The South Region is led by some top seeds who were bounced early in the NCAA tournament last season as Virginia and Tennessee look to redeem themselves after strong seasons.
The South Region is led by No. 1 seed Virginia. Following last season’s stunning loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round, the Cavaliers will get a chance to redeem themselves against No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb, the champions of the Big South.
The No. 8/9 matchup is a matchup between SEC and Big 12 as Ole Miss and Oklahoma battle. The Rebels were one of the most pleasant surprises of any team in the field this season while Oklahoma has won some games down the stretch to earn another bid.
Wisconsin draws the No. 5 seed as the Ethan Happ-led Badgers get a major test in No. 12 seed and Pac-12 Tournament champion Oregon. Although the Ducks struggled during the regular season — particularly after the loss of star freshman Bol Bol — they’re a dangerous team with two recent wins over Washington.
The No. 4 seed is Kansas State as they are still hoping to get senior forward Dean Wade (foot) healthy enough to play in the NCAA tournament after he missed all of last season’s Elite Eight run for the Wildcats. They’ll face No. 13 seed UC Irvine, the champions of the Big West.
Defending champion Villanova drew no favors from the committee with the No. 6 seed. There hasn’t been a No. 6 seed in the Final Four since 1992 as the Wildcats will have an uphill battle to make the Final Four for the third time in four years. They draw No. 11 seed Saint Mary’s as the Gaels gained a lot of momentum in winning the WCC title over No. 1 seed Gonzaga.
Earning a surprising share of the Big Ten regular-season title this season, Purdue draws the No. 3 seed as they get a tough first-round opponent in No. 14 seed Old Dominion.
The committee also didn’t help No. 7 seed Cincinnati as the Bearcats had an impressive showing in an AAC title-game win over Houston on Sunday. The Bearcats will face No. 10 seed Iowa in a clash of styles and tempo.
After falling short in the SEC tournament title game, No. 2 seed Tennessee gets a matchup with No. 15 seed Colgate — a program making its first NCAA tournament appearance in 23 years. Although the Raiders feature the Patriot League Player of the Year in forward Rapolas Ivanauskas, they’ll face one of the best frontcourts in the tournament with the Vols’ veteran combo of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.
NBC Sports Top 25: The final power rankings of the college basketball season
Yes, I’m the guy that still has Duke at No. 1. I explained why in detail last week, and I’m not going to do it again, especially now that it appears Zion Williamson will be back for the ACC tournament.
And just to make it clear: This does not mean that I believe Duke should be a No. 1 seed. I don’t. Losses, even if they come when a team is not at full strength, need to matter for things like NCAA tournament seeding. They don’t matter when it comes to how the industry — and me, specifically — rank which of those teams are the best.
Beyond that, there isn’t all that much to talk about in what will be the final top 25 of the 2018-19 season.
I bumped Texas Tech up to fifth after they won a share of the Big 12 regular season title. Outside of a three-week stretch in January when Jarrett Culver forgot how to shoot, the Red Raiders were the best team in that conference. With the way they are shooting and scoring the ball in the last month combined with that defense, they are very much a threat to win a national title.
One other thing that I’ll note here: I think there are three tiers at the top of college hoops. At the top is a healthy Duke, Gonzaga and Virginia. Right behind that trio sits North Carolina, Texas Tech, Tennessee and Kentucky. I think those seven are pretty clearly the top seven teams in the country, and one you get past them, it starts to get wild. Purdue, Kansas State, Michigan State, Houston, Michigan, Florida State, Nevada. I think there is an argument for all of these teams to be ranked in the back end of the top ten.
NEWARK, N.J. — Seton Hall may have punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a pair of stunning upsets in the final week of the regular season in the Big East Conference.
Myles Powell scored 20 points, Myles Cale added 19 and Seton Hall upset No. 23 Villanova 79-75 Saturday, just three days after knocking off No. 16 Marquette to revive its chances of going to college basketball’s biggest tournament.
“We just beat two ranked teams. We beat Kentucky. We beat Maryland,” said Powell, who added seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in more than 36 minutes. “The list goes on. We can play with anybody in the country when we are playing our basketball.”
Seton Hall (18-12, 9-9), picked to finish eighth in the 10-team conference in the preseason poll, has exceeded all expectations playing with lone senior Michael Nzei.
