Bracketology – Bubble Teams & Bracket Prediction
You can say what you want about October when we’ve got the NFL, NCAA football, MLB playoffs, NBA and NHL all going at the same time, but there is no better time in the sports calendar than March. Fantasy baseball leagues are drafting, the NFL is getting ready for free agency and their own draft, the NBA and NHL are in the regular season stretch, and most importantly, March Madness happens.
Teams are already battling for their conference tournament championships which come with an at-large bid. We’ll have a much more clear picture a week from now most of the at-large bids are already claimed. I’ll update this with a new article next Friday, but today, let me tell you how the field looks now and who is on the bubble.
Scroll down to the bottom for the full projected bracket
If you are looking to get a head start on your bracket contests, TeamRankings always has the best info come tournament time. I live on that site from Selection Sunday until tip-off. They’ve got all kinds of discounts on their bracket picks and analysis going on before Selection Sunday.
Teams in contention for 1 seed
listed in order
- Michigan St.
Virginia is virtually locked into a 1 seed and will almost certainly be the top seed overall. They’ll be prone in a one and done tournament since they live by the three, but likely have as good of a chance as any of the other top teams to win it all.
Unless Gonzaga somehow losses in the West Coast Tournament, you can bank on them grabbing a one seed. Their path to the top overall seed would require Virginia losing early and Duke missing out on the ACC Championship.
Speaking of the ACC, if either Duke or UNC wins the conference tournament, they will almost definitely be a 1 seed. Both could potentially grab 1 seeds if UNC bests Duke in the championship.
The fourth spot will more likely be given to the winner of the SEC conference tournament, as Kentucky, LSU and Tennessee are currently separated by a slim margin. If a different SEC team comes away with the net like Auburn or Mississippi State, the Big 10 winner like Michigan St. or Michigan, or perhaps even Houston, assuming they win the AAC, could slide into the final one seed.
Other locks to dance
listed in order
- Texas Tech
- Florida St.
- Virginia Tech
- Kansas St.
- Mississippi St.
- Iowa St.
Most all of these teams will be seeded between 3 and 7, but even those who have a rough time in their conference tournaments would still be easily in as 10 or 11 seeds. If a school like Wisconsin or Texas Tech gets hot and wins their conference tournament, they could feasibly jump into a two seed. Nevada, Buffalo and Wofford will be particularly worth paying attention to in conference tournaments, as a loss for any of them means the bubble shrinks.
At-Large Bubble (In unless they meltdown)
listed in order
- New Mexico St.
Washington is the #1 seed in the Pac 12, which may be weaker this year, but will likely still send two representatives. Unless they lose in Round 1 to Arizona or USC then Arizona St. losses in the championship, the odds of Washington missing seems low.
VCU is also the #1 seed in their conference, which may be just as good as the Pac-12 this year, if you can believe it. It is hard to imagine the committee leaving VCU out, but if they lose to Rhode Island in the second round, they could feasibly be passed up by Davidson and a different A-10 team that cuts down the nets like Dayton or Saint Louis. Don’t bank on it though.
It is tough to envision New Mexico St. losing to Grand Canyon or Utah Valley St, but if it happens, they would drop further down the bubble. Even so, they would likely get in with just 5 losses on their resume.
UCF would likely make it even with a loss to Memphis or Wichita St. in the second round after their bye. That is, of course, unless the bubble shrinks considerably. Texas is in the same boat, as they are likely to lose to Kansas in the quarterfinals, but are almost certain to grab an at-large bid unless the selection committee screws up.
At-Large Bubble (Most likely in)
listed in order
- Arizona St.
Baylor has a bye in the Big-12 tournament then take on Iowa St. Even with a loss, they should be in unless Wofford and VCU fall apart in their mid-major conference tournaments which would shrink the bubble. Oklahoma doesn’t have a bye, but a contest versus West Virginia or Oklahoma St. in the first round is essentially the same thing. If they lose, I can’t imagine them making it, but if they win then lose to Texas Tech or Kansas State in the second round, their at-large bid should be fine.
Much like Oklahoma above, Iowa should be a lock unless they choke against the winner of Illinois and Northwestern. With the way Illinois has played at times, it isn’t a guarantee, but even then, they might still get in. Syracuse is in a similar spot as the expected 6 seed in the ACC tournament. They’ll play the winner of what looks to be Boston College versus Pittsburgh. A loss in that one may knock them out of the tournament, but they’d still be on the bubble.
Arizona St. is much different than the other four in the sense that the Pac 12 was much easier than years prior. It is tough to see the Pac 12 getting just one team, so if Washington wins the tournament, Arizona St. would likely still get in even with a loss.
At-Large Bubble (As close as it gets)
listed in order
- Murray St.
- Saint Mary’s
- Utah St.
- St. John’s
As it stands today, I’d expect each of these teams to make it, but this is before one to three mid-major conferences steal bids and before one to three of the teams from the bubble tier below will steal bids. Most likely, four or five of these teams will find their way on the outside looking in.
Murray St. and Belmont are expected to meet in the Ohio Valley championship, so one will almost certainly make it, but both could potentially. Both Saint Mary’s and Utah St. will probably need to make the championship for an at-large bid. Both are about 50/50 to do it, but Saint Mary’s will need to knock off BYU and Utah St. needs to take down Fresno St.
Florida and Mississippi are the sixth and seventh teams in the SEC. Wins against either LSU or Tennessee to reach the semis would be the ticket, otherwise, they’ll be crossing their fingers for luck on Selection Sunday.
