College basketball starts Friday, perhaps you’ve even heard there’s a game taking place in China involving UCLA and Georgia Tech. So here are my pre-tip projections for who will make the NCAA Tourney field, and where they will be seeded.
I pored through schedules, returning starters, changes in the team, and conference outlook to come up with my projections. Let’s get to it.
Arizona Wildcats (Pac-12)
Duke Blue Devils (ACC)
Kansas Jayhawks (Big 12)
Michigan State Spartans (Big Ten)
Arizona is loaded with a mix of veterans and young talent and the main X-factor is the FBI probe and whether it touches on Tucson. Duke has the best freshman talent. You can pencil in Kansas for a Big 12 title, and they always schedule to finish highly in the RPI. Michigan State is the final top seed projection with the return of Miles Bridges.
Wichita State Shockers (American)
Villanova Wildcats (Big East)
Kentucky Wildcats (SEC)
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Wichita State has been perennially underseeded by the committee, because of the conference strength of schedule. That changes this year, with the move to the American. Now, one bad game in December won’t cast the dye, and this team should be the American Conference favorite.
Villanova is kind of flying under the radar. Yes, they have to replace Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, but Jay Wright has things rolling and the juniors (Brunson, Paschall, Bridges) will have them atop the Big East again.
Kentucky is very young, but expectations will again be high. The SEC, by the way, should be much better and several teams have scheduled smartly for RPI purposes, so they can afford to lose 6-7 games and still get a 2-seed.
USC gets my last 2-seed based on veteran returners, as they are probably the most experienced team coming back this year.
West Virginia Mountaineers
All of the teams on this line could jump up and win their power conferences. Cincinnati also benefits from Wichita State’s move as it adds another set of Top 25 matchups, and let’s face it, the committee loves to look at games against other top teams. Florida has to replace some key pieces but Mike White has the program back. Purdue will experience life without Caleb Swanigan, but has size and depth everywhere. West Virginia will do what they always do, create chaos.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
North Carolina Tar Heels
This is the ACC question mark line. Louisville has questions without Pitino. North Carolina is trying to reload after a national title. Notre Dame is always in the mix with Mike Brey’s offense. Xavier showed what they were capable of in the NCAA Tournament, after a rough end to the Big East season. Most of the key parts are back.
TCU Horned Frogs
Can Northwestern succeed with heightened expectations? Baylor seems to perform better when expectations are lower as well, as no one had them in the Top 25 last year. Meanwhile, Jaime Dixon has TCU on the rise, after winning the NIT last year. Jim Larranaga will be dancing again.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (WCC)
Alabama Crimson Tide
Texas A&M Aggies
Seton Hall Pirates
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The national championship runner-up gets slotted here. They’ll have a lot of questions early, and unfortunately the committee tends to undervalue teams from the mid-majors that get off to a slow start. The Zags have one key game early (Villanova). Collin Sexton is currently being held out as ineligible by Alabama, but I’m comfortable still projecting the Crimson Tide here because they have plenty of talent to improve, and are going to be RPI Darlings (one game outside Ken Pom’s Top 200). Texas A&M will join them from the SEC with Tyler Davis and Robert Williams. Seton Hall will be a veteran group that made the tourney a year ago.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Missouri may be the biggest wildcard out there. They could bomb spectacularly, or compete with the top teams on talent. Yes, LSU and Washington both failed to make the tournament with Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, respectively, but there is a distinction. Those teams had the same coach back, and had NBA talent on the roster the year before and also underachieved. Michael Porter, Jr. and company are replacing players not good enough to compete at the top level. So I’ll set the median expectation here.
Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers always rate highly in the tempo-free stats, but I don’t think this will be a vintage Virginia team, good enough to still make the tourney though. Minnesota should still be a factor, though I think they were oversewed last year. Providence has everyone back from a team that made the tourney as an 11-seed last year.
St. Mary’s Gaels
Rhode Island Rams (A-10)
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How will China affect the Bruins? I think there are enough questions about a young roster anyway that I’m going to project them to underachieve a little here. St. Mary’s will probably be better than the 30th-best team with Jock Landale back, but the issue is schedule. They’ll have to put up a gaudy record to get a better seed than this. The two best games are against Gonzaga, as always, but the non-conference is devoid of top games. San Diego State, in a tournament, may be their best hope.
Oklahoma had their rebuilding year last year, and now all that experience, combined with adding freshmen talent including Trae Young, should result in a return to the tournament. Rhode Island is the class of what could be a down year for the Atlantic 10.
Central Florida Golden Knights
Creighton Blue Jays
San Diego State Aztecs (MWC)
Iowa State Cyclones+
College of Charleston Cougars (CAA)
Oakland Grizzlies (Horizon)
Illinois State Redbirds (MVC)
Yale Bulldogs (IVY)
Vermont Catamounts (America East)
Bucknell Bison (Patriot)
Old Dominion Monarchs (CUSA)
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (Sun Belt)
East Tennessee State Buccaneers (Southern)
Ohio Bobcats (MAC)
South Dakota State Jackrabbits (Summit)
New Mexico State Aggies (WAC)
Iona Gaels (MAAC)
Belmont Bruins (OVC)
UNC Asheville Bulldogs (Big South)
Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (A-Sun)
UC-Irvine Anteaters (Big West)
Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (Southland)
Montana Grizzlies (Big Sky)
Farleigh Dickinson Knights (Northeast)
NC Central Eagles (MEAC)
Texas Southern Tigers (SWAC)