Villanova (22-9, 13-5) will win at least a share of its sixth straight regular-season conference title. They will share the crown with Marquette, if the Golden Eagles beat Georgetown later Saturday. The Wildcats will win it outright if the Hoyas win.
“Seton Hall played really well right from the start, very locked in, very ready to play,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “For whatever reason, a number of little reasons, we just didn’t have our guys ready to play at the start. They just jumped us early and it took us until the second half to really get going, which is disappointing.
“But that’s what happened, and I was proud of our guys. We actually started competing in the second half and it just wasn’t enough.”
Jared Rhoden had a career-high 15 points, Sandro Mamukelashvili had 12 and a career-best 18 rebounds for Seton Hall. Nzei added 10 in his final home game.
“Our main focus right now is to win the Big East championship,” said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, whose team will have a first-round bye.
Collin Gillespie had 22 points and Phil Booth came on late to add 16 for Villanova. Eric Paschall had 14, Saddiq Bey added 13 and Jermaine Samuels 10. The Wildcats, who have won of the last three national titles, didn’t get a point from their bench.
“They were playing with great confidence coming off the Marquette game,” Wright said of Seton Hall. “They looked really dialed in, just really efficient and we were not. You play a good team like that, you can’t play 25 minutes.”
This was almost like a tournament game with the Wildcats looking to clinch the regular-season crown and Seton Hall fighting to stay in the hunt for an NCAA berth.
Villanova rallied from a 16-point deficit early in the second half to draw within 66-65 on two free throws by Gillespie with 3:57 to go.
That would be as close as they got as Nzei scored inside and Mamukelashvili hit a follow for a 70-65 lead.
The Wildcats never got closer than three points the rest of the way.
“This feels really good, knowing we accomplished a lot,” Cale said of this week. “But we know its unfinished business. We have to do more in the Big East Tournament. We are looking to go to the NCAA Tournament and see what we can do there.”
The Pirates led most of the game and it ballooned from a 39-28 halftime lead to 16 points in the opening minutes of the second half. Powell hit two free throws and Cale, who was in a bit of a slump recently, hit a 3-pointer.
Villanova didn’t wait long to start its comeback, scoring the next 13 points to draw within 44-41 on two free throws by Paschall.
It was Seton Hall’s turn after that. Cale hit a 3-pointer to ignite a 12-4 run that put the Pirates ahead 56-45 with 11:38 to go.
Over the next eight minutes, the Wildcats whittled to lead down to a point, but that was it.
Villanova: Play in the Big East Tournament and then go to NCAA Tournament.
Seton Hall: Try to win the Big East and earn automatic berth.
Villanova: A first-round bye in the Big East Tournament. Play in quarterfinals on Thursday as the top or second seed.
Seton Hall: Will be the No. 3 or No. 4 seed in tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Here is everything you need to know when betting the biggest games this weekend.
As always, this is coming out before the Vegas lines for Saturday’s games, so we are using projections from KenPom, Torvik and Haslametrics to walk through how the game will play out.
No. 4 DUKE at No. 3 NORTH CAROLINA, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)
KENPOM PROJECTION: North Carolina 84, Duke 83
TORVIK PROJECTION: North Carolina 87, Duke 85
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: North Carolina 87, Duke 85
This game is going to be one that is difficult to project because we don’t have an absolute answer on Zion Williamson’s status as of this writing. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski hinted at the idea that he would not be playing after their 71-70 miracle win over Wake Forest in Cameron on Tuesday night, so I would guess that he will likely be out.
I also have no feel for what the line or the total is going to end up being because there is no way that Vegas is going to rely on the projections for this one. Put another way, if the line opens at North Carolina (-2), I will bet everything I own including the dog on the Tar Heels.
Remember, this is a North Carolina team that went into Cameron and beat the Blue Devils by 16 points when Zion Williamson wasn’t playing. This time, they will be playing at home with a chance to land a sweep over their archrivals with a share of the ACC title — or, if Virginia loses to Louisville earlier in the day, the outright ACC title — on the line.
