NCAA Bracket Predictions 2014: Projecting the March Madness Field at Week 13

By (College Basketball National Columnist) on January 30, 2014

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A few of the No. 1 seeds gave us quite the scare on Wednesday night, but Arizona, Kansas and Syracuse each emerged victorious to remain on the top line (along with Florida) in the latest projected NCAA tournament bracket.

A handful of teams made major positive moves in the past 14 days, but Michigan takes the cake. The Wolverines jumped from a No. 9 seed all the way to a No. 3 seed. Elsewhere, Creighton, Duke and Oklahoma each climbed a few spots to claim No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, respectively.

On the downside, Baylor dropped from a No. 5 seed to the Ghost of Brackets Past after six losses in a span of seven games. Meanwhile, both Colorado and Oregon plummeted from a No. 7 seed down to a No. 11 seed, and Ohio State and Massachusetts each dropped three spots from a No. 3 seed to a No. 6 seed.

In recapping the rest of the field, we'll start out at the bottom by looking at the last five teams to be included and excluded from the field. We also will take a look at five teams that aren't quite deserving of being in the tournament discussion, but are creeping onto the radar.

After that, we'll present each seeded region, including the subregional locations in which each pod would be played, and some commentary on select teams. Then it's the ranking of the No. 1 seeds, followed by a summary of the entire field broken out by conference.

 

Win-loss records on the following slides exclude games played against opponents not in D-I. All Rating Percentage Index (RPI) and Strength of Schedule (SOS) rankings (via ESPN) are current through the start of play on Thursday, Jan. 30.

Last Five In

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Saint Mary's Gaels (15-5, RPI: 46, SOS: 51)

At long last, we've reached the point in the season where teams like Saint Mary's suddenly have a strong case to be included as one of the 36 best at-large teams.

The Gaels have a bit of a 2012-13 Virginia Cavaliers vibe going for them at the moment. They're currently 7-1 against the RPI Top 100, but have four losses against teams outside the RPI Top 100including a resume-killing loss at home to Santa Clara (RPI: 198).

Due to some odd scheduling, they are about to play four consecutive road games, after having just played six straight at home. If they can sweep through San Diego, BYU, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine, they'll be safely in the field until further notice.

 

Missouri Tigers (16-4, RPI: 42, SOS: 109)

Less than a month ago, Missouri was 12-1 with wins over UCLA and North Carolina State and one disappointing but understandable loss on a neutral court to Illinois. In Bleacher Report's first projected bracket of the season on Jan. 2, the Tigers were not only in the field, but comfortably so with a No. 6 seed.

Losses to Georgia, LSU and Vanderbilt have changed that considerably. The Tigers now have four lossesall against teams outside the RPI Top 50and have nothing but a home win over UCLA to brag about. In the next seven days, they play their only games of the regular season against Florida and Kentucky. Neither would be a bad loss, but they desperately need a marquee win, and it might be their last chance to get one.

 

Richmond Spiders (14-7, RPI: 47, SOS: 40)

Despite the 20-point loss to Saint Louis on Jan. 29, the Spiders sneak into the field by merit of three straight wins over Dayton, Massachusetts and St. Joseph's. This is the fifth team in the field from the Atlantic 10, which sent five teams to last year's tournament. However, Richmond will likely need at least one more staple win over either George Washington or VCU to avoid missing the cut.

 

Oregon Ducks (14-5, RPI: 40, SOS: 62)

Try as I might, I couldn't rationalize leaving Oregon and its recent five-game losing streak out of the current field. The Ducks have been a train wreck as of late, but they did pick up six RPI Top 100 wins in the process of opening the season with a 13-0 record.

They still have six games left against Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA, starting with a home game against the Bruins on Thursday night.

 

Tennessee Volunteers (12-7, RPI: 48, SOS: 8)

Here are the Volunteers' point totals over their last six games: 56, 78, 66, 81, 41 and 86. Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson combined for five points against Florida on Saturday, but scored 42 against Ole Miss on Wednesday. When they're hot, the Vols are very tough to beat. Unfortunately, not even they know when that will be.

