Bracketology: Florida in driver’s seat for overall No. 1 seed

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With its victory over Kentucky – and Arizona’s loss at Oregon – the Florida Gators are in the driver’s seat for the overall No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.  Regardless, the Gators will be the top seed in the South Region with opening round games in nearby Orlando.  The remaining No. 1 seeds as we begin Championship Week: Arizona (West), Wichita State (Midwest) and Villanova (East).

At this point, the first three No. 1 seeds appear to be locked-in.  Which leaves us one spot for three or four teams.  At least that’s how it appears today.  The contenders include Villanova (as noted above), Kansas, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  Virginia is still in the hunt, but its journey became much tougher after Sunday’s loss at Maryland.  Achieving a No. 1 seed with eight losses would be something new, but few teams in history have played Kansas’ schedule.  If Michigan wins the Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines would have a legitimate argument.  They possess a higher number of NCAA-level wins than Villanova – due to the strength of the Big Ten as compared to the Big East.  Wisconsin’s non-conference performance – with victories over Florida and Virginia – would help the Badgers’ case if they find the winner’s circle in Indianapolis next Sunday.

MOREFlorida, Wichita State are still sitting atop NBCSports.com’s Top 25

We’ll be updating the bracket every day this week as automatic qualifiers arrive and conference tournaments continue.  Teams that have clinched automatic berths are listed in ALL CAPS – with the exception of teams like BYU and UCLA.

The bubble remains a work in progress.  Nebraska grabbed a spot after beating Wisconsin on Sunday. Xavier, Tennessee, and BYU join the Huskers at the First Four in Dayton.  It’s a big week for those teams and several others who are just above the last four at-larges.  We’ll have to see how it plays out.

Teams in CAPS represent the projected AUTOMATIC bid based on current standings with RPI as a tiebreaker for teams with the same number of losses. Exceptions are made for teams that use an abbreviation (UCLA, BYU, etc).

Several new bracketing principles were introduced after last year’s tournament. You can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Nebraska vs. Tennessee | Midwest Region
  • Xavier vs. BYU | South Region
  • Alabama State vs. Wofford | East Region
  • Weber State vs. COASTAL CAROLINA | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

SOUTH – Memphis                       WEST Anaheim
Orlando San Diego
1) Florida 1) Arizona
16) Robert Morris 16) Utah Valley
8) Kansas State 8) George Washington
9) Arizona State 9) Gonzaga
Spokane San Diego
5) Ohio State 5) Oklahoma
12) BYU / Xavier 12) Toledo
4) Louisville 4) Michigan State
13) S.F. Austin 13) North Dakota State
Buffalo San Antonio
6) New Mexico 6) Baylor
11) Dayton 11) Stanford
3) Syracuse 3) Creighton
14) Boston University 14) MERCER
Milwaukee Raleigh
7) VCU 7) Memphis
10) SMU 10) Saint Joseph’s
2) Wisconsin 2) Virginia
15) UC-Irvine 15) Stony Brook
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Buffalo St. Louis
1) Villanova 1) WICHITA STATE
16) Wofford / Alabama State 16) Weber State / CO CAROLINA
8) Oklahoma State 8) Kentucky
9) Iowa 9) Oregon
Spokane Orlando
5) North Carolina 5) Texas
12) Louisiana Tech 12) HARVARD
4) San Diego State 4) Duke
13) Delaware 13) Iona
San Antonio Raleigh
6) Massachusetts 6) Saint Louis
11) Arkansas 11) Tennessee / Nebraska
3) Iowa State 3) Cincinnati
14) EASTERN KENTUCKY 14) Georgia State
Milwaukee St. Louis
7) Connecticut 7) UCLA
10) Colorado 10) Pittsburgh
2) Michigan 2) Kansas
15) Wright State 15) NC-Central

NOTES on the BRACKET: Florida remains the overall No. 1 seed followed by Arizona, Wichita State, and Villanova.

Last Five teams in (at large): Stanford, Nebraska, Xavier, Tennessee, BYU

First Five teams out (at large): California, Georgetown, Minnesota, Missouri, St. John’s

Next five teams out (at large): Providence, Southern Miss, Green Bay, Florida State, Illinois

Breakdown by Conference …

Big 12 (7): Kansas, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma State

Pac 12 (6): Arizona, UCLA, Stanford, Arizona State, Oregon, Colorado

Atlantic 10 (6): Massachusetts, VCU, Saint Louis, George Washington, Saint Joseph’s, Dayton

Big Ten (6): Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska

ACC (5): Duke, Virginia, Syracuse, North Carolina, Pittsburgh

American (5): Louisville, Memphis, Connecticut, Cincinnati, SMU

SEC (4): Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee

Big East (3): Creighton, Villanova, Xavier

Mountain West (2): New Mexico, San Diego State

West Coast (2): Gonzaga, BYU

Missouri Valley (1): Wichita State

Conference Automatic Qualifiers … Louisiana Tech (C-USA), EASTERN KENTUCKY (Ohio Valley), Georgia State (Sun Belt), Boston University (Patriot), North Dakota State (Summit), Wright State (Horizon), Wofford (Southern), Utah Valley (WAC), Iona (MAAC), Stephen F. Austin (Southland), Toledo (MAC), MERCER (A-Sun), HARVARD (IVY), UC-Irvine (Big West), Delaware (Colonial), Stony Brook (American East), Weber State (Big Sky), NC-Central (MEAC), COASTAL CAROLINA (Big South), Robert Morris (NEC), Alabama State (SWAC)

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

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Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.