March Madness bracket predictions 1.0: Projecting the Field of 68 for the 2020 NCAA Tournament

March is a few weeks away and the college basketball madness is percolating, folks. I’ve done NCAA Tournament bracket projections for Sporting News — we call them the Field of 68 — for quite a long time now. How long? Well, when I started it was the Field of 65 and we were called The Sporting News. So, yeah. For a while now.

This is our first Field of 68 for the 2019-20 season. I know, I know, most other places have been generating clicks on this topic for a couple months now, but I’m jumping back into the fray now, when there’s a decent amount of information to use for making educated guesses.

As always, I’m doing my projections based on where I believe a team should be seeded based on how its resume compares to other teams this season if the season ended yesterday. Because we’re still a long way from Selection Sunday, I’m not as concerned with locations and such; if your team has an 8-seed resume, they’re on the 8-seed line, and it doesn’t matter to me (right now) if your team can play on a Sunday or not (BYU spoiler).

My goal is to give you a numbers snapshot for every team, and then maybe a note or two on each squad. And for this first Field of 68, I’m going to give you a little insight on what it was like to sort through this year’s group of tournament-caliber resumes — to try and figure out which teams belong, which ones don’t and how it all sorts out. I’ve been watching college hoops all season, of course, but there’s a big, big difference between just watching college hoops and actually analyzing and sorting 80-something resumes. It was, let’s say, interesting.

As always, automatic bids (in parenthesis) go to the team with the fewest conference losses. In case of a tie, the bid is given to the team with the best NET rating.

March Madness bracket predictions for 2020 NCAA Tournament

Projected No. 1 seeds

Baylor (Big 12), Gonzaga (WCC), Kansas, San Diego State (MWC)

Thoughts: These were the top four teams, in this order, when the Selection Committee released its sneak peek of the Top 16 teams on Feb. 8. And all four have done nothing but win since then. This is easy!

Projected No. 2 seeds

Duke (ACC), Dayton (A10), Maryland (Big Ten), Florida State

Thoughts: The top two No. 2 seeds from the top 16 seeds reveal made their placement easy; neither Duke nor Dayton has lost. But the other two No. 2 seeds? Yikes. West Virginia, by God, has lost three in a row at Oklahoma and Baylor and vs. Kansas. Not bad losses — but still, three in a row. Louisville also fell at Georgia Tech and at Clemson, two ACC clubs floundering around .500. Maryland probably should have been a 2-seed over West Virginia in the reveal, so the Terps get the nod. Florida State jumps up too, despite the loss at Duke.

Projected No. 3 seeds

Louisville, Villanova, West Virginia, Auburn

Thoughts: I’m not sold on Villanova’s resume as a 3-seed as compared to the 3-seeds of most years, but the committee placed the Wildcats there and everyone else has lost, so they stay. Louisville and West Virginia don’t fall far because, well, remember what I just said about all the losses? Even Auburn, which had only dropped a pair of games all year, succumbed to the top-16 jinx and lost a surprising game at Missouri, which is under .500 despite now owning wins against four likely at-large teams. But Auburn’s loss was without Issac Okoro, so that badness is mitigated a bit.

Projected No. 4 seeds

Penn State, Seton Hall (Big East), Oregon, Creighton

Thoughts: Penn State wasn’t one of the teams in the top 16 reveal, but all the aforementioned losing by everyone else — and the Nittany Lions winning a lot of games — is the only way to make up for their awful nonconference strength of schedule numbers. The Big East offers tons of Q1 opportunities, and winning more than half of those chances is why Seton Hall and Creighton are here this week.

Projected No. 5 seeds

Butler, Kentucky (SEC), Colorado, Michigan State

Thoughts: OK, so we’re officially past where the selection committee ranked teams, but there are a couple struggling stragglers we’ll slot here, Michigan State and Butler. Kentucky has, y’know, that home loss to Evansville, but that was a long time ago and the Wildcats are atop the SEC. As you can see, the computers love Colorado.

Projected No. 6 seeds

Iowa, Arizona (Pac-12), Marquette, Ohio State

Thoughts: We’ve reached the portion of this Field of 68 where I put about 15 flawed-but-not-awful resumes in a jar and started drawing at random. Boom. OK, not really. But that thing I said about the Big East and Q1 opportunities? Yeah, it goes for the Big Ten, too, so it’s not surprising to see one Big East and two Big Ten teams here, along with NET favorite Arizona.

Projected No. 7 seeds

Michigan, LSU, Houston (AAC), Texas Tech

Thoughts: Yeah, maybe this is a bit high for Michigan — but did you see what the Wolverines did to Indiana on Sunday? They had that extended rough patch, but they have nonconference wins against Gonzaga, Creighton and against North Carolina before things went awry for the Heels. Spoiler alert: From here on out, most of the teams you’ll read about beat the teams they should beat and lose to the teams they should lose to, with an aberration or two on either side gumming up the resume-sorting. Aargh.

