What I’m Hearing: USA TODAY Sports’ Scott Gleeson spoke with one of the best NCAA Tournament projectors about which teams you can expect to see on the inside of the bracket bubble.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the latest NCAA tournament projections as of Feb. 12.
Kansas picked up a solid road win over TCU in overtime on Monday night to stay in the hunt for its 15th consecutive Big 12 title.
But the Jayhawks we thought would be a No. 1 seed in November have all but disappeared thanks to key losses and disappointing production. All-American candidat Udoka Azubuike is out for the season. Silvio De Sousa is ineligible. Five-star freshman Quentin Grimes is averaging seven points a game.
The NCAA tournament No. 3 seeds, where Kansas currently sits, often get overlooked or misperceived. The only Final Fours that haven’t included a No. 1 seed eventually crowned a No. 3 seed as the national champion. Last year’s Big Dance saw two No. 3 seeds fare extremely well, with Texas Tech reaching the Elite Eight and Michigan going all the way to the championship game. While these No. 3 vs. No.14 matchups pose upset concerns, only nine No. 3 seeds in the past 12 years have failed to advance to the second weekend.
The Jayhawks (19-6) might still be figuring out their identity, but their résumé is a sight to behold with nine Quadrant 1 (top-30 home/top-75 road) wins, the most of any team. They also have the nation’s best non-conference strength of schedule to go, and the Big 12 has No. 1 ranking in the NET (NCAA’s new metric replacing the RPI).
Coach Bill Self, often criticized for underachievement as a top seed, has guided his KU teams to conference titles over the years based on their evolution as much as their talent. So, there’s still reason to beware of a No. 3 seed like this, especially when Dedric Lawson is producing double-double numbers every night.
Other No. 3 seeds are also dangerous.
Marquette just beat Villanova and has a guard in Markus Howard who can spearhead a deep March run. Houston could be the country’s most underrated team, with its one-loss profile likely getting overlooked while playing in the American Athletic. And Purdue, winners of eight in a row, has come on strong in Big Ten play after a shaky non-conference slate. All-American Carsen Edwards is averaging near 25 points a game.
These No. 3 seeds are flawed enough to keep them out of top-seed range, yet they all have the ability to win a lot of games in March.
► No. 1 seeds: Duke, Virginia, Tennessee, Gonzaga
► Last four in: UNC-Greensboro, Clemson, Butler, Indiana
► First Four out: North Carolina State, Nebraska, Temple, Central Florida
• Others considered for at-large bid (in no particular order): Florida, Providence, Arizona, Creighton, Oregon, Georgetown, Davidson, Saint Mary’s, Utah State, Arkansas.
• On life support: Oregon State, Texas A&M, Miami-FLA, UCLA, UConn, DePaul, Missouri, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Fresno State, Notre Dame, Furman, Boston College, Georgia, Liberty, Xavier, Saint Louis, San Francisco, Memphis, USC, South Carolina, Georgia State, ETSU, Pittsburgh, Dayton, Northwestern
Multi-bid conferences: Big Ten (9), ACC (8), Big 12 (8), SEC (7), Big East (5), American (2), Ohio Valley (2), Pac-12 (2), Southern (2).
Leaders or highest RPI from projected one-bid conferences — (23 total): VCU (Atlantic 10), Vermont (America East), Lipscomb (Atlantic Sun), Montana (Big Sky), Radford (Big South) UC Irvine (Big West), Hofstra (CAA), Old Dominion (Conference USA), Northern Kentucky (Horizon), Yale (Ivy), Siena (MAAC), Buffalo (MAC), Norfolk State (MEAC), Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Nevada (Mountain West), Robert Morris (Northeast), Bucknell (Patriot), Sam Houston State (Southland), Prairie View A&M (SWAC), South Dakota State (Summit), Texas State (Sun Belt), New Mexico State (WAC), Gonzaga (WCC).
- Transition schools ineligible to participate: Cal Baptist, North Alabama.
About our bracketologist: Shelby Mast has been projecting the field since 2005 on his website, Bracket W.A.G. He joined USA TODAY in 2014. In his sixth season as our national bracketologist, Mast has finished as one of the top three bracketologists in the past five March Madnesses. He’s also predicted for The Indianapolis Star, collegeinsider.com and is an inaugural member of the Super 10 Selection Committee. Follow him on Twitter @BracketWag.