Bracketology: Kentucky, Virginia, Duke and Gonzaga lead first bracket projections

Photo: James Snook / USA Today Sports

Finally, The Catch and Shoot’s first bracket projections for the 2015 NCAA Tournament have arrived. For these projections, teams are evaluated on what they have accomplished (or failed to accomplish) to this point in the season without looking ahead.

32 spots are given as automatic bids (noted in the bracket with italics), and the remaining 36 are at-large selections.

To determine the at-large bids, I took the current leader, based on the loss column, of a conference’s standings. If there was a tie for first place, I used head-to-head to determine which team receives the automatic bid. If the teams were a) tied in head-to-head or b) had not yet played head-to-head, then I used whichever team had a higher Kenpom ranking.

Here is the bracket, with additional notes and thoughts below it.

MIDWEST

EAST

1
Kentucky
1
Virginia
16
Seattle/Vermont
16
Colgate/Louisiana-Monroe
8
Indiana
8
Baylor
9
George Washington
9
Cincinnati
5
Butler
5
Seton Hall
12
Louisiana Tech
12
Green Bay
4
West Virginia
4
VCU
13
Akron
13
UC Davis
6
Northern Iowa
6
Louisville
11
Kansas State
11
Xavier/Temple
3
Notre Dame
3
Iowa State
14
Texas Southern
14
Sacramento State
7
LSU
7
Arkansas
10
San Diego State
10
Michigan State
2
Wisconsin
2
Villanova
15
Monmouth
15
North Florida

SOUTH

WEST

1
Duke
1
Gonzaga
16
St. Francis NY
16
North Dakota State
8
Dayton
8
Stanford
9
Miami
9
Oklahoma State
5
Oklahoma
5
Texas
12
Stephen F. Austin
12
Wyoming/St. John’s
4
North Carolina
4
Wichita State
13
Murray State
13
Harvard
6
Iowa
6
Old Dominion
11
Tulsa
11
NC State
3
Utah
3
Arizona
14
Coastal Carolina
14
William & Mary
7
Providence
7
Georgetown
10
Washington
10
Georgia
2
Kansas
2
Maryland
15
North Carolina Central
15
Mercer

 

Bracket notes:

Here’s a good nugget about how this bracket projection shaped up. There are five Division I teams who have been around since the NCAA Tournament began in 1939 and have never made the Big Dance. Two of them, William & Mary and St. Francis NY, are in this bracket projection as automatic bids.

While it’s still early, both teams have a plenty good chance to actually reach the tournament this year; both teams are 5-1 in their respective leagues and projected to earn at least a share of their regular season title on Kenpom.

If William & Mary and St. Francis were to reach the 2015 NCAA Tournament, that would leave Army, The Citadel and Northwestern as the only original Division I teams to never experience March Madness. (That’s a good trivia question for you college basketball fans.)

 

This year’s NCAA Tournament may look different to fans of younger generations. As someone who has closely followed college basketball for more than a decade now, I am seeing several perennial NCAA Tournament squads looking like NIT teams this year.

The ones that stand out are Syracuse, Florida and Connecticut.

 

Ohio State has the talent of a NCAA Tournament team, but right now the Buckeyes are on the outside looking in as well. The Buckeyes best wins are at home against Illinois and Michigan. They have lost every time they have played top 50 competition and are just 1-4 on the road.

The only thing keeping Ohio State on the bubble right now is its lack of bad losses. The worst defeat is either at home against Iowa or at Indiana. Take your pick, because neither is terrible.

 

The Big Ten has been one of college basketball’s best conferences for several years, yet I have only five of its teams in this bracket. The league is mediocre this year, and Wisconsin and Maryland are the only “locks.”

Iowa is in solid shape with a win at North Carolina and no bad losses. The Hawkeyes also swept Ohio State, although that’s not necessarily saying much as of now.

The other Big Ten teams in today’s field, Indiana and Michigan State, are both riding the bubble. Indiana has great wins against SMU and Butler, but a mediocre strength of schedule and .500 road/neutral record are question marks for the Hoosiers.

Michigan State’s best wins are against Indiana and Iowa, and the Spartans also have a home loss to Texas Southern. However, star forward Branden Dawson out with an injury for that game, so they are getting the benefit of the doubt here.

 

I’m not listing an official “first four out” or anything, but you may surprised to hear that Western Kentucky nearly made an appearance in this bracket projection as the third team out of Conference USA.

The Hilltoppers are 12-5 with a 5-0 mark in league play. They have two top 50 RPI wins — at Ole Miss and at home against Old Dominion — and an additional top 75 one against Bowling Green.

Western Kentucky’s résumé looks uglier than it actually is right now because of three sub-100 losses in non-conference play. However, “top 100” is somewhat of an arbitrary mark to start distinguishing between an understandable loss and a bad loss. The three sub-100 losses are to Minnesota (No. 104), Belmont (No. 108) and Murray State (No. 113).

Those are losses the Hilltoppers would obviously be better off without, but they won’t kill their NCAA Tournament hopes if they can grab a couple more quality wins and avoid bad losses in Conference USA. Realistically, the Hilltoppers have no chance at an at-large bid with anything worse than a 15-3 league record, but they will be an interesting team to watch down the stretch.

 

Breakdown of bids by conference:

Big 12 – 8

ACC – 7

Big East – 7

Big Ten – 5

Pac-12 – 4

SEC – 4

A-10 – 3

AAC – 3

C-USA – 2

MVC – 2

MWC – 2

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