2024 NCAA Tournament Bracket Watch: What to look for in Saturday’s top-16 reveal


(Editor’s note: This is part of the Bracket Central Series, an inside look at the run-up to the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments, along with analysis and picks during the tournaments.)

In 1997, the Fox network began airing a series of TV specials called “Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed,” in which a masked man showed how to pull off such tricks as sawing a woman in half and making an elephant disappear. The show briefly became a minor sensation — it was the ’90s; you had to be there — even though it was all very silly, with fog machines and self-serious music cues.

In the finale of the original series, the masked magician revealed himself as Las Vegas performer Val Valentino. He was immediately sued by other, furious illusionists. (And there are few things funnier than angry magicians.)

We find ourselves thinking about Valentino, both because it’s Valentine’s Day week and because some secrets we care deeply about will soon be exposed to the world. The men’s NCAA Tournament selection committee gathered this week and will release its current top 16 seeds on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET on CBS. No, there won’t be as many smoke and mirrors as “Breaking the Magician’s Code,” but if our pal Seth Davis wanted to wear a squid mask while asking committee chair Charles McClelland questions, we’d be here for it.

The committee might cause some controversy with its choices, especially in a topsy-turvy season like this one. Just look back to last year’s early top 16. You know who wasn’t included as a top-4 seed? UConn, despite being No. 8 in the NET and fifth in KenPom with six Quad 1 wins. The committee would probably like to make that decision go poof.

Still, this reveal — coming three weeks before the committee meets for the real thing — almost always closely aligns with the prestige of Selection Sunday. Per the NCAA, 83 percent of teams included since the bracket preview began have remained among the top four seeds. In each of the last two years, 15 of the early top 16 seeds were still there when the tournament tipped off. Last year, all four of the early No. 1 seeds and three of the No. 2 seeds held on to their status; nine of the top 16 moved two spots or less from the early reveal to the final seed list.

Early Top 16 versus final — 2023

Early Top 16 Final Top 16 Change

1

Alabama

Alabama

None

2

Houston

Houston

None

3

Purdue

Kansas

minus-1

4

Kansas

Purdue

plus-1

5

Texas

UCLA

minus-1

6

Arizona

Texas

minus-1

7

Baylor

Arizona

minus-2

8

UCLA

Marquette

plus-3

9

Tennessee

Baylor

minus-5

10

Virginia

Gonzaga

minus-6

11

Iowa State

Kansas State

minus-9

12

Kansas State

Xavier

plus-1

13

Indiana

UConn

minus-2

14

Marquette

Tennessee

plus-6

15

Gonzaga

Indiana

plus-5

16

Xavier

Virginia

plus-4

So what should we look for when the committee goes “ta-da” on Saturday? The four No. 1 seeds don’t figure to be jaw-dropping. Purdue, UConn and Houston are locks, while Arizona appears to have control of the final top seed after North Carolina, Tennessee and Kansas all suffered recent losses. There’s minor intrigue on whether the committee prefers Purdue or UConn at No. 1 overall, but the Boilermakers are heading to the Midwest Region and the Huskies to the East regardless, so it’s mostly an honorific.

The No. 2 seed line is where things start to get interesting. We certainly expect to see Tennessee, Marquette and North Carolina there. What about Kansas? The Jayhawks have an enviable portfolio of marquee wins, but they’re also just 7-5 in the Big 12 with metrics that profile more like a No. 3 seed. Could Iowa State (eighth in NET, KenPom and BPI and sixth in SOR) snag a No. 2 seed instead? We’re fascinated to see how the committee sorts out the Big 12, especially given the weak nonconference schedules by many of that league’s teams, including the Cyclones, but Baylor might be the only other Big 12 squad levitating in the top 16.

We’re always curious to see how each year’s committee weighs results vs. computer rankings. Some of this week’s most interesting calls involve Auburn, a metrics darling that is just 2-4 in Quad 1, and BYU, which is ninth in the NET and 14th in KenPom but just 6-6 in the first two quads. Does the committee trust the computers or see that as sleight of hand? Multiple teams are bunched up around the No. 4 seed line, and which schools get the nod could conjure insight into the committee’s thought process. Can a mid-major like Dayton crack the top 16? How about a Mountain West outfit? Is Wisconsin, with its 11 wins in the first two quads, still top-16 worthy after its recent swoon? And how much will road wins matter, in a season where those have been extremely hard to come by?

