April is a lifetime away.
And in between now and then I’m going to make a lot of wild and baseless college basketball predictions. But I thought on the eve of the season tip-off I would throw out some NCAA Tournament predictions and projections. Injuries, transfers, ineffectiveness, scandal, momentum and just the madness of college basketball will do everything to lay waste to these projections.
But you can never get there if you don’t know where you’re going, if you know what I mean.
Here are my preseason NCAA Tournament predictions and projections:
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Atlantic-10 (Projected Teams: 5)
Bubble: Butler*, Temple*, VCU*, Massachusetts*, St. Louis*, St. Joseph’s
Skinny: This is one of the deepest, most talented, most competitive mid-major conference I have ever seen. The 16-team, mega-mid-major conference has nine teams that could realistically win the conference title. Butler and VCU, two teams with a recent bevy of Final Four experience and tournament success, are the newcomers into what has always been a bit of an underrated league. Massachusetts has seven of its top nine players back from an NIT Final Four team, and Temple has a couple new talented new pieces ready to fill in for its departed backcourt. St. Louis has to overcome the loss of their coach and, for the time being, their best player. But there is still a ton of experience on that group. They aren’t as good as their preseason ranking, but they should find a groove.
ACC (Projected Teams: 5)
In: N.C. State*, Duke*, North Carolina*, Miami*, Florida State*
Bubble: Maryland, Georgia Tech, Virginia
Skinny: It is definitely strange that N.C. State enters the season as the best team in the ACC. But that’s the truth. Miami lost an exhibition game to a D-II team, so that tells me they aren’t ready to be a realistic ACC contender even if they have the talent to be. Florida State, Duke and North Carolina all have amazing coaches and outstanding systems, so they will be fine. But all three are rebuilding, and I expect some inconsistencies. I don’t think that any of the second-tier teams in this completely overrated conference (they haven’t been that strong for about three years now) are good enough to find their way into the Big Dance.
Big 12 (Projected Teams: 6)
In: Kansas*, Baylor*, Kansas State*
Bubble: West Virginia*, Oklahoma*, Iowa State, Texas*, Oklahoma State
Skinny: This is still a very good basketball conference despite losing Missouri and Texas A&M. Kansas is Kansas. They suffered massive personnel losses – again – but just keep on getting the job done and are the clear favorites. Baylor has an excellent backcourt and I think K-State will benefit from having a new coach in Bruce Weber. Texas’ season hinges on the status of Myck Kabongo. But even with him I think the Longhorns are way, way overrated. As a result, though, they’ll get more tournament consideration than they deserve. I think WVU will have some growing pains in the new league. I love Oklahoma’s experience and Lon Kruger is a magician. Oklahoma State has talent, but Travis Ford’s seat is going to start getting hot this year if he can’t work some magic.
Big East (Projected Teams: 8)
In: Syracuse*, Louisville*, Pittsburgh*, Marquette*, Georgetown*, Notre Dame*, Cincinnati*
Bubble: South Florida*, Providence
Skinny: Most of the teams that I have going to The Big Dance are pretty self-explanatory. South Florida is a tricky team to pin down. They really caught lightning in a bottle last year and have embraced their disgusting (but effective) style of play. They have five of eight top guys back and add some nice new pieces. But will last year’s late success translate? As always, there is a chance for a third-tier team from this league to earn some marquee wins and climb into the discussion.
Big Ten (Projected Teams: 7)
In: Indiana*, Michigan*, Michigan State*
Bubble: Ohio State*, Wisconsin*, Minnesota*, Illinois*, Iowa
Skinny: I am really splitting hairs between Illinois and Iowa in terms of that seventh bid from the Big Ten. And, again, I am just guessing between the two. I have been way down on the Illini the last two years, and I still don’t trust their guards’ shockingly awful decision-making. But I have a feeling that new coach John Groce is going to be a good fit, for this year anyway. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Iowa were to snap ahead of the Illini and grab that seventh bid. I will be surprised if both get in.
