With college basketball's transfer portal season possibly winding down, it seems like a good time for a pre-preseason Bracketology and a projected NCAA Tournament bracket. I say winding down, but there were at least three noteworthy transfers just this week, so it's not over yet. I'm not sure it ever really ends.
One team that has taken full advantage of the portal is preseason overall No. 1 seed Kansas. The Jayhawks added Hunter Dickinson from Michigan and Towson 3-point machine Nick Timberlake to the roster. They also return KJ Adams, Dajuan Harris and Kevin McCullar and add a five-star recruit in Elmarko Jackson. Bill Self's squad looks poised to make a run at another title.
The projected No. 2 overall seed is Duke, which looks to be strong again this season with its top four scorers returning and bringing in the second-ranked recruiting class. It took a while for last season's team to gel. The Blue Devils finished strong, winning their last nine games in the regular season and conference tournament before bowing out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Projected overall No. 3 seed Purdue welcomes back the bulk of its production from last season, which saw the Boilermakers win the Big Ten regular-season championship by three games and the conference tournament. The Boilers' NCAA Tournament loss as a No. 1 seed to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson is what everyone will remember though. Purdue needed to get more athletic on the perimeter and freshmen Cam Heide and Myles Colvin should help with that. Consensus national player of the year Zach Edey will try to repeat those honors, but this team knows that it will be solely judged on how it does in March.
Michigan State rounds out the projected top four. The Spartans got some welcome news at the NBA Draft deadline when guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard decided to return to MSU. That means coach Tom Izzo has five of his top six scorers returning and a top 10 recruiting class led by five-star center Xavier Booker. The Spartans should not only challenge Purdue for the conference title, but they could make a run at the national title.
Bracketology top seeds
Check out Palm's full bracket, field of 68 on the Bracketology hub.
SEC, Big Ten marching on
The SEC and Big Ten lead the way with eight teams each in this bracket. The SEC is led by No. 2 seed Tennessee. The Big East has seven which includes the three of the top nine teams, Marquette, Creighton and UConn.
There are also seven Big 12 teams, which would no longer match the conference's record of the highest percentage of conference membership in the field. The league put seven of ten teams in several times, but they are up to 14 members this season with the addition of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. Only the Cougars from among that group are projected into the bracket.
Pump the brakes on FAU
I am not as high on FAU in the preseason as you may see in other places. The Owls, a projected No. 4 seed, made a memorable run to the Final Four last season after a 31-3 regular-season record that featured a schedule without another NCAA Tournament team on it. The NET loved them because they ran up scores when they could, but their No. 8 seed was fair considering their schedule.
The Owls became the third team in the last three tournaments to make the Final Four with a seed of No. 8 or lower. The previous two, North Carolina (2022) and UCLA (2011) were both ranked in the top five of the following preseason and failed to live up to those expectations. North Carolina became the only team to go from preseason No. 1 to missing the tournament entirely. It is a function of overreacting to a few games in March vs. what a team was for the entire season.
FAU should get a few games against NCAA Tournament quality opposition this season. That could help them build a case for a better seed. Most of last year's team is returning as well. Still, history tells us that teams making a huge jump in seeding to the top of the bracket are rare in this situation. Wichita State did it in 2014 after a Final Four run in 2013 as a No. 9 seed. That Shockers team went undefeated in the regular season and was a No. 1 seed, but lost in the second round to No. 8 seed Kentucky. That Wildcats team went on to the Final Four and was also a top seed the next season. They won their most recent national championship that season and are the only team to be a Final Four participant as a No. 8 seed or lower and get back to the Final Four the following season.
- As you probably know, teams cannot play on their home courts in the NCAA Tournament nor play where they host. This season Creighton cannot play a first-round NCAA Tournament game in Omaha because it is played on the Bluejays' home floor and they are the host. However, Gonzaga, which is located in Spokane, can play in the Spokane sub-regional because it is not being played on their home floor and they are not hosting.
- In this bracket, I am not checking for potential regular-season rematches, which the committee likes to avoid early on in the tournament because many schedules are not available yet. I'll check again just before the season starts.