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Bracketology: The ACC is suddenly on shaky ground

Thanks to messes in their middle tiers, the ACC will not be able to feel secure about its bid total until Selection Sunday.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Virginia vs North Carolina Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Just like last Tuesday, Villanova, Kansas, Kentucky, and Baylor lead off this week’s NCAA tournament projection, though the Jayhawks and Wildcats jumped the Bears on the seed list. Gonzaga, still perfect at 20-0, are the next in line, thanks in no small part to UCLA‘s home loss to Arizona on Saturday afternoon. Now, I didn’t mention Tucson’s Wildcats in my Friday post outlining 16 possibilities for the final quartet of one seeds, thanks to the continued absence of Allonzo Trier and a lack of quality wins. (Arizona’s best non-conference victory came over struggling Michigan State in Honolulu on opening night.) Then Trier made his first appearance of the season at Pauley, and now Sean Miller’s squad has to be considered a threat in both the Pac-12 and protected seed races as a result.

Florida State and Louisville join Gonzaga and UCLA on line two, with North Carolina leading off the three seeds. Butler, Oregon, and Creighton follow the Tar Heels, though the Bluejays’ long-term prospects are cloudy after losing Maurice Watson for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. While the Jays managed to win at Xavier in the game Watson was lost, Saturday’s defeat at home to Marquette causes some concern. And this week’s slate of Georgetown in the nation’s capital and DePaul back in Omaha — with those teams a combined 2-12 in Big East play — won’t do much to help Greg McDermott’s team gain much more than a pair of wins and renewed confidence.

Florida, losers against both South Carolina and Vanderbilt, and West Virginia (yes, one of my 16 potential one seeds on Friday), felled by Oklahoma at home and bracket newcomer Kansas State in Manhattan, fall from the top 16. Arizona and American Athletic leader Cincinnati join Notre Dame and Virginia as today’s four seeds.

After today’s full bracket and rundown, I’ll take a look at why there’s a little more balance in this week’s conference bid totals.

New York (Fri/Sun) San José (Thu/Sat) Kansas City (Thu/Sat) Memphis (Fri/Sun)
Buffalo (Thu/Sat) Tulsa (Fri/Sun) Tulsa (Fri/Sun) Indianapolis (Fri/Sun)
1. Villanova (Big East) 1. Baylor 1. Kansas (Big 12) 1. Kentucky (SEC)
16. New Orleans/Morgan State 16. Weber State (Big Sky) 16. Texas Southern (SWAC) 16. UC Irvine/FDU
8. Dayton (A 10) 8. Minnesota 8. Middle Tennessee (C-USA) 8. Indiana
9. Michigan 9. California 9. Northwestern 9. Iowa State
Greenville (Fri/Sun) Buffalo (Thu/Sat) Orlando (Thu/Sat) Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat)
5. West Virginia 5. South Carolina 5. Wisconsin 5. Purdue
12. New Mexico State (WAC) 12. Nevada (MW) 12. UNCW (CAA) 12. Valparaiso (Horizon)
4. Virginia 4. Notre Dame 4. Cincinnati (American) 4. Arizona (Pac-12)
13. Illinois State (MVC) 13. Monmouth (MACC) 13. UNC Greensboro (SoCon) 13. Akron (MAC)
Sacramento (Fri/Sun) Milwaukee (Thu/Sat) Greenville (Fri/Sun) Milwaukee (Thu/Sat)
6. Florida 6. Duke 6. Xavier 6. SMU
11. Wake Forest 11. VCU 11. TCU/Rhode Island 11. Texas Tech/Utah
3. Oregon 3. Creighton 3. North Carolina (ACC) 3. Butler
14. FGCU (A-Sun) 14. Winthrop (Big South) 14. Princeton (Ivy) 14. Vermont (AmEast)
Indianapolis (Fri/Sun) Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat) Sacramento (Fri/Sun) Orlando (Thu/Sat)
7. Maryland (Big Ten) 7. USC 7. Virginia Tech 7. Saint Mary's
10. Seton Hall 10. Kansas State 10. Marquette 10. Michigan State
2. Louisville 2. Gonzaga (WCC) 2. UCLA 2. Florida State
15. Bucknell (Patriot) 15. Georgia Southern (Sun Belt) 15. North Dakota State (Summit) 15. Belmont (OVC)
To Buffalo (Tue.) To Greenville (Wed.) To Indianapolis (Wed.)
16. New Orleans (Southland) 11. TCU 16. UC Irvine (Big West)
16. Morgan State (MEAC) 11. Rhode Island 16. Fairleigh Dickinson (NEC)
To Milwaukee (Tue.)
11. Texas Tech
11. Utah


