Final March Madness Bracketology: Where teams stand with conference tourneys in action

We’re just a few days away from Selection Sunday, and several tickets to March Madness have been punched already. What’s not clear is where these teams will be seeded, and which teams will make it on at-large bids. Below I have my final projection of the March Madness bracket. Teams that have already punched their ticket are included, and the rest of the conference winners are based off my predictions. Feel free to comment with your thoughts and keep reading to see which teams could be in and which teams could be out.

The Bracket

Gonzaga is the first team to enter the tourney undefeated since Karl-Anthony Towns and the Kentucky Wildcats in 2015. This Gonzaga team has plenty of experience between Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, and Drew Timme and a top NBA prospect in Jalen Suggs. The Bulldogs often fall short in March but it’ll take another powerhouse to defeat Gonzaga this time around. Iowa might very well be that powerhouse. After a rough patch in early February, Iowa has rebounded thanks to dominant performances by Luka Garza and improvement from Joe Wieskamp. They recently got revenge on Ohio State and have found their way back to the 2 line.

The Jayhawks have looked like their usual selves of late, and they are the only team to defeat Baylor this year. The loss of David McCormack could hurt but I still have them as a 3 seed. The defending champion Cavaliers struggled in late February as they fell to Duke and NC State but they still look to be a top 16 team. Texas Tech, who lost the title to Virginia two years ago, has failed to stand out so far this year. However, they’ve kept up with an extremely competitive Big 12 and that is impressive on its own.

Tennessee has seen some rough losses lately but I still think they have the depth to make a deep tournament run and should end up as a 6 or 7 seed. Oregon, on the other hand, has rebounded after mid-season struggles. This week they took down UCLA and got revenge on Oregon State. Led by Will Richardson and Chris Duarte, Oregon is my pick to win the Pac-12. That’s not a huge feat this year but should be enough for the top half of the bracket.

Saint Louis is seen as a bubble team by most but I think their wins over LSU and St. Bonaventure (in the regular season) should secure them a safe spot in the tourney. They did get swept by Dayton and were a little tripped up by the long COVID pause but other than that they posted a strong season. I have them against Wisconsin, a middle of the pack B1G team, in the 8-9 game. Drake may have lost to Loyola-Chicago in the Arch Madness final but I think their undefeated start and competitiveness with a ranked Loyola team warrants a spot in the tourney. I have Western Kentucky here on an autobid; their upset of Alabama is the reasoning behind their high seed. They end up with a higher seed than Big East teams Xavier and Providence, who I have meeting in the First Four. A 22-1 Winthrop squad gets the 13 seed here after punching their ticket, and fellow ticket punchers Morehead State and Oral Roberts have lower seeds. Norfolk State and Siena should come out on top of their conferences as well.

Illinois has lost more games than the other 1 seeds in this bracket, but considering they have wins over Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio State and their worst loss is against Maryland, they deserve to be on the 1 line. Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn could lead them on a very deep run. Houston has a better record than Illinois but has faced lighter competition and has a loss to AAC basement dwellers East Carolina.

I have Texas as the third ranked Big 12 team in this projection, as they swept Kansas and have many other significant conference wins. Arkansas is also one of the best in their conference. They had a light schedule early on, but now have wins over Alabama, LSU, Florida, and Missouri. Speaking of the Gators, I have them as a 7 seed after an up and down but overall strong SEC performance.

UConn is another team that I’m higher on than most. With James Bouknight back, UConn has appeared to be unstoppable. I think they are absolutely capable of topping Creighton and a banged up Villanova team in the Big East tournament. Led by the Mobley brothers, I have USC securing the highest Pac-12 seed, but don’t be surprised if they fall short in the Pac-12 tournament.

In the 8-9 game, I have Clemson and BYU. Clemson has been rather inconsistent this season, but led by Aamir Simms they have enough quality wins to be in the top half of the bracket. BYU came very close to upsetting Gonzaga in the WCC final. Even without that win they have a solid resume. Nah’Shon Hyland has taken a huge step up this year to lead VCU all the way to the Atlantic 10 finals. Whether or not they win that game, the Rams should make the tournament. They’re a safer bet than teams like Louisville or Colorado State, who have posted solid seasons but lack the big name wins for a tournament resume that stands out. Rounding out the region I have Liberty, UNC Greensboro, Appalachian State, and Mount St. Mary’s (already punched tickets) as well as Prairie View who I see joining them.

Baylor had a rough patch coming off their COVID pause when they fell to Kansas. Other than that, Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Mark Vital have led the Bears to Big 12 dominance. Florida State suffered a rough loss against Notre Dame, and they also have a UCF loss on their resume, but their ACC success and impressive record convinced me to keep them on the 2 line. Ohio State has declined from their top 5 status after losses to Iowa and Michigan State, but should still secure a pretty high seed barring any B1G tournament upsets. Purdue has won when they’re supposed to win and they swept Ohio State, so that secures them a safe spot in the top half of the bracket. They still don’t have the kind of resume the Buckeyes have. Villanova, who was at one point on the 1 line, has had a rocky second half and just lost Collin Gillespie for the season. They’re down to a 4 seed and could be prone to a first round upset.

