It’s about time I roll out my first bracketology predictions for March Madness 2020. I am taking my stab at predicting the committee’s choice for the 68-team tournament set to tip-off on Saint Patty’s Day – March 17th.
The tournament format has remained constant since 2011. The 4 worst league winners and the 4 worst at-large teams meet in Dayton, OH for the “First Four”. Although these 4 games count as official tournament games, a victory gets you to the first round – where the “real” tournament begins.
From here, the remaining 64 teams play a traditional single-elimination tournament with half of the teams being eliminated each round. The field is split into 4 regions – East, West, South, and Midwest. Teams are seeded 1-16 in each region, with the 1 playing the 16, the 2 playing the 15, and so on.
When predicting the field, I look at strength of schedule, win-loss record, current form, and of course the “eye test”. A 13-6 team with a top-10 win is more appealing than a 13-6 team without one. Likewise, a 13-6 team on a 4-game win streak is more appealing than a 13-6 team on a 3-game losing streak.
Why is this my criteria? Simple. These are the same tests the selection committee will put teams through in March. My goal is to predict which teams will rise to the top during the home stretch and which will flounder. I’m putting myself in the committee’s shoes.
This is not one of those if the season ended today brackets. This is where I see these teams finishing come Selection Sunday – March 15th.
2019 NCAA Tournament Predictions – Automatic Bids
There are 32 D-1 conferences whose tournament winners receive automatic bids to the NCAA tournament. Several of these conference winners would make the dance regardless, but winning the conference tourney is the only way to get in for most teams.
Here are my way too early predictions for the winners of each conference tournament. Note that these are in alphabetical order by conference name, not in order of rank. I include my notes and thoughts on many of the teams.
America East – Vermont
The Catamounts have won the AEC 2 of the past 3 seasons. HC John Becker is in his 9th year at Vermont and is no stranger to postseason success. Becker has won 3 AEC titles and an NCAA tournament game in his time with Vermont. Atop the conference again this year, the Catamounts are a favorite to be the bid-recipient in a one-bid conference.
American – Wichita St
Tulsa is playing well. So are Houston and Cincy, but I really like the Shockers to come out of the American. Their size intrigues me and HC Gregg Marshall has made deep tournament runs in the past.
A-10 – Dayton
I love A-10 basketball. While you could make cases for a number of teams – Duquesne, Richmond, St Louis, VCU, RI – I have to take the chalk and go with Dayton.
ACC – Duke
The Blue Devils aren’t as talented as last year. This is a good thing as their program is under far less pressure to succeed. Watch out for a sneaky good Coach K team making a deep run, which starts by cleaning up in the ACC tourney.
Atlantic Sun – Liberty
Liberty sports are outstanding at the moment. Flames football won an FBS bowl game in December. Flames basketball is 19-2 and poised to grab the ASun tournament title for the 2nd year in-a-row. If the Flames slip up in the tournament, the ASun might be a 2-bid conference! The committee would have to invite a 30-3 Liberty team to the dance, right?
Big 12 – West Virginia
I’ve already expressed my love for WVU this year. Defense wins championships.
Big East – Creighton
How about a little shake up in the Big East? A Blue Jay title would make the Big East a 4-bid conference!
Big Sky – Southern Utah
Big South – Presbyterian
Presbyterian has never won a Big South tournament. First time for everything, right?
Big Ten – Illinois
The B10 is crowded this year. January is definitely too early to make any predictions. Illinois is as good a pick as any, but I am not confident at all …
Big West – UC Irvine
Colonial Athletic – Hofstra
C-USA – Western Kentucky
Horizon League – Northern Kentucky
Ivy League – Yale
Yale won the Ivy League tourney last year and then took 3-seed LSU to the wire. This year, the Bulldogs have taken UNC and Penn State right to the final buzzer. One of these days, Yale is finally going to pull the inevitable big upset.
Metro Atlantic – Monmouth
The Hawks are a fun team to watch. Monmouth has not appeared in the NCAA tourney since 2006, so a bid here is long overdue.
MAC – Central Michigan
Mid-Eastern – South Carolina State
Missouri Valley – Northern Iowa
Mountain West – San Diego State
The only undefeated team remaining in college hoops. The Aztecs have a very good shot at running the table and are overwhelming favorites for the MWC tournament title.
Northeast – St Francis (PA)
Ohio Valley – Belmont
If the Ohio Valley conference sounds familiar, it is the home of the NBA’s #2 overall pick in the 2019 draft – Ja Morant out of Murray State. With Ja gone, the conference is wide open. Although the Racers are in 1st place currently, I like the Bruins of Belmont to win the tourney this year. It would be Belmont’s first since 2015, although the Bruins have won the regular season title 5 of the past 7 years.
Pac-12 – USC
Yes, this means Oregon must go down. The Ducks are too inconsistent for my liking. After deciding I wanted to pick against Oregon, USC rose to the top of my list of P-12 candidates.
Patriot League – Colgate
SEC – Florida
A short-handed win against a good Auburn team earned my respect. There are several good candidates to come out of the SEC, but I like Florida edging out the class of the conference – Kentucky.
Southern – Wofford
Southland – Abilene Christian
ACU won the Southland Conference tourney last season – their 1st ever. I like the ‘Cats to repeat.
