On Tuesday, I nominated the Xavier Musketeers as the fourth No. 1 seed in my full projected bracket. Later that night, Chris Mack's team was comprehensively defeated by a Creighton Bluejays squad that was in dire need of a quality win for its own selection profile. So, while Xavier remains in the first group of teams I have for you on this Friday -- the locks/protected seeds -- the Kansas Jayhawks have replaced the Musketeers on the top line. In fact, the only reason Xavier is on the two line right now is the Oregon Ducks' blowout loss at the California Golden Bears on Thursday.
But that's not the only change among the four regional anchors. After falling to the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington Thursday night, the Iowa Hawkeyes also drop to line number two for the moment. Their replacement? The resurgent Virginia Cavaliers, who now boast a 9-2 record against the RPI Top 50 and a perfect 4-0 mark against the Top 25.
Locks and Protected Seeds
*=automatic bid holder
|1 seeds||1. Oklahoma*
|2 seeds||8. Xavier
||6. North Carolina*
|3 seeds||9. Oregon*||10. West Virginia
||11. Miami||12. Michigan State|
|4 seeds||16. Dayton*||15. Kentucky||14. Purdue||13. Iowa State
|5 seeds||17. USC||18. Texas A&M||19. Texas
|6 seeds||24. Indiana||23. Notre Dame||22. Arizona||21. Utah
|7 seeds||25. Baylor|
Keep an eye on the in-state rivals who are sitting in the middle of the five line the rest of the way. The Texas A&M Aggies, losers of three in a row and four of five, are tumbling from what looked to be a sure place among the protected seeds just two weeks ago. On the other hand, the Texas Longhorns, whom the Ags handily defeated in the Battle 4 Atlantis, just missed upsetting Oklahoma in Norman on Monday. That result snapped a four-game winning streak. If the Longhorns can go on another run like that in the loaded Big 12, they might end up on the three or four line before all is said and done.
And don't look now, but the Duke Blue Devils are considerably safer after rattling off three straight wins, even if only the last of the three (over the tournament-ineligible Louisville Cardinals) came over a quality opponent.
In Good Shape
|7 seeds||26. South Carolina*||27. Providence||28. Michigan|
|8 seeds||31. Florida||30. Pittsburgh||29. Wichita State*|
With victories over Texas A&M in College Station and the then-SEC leading LSU Tigers back in Columbia, no team in this group helped its own case more than the South Carolina Gamecocks. Heading into last Saturday's game at Reed Arena, Frank Martin's club was a bit of a question mark, not really having the quality wins to justify its RPI. That naturally changed on Saturday, and there was no letdown on Wednesday.
On the flip side, the Providence Friars are teetering. Much like A&M, they've dropped three straight and four of five. Unlike the Aggies, the Friars hadn't built themselves much of a cushion in the early stages of Big East play. I can't see Kris Dunn, Ben Bentil and company playing in the NIT, but they might end up with a far less favorable draw, or maybe even have to wear their black road unis when the First Round arrives on March 17 and 18.
So, most of the way through seed line No. 8, let's pause to consider how many spots are left.
68 total bids -- 24 auto bids from likely one-bid conferences = 44 bids up for grabs
44 -- 30 teams counted so far (note that the Wichita State Shockers are part of the group of 24 above) = 14 places left
|8 seeds||32. Monmouth*|
|9 seeds||33. California||34. Syracuse||35. Colorado||36. Valparaiso*|
|10 seeds||40. Temple*||39. Florida State||38. Butler||37. Gonzaga*
Thursday night was significant for this group -- not only did Cal top Oregon, but the Syracuse Orange hammered the Florida State Seminoles at the Carrier Dome. Plus, the Temple Owls put themselves into stronger at-large position by completing a season sweep of the Connecticut Huskies. Fran Dunphy's team has also defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats (home and away) and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (in Philadelphia), both fellow bubble teams, along with the SMU Mustangs.
And with three league leaders from likely one-bid conferences in this group (the Monmouth Hawks, Valparaiso Crusaders and, yes, Gonzaga Bulldogs), we are down to our last eight places. A whopping 26 teams are in play for them.
Last Four Byes (Avoiding Dayton)
|11 seeds||41. Saint Joseph's||42. Oregon State||43. Connecticut||44. Seton Hall|
After their respective midweek losses referenced above, UConn falls here, while Seton Hall remains. However, the Saint Joseph's Hawks jump all the way up here after falling just on the wrong side of the cut line back on Tuesday. That's because they finally grabbed the quality win their profile lacked, on the road no less! Saint Joe's hammered the George Washington Colonials, who drop out of my projected field for the moment, on Wednesday night.