Conference USA (Projected Teams: 1)
Skinny: If Central Florida hadn’t undergone the disastrous offseason that it did then the Knights would have had a great shot at earning a bid. But this conference is way down this year, even by CUSA’s lowly standards. Memphis is head and shoulders above everyone.
Missouri Valley (Projected Teams: 2)
Bubble: Illinois State*, Wichita State, Northern Iowa
Skinny: Creighton is one of the best mid-major teams in the country thanks to their amazing frontcourt of Doug McDermott and Greg Echenique. But they are going to be in for a battle to win the Missouri Valley title. Illinois State is no joke. And if point guard Nic Moore hadn’t transferred then I might’ve stepped out and predicted the Redbirds to take this title. If they want a chance to garner an at-large bid, they may need to win the South Padre Invitational (Northwestern is the other top team in the field), beat Creighton at least once, and make the MVC finals. I think they will do two out of three and be one of the last teams in.
Mountain West (Projected Teams: 3)
In: UNLV*, San Diego State*
Bubble: Colorado State*, New Mexico
Skinny: The Mountain West, long one of the more underrated conferences in college basketball because it has such a shallow end, enjoyed four bids last season. This year they take a “step back” with just three bids. New Mexico is still a feisty team. But they don’t have the top-end talent in the frontcourt to make another run at 28 or 30 wins. I think Colorado State will earn back-to-back bids for the first time since 1989 and 1990.
Pac-12 (Projected Teams: 3)
Bubble: Arizona*, Stanford*, Washington, USC, Oregon State
Skinny: The Pac-12 definitely got screwed out of bids last year. And I think there is a chance that they will again this year. I believe that four teams should make it out of this conference, but I have a hard time stepping out and predicting consistency from any of the three teams I left off. Washington is not as good as the team that was snubbed last year. Oregon State would’ve been a lock if Jared Cunningham came back, but now they are light in the backcourt. And the team to watch is USC. Kevin O’Neill is a joke. But he has collected some solid, experienced players. And if they can get off to a hot start some momentum could carry them to a deep P-12 run.
SEC (Projected Teams: 6)
In: Kentucky*, Florida*, Missouri*
Bubble: Tennessee*, Arkansas*, Alabama*, Georgia
Skinny: Just like in the Big Ten, I am pretty much just flipping a coin between the last two teams. And, ironically, I could see a situation where neither SEC team gets in and that eighth team in the Big Ten steals the bid. However, I will take a flier on Anthony Grant’s club. They have a mammoth hole in the frontcourt now that Jay Green and Tony Mitchell are gone. But Grant is solid and this team has a harder edge (and a bit more experience) than the Bulldogs, who are a year away from being potentially very good.
WCC (Projected Teams: 2)
In: Gonzaga*, St. Mary’s*
Skinny: St. Mary’s probably isn’t the “lock” that I have them posted as here. But I am projecting as much as predicting, if that makes sense, and I feel very comfortable that the Gaels are going to have a good year. Matt Dellavedova is nearly good enough to carry this team to the dance all by himself. The team to watch is BYU. Brandon Davies is a stud in the post. And they have five starters back. But Matt Carlino is a wild card because he is one of those erratic, but talented, players that keep both teams in every game. The key for the Cougars will be the return of Tyler Haws. If he is sharp then the Cougars have a great chance to get in.
Automatic Bid Leagues (Projected Teams: 20):
America East – Stony Brook
Atlantic Sun – USC-Upstate
Big Sky – Montana
Big South – Charleston Southern
Big West – Long Beach State
Colonial – Drexel**
Horizon – Valparaiso
Ivy League – Princeton
Metro – Manhattan
Mid-American – Akron
MEAC – Morgan State
Northeast – Wagner
Ohio Valley – Tennessee State
Patriot League – Lehigh
Southern – Davidson**
Southland – Oral Roberts
SWAC – Jackson State
Summit – South Dakota State
Sun Belt – North Texas**
WAC – Utah State
*Denotes team projected for the NCAA Tournament.
**Denotes team that could earn an at-large bid if they do not win their conference championship.
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