First Five Out

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Ole Miss Rebels (14-6, RPI: 55, SOS: 79)

Get ready to see a lot of SEC teams bouncing in and out of the projected field over the next several weeks. Tennessee, Ole Miss, Missouri, LSU and Arkansas each have a middling RPI and will likely finish somewhere in the vicinity of 10-8 in conference play. With Tennessee beating Ole Miss on Jan. 29, the Volunteers slide into the field, while the Rebels slip out of it.

 

Baylor Bears (11-7, RPI: 64, SOS: 34)

Baylor is quite the case study in why no one can truly be declared a lock for the tournament until mid-February. Once the seventh-ranked team in the country, the Bears have lost six of their last seven games to drop completely out of the field. Their next three games are against Kansas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, so they'll have plenty of opportunities to play their way back in. However, if they keep playing the way they have been, they'll be 1-9 in the Big 12 after three straight blowout losses.

 

Stanford Cardinal (13-7, RPI: 51, SOS: 30)

A win over Arizona on Jan. 29 sure would have been nice, but the Cardinal certainly aren't the only team to miss out on such an opportunity this season. They do have seven losses, but six of those came against the RPI Top 100. With road wins over Connecticut and Oregon already under their belt and five more games against the RPI Top 50 still upcoming, it wouldn't take much for Stanford to get into the field.

 

LSU Tigers (13-6, RPI: 56, SOS: 67)

Tuesday night's win over Kentucky was huge for the Tigers, but it wasn't quite enough to vault them back into the projected field. Prior to that game, they had lost four out of seven, including a home game against 10-10 Rhode Island and a road game against 8-10 Alabamaeach of which still serves as the best win of the season for those teams.

They have four big games left on their schedule (vs. Arkansas, at Arkansas, at Florida and at Kentucky). Even if LSU can avoid losing other games against the likes of Georgia and Texas A&M, it might need to win two of those four games to have a realistic argument for inclusion in the NCAA tournament.

 

Indiana State Sycamores (14-5, RPI: 59, SOS: 175)

Indiana State would have been in the field if not for an atrocious loss to Southern Illinois (RPI: 247) on Jan. 29. The Sycamores lost by 20 at Wichita State on Jan. 18, and the team will have a chance at revenge on Feb. 5. Even if they fail to win that game, there's an outside chance that they could sneak into the field by avoiding any other Missouri Valley pitfalls the rest of the way.

Gone But Not Forgotten

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Here are five teams who aren't particularly close to the tournament field today, but could get into the discussion before long.

 

Marquette Golden Eagles (11-9, RPI: 84, SOS: 70)

Things certainly haven't gone according to plan for Buzz Williams' team, but perhaps all is not lost just yet. The Golden Eagles do have nine losses, but eight of those were against the RPI Top 50, with the other coming on the road in overtime against Butler.

However, there's a fine line between no bad losses and actually winning good gamesjust ask 2012-13 Iowa or 2011-12 Northwestern if you need clarification on that distinction. Marquette will need to win the majority of its five remaining games against RPI Top 50 teams, if only to avoid dropping to 13 or 14 losses and falling off of everyone's radar.

 

Indiana Hoosiers (13-7, RPI: 63, SOS: 58)

Not only was their marquee win over Wisconsin watered down a bit by an immediately subsequent pair of losses by the Badgers, but the Hoosiers shot themselves in the foot by losing at home to Northwestern just four days later. They darn near bounced back with a road win over Michigan State, but came up just short.

With a sub-.500 conference record and six very challenging games remaining, Indiana will likely need to pick up at least one more big winwhile avoiding land mines along the wayto have a realistic chance to dance.