Last Four In (First Four)
|12 seeds||48. Cincinnati||47. Alabama||46. LSU||45. VCU|
Much like GW, the VCU Rams suffered a costly defeat -- their second in a row -- but to a lower-quality opponent, the Massachusetts Minutemen, currently sitting 162nd in the RPI table. Given the Rams' struggles in the early part of the season, they have little margin for error the rest of the way.
LSU remains in the field, barely, following its loss to South Carolina. The Tigers have a pair of Top 50 wins and now both of those squads are in this projection, as the Alabama Crimson Tide slide in thanks in part to their 63-62 win over Texas A&M on Wednesday night. The Tide now sit 36th in the RPI table with a 4-5 record against the Top 50. Their worst loss, at the 129th-ranked Auburn Tigers, isn't all that awful when compared to those of other bubble teams.
First Four Out/Next Four Out
|First 4 Out||69. Geo. Washington||70. Wisconsin
|Next 4 Out||76. Saint Mary's
||74. St. Bonaventure
||73. Texas Tech
Wednesday night resulted in plenty of change for this group. The Texas Tech Red Raiders boosted their hopes by topping the Iowa State Cyclones in Lubbock for the second season in a row and Tulsa grabbed a great road win at SMU. Both have ground to make up, mostly because of their non-conference schedules, but they are both alive in a topsy-turvy season.
This weekend, the Wisconsin Badgers can make a statement by winning on the Maryland Terrapins' home floor, while the Washington Huskies must make up for a Wednesday loss at the Utah Utes by putting on a better performance against the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder.
The team in this group that took the biggest tumble is the Saint Mary's Gaels, who dropped a home game to the Pepperdine Waves on Thursday. That defeat dropped the Gaels' RPI down to 74th with no Top 50 wins.
In The Hunt
|77. Kansas State||78. Clemson||79. UCLA||80. Creighton|
|84. Georgetown||83. Ohio State||82. Ole Miss||81. Georgia|
|85. Marquette||86. Stanford|
Wednesday was not so kind to the Kansas State Wildcats, who fell to the Baylor Bears in Manhattan. That result helped push K-State out of the RPI Top 50. Creighton's win over Xavier boosted its computer numbers slightly, but they'll need more quality victories to make up for a lackluster early part of the season, including a loss at the Loyola of Chicago Ramblers. The Jays' Big East rivals, Marquette, have a similar non-conference scheduling issue, and a sweep of Providence won't be enough to cover it up.
As for the Clemson Tigers, Monday night's home loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish might have been costly, considering what's ahead on the schedule. Five of the Tigers' final six games come against teams with no hope of earning an at-large, including a pair against the Boston College Eagles, still winless in ACC play. The exception is a March 1 game with surging Virginia, which thankfully for Clemson, will take place in Greenville.
Likely Auto Bid Only
|12 seeds||49. Chattanooga*||50. San Diego St.*|
|13 seeds||54. Hawaii*||53. Yale*||52. Little Rock*||51. Akron*|
|14 seeds||55. South Dakota St.*||56. Stony Brook*||57. UNCW*||58. UAB*|
|15 seeds||62. New Mexico State*||61. Montana*||60. Stephen F. Austin*
|63. UNC Asheville*||64. North Florida*
|65. Bucknell*||66. Fair. Dickinson*||67. Hampton*||68. Texas Sthn.*|
It's been a tough week for mid-major conference leaders. You might even want to call it "Designated WTF Loss" week. The troubles began on Wednesday, when the first-place Bucknell Bison dropped a Patriot League home game to the Lehigh Mountain Hawks by 15 points and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, the Summit leader, lost a thriller to the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks on the road. But the real carnage followed on Thursday.
- The Atlantic Sun favorite North Florida Ospreys lost to an improved Kennesaw State Fighting Owls squad now coached by former Boston College boss Al Skinner.
- The Chattanooga Mocs, SoCon leaders and at-large hopeful, fell to the Western Carolina Catamounts.
- The Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans, who had dropped just one Sun Belt game all season and had a more tenuous at-large case than Chattanooga, dropped a four-point decision at the ULM Warhawks.
- In a meeting of teams that defeated the Georgetown Hoyas in the season's early stages, the UNC Asheville Bulldogs fell at home to the Radford Highlanders, giving RU a season sweep of a team three games ahead of it in the Big South standings before tip-off.
If those results are a preview of what's to come when conference tournament play begins just after the calendar turns to March, look for some intriguing seedings on Selection Sunday. Or going back to Saturday, when the Illinois State Redbirds tagged runaway Missouri Valley leader Wichita State with its first conference loss (in controversial fashion), at-large bids could possibly disappear if teams like the Shockers (or Valparaiso or Monmouth) fall in the conference semis or final.
I'll be back with a full bracket projection after another stuffed weekend and Big Monday of college basketball action.