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

By Brian Bennett6h agoSupported By

(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 — 2024

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.

Magic. Just Any Kind Of Magic. GIFfrom Magic GIFs

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).


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 Dayton 16 Eastern Kentucky 16 Southern University Dayton 12 Utah 12 Nevada Dayton 16 Merrimack 16 North Carolina Central Dayton 12 Ole Miss 12 Villanova Midwest Region (Detroit) Indianapolis 1 Purdue 16 South Dakota State Indianapolis 8 TCU 9 Washington State Spokane 4 San Diego State 13 Akron Spokane 5 Creighton 12 Appalachian State Memphis 3 Baylor 14 Morehead State Memphis 6 Clemson 11 Nebraska Charlotte 2 Tennessee 15 Colgate Charlotte 7 Texas Tech 10 Providence South Region (Dallas) Memphis 1 Houston 16 Quinnipiac Memphis 8 New Mexico 9 Michigan State Brooklyn 4 Illinois 13 Yale Brooklyn 5 Dayton 12 McNeese State Pittsburgh 3 Alabama 14 Louisiana Tech Pittsburgh 6 Utah State 11 Indiana State Indianapolis 2 Marquette 15 Oakland Indianapolis 7 Oklahoma 10 Texas A&M West Region (Los Angeles) Salt Lake City 1 Arizona 16 North Carolina Central Merrimack Salt Lake City 8 Florida 9 Northwestern Salt Lake City 4 Duke 13 UC Irvine Salt Lake City 5 BYU 12 Ole Miss Villanova Pittsburgh 3 Auburn 14 Eastern Washington Pittsburgh 6 Saint Mary’s 11 Butler Omaha 2 Kansas 15 UNC Asheville Omaha 7 Colorado State 10 Virginia East Region (Boston) Brooklyn 1 UConn 16 Eastern Kentucky Southern Brooklyn 8 Texas 9 Mississippi State Spokane 4 Wisconsin 13 Samford Spokane 5 South Carolina 12 Nevada Utah Omaha 3 Iowa State 14 Vermont Omaha 6 Florida Atlantic 11 Grand Canyon Charlotte 2 North Carolina 15 UNC Wilmington Charlotte 7 Kentucky 10 Boise State

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
Big East 6
Big Ten 6
Mountain West 6
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)

Get all-access to exclusive stories.

Subscribe to The Athletic for in-depth coverage of your favorite players, teams, leagues and clubs. Try a week on us.

Start Free Trial

Brian Bennett is a senior editor for The Athletic covering college basketball. He previously wrote about college sports for ESPN.com for nine years and The (Louisville) Courier-Journal for nine years prior to that. Follow Brian on Twitter @GBrianBennett