I had so much fun doing this last season that I set a goal for myself: make my first projection for the 2017 NCAA men’s tournament by the end of December 2016. Well, I blew that deadline out of the water. And I am fully confident that this is exactly how the field will look when it is revealed in March (/sarcasm).
What could be easier than projecting the March Madness bracket in the middle of December? Solving a quantum physics equation or figuring out how to travel time come to mind. The most fun part of this will be seeing just how much the projection changes from now until Selection Sunday. There are some teams in this initial projection who I would be shocked to see anywhere near their current line. But with only one conference slate underway (the MAAC) and the total uncertainty of what strengths of schedules will look like down the road, or what will really constitute a good win or a bad loss, here we go.
First, a brief explanation of the criteria I use:
- Strength of schedule: self-explanatory. It will change considerably (it did even between Friday, when I started putting together the data, and today), but why not use what we have now?
- RPI: its merits are questionable, but it’s used by the Selection Committee and most other people who do this, so I used it.
- Good wins: in my view, these are wins over teams that are also projected to be in the tournament or who at least have a reasonable shot of getting there right now.
- Bad losses: I define these as losses to teams that have as much chance of getting to the tournament as one of my middle school Rec & Ed teams. In other words, zero. At this point in the season, it takes a lot of confidence in a team’s sorriness for me to consider them a bad loss.
- Road records: go out and play someone! Teams that have actually done this so far are few and far between. Particularly the power conference teams, who tend to have a combination of home games and neutral site games in non-conference play. This one helped some of the non-power teams move up a bit.
With that in mind, here we go. I ranked the teams 1-68 and here is what I came up with.
1s – Baylor, Villanova, Kansas, Creighton
2s – Louisville, UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina
3s – Gonzaga, Duke, St. Mary’s, Xavier
4s – Florida, Minnesota, Florida State, Temple
5s – Southern Cal, Butler, South Carolina, Maryland
6s – Central Florida, Mississippi, Northwestern, Dayton
7s – Virginia, Middle Tennessee, Arkansas, Arizona
8s – Auburn, Purdue, Wake Forest, Providence
9s – Michigan State, Indiana, West Virginia, Notre Dame
10s –TCU, Pittsburgh, Michigan, Nevada
11s –Houston, Stanford, Wichita State, Georgia, Rhode Island
12s – Oregon, Wisconsin, Texas-Arlington, North Carolina-Wilmington, Charleston
13s – Florida Gulf Coast, Tennessee State, Valparaiso, Winthrop
14s – New Hampshire, IPFW, Ohio, Bucknell
15s – Iona, Eastern Washington, New Mexico State, Chattanooga
16s – Yale, Texas Southern, Sam Houston State, North Carolina Central, LIU-Brooklyn, UC-Irvine
LAST FOUR IN – Georgia, Rhode Island, Oregon, Wisconsin. That means these teams would play in the First Four, as would Sam Houston State, North Carolina Central, LIU-Brooklyn, and UC-Irvine.
FIRST FOUR OUT – Nebraska, Miami, VCU, Cincinnati
NEXT FOUR OUT – Illinois, Clemson, North Carolina State, Colorado
THIRD FOUR OUT – Virginia Tech, Massachusetts, Davidson, Texas A & M
FOURTH FOUR OUT – Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Saint Bonaventure, Rutgers
Any surprises there? Northwestern, who has never qualified for the NCAA tournament, is projected as a 6. I’d be stunned if Virginia were as low as a 7 or Michigan State as low as a 9. Oregon and Wisconsin figure to be much higher than 12 come March.
Not only that, but consider the breakdown by conference: 8 from the ACC, 8 from the Big Ten, 4 from the Big 12, 5 from the Big East, 5 from the Pac 12, and 7 from the SEC. Chances are the Big 12 gets more, the SEC gets less. I also think we’ll see more from the “mid-majors,” particularly the Mountain West and the Atlantic 10.
Yet another surprise: two teams from the Colonial Athletic, UNC-Wilmington and Charleston, are in right now. I’d love to see something like this actually happen. At the moment, UNC-Wilmington’s strength of schedule is 33rd, and Charleston’s is 12th. Both have a win over a team that is pushing the field (UNC-W at St. Bonaventure, Charleston vs. Davidson) and nothing close to a bad loss. Their SOS will undoubtedly suffer as they get into conference play. But it’s fun to consider the possibilities.
So, that will do it for the first of many projections I will do before the end of the conference tournaments. If you want to rip me because I have your team too low or want to discuss anything else related to bracketology, feel free to do so in the comments. And as always, remember to check out the Bracket Matrix, a must for those of us who are obsessed with this stuff.