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Bracketology: Kansas, North Carolina return to the top line

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With less than a month to go before Selection Sunday, the Jayhawks and Tar Heels took huge steps toward giving themselves a more favorable path to the Final Four in Houston since last Tuesday's bracket.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, the Kansas Jayhawks defeated the Oklahoma Sooners for the second time this season—with their win in Norman coming in slightly less dramatic fashion than their home triumph back on Jan. 4. The 76-72 victory put KU in the driver's seat for both its 12th consecutive Big 12 regular season title and the top seed in the Midwest Region, which would provide an easy Des Moines-to-Chicago road to the Final Four.

Don't feel too badly for the Sooners, though. They only dropped from first to third position on the top line, with the Big East-leading Villanova Wildcats sandwiched in the East Region between the Big 12 rivals. Oklahoma now anchors the South Region, but a potential Sweet 16 meeting with the Kentucky Wildcats in Louisville, as I have projected today, would be a high cost for being swept by Kansas.

The North Carolina Tar Heels rejoin the top line after picking up a pair of contrasting wins, a narrow one at Boston College on Tuesday and a blowout of the visiting Pittsburgh Panthers on Sunday afternoon. They'll be able to further cement their position by sweeping a pair of high-quality opponents at home this week—the resurgent Duke Blue Devils on Wednesday and the Miami Hurricanes, a game behind UNC for the ACC lead, on Saturday.

Three top seeds at one point or another last week have dropped to line two, thanks to poorly timed losses. Last Tuesday, the Xavier Musketeers replaced UNC, but their stay was short, thanks to road setback that very night at Creighton. A Saturday victory at Butler wasn't enough to bring Chris Mack's team back. On Thursday night, the Iowa Hawkeyes dropped their second game of the Big Ten season at Indiana, costing them in Friday's post. Even though the Hoosiers' loss to Michigan State on Sunday gave Iowa the chance to take sole possession of the Big Ten lead, the Hawkeyes struggled to put away woeful Minnesota back at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. As a result, they remain on line two.

Finally, the Virginia Cavaliers, Iowa's replacement on Friday, were stunned by Grayson Allen and Duke in controversial fashion on Saturday, so they join Iowa, Xavier and the Maryland Terrapins as this week's second seeds.

After today's full bracket and rundown, I'll look at some of the teams that helped and hurt their cases the most over the past week.

(1) MIDWEST
Chicago (Fri/Sun)
(2) EAST
Philadelphia (Fri/Sun)
Des Moines (Thu/Sat) Brooklyn (Fri/Sun)
1 Kansas (Big 12) 1 Villanova (Big East)
16 Texas Southern/Wagner 16 Bucknell/Hampton
8 California 8 Syracuse
9 Monmouth (MAAC) *9 Saint Joseph's
Denver (Thu/Sat) Spokane (Fri/Sun)
5 Notre Dame 5 Duke
12 Gonzaga (WCC) *12 Alabama
4 Dayton (A 10) 4 Purdue
13 South Dakota State (Summit) 13 Stony Brook (Am East)
Providence (Thu/Sat) Providence (Thu/Sat)
6 USC 6 South Carolina
*11 Wisconsin 11 Cincinnati/Florida State
3 Miami 3 West Virginia
14 UNC Wilmington (CAA) 14 Yale (Ivy)
Des Moines (Thu/Sat) Raleigh (Thu/Sat)
7 Baylor 7 Providence
10 Temple (American) 10 Wichita State (MVC)
2 Iowa (Big Ten) 2 Maryland
15 Montana (Big Sky) 15 Stephen F. Austin (Southland)
(4) WEST
Anaheim (Thu/Sat)
(3) SOUTH
Louisville (Thu/Sat)
Raleigh (Thu/Sat) Oklahoma City (Fri/Sun)
1 North Carolina (ACC) 1 Oklahoma
16 UNC Asheville (Big South) 16 North Florida (A-Sun)
8 Connecticut 8 Colorado
9 Florida 9 Pittsburgh
Oklahoma City (Fri/Sun) Denver (Thu/Sat)
5 Utah 5 Arizona (Pac-12)
12 Chattanooga (SoCon) 12 San Diego State (MW)
4 Iowa State 4 Kentucky (SEC)
13 Little Rock (Sun Belt) 13 Akron (MAC)
Spokane (Fri/Sun) St. Louis (Fri/Sun)
6 Texas A&M 6 Texas
11 Valparaiso (Horizon) 11 Butler/Oregon State
3 Oregon 3 Michigan State
14 Hawai'i (Big West) 14 UAB (C-USA)
St. Louis (Fri/Sun) Brooklyn (Fri/Sun)
7 Indiana 7 Michigan
10 LSU 10 Seton Hall
2 Xavier 2 Virginia
*15 Tennessee Tech (OVC) 15 New Mexico State (WAC)
FIRST FOUR (Dayton)
Tuesday: To Des Moines Tuesday: To Providence
16 Texas Southern (SWAC) 11 Cincinnati
*16 Wagner (NEC) 11 Florida State
Wednesday: To Brooklyn Wednesday: To St. Louis
16 Bucknell (Patriot) 11 Butler
16 Hampton (MEAC) 11 Oregon State

