Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press
Selection Sunday is close enough to taste, and the projected No. 1 seeds for the 2019 men’s NCAA basketball tournament are Virginia, North Carolina, Duke and Gonzaga.
If Kentucky had beaten Tennessee in the SEC semifinals, the Wildcats would have supplanted North Carolina on the top line. However, Tennessee’s resume isn’t quite as strong as Kentucky’s—in spite of two wins over the Wildcats. UNC has 10 Quadrant 1A wins (the Volunteers have seven), played a much more difficult schedule and went 11-1 in road games.
At the other end of the spectrum, Oregon was a late bid thief Saturday night, blowing out Washington in the Pac-12 championship game to shrink the bubble by one spot.
The selection show starts at 6 p.m. ET Sunday, and it will be streamed live on March Madness Live and broadcast on CBS.
Up until that time, our live bracket projection will help you try to make sense of the constant chaos.
We’ll be updating this projection to account for each result almost before the teams leave the court. Keep this tab open all week and refresh it regularly to find out which teams should be headed where.
After the projected bracket for each region, we’ll dive into a bubble watch, hitting on the current last four in, first four out and perhaps a few others. For each bubble team, the three best wins and three worst losses are highlighted to add some context to why they’re on the bubble. Those best/worst results are a little subjective but are primarily based on NET and KenPom rankings.
Last Updated: 12:35 a.m. ET on Sunday.
First Four Games
No. 16 seed in South Region: North Carolina Central vs. Prairie View A&M
No. 16 seed in West Region: Iona vs. Fairleigh Dickinson
No. 11 seed in East Region: Indiana vs. Belmont
No. 11 seed in South Region: Texas vs. Ohio State
Fourth-to-Last In: Texas Longhorns (16-16)
Three Best Wins: North Carolina (neutral), at Kansas State, vs. Purdue
Three Worst Losses: vs. Radford, at Georgia, at Oklahoma State
We are in uncharted waters here. Could a team seriously get an at-large bid with a .500 record? Well, based on the metrics—Texas is top 40 in the NET and top 30 on KenPom—it seems that way. Texas played one of the toughest schedules in the nation and put together a nice collection of quality wins. Still, 16 losses might be a bridge too far.
One major development from Thursday night’s loss to Kansas to keep an eye on: Projected lottery pick Jaxson Hayes went down with a knee injury with two minutes left and did not return. I don’t want to speculate on the severity of the injury, but if there is any doubt that he’ll be able to play in the NCAA tournament, that may be the last straw that pushes the Longhorns out in the eyes of the selection committee.
Third-to-Last In: Indiana Hoosiers (17-15)
Three Best Wins: at Michigan State, vs. Michigan State, vs. Wisconsin
Three Worst Losses: at Rutgers, at Northwestern, vs. Ohio State
By now, you know the deal with Indiana: six Quadrant 1 wins, no Quadrant 3 or Quadrant 4 losses, but 15 total losses. In addition to the three wins listed above, the Hoosiers also won home games against Louisville and Marquette during nonconference play. That should be enough. Vanderbilt earned a No. 9 seed two years ago with 15 losses—one of which was a terrible misstep against a team outside the RPI Top 250. And this year’s bubble is even weaker than that year’s was.
Second-to-Last In: Ohio State Buckeyes (19-14)
Three Best Wins: at Cincinnati, at Nebraska, at Indiana
Three Worst Losses: vs. Illinois, at Rutgers, at Northwestern
Ohio State defeated Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten tournament, which might serve as a tiebreaker between the two Big Ten schools. Neither is safe, though. Since the season-opening win at Cincinnati, Ohio State is 0-9 against the NET top 40. The Buckeyes got a bunch of low-Q1 and high-Q2 wins simply by not going winless in Big Ten play, but it’s been a long time since their last impressive victory. Factor in the home loss to Illinois, and they’ll be sweating out the weekend in Columbus.
Last Team In: Belmont Bruins (26-5)
Three Best Wins: at Murray State, at Lipscomb, vs. Lipscomb
Three Worst Losses: at Green Bay, vs. Jacksonville State, at Jacksonville State
Playing without primary big man Nick Muszynski (injured in the OVC semifinal), Belmont lost to Murray State in the conference championship game. If the selection committee is serious about taking injuries into consideration in its evaluation of teams, that’s a key one to keep in mind. Either way, this is a borderline top-50 team both on KenPom and in the NET. The season sweep of Lipscomb arguably makes Belmont the best of the many mid-major at-large candidates.
One thing to keep in mind if my projection is close to what the committee is actually considering: Belmont’s nonconference SOS ranks 75th in the nation. If the committee is comparing Belmont and NC State head-to-head at any point, that’s a nice advantage for the Bruins.