PICKS: We have talked plenty about just how much Williamson’s absence affects Duke, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. Without him, they lose rim protection. They lose their best rebounder. They lose the guy that forces live-ball turnovers and pick-six layups. They lose the guy that they can put on Luke Maye and know that they’ll have him neutralized.
But beyond that, they lose a guy that can score in transition and a guy that can get them easy buckets on the offensive glass. North Carolina isn’t exactly known for being a defensive powerhouse, but they are 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency this season and Duke, as we know, can struggle to score when they are forced into the halfcourt and their shots aren’t falling.
Put another way, there is no chance that I am going to be on the Duke side of this bet. The question is just how high the line needs to be before I think the Tar Heels lose value, and for me, it’s probably right around (-9). I also want no part of betting the under here, but I would probably only consider the over if the total opens around the mid-150s.
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan State 70, Michigan 64
A rivalry game between two top ten teams with a Big Ten regular season title on the line. That sounds like a great way to end the final Saturday of the college hoops regular season.
The first time these two teams got together, Michigan State was playing just their second game after Nick Ward fractured a bone in his hand. We don’t have a definitive answer on Ward either way, and there was some speculation earlier this week that he might be ready to go, but for now I am going to operate with the mindset that he is not playing. The same can be said about Charles Matthews.
When these two teams squared off just 13 days ago, Michigan State changed the way that the defend ball-screens to tailor their defense to Michigan’s personnel: They went way under every ball-screen that Zavier Simpson was involved and, when it was Jon Teske setting those screens, they switch 1-to-5. The Wolverines haven’t played since Sunday, meaning that John Beilein will have had a full week to figure out a way to attack that defense.
I also think that it’s important to note that Zavier Simpson is as competitive as anyone in the country, and that he is not going to be happy about just how badly Cassius Winston cooked him when they played. Winston had 27 points and eight assists, and of the 57 possessions that Michigan State had before the Wolverines started fouling, 36 were a result of Winston ball-screens and another nine were run through Winston. He shoulders a massive load offensively, and Simpson is going to be the guy tasked with stopping him.
PICKS: This will likely be a stay-away from me, depending on what the lines opens at. I don’t want to bet on Michigan on the road, but I also don’t want to bet on Michigan State sweeping their archrival without three of their top seven or eight players. I fully expect this game to be close, so if the line gets to, say, Michigan (+5.5), I’ll buy the Wolverines.
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Texas Tech 72, Iowa State 67
These are two teams trending in very, very different directions.
Texas Tech has won eight in a row and ten of their last 11. They are currently tied for first in the Big 12 title race with Kansas State, and a win on Saturday afternoon would guarantee at least a share of — and possibly the outright — Big 12 regular season title. Iowa State, on the other hand, has lost two in a row and five of their last seven. They were blown out at Texas and at West Virginia in the last six days and they have lost three games in Hilton Coliseum this season.
The Red Raiders lost at home against the Cyclones earlier this year, but that was a different time and place for both of these teams. Texas Tech has been the best shooting team in the country over the course of the last six weeks, vaulting themselves from outside the top 100 in adjusted offensive efficiency into the top 40. Iowa State, on the other hand, may or may not have had a fight in practice that may or may not have resulted in Marial Shayok possibly breaking a toe by kicking a door. He did not play against WVU. On Wednesday night, Talen Horton-Tucker and Michael Jacobson had a bit of a shoving match on the court in the second half.
It’s a mess in Ames right now.
PICKS: I’m going to be very interested to see where this line opens. up. The average of the projections is about Texas Tech (-2.5), and while this game is going to be played in Ames, I think that number will climb. Considering that the Red Raiders have won three straight road games by an average of 15 points and that they will be playing with the Big 12 title on the line, I’d probably take Tech up to about (-8). There’s only one side that I want to be on in this game.
OKLAHOMA at No. 18 KANSAS STATE, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas State 65, Oklahoma 59
TORVIK PROJECTION: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma 60
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma 61
The first thing to note here is that Kansas State is going to know what they are playing for. If Texas Tech wins, they will be playing for a share of the Big 12 title. If Texas Tech loses, they get to be the first team not named Kansas to win an outright Big 12 title since Oklahoma State in 2004. Either way, there is a ton of motivation here for K-State.
