By Kyle Beery
There’s no dancing around it. The new developments in the FBI’s investigation into NCAA basketball is ugly. There is a dark cloud over the sport.
While we seemingly know a relatively small amount (considering the FBI holds more than 3,000 hours of phone calls), there is an unending amount of speculation about what is left to unfold. There’s no telling whether Arizona gets the hammer with the Sean Miller-DeAndre Ayton-Christian Dawkins situation. We don’t know if Miles Bridges will end up being involved like reports suggest.
We really don’t know much. But we do know that the season will go on, and there likely won’t be many — if any — teams held out of the NCAA Tournament, which will undoubtedly start in two weeks.
Selection Sunday is right around the corner and conference tournaments are getting underway this week. You would think the projected field is starting to get clearer, but upsets and unexpected results over the weekend caused a good deal of movement in my newest projections.
This is where the field stands as of right now. As a reminder, these projections are based off what has happened so far this season, and not what might happen. NCAA Tournament Selection Committee bracket principles were used to create this bracket, — including the use of the newly implemented quadrant system. Conference champions are listed in ALL CAPS.
SOUTH REGIONAL — Atlanta — Thursday, March 22 & Saturday, March 24
- Virginia remains the No. 1 overall seed after rebounding with three straight wins following a one-point overtime loss to Virginia Tech. That was the Cavaliers’ only loss of 2018, and the other came at West Virginia in December. They have the quality wins and don’t have the bad losses. Barring a 1st-round loss in the ACC Tournament, Virginia is a lock to be a 1-seed; even if they were to lose in the first round, they might still be a 1-seed.
- Purdue’s chances of jumping up to the top line are waning. Winning the Big Ten Tournament, which starts Wednesday, would be the only way the Boilermakers can accomplish that.
- Arizona has fallen out of geographic protection amid all the scandal. The Wildcats not only lost at Oregon, they are indefinitely without their coach and star guard Allonzo Trier. Things aren’t pretty in Tucson.
- Oklahoma snapped a six-game losing streak by beating Kansas State over the weekend, but the Sooners are still not safe. They’ll likely need to win at least two more games, including the Big 12 Tournament, to feel safe.
MIDWEST REGIONAL — Omaha — Friday, March 23 & Sunday, March 25
- The Jayhawks climbed up to the No. 2 overall seed when they wrapped up at least a share of their 14th consecutive Big 12 regular season title. Riding a four-game winning streak, Kansas is hitting its stride at the right time. Devonte’ Graham is finally playing like a superstar and midseason worries about the Jayhawks’ validity as a top team are all but faded.
- Xavier is still in range of a 1-seed. If they win the Big East Tournament, they’ll get a 1-seed. If Villanova wins it, they’ll get it, barring a late regular season loss for either team, obviously. If neither team wins the tournament, the conference my be kept off the top line altogether.
- Auburn and Clemson both lost over the weekend and dropped down a seed line each. Auburn is still likely going to win the SEC and hold the 1-seed for the conference tournament, but Clemson is in danger of losing a double-bye in the ACC.
- Louisville and Texas both got nice wins over the weekend, but they weren’t enough to move out of the First Four in Dayton for the time being.
EAST REGIONAL — Boston — Friday, March 23 & Sunday, March 25
- Michigan State wrapped up the outright Big Ten regular season title with a win at Wisconsin on Sunday, accomplishing what many felt they couldn’t do after losing two of three games in January. Barring any crazy developments with Miles Bridges, the Spartans will be one of the most dangerous teams in March.
- Duke is creeping back into 1-seed range. An ACC Tournament title and a handful of losses by teams ahead of them may deliver a top seed to Durham.
- Texas Tech’s home loss to Kansas knocked them down a peg, but it wasn’t a terrible loss. The Red Raiders are still 11th in KenPom rankings and still have a great defense.
- Creighton got a huge win against Villanova that gives them another quality win on the docket. The Bluejays are still playing well, thanks to the emergence of Jacob Epperson in the absence of Martin Krampelj.
WEST REGIONAL — Los Angeles — Thursday, March 22 & Saturday, March 24
- Villanova is clinging onto the last spot on the 1-line. If they can rebound and perform well in the Big East Tournament, they should be able to fend off the likes of Xavier, Duke and Purdue for a spot on the top line come Selection Sunday.
- North Carolina is now a projected 2-seed, which is probably their ceiling, even if they win out and run through the ACC Tournament. They were a seven-loss 1-seed last year, but they didn’t have a home loss against Wofford on their resume a year ago.
- Butler and Seton Hall meet in the season finale on Saturday. The winner has a shot at a 6-seed, possibly higher if they make a run in the conference tournament. The loser may be destined for the 8-9-seed range.
- MID-MAJOR ALERT: South Dakota State. Study up. Mike Daum is in the top 10 in the country in scoring and top 20 in rebounds. The Jackrabbits have won 16 of their last 17 games and only have one loss outside of quadrant 2. They gave Wichita State a pretty tough game earlier this season. They could be a nice upset pick in your bracket with the right draw.
Last four at-large bids
- Kansas State – The Wildcats suffered a tough loss to Oklahoma over the weekend, but they still have a good amount of cushion before the cut-line.
- USC – Crushing Utah was a good boost for the Trojans. A win or two in the conference tournament will be vital for this team.
- NC State – Beating Florida State gave the Wolf Pack some wiggle room. There’s still not much, but NC State is inching closer to its first tournament berth since 2013 when they went to the Sweet 16.
- Providence – The Friars escaped danger at Georgetown and padded their resume. Still a little work to do, but they’re sitting in a decent position.
Last four in (First Four @ Dayton March 13-14)
- Louisville – The Cardinals snapped a two-game skid with a nice road win at Virginia Tech. But it wasn’t enough to get off one of the strongest tournament bubbles in years.
- Texas – Again, beating Oklahoma State certainly helps the resume, but the Longhorns will still ride the bubble all the way to the end.
- St. Bonaventure – Thanks to some other bubble teams losing, the Bonnies sneak into the field. Their best win being against Rhode Island at home won’t be enough to get in, though. Any loss could be the final blow to this team, unless it’s against the Rams in the A-10 title game.
- Mississippi State – Also new to the field, the Bulldogs used a win over South Carolina and some other team’s losses to their benefit.
First four out
- UCLA – A loss to Colorado Saturday really hurt. They’ve got quite the uphill battle to get in the tournament. There’s still time with a game against USC and the Pac-12 Tournament still looming, but it’s running out quickly.
- Syracuse – The Orange can’t keep losing games, even if they’re all against quality ACC opponents. They’re really flirting with danger now after losing to Duke over the weekend.
- Boise State – The Broncos can’t lose to anyone but Nevada in the MWC Tournament. Even then, they might not have enough firepower on their resume to get in. Their best path to the dance will be winning the conference tournament.
- Nebrasaka- The Huskers likely took another team out of bubble contention by beating Penn State. A win over Michigan in the second round and a close game with Michigan State in the semis could punch their ticket.
Next four out
- Utah – The Utes really missed a big opportunity when they got blown out at home by USC.
- Oregon – A big win over Arizona pushes the Ducks closer to being in.
- Washington – A win at Cal was a lifeline for the Huskies in the bubble-heavy Pac-12.
- Baylor – Losing at TCU on the heels of big wins over Kansas, Texas and Texas Tech. Due to the Big 12’s depth, Baylor still has a chance if they make a run in the conference tourney.