NCAA Tournament Bracket Projections: Dec. 20

Believe it or not, I think it’s actually easier to do preseason bracket projections than it is to do them right now.

ArizonaAt this point, we’ve seen most teams play at least eight games, and the top squads have started to establish themselves. That said, the tournament profiles at this stage can be difficult to assess, as some teams have shown potential but don’t have much to show for it in the way of quality wins. As a result, you may see some things here that are puzzling, and there are bound to be a ton of changes over the next month as conference play tips off.

I’ve done my best to try to put aside my long-term expectations and focus on what each team has accomplished to date. For the top 12 seed lines and the first five teams out, I’ve provided my reasoning below.

For now, I’m still just listing the teams as opposed to bracketing them, but this should give a reasonable idea (at least I think so) of where teams stand today. For the single bid leagues, it’s a little tougher since a number of them have taken their lumps against stiffer competition, so I’ve relied a bit more on some of the advanced metrics to project the winners there (thanks KenPom!).

#1 Seeds

Arizona – The top-ranked Wildcats look like the real deal after winning on the road against San Diego State and Michigan while knocking off Duke on a neutral floor.

Wisconsin – The RPI can still be skewed at this point in the season, but nine top 100 wins are pretty impressive any way you slice it.

Syracuse – Freshman Tyler Ennis has done a terrific job at the point, leading the Orange to a Maui title and a 10-0 start.

Ohio State – The schedule hasn’t been elite, but the Buckeyes have won all 11 games by double digits and should enter Big Ten play undefeated.

#2 Seeds

Villanova – The Wildcats knocked off Kansas and Iowa to win the Battle 4 Atlantis and have a compelling argument for a one seed based on their resume.

Oklahoma State – A blowout win over Memphis showed just how good the Cowboys can be, but a loss to the Tigers in the Old Spice Classic keeps them on the two line.

Michigan State – Injuries have slowed the Spartans following a big win over Kentucky, but the pieces are there to earn a top seed eventually.

Florida – The Gators have battled through injuries and suspensions to rack up wins over Florida State, Kansas and Memphis.

#3 Seeds

Louisville – The Cardinals may well earn a one seed when it’s all said and done, but for now, their best win came against Southern Miss while six of their 10 wins have come against teams outside of Pomeroy’s top 200.

Baylor – A loss to Syracuse in Maui is the only blemish on the Bears’ resume, but neutral courts wins over Colorado, Dayton, and Kentucky are all solid.

Wichita State – By most accounts, the 11-0 Shockers are playing better this season than they did during last season’s Final Four run.

Iowa State – The undefeated Cyclones have used some Hilton Magic to pick up victories over Michigan and Iowa to go along with a road win at BYU.

#4 Seeds

Duke – I nearly moved the Blue Devils to the three line after Thursday’s win over UCLA.  Outside of that though, the only notable win is over a Michigan squad that has struggled in the early going.

Kansas – The Jayhawks have played a brutal schedule, which should serve a young team well in the long run.

Oregon – While the Ducks’ top wins won’t exactly blow you away, this exciting team has piled up three RPI top 50 wins already.

Connecticut – Stanford handed the Huskies their first loss of the season, but UConn has performed well in close games against Florida, Indiana and Maryland.

#5 Seeds

Memphis – The Tigers responded to a blowout loss at Oklahoma State by winning the Old Spice Classic and nearly knocking off Florida in New York.

North Carolina – I’m not sure any team has a better trio of wins than UNC’s victories over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, but some head-scratching losses and abysmal free throw shooting have hurt the Heels’ seeding.

Colorado – The Buffs’ lone loss came against Baylor in the season opener, but they’ve bounced back to beat Harvard and Kansas.

Massachusetts – The Minutemen are 10-0 and have parlayed wins over LSU, New Mexico and BYU into the second-ranked RPI.

#6 Seeds

Kentucky – This may seem low, but while the Wildcats don’t have a bad loss, they also don’t have any marquee wins. A home win over Boise State and a neutral court victory over Providence are their best so far.

Gonzaga – The Zags don’t have any elite wins, but a loss to Dayton in the Maui opener is the only blemish on their record.

Iowa – The Hawkeyes could easily be undefeated right now and have proven to be an explosive team on offense.

San Diego State – Steve Fisher’s club has been one of this season’s pleasant surprises so far with wins over Creighton and Marquette.

#7 Seeds

Missouri – The Tigers are undefeated but haven’t faced many challenges outside of a home win over UCLA.