 

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (14-7, RPI: 62, SOS: 65)

The Deacs played a close game against Syracuse on Jan. 29 before losing by 10 points, but the loss actually helped their computer numbers. It was the fifth time this season that they have lost by 10 or more points, but all of their losses have come against the RPI Top 100, so it's apparently OK. They still have two games left against Duke, as well as road games against North Carolina and North Carolina State.

 

Utah Utes (12-6, RPI: 105, SOS: 191)

The Utes are 0-5 on the road this season, but each of their six losses came by single digitsand only one of those losses (at Washington State, RPI: 163) came against a team outside the RPI Top 75.

They played a ton of home games against patsies during the nonconference portion of the season, which explains their horrendous computer profile. However, a road win over Colorado on Feb. 1 might be all they need to throw their hat into the ring.

 

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (16-4, RPI: 73, SOS: 229)

Their computer profile is hideous, and they don't play another game against the RPI Top 100. But if they keep beating up on Conference USA opponents (aside from Southern Miss) in the way they have been, perhaps the Bulldogs have a shot. In their five conference wins thus far, their average margin of victory is 24.6 points.

East Region (New York City)

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Buffalo, N.Y.

No. 1 Syracuse (20-0, RPI: 5) vs. No. 16 Radford (Big South auto bid, RPI: 229) / Southern (SWAC auto bid, RPI: 205)

No. 8 Connecticut (16-4, RPI: 36) vs. No. 9 Gonzaga (18-3, RPI: 30)

 

Raleigh, N.C.

No. 4 Villanova (18-2, RPI: 3) vs. No. 13 Richmond / Saint Mary's (Last Five In)

No. 5 Oklahoma State (16-4, RPI: 13) vs. No. 12 Toledo (MAC auto bid, RPI: 29)

 

Spokane, Wash.

No. 3 Wisconsin (17-4, RPI: 7) vs. No. 14 Stephen F Austin (Southland auto bid, RPI: 89)

No. 6 Pittsburgh (18-3, RPI: 18) vs. No. 11 Colorado (15-6, RPI: 23)

 

Milwaukee, Wis.

No. 2 Creighton (18-3, RPI: 10) vs. No. 15 American (Patriot auto bid, RPI: 136)

No. 7 UCLA (16-4, RPI: 19) vs. No. 10 Kansas State (15-6, RPI: 38)

 

Commentary

I'll admit it. I had some fun with this region. Who wouldn't want to see Syracuse go through former Big East rivals Connecticut, Villanova and Pittsburghwith the latter two games taking place at Madison Square Garden?

Of course, a few teams in here could very much disrupt that dream scenario.

Creighton is one of the hottest teams in the country right now. With Ethan Wragge and Doug McDermott willing and able to drain 28-foot jumpers, Creighton is a serious threat to meet up with and defeat Syracuse to get into the Final Four.

Despite losing four out of the last five, Wisconsin still has one of the best computer profiles in the country, comfortably earning a No. 3 seed for the time being. Here's hoping the Badgers can right the ship in a hurry, because they're about to endure a six-game stretch of horror.

Oklahoma State and Toledo would be a fun second-round pairing. It has all the makings of an "I'm not really sure who will win this one, but I'm picking them to win at least two games" type of bracket-filling conundrum. The Cowboys have struggled since losing Michael Cobbins to a torn Achilles tendon, but upcoming home games against Baylor and Iowa State should give us a good barometer of what they're capable of in March.

Lastly, don't be surprised if UCLA makes a pretty big leap over the next six weeks. The Bruins play seven of their remaining 11 games on the road, but they could win them all, because they don't have any games left against Arizona. Should they close out the season winning at least nine of those 11 games, we could see them wind up on one of the top four lineswhich would be fantastic, since there are currently more West Coast regional sites than West Coast teams deserving of that geographical advantage.

Midwest Region (Indianapolis)

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Orlando, Fla.

