NCAA Tournament Projections and Predictions
This is a great year to be an NCAA Tournament bubble team.
We are still more than a month out from Selection Sunday, and there is a lot of college basketball to be played. But a quick scan of the field tells me there will be a whole bunch of teams going dancing this year that wouldn't get a sniff of The Big Dance in most normal years.
Selection Sunday is March 17, and the NCAA Tournament begins with the play-in games set for Tuesday, March 19 and Wednesday March 20 in Dayton. The first round begins on Thursday, March 21, and the Final Four will take place on April 6 in Minneapolis.
Since it is still pretty early in the process, I was judicious with my evaluation of teams that are "locks" in the NCAA Tournament field. I have 15 teams that are definitely in the field. There are probably 15 more that, barring a complete and total collapse, will find itself in the tournament.
There are three teams - Buffalo (MAC), Gonzaga (WCC) and Nevada (Mountain West) - that are also already in the field. These three teams all hail from leagues that should get just one bid, and if the three resounding favorites were to get upset in their respective conference tournaments they would still be dancing. However, the team that pulled the conference tourney upset would end up stealing a bid from a bubble team in a major conference.
Below I have 31 bubble teams listed. A whopping 28 of them I have in the field. And that includes some teams with incredibly soft resumes like Temple and Syracuse. However, there really just isn't a lot of competition for the final slots in the NCAA Tournament. Right now I have 10 teams competing for the final seven spots. But none of the teams that eventually get left out really have much of a gripe, since I don't know that any of those 10 teams actually deserve to be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Here are my 2018-2019 NCAA tournament projections, version 1.0:
* = Projected tournament team
^ = Last teams in the field
American Athletic (Projected Teams: 4)
Bubble: Houston*, Cincinnati*, Central Florida*, Temple^
Skinny: Houston is 21-1 and currently in the Top 15, so they are about as close to a lock as you can get. Cincinnati, based on sheer name recognition, is right behind them. However, both teams have pretty flimsy resumes in terms of actual impressive wins. Central Florida is not on anyone's radar right now. But four of their final 10 regular-season games come against the two top dogs in the AAC, so they will have a chance to pick up some quality wins. Don't completely write of Temple. This is Fran Dunphy's final year in coaching. It wouldn't stun me to see the NCAA Tournament selection committee give him a career-achievement bid.
ACC (Projected Teams: 8)
Locks: Virginia*, Duke*, North Carolina*
Bubble : Virginia Tech*, Florida State*, Louisville*, N.C. State^, Syracuse^
Skinny: Neither N.C. State nor Syracuse has really done anything to earn a bid. However, I can see both getting in purely on brand recognition. Sure, N.C. State beat Auburn and Syracuse beat Duke. But both have been erratic all season long. They play one another on Feb. 13 in Raleigh in a game that could have major implications on Selection Sunday.
Big 12 (Projected Teams: 7)
Locks: Kansas*, Kansas State*, Iowa State*
Bubble : Baylor*, Texas Tech*, TCU, Oklahoma*, Texas^
Skinny: The Longhorns are just 12-10 and are the perfect example of how weak this bubble is. Sure, they beat North Carolina and Purdue in the nonconference. They also lost to Radford and they are just 2-6 in their last eight league games. TCU needs to hope that USC, SMU or Fresno State end up making noise in their respective leagues to bolster the Horned Frogs' overall resume because the Frogs haven't done much in Big 12 play. Oklahoma is another sagging squad. But their Top 20 overall schedule - and a slew of really close losses - could sway the committee.
Big East (Projected Teams: 6)
Locks: Villanova*, Marquette*,
Bubble : St. John's*, Butler*, Seton Hall^
Skinny: Despite going just 2-7 in their last nine regular-season games, the Pirates still have a shot by virtue of their key nonconference win over Kentucky. Butler is another quietly weak team that I can see getting plopped into the field. And St. John's pulling a sweep over Marquette could help compensate for one of the worst nonconference schedules in the country (No. 320).
Big Ten (Projected Teams: 8)
Locks: Michigan*, Michigan State*, Purdue*, Wisconsin*
Bubble: Maryland*, Iowa*, Minnesota*, Indiana, Ohio State^
Skinny: Ohio State has crumbled after a 12-1 start to the season, going just 2-6 in their last eight league games. Indiana has been even worse, wining just one time in their last eight games to squander a 12-2 start to the year. However, wins over Michigan State, Marquette, Louisville and Butler will likely keep the Hoosiers in the conversation longer than they deserve.
Mountain West (Projected Teams: 1)
Bubble: Utah State
Skinny: Utah State is kind of filling the role that St. Mary's has played the past five years as "good but not great second fiddle in a soft western conference". The Aggies have won seven straight games and are playing well. They may need to spring the upset on Nevada in Logan on March 2 to warrant true consideration.
Pac-12 (Projected Teams: 2)
Bubble: Washington*, Arizona State*
Skinny: The Pac-12 is a mess this year. Washington has won 11 straight games and is 9-0 in league play at the moment. Yet they aren't even in the Top 25, and the Huskies didn't score a single significant nonconference win. Arizona State's win over Kansas is often pointed to for their candidacy. But wins over Mississippi State and Utah State could come back to help them. (Will it be enough to overcome embarrassing losses to Vanderbilt, Princeton and Stanford, though?)
SEC (Projected Teams: 8)
Locks: Tennessee*, Kentucky*
Bubble : LSU*, Auburn*, Mississippi State*, Mississippi*, Florida^, Alabama*
Skinny: The SEC's biggest problem may end up being that, much like the Big Ten and ACC, the league can't stop cannibalizing itself. I haven't even included South Carolina and Arkansas on the bubble list, each of which has a few standout victories on their resume. Florida is just 12-10, and in any normal year they wouldn't warrant serious consideration. They do have several chances over the next month to pick up marquee wins, though, and if they could knock off Tennessee or Kentucky they could value themselves back into the discussion.
Automatic Bid Leagues (Projected Teams: 24):
Atlantic 10 - Davidson*
America East - Vermont*
Atlantic Sun - Liberty*
Big Sky - Montana* or Weber State
Big South - Radford*
Big West - UC-Irvine*
Colonial - Hofstra* or Charleston
Conference USA - Western Kentucky*
Horizon - Wright State*
Ivy League - Harvard*
Metro - Rider*
Mid-American - Buffalo*
Missouri Valley - Loyola-Chicago*
MEAC - Norfolk State*
Northeast - Robert Morris*
Ohio Valley - Murray State*
Patriot League - Bucknell*
Southern - Wofford*
Southland - Sam Houston State*
SWAC - Texas Southern*
Summit - South Dakota State*
Sun Belt - Georgia State*
WAC - New Mexico State* or Grand Canyon
WCC - Gonzaga*
*Denotes team projected for the NCAA Tournament.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has an unrivaled run of 12 of 13 winning nonconference seasons and 10 of 12 winning regular seasons. Robert has posted three straight winning college basketball months to start this season and has rung up an incredible 34 of 46 winning months over the last 10 years. There is no better moneymaker in the nation and Robert is looking forward to another amazing season. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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