Likewise, Creighton and St. John’s will be fighting for their lives in the Big East tournament. If either can knockoff Marquette or Villanova, they’ll move into the near-lock tier. Even without those wins, one or the other could find their way in as long as the mid-major conference favorites don’t slip up in their tournaments.
That leaves us with Clemson and Toledo who are in two entirely different situations. Toledo has to reach their conference tournament but are good bets to do that. Even so, the selection committee might leave out a 7-loss MAC team. Clemson, meanwhile, will probably get NC State after a first-round ACC bye. If they win, they’ll be met by Virginia. Keeping things competitive may be enough.
At-Large Bubble (Will have to step up)
listed in order
- Ohio St.
- Seton Hall
Ohio St, Minnesota and Indiana would be dangerous if they made the big dance, but they are unfortunately stuck in the Big 10, which may be the most difficult single-season conference in a decade. If either of the three teams gets to the conference tournament finals, they would be a lock. Making the semis would likely do the trick as well, but it will be a tall task.
You’ve got virtually the same issue for Alabama and Arkansas, but to a smaller degree because the SEC isn’t quite as tough. if they can knock off a top 50 team or two on their way to the finals, you can write their ticket, otherwise, they may be hard-pressed to find their way into the crowd.
Memphis, TCU, Seton Hall, Temple and Butler would probably make the field with trips to the conference championship game in the Big East, AAC or Big 12, but will almost certainly not be selected if they fail to accomplish the task.
Furman’s path is simple: beat NC-Greensboro in the Southern semis and they should be in. Lose and they are out. Davidson is the same way, but versus Saint Louis in the A-10 semis.
At-Large Bubble (Long Shots)
listed in order
- South Carolina
- Wichita St.
- NC State
Hofstra and one of Yale or Harvard are likely to get in with an auto-bid by winning their conference tournaments. For everyone else, it would take something extremely special, like when the committee shocked the world by selecting VCU to make the field (before they went to the Final Four). In BYU’s case, a win against St. Mary’s in the WCC semis would go a long way and perhaps they could sneak in by playing Gonzaga tight in the finals. South Carolina’s route would be beating LSU in the SEC semis after taking down a squad like Auburn to even get that far. Even if they defy those odds, it might not be enough.
Oregon and Colorado could sneak in if either makes the Pac 12 finals after Arizona St. losses against the winner of UCLA versus Stanford, but even then, the committee would likely select Arizona St. over them.
NC State’s path is more simple to imagine: Beat Clemson then Virginia and they have good odds. Beat Florida St. after that and they become a lock. Those are some extremely tough games, however, so it would essentially take a miracle like they gave us in 1983.
Mid-Major Auto-Bid Favorites
Listed in order of most likely to win conference tournament
*If these teams don’t win their conference tournament, the bubble shrinks
- Atlantic 10 (VCU*, Davidson, Saint Louis, Dayton)
- Mountain West (Nevada*, Utah St*, Fresno St.)
- West Coast (Gonzaga*, Saint Mary’s, BYU)
- Mid-American (Buffalo*, Toledo*, Kent St.)
- Southern (Wofford*, Furman, NC-Greensboro)
- Ohio Valley (Belmont*, Murray St*, Jacksonville St.)
- Western Athletic (New Mexico St*, Grand Canyon, Utah Valley St.)
- Ivy League (Yale, Harvard, Penn)
- Missouri Valley (Loyola-Chicago, So Illinois, Drake)
- Colonial Athletic (Hofstra, Charleston, Northeastern)
- Conference USA (Old Dominion, W Kentucky, TX-San Antonio, S Mississippi)
- Atlantic Sun (Lipscomb, Liberty)
- Big West (UC Irvine, CS Fullerton, UC-Santa Barbara)
- American East (Vermont, Stony Brook)
- Sun Belt (Texas St, GA Southern, Georgia St.)
- Summit (S Dakota St, IPFW, Neb-Omaha)
- Patriot (Colgate, Bucknell, Lehigh)
- Big South (Campbell, Radford, Charleston So.)
- Big Sky (Montana, N Colorado, Weber St.)
- Horizon (Wright St, N Kentucky, Oakland)
- Southland (Abilene Christian, Sam Houston St.)
- Northeast (St. Francis, Fairleigh Dickinson, Robert Morris)
- Southwestern Athletic (TX Southern, Prairie View, Grambling St.)
- Metro Atlantic Athletic (Iona, Quinnipiac, Rider, Siena)
- Mid-Eastern (NC Central, Norfolk St, NC A&T)
There are 25 mid-major conference tournaments taking place over the next week which will hand out auto-bids. Only seven of those conferences feature a likely at-large bid, which means the bubble can move from 50 down to 43. The most common scenario has Murray St. cutting down the nets in the Ohio Valley if Belmont losses, Utah St. in the Mountain West if Nevada slips up and Toledo in the Mid-American if Buffalo doesn’t get it done. Gonzaga and New Mexico State are near certain to win their tournaments so that leaves just two conferences to keep a close eye on.
If Wofford wins the Southern, bubble teams will rejoice, but both Furman and NC-Greensboro have a decent chance of earning an extra bid for the conference. Likewise in the Atlantic-10, Davidson, Saint Louis or even Davidson could feasibly knock off VCU, giving the conference two bids. It is also worth noting that any of the power conferences could give their auto-bid to a team with no hope at an at-large bid. The Pac 12 quickly comes to mind, as only Washington and Arizona St. are currently expected to win, and neither is anywhere close to a lock to win the tournament.
I’ll check back in next Friday to update the board. Now, let’s get a glimpse at how the bracket might play out if it was built by the committee today.
Projected Bracket prior to auto-bids