No. 1 Florida (17-2, RPI: 6) vs. No. 16 Bryant (Northeast auto bid, RPI: 149)

No. 8 George Washington (17-3, RPI: 24) vs. No. 9 New Mexico (16-4, RPI: 33)

 

San Antonio, Texas

No. 4 Oklahoma (17-4, RPI: 15) vs. No. 13 Manhattan (MAAC auto bid, RPI: 101)

No. 5 Iowa (16-5, RPI: 39) vs. No. 12 Tennessee (Last Five In)

 

Spokane, Wash.

No. 3 Iowa State (15-4, RPI: 12) vs. No. 14 Delaware (Colonial auto bid, RPI: 65)

No. 6 Massachusetts (17-3, RPI: 9) vs. No. 11 Oregon / Missouri (Last Five In)

 

Buffalo, N.Y.

No. 2 Michigan State (19-2, RPI: 4) vs. No. 15 Northern Colorado (Big Sky auto bid, RPI: 148)

No. 7 Memphis (15-4, RPI: 27) vs. No. 10 Providence (15-5, RPI: 43)

 

Commentary

Poor Florida gets a No. 1 seed only to almost certainly be at a geographical disadvantage once it reaches the Sweet 16. Excluding traffic delays due to the snowpocalypse in Atlanta, Gainesville is a 12.5-hour drive to Indianapolis, which is a further distance than any of the teams seeded No. 2 through No. 7 would have to travel. And as we'll show in the "Ranking the No. 1 Seeds" slide, Florida hasn't played very well away from home.

Perhaps most surprising about this region is Oklahoma as a No. 4 seed, after the Sooners failed to make our consensus Top 25 on Sunday night. Their defense is pretty atrocious. Their adjusted defensive efficiency ranks 123rd in the nation, while none of the Ken Pomeroy (KenPom) site's (subscription required) other top 40 teams have an ADE of worse than 100. But they have wins over Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State in the past few weeks and are suddenly looking like the second-best team in the Big 12.

Also somewhat surprising, Providence makes its debut in the tournament field as a No. 10 seed. The Friars have won five straight and are the only team to have handed Creighton a loss in nearly two months.

As a counter to the previous slide's advice to keep an eye on UCLA as a sleeper for the rest of the season, watch out for Iowa taking a nosedive in the near future. The Hawkeyes' computer profile isn't great, and their once extremely efficient offense has come crashing to a halt as of late. In an overtime game at home against a short-handed Michigan State team, Iowa attempted 43 free throws and still somehow failed to score 70 points.

South Region (Memphis)

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St. Louis, Mo.

No. 1 Kansas (16-4, RPI: 1) vs. No. 16 Utah Valley (WAC auto bid, RPI: 154) / Chattanooga (Southern auto bid, RPI: 223)

No. 8 Xavier (15-5, RPI: 35) vs. No. 9 Florida State (13-7, RPI: 32)

 

San Diego, Calif.

No. 4 Louisville (17-3, RPI: 31) vs. No. 13 Mercer (Atlantic Sun auto bid, RPI: 68)

No. 5 Saint Louis (18-2, RPI: 20) vs. No. 12 Green Bay (Horizon auto bid, RPI: 61)

 

Milwaukee, Wis.

No. 3 Michigan (15-4, RPI: 14) vs. No. 14 Belmont (Ohio Valley auto bid, RPI: 67)

No. 6 Texas (16-4, RPI: 26) vs. No. 11 Southern Methodist (16-5, RPI: 49)

 

St. Louis, Mo.

No. 2 Wichita State (21-0, RPI: 8) vs. No. 15 Georgia State (Sun Belt auto bid, RPI: 85)

No. 7 Virginia (16-5, RPI: 21) vs. No. 10 California (14-7, RPI: 53)

 

Commentary

Hello, Michigan! Just 14 days ago, the Wolverines were a No. 9 seed, and even that felt a little too generous at the time. After three straight wins against AP Top 10 opponents, they are incredibly a No. 3 seedand would have jumped up to a No. 2 seed if Michigan State had lost to Iowa on Tuesday night. Lest you think the worst of the schedule is behind them, they still play consecutive games against Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State from Feb. 8-23.