UCLA – Steve Alford’s team doesn’t have a bad loss, but their best wins are over Drexel and UC Santa Barbara.

Dayton – The Flyers were a revelation in Maui but slipped up on the road against Illinois State.

Saint Mary’s – The loss of Matthew Dellavedova hasn’t been as impactful as most expected, and the Gaels have strong RPI numbers following an undefeated start.

#8 Seeds

Creighton – Half of Creighton’s wins have come against teams ranked outside of Pomeroy’s top 200.

LSU – The Tigers’ only losses have come against UMass and Memphis.

Texas – A huge road win at North Carolina propelled the Longhorns into the field, which was their fourth top 100 RPI win so far.

Harvard – The Crimson are going to rack up wins this season, but a loss at Colorado was one of few chances to get a marquee victory.

#9 Seeds

Florida State – A successful early season trip to Puerto Rico has the Noles in the field, but a relatively weak non-conference schedule and tough ACC may be their undoing in the long run.

VCU – The Rams have been disappointing so far, but they have a nice pair of road wins at Virginia and Belmont.

Pittsburgh – A weak schedule allowed the Panthers to get off to a 10-0 start, but they lost to Cincinnati earlier this week.

New Mexico – The Lobos have a nice trio of wins against UAB, Cincinnati and New Mexico State.

#10 Seeds

Arkansas – The Hogs may wind up regretting a loss to Cal in Maui, but for now, they have a relatively solid overall profile.

Virginia – Even though the Cavaliers don’t have a loss to a team outside of the RPI top 100, I expected more from them this season.

Minnesota – The Gophers haven’t done much away from home, but they’ve already exceeded expectations in Richard Pitino’s first year.

George Washington – Indiana transfer Maurice Creek has blended well with a young team, and the Colonials have racked up neutral court wins over Creighton and Maryland.

#11 Seeds

BYU –The Cougars have four losses but have played a tough schedule, which has resulted in wins over Stanford and Texas.

Arizona State – A loss to Miami is ugly, but outside of that, ASU has played well.

Stanford – The Cardinal picked up a huge road win at UConn this week to earn a spot in the field.

Oklahoma – A 10-1 start looks solid, and their lone loss came against a tough Michigan State team.

#12 Seeds

Michigan (First Four) – The Wolverines have four losses and just one win over the RPI top 150.

Georgetown (First Four) – With just one RPI top 100 win and an ugly loss to Northeastern, the Hoyas need to beef up their profile in conference play.

Saint Louis (First Four) – Half of Saint Louis’ wins have come against sub-200 teams, and at this point, there aren’t any notable victories on their resume.

Cincinnati (First Four) – The Bearcats earned the last at-large spot after their neutral court win against Pitt this week, but their grip on it is tenuous at best.

Toledo – The Rockets are the most surprising of the remaining undefeated squads, but they have yet to play a top 100 team.

UAB – There’s no clear leader in Conference USA, but I gave the Blazers the nod based on a win over UNC.

#13 Seeds

New Mexico State

North Dakota State

UC Santa Barbara

Drexel

#14 Seeds

Belmont

Manhattan

Green Bay

Louisiana-Lafayette

#15 Seeds

Bucknell

Mercer

Stephen F. Austin

Bryant

#16 Seeds

Stony Brook

Winthrop

Texas Southern

Elon

Northern Colorado

Norfolk State

First Five Out:

Butler – The Bulldogs have solid RPI numbers but haven’t really beaten a tournament-caliber team.

Indiana – With half of their wins against sub-200 teams and zero wins against the top 100, the Hoosiers are on the outside looking in for now.

Marquette – Outside of a win over George Washington, Marquette hasn’t beaten anyone in the RPI top 200.

Tennessee – The Vols are just 3-4 against the RPI top 200.

Xavier – Wins over Cincinnati and Tennessee help for bubble purposes, but they are 3-3 against the RPI top 150 and have half of their wins over sub-200 Pomeroy teams.

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Follow me on Twitter (@andybottoms) for more thoughts on college hoops.

About the Author

Andy Bottoms

While Andy was born and raised in Indiana, he would like to point out that he grew up shooting hoops in his driveway and not against the side of a barn like you see in all the March Madness promos or in the middle of a field like Jimmy Chitwood. Andy ranks among the top bracketologists according to the Bracket Matrix and has provided his projections to Fox Sports for the past three seasons. When not compiling excuses for missing work during the NCAA Tournament, Andy enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters. He is a proud IU graduate and co-hosts The Assembly Call postgame show following every IU game. Twitter: @AndyBottoms