Projected No. 8 seeds

BYU, Wisconsin, Rutgers, Illinois

Thoughts: More Big Ten teams. Shocking, eh? Well, the Rutgers thing is kinda shocking. Who thought the New Jersey squad would be tied in the Big Ten standings with Michigan State — everybody’s preseason No. 1 — this late in the season? It has been a minute since BYU was in the tournament, but the Cougars look solid in Mark Pope’s first year.

Projected No. 9 seeds

Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Saint Mary’s, Florida

Thoughts: Does anyone want to get an at-large spot? The four teams on this line have a combined nine Q1 wins in 30 opportunities and, well, the field has to be filled out, people, and OH NO I JUST REALIZED I’M ONLY ON THE NO. 9 SEED LINE.

Projected No. 10 seeds

USC, Xavier, Virginia, Wichita State

Thoughts: Folks, I honestly don’t know at this point. I know most years past tournament success/failure doesn’t count, but this year it seems like maybe we should just let Virginia in because the Cavaliers are the reigning champs (I kid, I kid). Well, their numbers aren’t as bad as everyone seems to think. They’re not a top-seven seed, but good enough to get into this year’s field at the moment. It helps that they’ve won five of their past six.

Projected No. 11 seeds

Northern Iowa (MVC), *Stanford, Indiana, *Arkansas, Arizona State

Thoughts: We’ll put two of the First Four teams here and two on the 12-seed line. That’s all I feel confident about right now.

Projected No. 12 seeds

*Purdue, *Georgetown, ETSU (Southern), Yale (Ivy), Liberty (Atlantic Sun)

*Purdue (14-12): NET/Pom/KPI: 33/26/56. vs. Q1: 3-9. vs. Q2: 4-1. vs. Q3/4: 7-2
*Georgetown (15-10): NET/Pom/KPI: 43/47/34. vs. Q1: 5-9. vs. Q2: 4-1. vs. Q3/4: 6-0

Thoughts: I’ve seen Purdue as high as the 9-seed line, but I just don’t get it. They’re barely .500, AND they have a pair of Q3 losses. Oh, and they’re 1-8 away from home in Q1 contests. Georgetown just picked up its best win of the year, at Butler, and this is a good time to pick up best-win-of-the-year Ws.

Projected Nos. 13-16 seeds

Projected No. 13 seeds: North Texas (C-USA), Stephen F. Austin (Southland), Akron (MAC), Vermont (America East)
Projected No. 14 seeds: Wright State (Horizon), UC Irvine (Big West), Colgate (Patriot), New Mexico State (WAC)
Projected No. 15 seeds: South Dakota State (Summit), Hofstra (Colonial), Murray State (Ohio Valley), Winthrop (Big South)
Projected No. 16 seeds: Montana (Big Sky), Little Rock (Sun Belt), *Siena (MAAC), *Prairie View A&M (SWAC), *Merrimack (Northeast), *Norfolk State (MEAC)

*First Four teams

On the bubble (alphabetically)

Alabama (14-11): NET/Pom/KPI: 35/47/45. vs. Q1: 2-6. vs. Q2: 4-4. vs. Q3/4: 8-1
Cincinnati (17-8): NET/Pom/KPI: 48/38/24. vs. Q1: 2-5. vs. Q2: 6-0. vs. Q3/4: 8-3
Connecticut (14-11): NET/Pom/KPI: 73/63/91. vs. Q1: 0-6. vs. Q2: 3-3. vs. Q3/4: 10-2
Memphis (17-8): NET/Pom/KPI: 60/68/49. vs. Q1: 1-3. vs. Q2: 5-2. vs. Q3/4: 11-2
Minnesota (12-12): NET/Pom/KPI: 40/31/52. vs. Q1: 4-9. vs. Q2: 2-2. vs. Q3/4: 6-0
Mississippi State (16-9): NET/Pom/KPI: 52/48/46. vs. Q1: 2-6. vs. Q2: 3-1. vs. Q3/4: 11-2
N.C. State (16-9): NET/Pom/KPI: 61/56/42. vs. Q1: 4-2. vs. Q2: 3-4. vs. Q3/4: 9-2
Richmond (19-6): NET/Pom/KPI: 47/52/41. vs. Q1: 2-4. vs. Q2: 2-1. vs. Q3/4: 15-1
SMU (18-6): NET/Pom/KPI: 66/75/62. vs. Q1: 2-2. vs. Q2: 2-3. vs. Q3/4: 14-1
South Carolina (16-9): NET/Pom/KPI: 64/74/54. vs. Q1: 3-5. vs. Q2: 4-2. vs. Q3/4: 9-2
UNCG (19-6): NET/Pom/KPI: 64/52/59. vs. Q1: 2-2. vs. Q2: 2-2. vs. Q3/4: 15-2
Utah State (19-7): NET/Pom/KPI: 42/39/60. vs. Q1: 2-4. vs. Q2: 2-2. vs. Q3/4: 15-1
VCU (17-8): NET/Pom/KPI: 53/53/57. vs. Q1: 1-5. vs. Q2: 1-2. vs. Q3/4: 15-1

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