The bracket for the Badgers' Thanksgiving Week tournament (the Battle 4 Atlantis, brought to you by Prince, apparently) was just released, and it looks like this:
1 UW (4) v. UAB (243)
2 Georgetown (49) v. Florida (9)
3 UCLA (43) v. Oklahoma (16)
4 UNC (7) v. Butler (35)
This is a well-crafted bracket. In fact these are exactly the matchups I "predicted" except that I would have switched games 2 and 3 (so that UCLA and Oklahoma were on UW's side of the bracket).
The numbers in parentheses above are the teams' current T-Rank projection. The top of the bracket is incredible: Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Florida should be Final Four contenders again. But even beyond that, 7 of the 8 teams are in the T-Rank top 50. The one exception is UAB, the Badgers' first-round opponent.
UAB was a mediocre team last year, finishing in the middle of the pack in Conference USA. They did upset North Carolina during the non-conference schedule, but that was the highlight of their season by far. Unfortunately, they lose pretty much every major contributor. Five seniors graduate, but the gut-punch is that their leading scorer, junior Chad Frazier, is leaving the team after being charged with domestic assault. Before that news came down, T-Rank had projected at 183—not good, but not terrible either. Now they've fallen to 243, and it looks like a lost season ahead. The matchup against Wisconsin figures to be something like a 1 versus 16 seed, and unless there are some real ballers waiting in the wings (they do have one borderline top-100 recruit coming in, William Lee), UAB looks like the Atlantis tournament's version of Chaminade.
Butler may be the most difficult team to get a handle on, and their T-Rank of 35 looks to be too high. They were not good last year (Kenpom rank: 104), but they also suffered one of the most critical injury losses in the nation, when Roosevelt Jones went down just before the season started. Assuming he returns at full strength, they'll have a nucleus of quality players to work with. So T-Rank expects a bounce back. But their unproven coach and loss of promising freshman Elijah Brown to the transfer bug (he went to New Mexico) leaves plenty of question marks.
OU appears to be on the way up under Lon Kruger. They were a 5-seed last year and got upset by North Dakota State. But Kruger has made progress in each of his three years with the program, which he took over after Jeff Capel ran it into the ground. It shouldn't surprise anyone if their upward climb continues next year, as they return about 80% of the minutes from last year's very solid team. They could easily makes the finals of this tournament.
OU's first-round opponent, UCLA, returns only about a third of its minutes from last year's team, after losing two seniors and three underclassmen (including the seldom-used Zach Levine) to the pros. They hope to reload with another stellar recruiting class, headlined by Milwaukee's Kevon Looney. But they figure to experience some growing pains early in the season.
Georgetown comes off a very disappointing 2013-14 season, and they lose about half their minutes to graduation. They do bring a strong four-man freshman class headed by Isaac Copeland, and maybe former UCLA five-star recruit Josh Smith will actually suit up for them this year. There is enough talent in the program to get back to the tournament, but they are far from a sure thing.
This should be an entertaining and wide-open tournament. The Badgers will have the best chance to win it, primarily because they get by far the easiest opening game. I'm hoping for another game against Florida (it would be cool to have a neutral-court rubber match against them) and then a neutral-court grudge match again Ol' Roy and his boys, followed up with Duke's visit to the Kohl Center the following week. It would be pretty sweet to see the Badgers play Florida, North Carolina, and Duke in a 7-day span. Even sweeter to sweep them.