ago, but this is still a plenty capable team. De’Andre Hunter could be a breakout star of a program well-equipped to shrug off last year’s early NCAA exit and rattle off another 30-win season. … Anticipating a noticeable leap for Tremont Waters and LSU. … Yes, Western Kentucky is increasingly talented and was picked to win Conference USA, but it’s hard not to like Marshall’s ability to deploy the scoring ability of Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks. …
I knocked Virginia Tech down a line with Chris Clarke’s indefinite suspension. … UCLA has four players injured, and it was awfully inconsistent last year. Some caution is probably warranted when it comes to evaluating the Bruins. … Indiana has a chance to make a splash in Archie Miller’s second season, with Romeo Langford’s arrival a major factor. … Defending national champ Villanova might not be quite as formidable as last year, but it will still be fine. A fifth consecutive 30-win season is plausible.
Conference call: Atlantic Coast (9), Southeastern (8), Big Ten (6), Big 12 (6), Big East (5), Pac-12 (4), American Athletic (3), Atlantic 10 (3)
Ten others to keep an eye on: Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, Boston College, Illinois State, Maryland, Memphis, Miami, St. John’s, Western Kentucky