Here is the first bracket release since the New Year. On Thursday, I talked about my philosophy with these projections, where I try to project how teams will perform based on the future schedule and current strength. RPI Forecast is invaluable for predicting how the overall RPI will be viewed.
Last year, my first mid-January projection ended up having 23 of the first 24 seeds in the actual NCAA Tournament (so the top 6 seeds in each region) projected within two seed lines of where they were seeded, and 75% of them within one seed line, two months out from Selection Sunday.
Who do I like this year? Let’s get to it.
There is a lot to be decided within this group and plenty of movement possible. I feel pretty confident that Villanova, Duke, and the Big Ten winner project as #1 seeds. Virginia is on track right now, but the Big 12 winner will have a great shot. The problem right now is that four teams have a legit case and it’s wide open. I’m projecting them all on the 2/3 line for now, and the season will settle it out.
Michigan State is floundering right now, losing two out of the last three and going to overtime against Rutgers. I think they settle down, but the Big Ten does not rate highly enough for them to get a better seed unless they go on a significant run and win the tournament. The Pac-12 is likely to be seeded down in this field, so don’t be shocked if Arizona and Arizona State end up lower than you think.
The middle seeds will be dominated as usual by the big conference at-large teams. The SEC has a lot of teams who could fall in this range and the rest of the season will determine just where they go. Michigan and Ohio State will try to use wins over Michigan State to surge up the seeding list, as there aren’t many other Big Ten teams in the Top 50. Notre Dame is a team to watch because of the Bonzi Colson injury. Texas A&M is also trying to turn things around after a bad start in conference play.
Last year, 5 of the first 8 out on my mid-January projection ended up getting in the field, so this list is very much the center of the bubble, and any of the teams on here can make it. I’m not sold that the committee will give St. Mary’s a nod unless they get a win over Gonzaga. Boise State needs to beat Nevada. The Pac-12 has several teams that could be on the outside, while the SEC will have some teams battling for a spot and any of Georgia, Alabama, and LSU can get in.
Finally, the auto qualifiers.
If you are looking for a bubble burster, don’t rule out Western Kentucky if they don’t win a competitive Conference USA with three quality teams. The Hilltoppers played an aggressive schedule and beat Purdue, which could get them a play-in game in Dayton if necessary. I like Western Kentucky’s at-large likelihood more than St. Mary’s, for example.