I also think it is worth noting that Oklahoma more or less punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament with a win over Kansas on Tuesday night. Now they are turning around and playing on the road against a team that beat them by 13 points in Norman.
PICKS: Oklahoma has finished the season strong after losing five straight in the middle of Big 12 play. They’ve won four of their last five games, and while their defense has regressed to the mean a little bit, they are still better on that end of the floor than they are offensively. I think they can make it interesting, and I think that brings the over into play.
But the best bet here is, I think, Kansas State (-5.5) or so. I’ll be a little bit worried if the line climbs past (-7.5) because, like I said, I can see Oklahoma hanging with the Wildcats.
That said, this game will be played on Senior Night in Bramlage Coliseum, which has been known as the Octagon of Doom. They will be playing for the right to either be co-Big 12 champs or outright Big 12 champs in the first year that Kansas has not one the league in 14 years. To get a sense of what that rivalry means to Kansas State, the Wildcat fans stormed the floor after beating Kansas earlier this year despite the fact that they were in first place in the Big 12 at the time.
That building will be rocking on Saturday.
No. 5 TENNESSEE at AUBURN, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Tennessee 76, Auburn 75
TORVIK PROJECTION: Tennessee 77, Auburn 76
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Tennessee 77, Auburn 75
Do you trust Tennessee’s defense? In the last two games, the Vols have put together their best two defensive performances of the season. They held Kentucky to 52 points and Mississippi State to 54 points. They’ve forced 17 turnovers in each of the last two games and held them to a combined 31 percent shooting from the floor and 25.7 percent shooting from three. Auburn, as we know, shoots a ton of threes, and the two biggest weaknesses the Vols have had defensively this season have been the defensive glass and running opponents off of the three-point line.
And that brings me to a larger point: The status of Austin Wiley. Wiley is a guy that might be able to play the role that Reid Travis did for Kentucky the first time the Vols and the Wildcats played, someone that can keep Tennessee from sealing in the paint and force Grant Williams out of the lane. He’s missed the last three games and has say eight of the last 14 in SEC play. There are only two high-major programs — Arkansas and Washington — that are worse on the defensive glass that Auburn, and Tennessee does have some guys that can create second chance points.
PICKS: Auburn is going to have a lot to play for here — they really don’t have many great wins — but I have a hard time seeing Tennessee losing. The Vols will be playing for an SEC title, and while LSU plays after them, the Tigers are playing Vanderbilt (0-17 in the SEC) at home. The Vols have to win, and rolling the way they are rolling, I can’t see them losing.
And the more I think about it, the more I like the under … despite the fact that I said the opposite on the podcast. (Whoops.) Tennessee’s defense is playing much better and so much of what Auburn does offensively comes off of their ability to force turnovers. They lead the nation in defensive turnover rate. Tennessee is 23rd nationally in offensive turnover rate.
No. 23 VILLANOVA at SETON HALL, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 68
TORVIK PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 68
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 68
Seton Hall more or less punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament on Wednesday night with a come-from-behind win over Marquette, and while they’ll still have something to play for — better seeding in the NCAA and Big East tournaments, senior night, etc. — Villanova will have a lot more on the line. The Wildcats are playing for the outright Big East regular season title. Win and they get it.
PICKS: I am probably staying away from this game. I have no interest in betting against Villanova to win a championship of any sort. I also have no interest in betting on Villanova to win on the road when they have lost their last four games on the road.
Houston picked off SMU on Thursday night, but Cincinnati could not fulfill their side of the bargain. The Bearcats lost at UCF, which means that the Cougars now hold a one game lead on Cincinnati. Instead of a game that is being played for the outright AAC regular season title, Cincinnati is hoping to earn a share of the crown.
PICKS: When it comes down to it, in a game like that, I tend to lean towards the home team. Unless Houston is getting three or four points, I’ll probably end up on Cincinnati.
FLORIDA at No. 6 KENTUCKY, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (CBS)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Kentucky 68, Florida 58
TORVIK PROJECTION: Kentucky 67, Florida 59
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kentucky 68, Florida 56
The is a must-win game for Florida, who has found a way to lose close quite a bit this season. They are 17-13, but thanks to the fact that they haven’t lost a game by more than 14 since Nov. 6th, they are still 30th in KenPom and 32nd in the NET.