First Team Out: North Carolina State Wolfpack (22-11)
Three Best Wins: vs. Auburn, vs. Syracuse, Clemson (neutral)
Three Worst Losses: at Wake Forest, vs. Georgia Tech, vs. Virginia Tech
North Carolina State played a laughably weak nonconference schedule, and those chickens may be coming home to roost. Even though the Wolfpack defeated all of those terrible opponents and suffered only two remotely bad losses in ACC play, their lack of quality wins is a major issue. Beating Clemson in the ACC tournament’s No. 8 vs. No. 9 game was crucial, but we’ll see if that’s enough.
Second Team Out: Arizona State Sun Devils (22-10)
Three Best Wins: Mississippi State (neutral), vs. Kansas, Utah State (neutral)
Three Worst Losses: vs. Washington State, vs. Princeton, at Vanderbilt
The No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament is normally a lock for the NCAA tournament. However, the second-best team in the Pac-12 doesn’t normally suffer nine losses to teams that aren’t headed to the Big Dance, either. Thus, here we are. The Sun Devils took care of business against UCLA in the Pac-12 quarterfinals, but losing to Oregon in the semifinals might have been the last straw.
Truthfully, I don’t know what to make of this resume. Arizona State is ranked outside the top 60 on both NET and KenPom. It went 4-1 against teams in the projected field, yet it has 10 total losses. Between this team, 16-loss Texas and worst-NCSOS-in-the-nation NC State, it has been a most bizarre year for the bubble.
Third Team Out: Temple Owls (23-9)
Three Best Wins: vs. Houston, vs. UCF, at Missouri
Three Worst Losses: vs. Penn, at Tulsa, Wichita State (neutral)
Temple was a last-four-in team for a lot of bracketologists at the beginning of the week, but I already had the Owls out before they lost their AAC opener to Wichita State. Hard to imagine they’ll get in at this point.
The main grievance against Temple is that the metrics never much cared for this team. The Owls spent the entire season outside the KenPom top 65, and they weren’t even in the NET top 50 prior to the loss to the Shockers. They battled well in losses to VCU, Villanova, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston, but it’s a shame they were unable to turn one of those close defeats into a pivotal win.
Fourth Team Out: St. John’s Red Storm (21-12)
Three Best Wins: at Marquette, vs. Villanova, vs. Marquette
Three Worst Losses: vs. DePaul, vs. Georgetown, vs. Providence
You’ll notice that all six of the most noteworthy results for St. John’s were in conference play. That’s because its nonconference schedule was dreadful outside an overtime win over VCU and a 30-point loss to Duke. In spite of that, the Red Storm were in great shape after they knocked off Villanova in mid-February. Since then, though, they went 2-5, which included four losses to teams outside the field and Thursday night’s 86-54 shellacking against Marquette. I already had the Johnnies projected as the first team out before that game, and they didn’t help themselves at all with that performance. Time to sweat.
Fifth Team Out: Lipscomb Bisons (25-7)
Three Best Wins: at TCU, at Liberty, at SMU
Three Worst Losses: at Florida Gulf Coast, vs. Liberty, vs. Liberty
For the time being, there’s still a strong case to be made for Lipscomb. The Bisons played seven nonconference games against KenPom top 125 teams and won three of them. They had only one truly bad loss all season. And the proverbial eye test bodes well. But they’ll need a lot of help to remain in the hunt for an at-large bid, both from major-conference bubble teams losing early and from teams like Nevada and Buffalo winning their leagues and preventing bid thieves from surfacing.
Sixth Team Out: Creighton Bluejays (18-14)
Three Best Wins: at Marquette, Clemson (neutral), at Providence
Three Worst Losses: vs. St. John’s, vs. Ohio State, Xavier (neutral)
Creighton doesn’t have any terrible losses. However, 14 “good” losses is still bad when you’ve won only one game against a guaranteed NCAA tournament team. Indiana and Texas have more losses, but those squads also have quite the collection of quality wins to make up for it. Had they beaten Xavier in the Big East quarterfinals, the Jays might have jumped into the field. But a terrible final possession doomed them to a two-point loss, and probably the NIT.
Seventh Team Out: Clemson Tigers (19-13)
Three Best Wins: vs. Virginia Tech, vs. Syracuse, vs. Lipscomb
Three Worst Losses: at Miami, vs. Nebraska, Creighton (neutral)
Clemson has this year’s easy-to-hate resume. The Tigers went only 1-10 against Quadrant 1, and the lone win was a home game against Virginia Tech playing without its starting point guard. But strong metrics and a lack of bad losses have kept Clemson hanging around the bubble. If (and when) the Tigers get left out, they’ll only have themselves to blame. Blowing that huge first-half lead against NC State in the second round of the ACC tournament Wednesday is going to sting for months.
Others considered (in no particular order): Alabama, Furman, UNC Greensboro, Memphis, Xavier
Kerry Miller covers men’s college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.