This is the first Bracketology projection on our site since the first game was played. We are largely through the non-conference schedule, conference matchups are heating up this week, and it’s time to look ahead.
My bracket projections are different than some. I try to slot teams by where I think they will end up, looking at both past results and what remains on the schedule. I went into detail on this last year, and my results from January 2017 did outperform other brackets that were released at the same time because they had a predictive element.
Looking back on my first bracket from last January (released a week later than now), I again was a little better than just looking at current resumés. You are going to have some misses, but I had one fewer team that missed the at-large field (teams seeded 11 or better) than Joe Lunardi, and my average difference compared to how the seeds ended up was a little closer (on average within 1.6 of predicted seed line). That was mainly because of some teams that collapsed, that I regressed a little more. Arizona State was a 6 seed in my projection and a 3 seed in Lunardi’s, and they collapsed even further.
The best team either of us had in, that ultimately missed, was Notre Dame (a 7 seed in Lunardi’s and a 9 in mine), and that was because of the Bonzie Colson that happened a week earlier and had a big impact on the Fighting Irish. That goes to show that if you are in the Top 25 or so projected tourney teams at this point, you are likely in (even Oklahoma and Arizona State survived disastrous finishes to the year because of early wins).
Of the seven teams that missed that I had projected in, all were near the bottom of the at-large pool (four were on the #11 seed line). Five of the ten teams I had listed just out, meanwhile, made it in. Only NC State (big wins over Duke and North Carolina to overcome an early start) and Loyola-Chicago (who got an #11 seed as the auto bid from the MVC) were not in my projected field or first ten out and got seeded 11th or better in last year’s tourney.
So who is in this year? Here are my educated guesses:
Duke Blue Devils+
Duke is the best team in basketball, but Virginia could still claim the ACC title. It’s hard to pick against Kansas to win the Big 12 and get a #1 seed when they seemingly do it every year. Michigan comes in just ahead of Sparty.
Michigan State Spartans
North Carolina Tar Heels
Gonzaga could have a claim for a #1 seed with their tough schedule and early win over Duke, but the guess is they end up on the 2 line. Tennessee is my pick to win the SEC and get the best positioning out of that conference, while Sparty could easily get the #1 seed. There’s no clear cut choice for the final slot so I’ll go with the Tar Heels.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Virginia Tech Hokies
Nevada is currently undefeated, and if they finish that way they will be higher than this seeding. But assuming they lose a couple of games by Selection Sunday, they slot here. The other teams in this group could certainly move higher, as all play in tough conferences and will have chances for top wins.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Florida State Seminoles
Nebraska couldn’t make the tourney last year, but the Big Ten is going to bolster their case this season and get several teams in. Kentucky and Mississippi State are also in the mix to win the SEC.