PICKS: That is more or less where I am at with this game. Kentucky has struggled in the last weeks. Florida has lost two in a row, both at home, but they almost always play teams close.
We’re just under two weeks away from this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Show, and the race is on for the coveted spots along the No. 1 seed line.
Gonzaga seems like a lock to lead the West Region. At this point, a loss in the West Coast Conference tournament will do little to change the Zags’ overall profile. What it would do, however, is send ripples along the bubble, because as we stand now, the WCC appears to be a one-bid league.
Tennessee earns the final No. 1 seed today. Kentucky and North Carolina are equally strong contenders. And let’s not sleep on Michigan if the Wolverines win their rematch against Michigan State and surge to a Big 10 tournament title. We also have another matchup between Duke and UNC as we await news about the availability of Zion Williamson.
On a housekeeping note … with conference tournaments beginning this week, we’ve eliminated the CAPS referring to automatic bids; those will be reserved now as teams officially punch their tickets (exceptions made for teams traditionally known by their acronym – such as VCU).
UPDATED: March 4, 2019
FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
Temple vs. Seton Hall
Minnesota vs. Arizona State
Iona vs. Norfolk State
Prairie View vs. St. Francis (PA)
EAST – Washington, DC
WEST – Anaheim
Salt Lake City
16) Iona / Norfolk St
16) Prairie View / St. Francis
9) St. John’s
5) Mississippi State
5) Kansas State
12) Temple / Seton Hall
12) Minnesota / Arizona St
4) Florida State
3) Texas Tech
14) Texas State
10) Utah State
2) Michigan State
MIDWEST – Kansas City
SOUTH – Louisville
16) Sam Houston St
9) Ole Miss
5) Virginia Tech
13) New Mexico St
13) Old Dominion
Salt Lake City
6) Iowa State
11) NC State
14) South Dakota St
10) Ohio State
2) North Carolina
15) Wright State
Last 4 Byes
Last 4 IN
First 4 OUT
Next 4 OUT
TOP SEED LINE: Virginia is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Gonzaga, Duke, and Tennessee
Breakdown by Conference …
ACC (8): VIRGINIA, Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Syracuse, NC State
Big East (4): MARQUETTE, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall
American (4): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple
Pac 12 (2): WASHINGTON, Arizona State
Mountain West (2): NEVADA, Utah State
Southern (1): WOFFORD
Atlantic 10 (1): VCU
Mid American (1): BUFFALO
West Coast (1): GONZAGA
ONE BID LEAGUES:Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Iona (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), Sam Houston State (SLND), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Campbell (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Colgate (PAT), St. Francis (PA) (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)
I know that I’m probably going to end up getting some flack for this, but I’m sticking to my guns.
I believe that Duke is the best team in college basketball. The only team that they have lost to when they’ve been at full strength is the No. 2 team in the country, who beat them by two points on a neutral court. They swept the team that is sitting at No. 3, including a double-digit win on Virginia’s home floor. As far as we know, Zion Williamson is going to be back at some point this season, and it might be as soon as Tuesday’s game against Wake Forest.
So I’m going to leave Duke at No. 1. If Zion doesn’t play on Tuesday, then I will start worrying about whether or not he is actually going to be back in time for the game at North Carolina, the ACC tournament and, eventually, the NCAA tournament. If Zion is not going to come back to play this season, I think would slot Duke at eighth, behind Michigan and in front of Purdue, Kansas State and LSU.
One other point that I think needs to be made here: This is not necessarily how I would seed these teams if the NCAA tournament started today. If it did, Virginia and Gonzaga would be the top two seeds with Tennessee, Duke and Kentucky sliding in behind them in some order I’m not totally certain of. But even if Duke ends up as a No. 2 seed or the last No. 1 seed in the field, I would still set them as favorites to win the national title.
Beyond that, the only major change to the top ten is that I flipped Tennessee and Kentucky. I can see them being ranked either way, and I am 100 percent here for the rubber match coming in the SEC tournament title game, although it does not look like that is something that will happen.
I’ve also vaulted Purdue and Kansas State into the top ten with LSU sitting at No. 11. I really have no idea what to make of the teams sitting between No. 9 and No. 16, and I’m not sure I’d quibble with them being in any order.