Is Louisville finally going to prove that it belongs on a list of elite teams? The road win over Connecticut was nice, but it merely undid the damage from the earlier home loss to Memphis. A convincing win over Cincinnati on Jan. 30 would go a long way toward getting the Cardinals back into the national championship discussionand, of course, it would help them climb a little higher in the seeding.

KenPom (subscription required) gives Wichita State at least a 92 percent chance of winning each of its remaining regular season games except for road games against Indiana State (76 percent) and Northern Iowa (78 percent). Overall, the Shockers have a 40.9 percent chance of going undefeated. If they pull it off, it's safe to assume one of the teams currently on the top line will lose at least one game to make room for Wichita State as a No. 1 seed.

If there's a non-major conference team aside from Wichita State capable of making a run to the Final Four, it has to be Green Bay. Barring some sort of injury or prolonged losing streak, the Phoenix team is in the driver's seat to become the "double-digit seeded team that I irrationally pick to advance to the Elite Eight."

West Region (Anaheim)

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San Diego, Calif.

No. 1 Arizona (21-0, RPI: 2) vs. No. 16 Stony Brook (America East auto bid, RPI: 168)

No. 8 VCU (17-4 , RPI: 34) vs. No. 9 North Carolina (13-7, RPI: 45)

 

Orlando, Fla.

No. 4 Kentucky (15-5, RPI: 16) vs. No. 13 North Dakota State (Summit auto bid, RPI: 44)

No. 5 Cincinnati (19-2, RPI: 22) vs. No. 12 Harvard (Ivy auto bid, RPI: 52)

 

Raleigh, N.C.

No. 3 Duke (17-4, RPI: 11) vs. No. 14 UC Santa Barbara (Big West auto bid, RPI: 111)

No. 6 Ohio State (16-5, RPI: 28) vs. No. 11 Southern Miss (16-3, RPI: 37)

 

San Antonio, Texas

No. 2 San Diego State (16-1, RPI: 17) vs. No. 15 North Carolina Central (MEAC auto bid, RPI: 125)

No. 7 Minnesota (14-6, RPI: 25) vs. No. 10 Arizona State (16-5, RPI: 41)

 

Commentary

Let's note first and foremost that San Diego State is not allowed to play its first two games in San Diego, since those subregional games are being played at the Aztecs' home court. Provided they remain one of the top 16 teams on Selection Sunday, they will almost certainly be playing their first two games in either San Antonio or Spokane.

And while we're on the subject of the Aztecs, there is a considerably non-zero chance that they could play their way into a No. 1 seed. Their computer profile isn't spectacular, but they still play two games against New Mexico and a road game against Boise State. If neither team loses in the next six weeks, San Diego State might have a better case than Wichita State for a spot on the top line.

North Carolina just won't seem to go away, and that isn't going to change unless the Tar Heels lose at least six of their remaining 11 games. With Richmond in the RPI Top 50 and Belmont in the RPI Top 100, they have too many quality wins and not nearly enough terrible losses to drop out of the fieldregardless of how awful they looked in the loss to Virginia on Jan. 20.

Though North Carolina didn't drop out, we do have a newcomer to the field this week. Arizona State looked pretty bad two weeks ago after losing to UCLA and Arizona by a combined 38 points, but the Sun Devils scored big wins over California, Colorado and Utah since then. Should they also pick up a win over Stanford this weekend, it would be tough to imagine Jahii Carson and company missing the tournament again this year.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

No. 4: Florida Gators (17-2, RPI: 6, SOS: 52)

No. 3: Kansas Jayhawks (16-4, RPI: 1, SOS: 1)

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages...welcome to the portion of the slideshow where Florida fans become outraged over the fact that a single head-to-head victory doesn't take precedence over an entire body of work.

Yes, Florida beat Kansas back in December.

No, that doesn't give the Gators a stronger resume than the Jayhawks.

