- Jim Root
The tradition of releasing a Top 25 immediately following (or even before!) the conclusion of a college basketball season is a glorious one. It always sparks some debate, but more importantly, it serves as a sort of "group therapy" for so many college basketball fans who dread the cold, dark 7 months without NCAA hoops (yes I know it's almost summer). I'm one of those junkies, and during the run-up to the national title game, I started to combat my looming sadness by building a 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket. As draft and transfer decisions have poured out to start the offseason, I've tinkered with the seed list, and I'm sure this will become totally irrelevant when LeBron James somehow signs with Duke this offseason. That's part of the fun though, so here goes nothing!
Semi-related to that - at the bottom of this file, I have a Google doc showing my current NBA Draft assumptions. I'll update as those decisions are made, but the bracket itself won't get updated until I/we post something new after the deadline.
Click on the photos for a pop-out, larger version:
Green indicates a team that wasn't in the NCAA Tournament in 2018:
Here's a look at the changes to the "at-large" portion of the bracket compared to 2018's field of 68:
That may seem like a lot of new teams - and at extremely high seed lines, for some - but compared to this year's bracket turnover from 2017, it's actually kind of mild:
A whopping nineteen teams fell out of the at-large-level bucket this season, good for 53% of the available at-large bids. There are all kinds of reasons for this - the controversial Rick Pitino situation at Louisville, Bonzie Colson's injury at Notre Dame, terrible scheduling at St. Mary's - but the most common reason is simply roster depletion due to graduation/pro decisions. The teams I'm predicting to "fall out" this coming year are almost exclusively due to this reason - it's the new additions to 2019's field that are a far more inexact science (and probably the most fun teams to debate).
Note: Wichita State, Nevada, and Rhode Island all made the tournament in 2017 - so technically, the "new" teams in 2018 were Loyola-Chicago earning the MVC auto-bid, San Diego State earning the MWC auto-bid, and Davidson earning the A-10 auto-bid - but I figured it made more sense to present this at an "at-large level," for lack of a better term.
A quick run-through of some teams I'm higher/lower on than what I've seen on the rest of the internet:
Mississippi State - After the breakthrough seasons experienced by Tennessee and Auburn, the SEC once again feels like fairly wide open league. Draft defections have hurt nearly every team outside of Knoxville, and with a plethora of returning talent plus some intriguing new additions, the Bulldogs could make a sizable leap up the standings. LSU definitely qualifies for this as well - I think both teams will push Kentucky and Tennessee next year atop the league.
Syracuse - The Orange were 338th in experience last year and 351st in bench minutes. This year, they'll be a year older, and despite Darius Bazley choosing the glamorous life of $35k in the G-League, they'll have much better depth. Tyus Battle needs to come back (and the Orange perimeter shooting needs to get better), but I'm bullish on both of those things happening. Of course, if Jim Boeheim teams over the past 5 years are any indication, they'll end up squarely on the bubble once again.
NC State - Lots of Kevin Keatts love in this ranking, but I also think he'll have a talented roster that fits his scheme well. CJ Bryce and Devon Daniels will be good right away after sitting out as transfers, and JUCO big man (and former Ohio State player) Derek Funderburk projects as a solid replacement for the Wolfpack's departed big men (plus a couple tantalizing freshmen).
Related to these teams, welcome to the tournament Nebraska, Boston College, and UCF! The Cornhuskers were good enough last year to make the tourney; unfortunately, the unbalanced Big Ten schedule did them no favors, and they didn't pick up enough meaningful wins to get there. I think Tim Miles gets his second NCAA bid in Lincoln (lost to Baylor in the Round of 64 in 2014), which would also only be the second bid for the Huskers since 1998. In BC's case, their fate is entirely in the hands of Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson as they test the NBA Draft waters - if they come back, the Eagles could have their first bid since 2009, but if not, it's back to the ol' drawing board in Chestnut Hill. And it's probably folly to predict Johnny Dawkins, NIT Royalty, to make the Big Dance, but with BJ Taylor and Tacko Fall back plus a healthy Aubrey Dawkins, the Knights could get an invite for the first time since 2005 (and first ever at-large bid).
Duke - Per this John Gasaway article, no team has ever earned a 1-seed when bringing back less than 30% of its minutes from the previous season. For reference, barring a transfer, Duke should return around 22% of its minutes, so I'm going to ride with the data on this one. A couple other factors: 1) the 2019 recruiting class is widely regarded as weaker than most recent classes, and 2) this Blue Devil roster may completely lack spacing, as there's an alarming dearth of shooters.
Alabama - One of the few data-driven sites with 2019 projections up already, barttorvik.com projects the Tide at 21st despite the loss of Collin Sexton. I just don't see how they score - it's an extremely athletic squad with some streak shooting (John Petty!!!), but I'm pegging them as a team that disappoints next year as the offense struggles to stay in the Top 100 (they were 106th per KenPom this year with Sexton...).
One note - this bracket doesn't factor in Joseph Chartouny choosing Marquette - if it did, I'd bump the Golden Eagles up inside the Top 25. He's a perfect fit alongside Howard in the backcourt as a great defender with size, and the Hauser brothers are going to be matchup nightmares at the forward spots.
Wichita St. - It definitely feels weird to pick a Gregg Marshall team to miss the tournament (especially given that the American should be down somewhat next year), but the roster is so barren outside of Markis McDuffie that I can't get there. They could certainly outperform my expectations, but I'm gonna need to see it from Samajae Haynes-Jones and the freshmen first.
Another slight update - given more time, I'd probably swap Western Kentucky in as the C-USA autobid with Marshall's Ajdi Penava going pro and WKU securing the services of DeSean Murray. So feel free to make that switch in your mind!
And as promised above, here's my list of who I have going pro vs. coming back to college:
As mentioned, I plan to keep this list updated - but unfortunately, the above bracket won't get updated until sometime after the NBA Draft decisions are all final (May 30th, by NCAA rule).