Southwest – Prairie View A&M
Summit League – South Dakota State
Sun Belt – Georgia Southern
West Coast – Gonzaga
Gonzaga is scoring nearly 90 points per game. The Bulldogs shoot well, don’t turn the ball over, and rebound effectively. The WCC can’t compete. The Zags need to move to the Pac-12 already.
Western Athletic – CSUB
2019 NCAA Tournament Predictions – At-Large Bids
With 32 teams grabbing spots as conference champs, the committee then chooses 36 remaining at-large teams to round out the field. Here is how I see those panning out. Unlike my automatic bids section, these are in order of descending rank.
- Michigan State
Although I’m a Michigan fan, I really like Tom Izzo’s team this year. Cassius Winston is a stud and will carry this squad through March. Experienced guards who can score are invaluable come playoff time.
The Cardinals proved last weekend they still belong at the top of the rankings. After 2 straight losses, UL has now rattled off 4 in-a-row including a road victory at top-10 Duke. I see Duke winning the ACC tourney, but Louisville will be one of the top at-large seeds come March.
- Florida State
The Noles are tenacious on the defensive end – recording blocks and steals and forcing turnovers. FSU has proven they can beat good teams. FSU is hot. A lot to like here.
- Texas Tech
Every year, there is a team you never saw coming that shoots up into 2 or 3-seed territory. Even though TTU made it all the way to the Finals in 2019, they are under the radar in 2020. The Raiders aren’t discussed much in the media and aren’t considered legitimate title contenders by most. Even I have my doubts. The scoring is there. If Tech can start playing some better defense, they could sneak up on people … again.
- Penn State
The slide begins. The Tigers lost 2 consecutive conference games by 19+ points. Auburn is no longer ranked in the top-10, but they are still a solid basketball team and will receive a favorable matchup in the First Round of March Madness.
Notice how the Tigers are doing just fine without James Wiseman? Kinda scary.
- Seton Hall
This Pitt team has a long list of impressive wins: Florida State, Monmouth, Kansas State, Rutgers. The Panthers have also lost some head scratchers: Nicholls State, Wake Forest. Without another signature win or two in the ACC, Pitt will remain toward the lower end of at-large bids.
- Ohio State
The Buckeyes were once a top-5 team. Major roadblocks need to be overcome in Columbus. Ohio State is 2-5 in B10 play after beating both Villanova and Kentucky in non-conference.
I see Syracuse getting hot down the stretch. That 2-3 zone always gets better throughout the season as the Orange players become more comfortable with their assignments. Syracuse is winners of 4 straight. Their run is already beginning.
- Virginia Tech
- St Louis
This one will likely raise some eyebrows, but I like the Billikens to get hot and receive an at-large bid. St Louis has had success against Power 5 schools and has hung with highly-ranked Auburn and Dayton. It would take a huge run, but if St Louis could rattle off 6 or 7 in-a-row, they’d be in high enough to dodge the First Four.
- (First Four) Arkansas
The record is good, but a win against Indiana isn’t exactly a resume-builder. Arkansas needs to pick up a couple of signature wins in SEC play.
- (First Four) NC State
- (First Four) Oklahoma
Oklahoma sneaks in by the skin of their teeth. Right now, the Sooners only good wins are Oregon State, Kansas State, and Texas. A packed B12 schedule gives them plenty of opportunities for more big wins – precisely why I am picking OU to make the field.
- (First Four) Richmond
If the season ended today, Richmond would not be in. Their only good win is against Wisconsin. The Spiders have Dayton, VCU (2x), and Duquesne on the remaining schedule. They need some resume building wins. Obviously, I am predicting this to happen.
2019 NCAA Tournament Predictions – Wrong Side of the Bubble
In alphabetical order, here are the teams who just missed the cut for an at-large bid.
- George Mason
Harvard is having a good season, but the Ivy League is a one-bid league. Harvard has beaten a couple of Power 5 schools (Texas A&M and Cal) but that won’t get it done. The Crimson need to win their league tournament to get in.
- New Mexico
- Notre Dame
- Oregon State
The B12 is loaded. When good teams clash, someone is bound to walk away with losses. I see Texas losing out in favor of Oklahoma and TCU.
- Washington State
The Cougars beat Oregon. That’s an awesome win. But at 12-7, one good win is not enough to earn an at-large bid. I don’t see the Cougars being able to pull this off.
2019 NCAA Tournament Predictions – Seeding and Splitting into Regions
With the field of 68 set, the last thing for me to do is seed these teams and divide them into 4 regions (East, Midwest, South, West).
Although the regions are titled geographically, balance is the key when deciding matchups. One region should not be significantly weaker or stronger than another. Putting teams in a region that doesn’t make geographical sense is often necessary to maintain balance.
Also, the NCAA tournament forbids in-conference matchups in the First Round. It would make sense that 9-seed Arizona be in the West and 9-seed Houston be in the South, but I had to switch them to avoid an Arizona-Colorado matchup in the First Round.
My 2020 NCAA Tournament Bracket
2019 NCAA Tournament Predictions – Conference Representation
Here are the number of teams in the 68-team field by conference. I like the distribution.
|Conference||# of Teams in Field|
I hope you enjoyed my way too early predictions. Please let me know in the comments what you think!