If not for that win over Kansas, Florida wouldn't have a single win against the RPI Top 25. In the other blue corner, Kansas picked up its fifth RPI Top 25 win of the season over Iowa State on Jan. 29and four of those wins came in the past three weeks.

Florida is working on an 11-game winning streak, but struggled in each of the three road games during that stretch. This made the Nov. 25 road win over Jacksonville (RPI: 301) the only time the Gators actually looked like an elite team in a (possibly) hostile environment.

Kudos to the Gators for beating out Michigan State and Wichita State for the last spot on the top line, but they are still a peg or two behind the team with the top-ranked RPI and SOS in the nation.

 

No. 2: Syracuse Orange (20-0, RPI: 5, SOS: 89)

No. 1: Arizona Wildcats (21-0, RPI: 2, SOS: 10)

Frankly, with Syracuse's offense struggling as much as it has thus far in ACC play, it was tempting to put Kansas at No. 2 and Syracuse at No. 3. However, the Orange have more than earned the right to at least hang on to that second spot until we find out the result of the Feb. 1 showdown with Duke.

There's no debating that the top spot goes to Arizona, though.

The Wildcats are 21-0 and have won four games away from home against the RPI Top 25. According to KenPom (subscription required), Arizona has a 15.5 percent chance of finishing the regular season undefeated as opposed to just 1.6 percent for Syracuse.

Those with an East Coast bias might argue that's because the ACC is a tougher conference than the Pac-12. RealTimeRPI.com would beg to differ and votes for the Big 12. But it is rather a testament to the Wildcats' strength that they have at least a 69 percent chance of winning each individual game against their 10 remaining opponentseach of which KenPom ranks in the Top 100.

Summary

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In case you lost track of how many teams from which conferences received what bids, here's the whole field in one snapshot.

One-bid conferences: 21

  • America East (Stony Brook: 16)
  • Atlantic Sun (Mercer: 13)
  • Big Sky (Northern Colorado: 15)
  • Big South (Radford: 16)
  • Big West (UC Santa Barbara: 14)
  • C-USA (Southern Miss: 11)
  • Colonial (Delaware: 14)
  • Horizon (Green Bay: 12)
  • Ivy (Harvard: 12)
  • MAAC (Manhattan: 13)
  • MAC (Toledo: 11)
  • MEAC (North Carolina Central: 15)
  • NEC (Bryant: 16)
  • OVC (Belmont: 14)
  • Patriot (American: 15)
  • Southern (Chattanooga: 16)
  • Southland (Stephen F. Austin: 14)
  • Summit (North Dakota State: 13)
  • Sun Belt (Georgia State: 15)
  • SWAC (Southern: 16)
  • WAC (Utah Valley: 16)

 

Multi-bid conferences: 11

American: Louisville (4), Cincinnati (5), Memphis (7), Connecticut (8), Southern Methodist (11)

Atlantic 10: Saint Louis (5), Massachusetts (6), George Washington (8), VCU (8), Richmond (Last five in)

ACC: Syracuse (1), Duke (3), Pittsburgh (6), Virginia (7), Florida State (9), North Carolina (9)

Big East: Creighton (2), Villanova (4), Xavier (8), Providence (10)

Big Ten: Michigan State (2), Wisconsin (3), Michigan (3), Iowa (5), Ohio State (6), Minnesota (7)

Big 12: Kansas (1), Iowa State (3), Oklahoma (4), Oklahoma State (5), Texas (6), Kansas State (10), Baylor (First five out)

Missouri Valley: Wichita State (2), Indiana State (First five out)

Mountain West: San Diego State (2), New Mexico (9)

Pac-12: Arizona (1), UCLA (7), California (10), Arizona State (10), Colorado (11), Oregon (Last five in), Stanford (First five out)

SEC: Florida (1), Kentucky (4), Tennessee (Last five in), Missouri (Last five in), Ole Miss (First five out), LSU (First five out)

West Coast: Gonzaga (9), Saint Mary's (Last five in)

 

Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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