LSU lacked standout wins early in the year, but recently took down Tennessee and Missouri, so they’re safely in the tournament now. Missouri, meanwhile, has fallen to the 10 line after extreme inconsistency. Yes, Missouri has a great veteran core led by Xavier Pinson. Yes, Missouri’s wins include Tennessee, Oregon, Florida, and best of all Illinois. However, they’ve also lost to teams like Mississippi State that are barely even NIT material and have failed to improve as the season progresses like some other teams have.

I have Missouri taking on a 7 seed that has also fallen down the bracket, Oklahoma. The Sooners were among the Big 12’s elite teams until a loss to Kansas State that was only the beginning of a 4 game skid. Oklahoma is now just 14-9 and seventh place in the conference. In the 8-9 game, I have McKinley Wright-led Pac-12 contender Colorado and A10 contender St. Bonaventure. Both these teams have been competitive in their conference, but being competitive in a conference like the A10 isn’t the same as being competitive in the B1G or Big 12.

Syracuse had a rather underwhelming start to the season, but topped UNC and Clemson this week to give their resume a major boost. They secure one of the last four byes, while Ole Miss and Boise State will have to meet in the First Four. I have Abilene Christian, Grand Canyon, and UC Irvine winning their conferences to join UMass Lowell in rounding out this region.

Michigan has struggled down the stretch, dropping 2 of their 3 games last week, but they still deserve a 1 seed after winning the B1G regular season title. Alabama won the SEC regular season title, but they have some non-conference losses that stand out and drag their resume down. Herbert Jones could lead them on a deep tourney run but I’m concerned that they will struggle against unfamiliar opponents in the tournament. Creighton has also had an up and down season. They’ve come close in every game, which has led to a mix of impressive wins and disappointing losses.

I’m not huge on the Mountaineers; I don’t feel they’re as good as Big 12 counterparts Kansas and Texas but I do have them in the top 16 as most people do. They have kept up with the Big 12 but I feel like their resume is similar to Purdue’s. It’s solid but it doesn’t stand out. I do have them above Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State is still waiting on a verdict in a case that would have banned them from this tournament but they are eligible for the tournament until evidence against them is proven. Despite a strong Big 12 season and impressive performances by Cade Cunningham, they got swept by a bottom tier Big 12 team in TCU. In between those two is San Diego State, who won the regular season title in the Mountain West and also has a victory over UCLA. They may have lost Malachi Flynn but they could still make a run after disappointment from the cancellation of last year’s NCAA tournament.

Loyola-Chicago came out on top of a Missouri Valley Conference that’s stronger than usual. I don’t have them in my top 25 like AP does but I do think they’ll secure a strong seed in the tournament. They’ll secure a higher seed than Virginia Tech and Wichita State, who I have meeting in the 8-9 game. Both those teams pulled off major upsets but lack other good wins around it. The Hokies topped Villanova and Virginia, while the Shockers picked up a win when they hosted Houston.

Blue bloods UNC and Michigan State have had a harder time securing a tourney spot than they do most years, but after strong finishes I think both will make it. UNC recently beat Florida State and Sparty now holds wins over three of the top four B1G teams. Not far behind the blue bloods is Colgate, who has excellent advanced metrics and a 12-1 record. Akron and Eastern Washington should win their conferences and line up behind Colgate, while Cleveland State and Drexel already clinched a spot.

Bubble Watch

The Terps just barely miss the field of 68. They have a good handful of wins including one over Illinois but they had a rough week, losing to Northwestern and for the second time, Penn State. Utah State is also very close. They were definitely competitive in the Mountain West, but struggled a bit in non-conference games, the worst of which was a loss to South Dakota State. Georgia Tech has crafted a decent tournament resume after significant ACC success, but they are just 13-8 after beginning the season with two losses to mid-major squads: Mercer and Georgia State. UCLA has been alright, but they have not had many opportunities for big wins in the Pac-12, and they have not stood out like Oregon, Colorado, and USC have. UCLA’s biggest win by far is over Colorado, and they’ve dropped games to bottom half Pac-12 teams that are nowhere near tourney material.

Memphis has also had a fairly bland resume. They topped Wichita State, but that’s by far their biggest win, and it’s not enough for March Madness. Rutgers’ road struggles have continued this year, and they fell to teams like Penn State and Nebraska on the road. St. John’s took down Villanova, UConn, and others, but has been wildly inconsistent, so it’s unclear how good they truly are. NC State has a win over Virginia that boosted them onto the edge of the bubble but that alone won’t be enough for a bid.

Most of these teams still have a chance to make the tournament if they make a run in their conference tournaments. It will be harder for teams like Utah State, UCLA, and Memphis than B1G teams like Maryland and Rutgers, but it’s possible. NC State already lost to Syracuse in the ACC tourney, but the other 7 teams all still have a realistic chance to secure an at-large bid or even an automatic bid.

I can’t wait for March Madness to begin, and I’m sure many of you feel the same way.

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