BIDS BY CONFERENCE AVOIDING DAYTON ARRIVALS DEPARTURES
ACC: 8 Seton Hall (37) Alabama Belmont (OVC)
Pac-12: 7 LSU (40) Saint Joseph's Fair. Dickinson (NEC)
Big Ten: 7 Wisconsin (41) Tennessee Tech (OVC) George Washington
Big 12: 6 Alabama (42) Wagner (NEC) VCU
SEC: 6 LAST FOUR IN Wisconsin Washington
Big East: 5 Oregon State (45)

American: 3 Florida State (46)

A 10: 2 Butler (47)

One-Bid Conferences: 24 Cincinnati (48)


LAST FOUR OUT


Texas Tech

VCU


George Washington


Clemson


NEXT FOUR OUT


Vanderbilt


St. Bonaventure


Washington


Tulsa

Also considered (in order): Creighton, UCLA, Saint Mary's, Georgia, Ole Miss, Marquette, Kansas State, Ohio State, Georgetown

With just 26 days remaining until the field of 68 is announced, time is growing short for teams to make their cases, not only for inclusion, but for better seeding as well. But a few teams got off to a head start in improving—or torpedoing—their chances over the last week.

Starting with the bad news, the chances for multiple mid-major at-large bids, slim as they already were, declined further on Saturday when Missouri Valley favorite Wichita State Shockers and Horizon leader Valparaiso Crusaders dropped home conference games while perennial WCC champion Gonzaga Bulldogs dropped its last chance at a marquee win, falling at SMU by nine. Now you might think that the Northern Iowa Panthers, whose win over the Shockers was their third over a ranked opponent since November, would be in position to make a late run. However, thanks to eight losses to teams from outside of the Top 100, the Panthers' RPI ranks only 97th, even with those three high-quality wins. They'll need to win Arch Madness, a result that would possibly send Gregg Marshall's team to the NIT.

Just three short weeks ago, the Texas A&M Aggies were 17-2, 7-0 in the SEC, and looking like a strong bet to be a two seed. Since then, they're 1-5, with the victory coming over Iowa State Cyclones in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, oddly enough. While the Aggies are in no danger of dropping out of the field, thanks to non-conference wins over the Cyclones, Texas and Gonzaga, they're looking more like a mid-bracket squad than a protected seed.

Conference-wide road woes might end up costing the Pac-12 a bid or two. The Washington Huskies fall out of this projection following defeats at Utah and Colorado. Lorenzo Romar's squad doesn't have the non-conference wins to make up for a three-game losing streak in conference. But the league's potential losses didn't stop in Seattle, as the Oregon State Beavers fell to the Last Four In group after splitting their Bay Area road games,.

Closer to the cut line, the Florida State Seminoles had a pair of chances to make their position a bit more secure, but after losses to Syracuse Orange and Miami, they're barely hanging on, joining the Beavers in Dayton. If Leonard Hamilton's team can avoid potential potholes this week (Georgia Tech on Wednesday and a trip to Virginia Tech on Saturday), three late quality win chances will await, with the final two, against Notre Dame and a rematch with Syracuse, coming in Tallahassee.

On the flip side, those same Orange lead the group of teams who've made actual progress. Five consecutive wins have helped push Syracuse to 8-5 in the ACC and back into the RPI Top 40. They're even wearing home jerseys in an 8/9 game in this projection. And with four of their five remaining games coming against quality opposition, Jim Boeheim's squad has room to improve.

Over the past week, the Alabama Crimson Tide, Wisconsin Badgers and Texas Tech Red Raiders have put on a clinic for teams hoping to make a late push, even if only the first two find themselves in this projected bracket. Alabama snuck into Friday's projection after topping Texas A&M to grab its fourth Top 50 victory of the season, and the Tide improved their position by grabbing a fifth on Saturday—winning at Florida for the first time since 1995. Wisconsin extended its win streak to seven by dominating Maryland in College Park on Saturday night, the Badgers' fourth Top 50 triumph. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders followed up their second consecutive home win over Iowa State with a surprisingly dominant road performance at Baylor.

Now, the difference between Texas Tech's profile and those of Alabama and Wisconsin becomes clear when you examine their non-conference results. While the Crimson Tide managed to defeat both Notre Dame and Wichita State in Orlando over Thanksgiving weekend and fellow bubble team Clemson on the road and the Badgers have wins over Syracuse (on the road), Temple and VCU (just on the outside looking in), the Red Raiders' best wins in November and December came against South Dakota State and Arkansas-Little Rock. While the Jackrabbits and Trojans are both decent bets to reach the field as conference champions, those victories don't quite compare, especially since both happened in Lubbock—Texas Tech is only 4-6 away from home this season.

So, Tubby Smith's team will need to pick up a couple more quality wins in Big 12 play to make its way in, perhaps starting with Oklahoma's visit on Wednesday. With a win over the Sooners, there's a good chance Texas Tech's position will improve even further for Friday's examination of the lock and bubble picture.