ACC: 8 Michigan State (39) Fairleigh Dickinson Chattanooga
Big Ten: 8 Seton Hall (40) Kansas State Clemson
Big 12: 7 VCU (41) TCU LIU-Brooklyn
Big East: 6 TCU (42) UNC Greensboro Miami
Pac-12: 6 LAST FOUR IN Utah Pittsburgh
A 10: 3 Texas Tech (43) Wake Forest Richmond
SEC: 3 Utah (44)
American: 2 TCU (45)
WCC: 2 Rhode Island (46)
La Salle

Also considered: Boise State, Georgia Tech, Houston, Illinois, N.C. State, Oakland, Ole Miss, St. Bonaventure, Penn State, UCF, UT Arlington, Wichita State

Last week, 10 ACC teams featured in this projection, but that number shrunk to eight today. Clemson, Miami, and Pitt — a combined 4-15 in ACC play — move out, with First Four team Wake Forest moving in. (North Carolina State‘s Big Monday road win over Duke wasn’t enough to get the Wolfpack within striking distance of the cut line.)

The two departures mean that the ACC and its conference challenge partner, the Big Ten, now share the lead for the most bids, with the Big 12 now just one behind at seven. Kansas State and TCU both jumped in this week, while Texas Tech continues to hang on — and that’s with the Horned Frogs losing twice! Remember, these changes don’t happen in a vacuum.

The Big East continues to be a six-bid league in this projection, as Marquette and Seton Hall have consolidated their positions, while the Pac-12’s total jumped to a matching half dozen, as Utah joins TCU, Texas Tech and Rhode Island in the quartet bound for Dayton. While the Rams hang on, Richmond‘s consecutive losses to Dayton and George Mason mean the Spiders no longer hold the Atlantic 10 lead and that conference’s total drops to a very soft three.

Given how messy conference play has been in the ACC, Big 12, and Big Ten over the first three weeks, expect to see those leagues’ bid totals fluctuate over the next few weeks. While the ACC’s contenders picked up some decent non-conference results, their struggles in conference play have largely knocked them down the pecking order of late. On the flip side, the Big 12’s bid contenders didn’t do the necessary work in November and December and are therefore left needing to pull some upsets (as Texas Tech and Kansas State have already done in defeating West Virginia) to earn bids. As for the Big Ten, the conference’s overall mediocrity and relatively decent early season results mean its contenders have more staying power.

This Saturday, all of the Big 12 and a majority of the SEC step out of league play for a challenge series designed to give the conferences’ contenders a chance at picking up one last decent non-league win before the home stretch. Unfortunately for the Big 12, the SEC’s continued struggles mean that its bubble teams won’t get much of a boost due to the matchups set back in May. Games against Auburn (TCU), LSU (Texas Tech), Tennessee (Kansas State), and Vanderbilt (Iowa State) won’t help the bid contenders’ cases. However, if Oklahoma State can top visiting Arkansas and improve its 2-6 league mark, all won’t necessarily be lost.

Perhaps the conferences would have been better served by applying the old BracketBusters approach to building these matchups. By assigning the home and away teams during the offseason but only setting the specific games up three to four weeks before playing, perhaps the Big 12 and SEC could have gotten contests that will not only help their respective bubble teams but draw in viewers as well. Looking at the current list, only Kansas-Kentucky really moves the needle.

I’ll have one more update before that series tips on Saturday afternoon. On Friday, I’ll take a first look at who’s virtually locked up a tournament bid with six weeks to play before Selection Sunday.