We can’t wait to find out. Just remember that whatever the committee decides, this isn’t the final countdown.

Some other notes on this week’s bracket:

• We are beyond excited that The Athletic now has a Bubble Watch and Bracket Watch for women’s college basketball as well. They each debuted this week. Go check those out. Those two features, along with men’s Bubble Watch and this here bit of nonsense will be free and unlocked for the rest of the season, thanks to our Bracket Central partnership with E*TRADE. We did what any sensible person would do with that new sponsorship support: added fancy new arrows to the bracket! The green and red arrows signify a move up or down the seed line from the previous week, while the plus sign indicates a team new to the field (or at least, new from the previous week).

GO DEEPER

Women’s NCAA Tournament Bracket Watch: Don’t count out Duke

• Our last team in the field this week is Villanova, which is sure to raise some eyebrows. The Wildcats are just 13-11 but just look at those wins: North Carolina and Texas Tech on neutral floors, at Creighton and Providence at home. Throw in the fact that Nova has played the 17th-toughest schedule per the NET and ranks 34th in KenPom and 27th in BPI and we think that’s enough to squeak by Seton Hall, whom the Cats just beat by 26 at home, and a Cincinnati squad that didn’t beat a top-140 opponent in nonconference. Someday we’d love the committee to give us all its top at-large teams in the early reveal, which would be much more enlightening than the top 16. Hey, if the College Football Playoff folks could produce a Top 25 for two months straight and then do whatever the heck it wanted in the final poll, why not?

• Questions? Complaints? Gasps of “how did they do that?” amazement? Bring ’em to the comments section and we’ll unmask all our magical secrets.

First Four Out Next Four Out Last Four In Last Four Byes

Cincinnati

St. John’s

Utah

Virginia

Seton Hall

Wake Forest

Nevada

Providence

Gonzaga

James Madison

Ole Miss

Nebraska

Drake

Pitt

Villanova

Butler

Multi-bid conferences

League Bids

Big 12

9

SEC

9

Big East

6

Big Ten

6

Mountain West

6

ACC

4

Pac-12

3

Seed list

1

Purdue

AQ

2

UConn

AQ

3

Houston

AQ

4

Arizona

AQ

5

Marquette

6

Tennessee

AQ

7

North Carolina

AQ

8

Kansas

9

Iowa State

10

Baylor

11

Auburn

12

Alabama

13

Illinois

14

Duke

15

Wisconsin

16

San Diego State

AQ

17

Creighton

18

South Carolina

19

BYU

20

Dayton

AQ

21

Clemson

22

Florida Atlantic

AQ

23

Saint Mary’s

AQ

24

Utah State

25

Texas Tech

26

Colorado State

27

Kentucky

28

Oklahoma

29

TCU

30

New Mexico

31

Texas

32

Florida

33

Michigan State

34

Northwestern

35

Mississippi State

36

Washington State

37

Boise State

38

Texas A&M

39

Virginia

40

Providence

41

Nebraska

42

Butler

43

Indiana State

AQ

44

Grand Canyon

AQ

45

Nevada

46

Ole Miss

47

Utah

48

Villanova

49

McNeese State

AQ

50

Appalachian State

AQ

51

UC Irvine

AQ

52

Samford

AQ

53

Akron

AQ

54

Yale

AQ

55

La Tech

AQ

56

Morehead State

AQ

57

Vermont

AQ

58

Eastern Washington

AQ

59

UNC Wilmington

AQ

60

Colgate

AQ

61

Oakland

AQ

62

UNC Asheville

AQ

63

South Dakota St

AQ

64

Quinnipiac

AQ

65

Eastern Kentucky

AQ

66

Southern

AQ

67

Merrimack

AQ

68

NC Central

AQ

The Bracket Central series is part of a partnership with E*TRADE.

The Athletic maintains full editorial independence. Partners have no control over or input into the reporting or editing process and do not review stories before publication.

(Photo of, from left, Auburn’s Johni Broome, Chad Baker-Mazara and Denver Jones: Butch Dill / AP)





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