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Bracketology 2017: North Carolina jumps to the top line

The ACC-leading Tar Heels replace a Baylor squad that’s won just two of its last six games. At the other end of the field, the weekend’s results led the entry of three new at-large teams.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve long suspected that North Carolina would pass Baylor, as the Bears have struggled a bit and the Tar Heels’ ACC slate was backloaded. Saturday was the tipping point. Baylor fell to Kansas in Waco in the afternoon — a result that all but sewed up the Big 12 regular-season title for the Jayhawks — while UNC hammered fading Virginia by 24 in Chapel Hill in the evening. Thus, the new top line consists of Villanova (East), Kansas (Midwest), North Carolina (South), and top-ranked Gonzaga (West).

Baylor now leads the two seeds, a group that still includes Oregon out of the Pac-12 and a pair of ACC squads. However, a Duke squad that’s won seven in a row joins Louisville, while Florida State falls to line three after losing at Pittsburgh on Saturday. That was the Seminoles’ second straight defeat, with both coming away from Tallahassee. A trio of returnees — Arizona, Kentucky, and Florida — join Leonard Hamilton’s squad on the third row.

Virginia, 2-6 in its last eight and loser of four straight, exits the group of 16 protected seed. Big Ten co-leader Purdue replaces the Cavaliers, with UCLA, Butler, and West Virginia keeping their places on line four.

After today’s full bracket and rundown, I’ll take a look at what the weekend’s action did to the bubble picture. Here’s a hint: There are a couple of surprise entrants.

1. East (Left) and 2. Midwest (Right)

New York (Fri/Sun) Kansas City (Thu/Sat)
New York (Fri/Sun) Kansas City (Thu/Sat)
Buffalo (Thu/Sat) Tulsa (Fri/Sun)
1. Villanova (Big East) 1. Kansas (Big 12)
16. Mt. St. Mary's/N.C. Central 16. Texas Southern (SWAC)
8. VCU (A 10) 8. Dayton
9. USC 9. Virginia Tech
Buffalo (Thu/Sat) Milwaukee (Thu/Sat)
5. Notre Dame 5. Creighton
12. UNCW (CAA) 12. Illinois State (MVC)
4. West Virginia 4. Purdue (Big Ten)
13. Princeton (Ivy) 13. Valparaiso (Horizon)
Orlando (Thu/Sat) Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat)
6. Minnesota 6. Virginia
11. Georgia Tech/Providence 11. Middle Tennesee (C-USA)
3. Florida (SEC) 3. Arizona (Pac-12)
14. Vermont (AmEast) 14. Bucknell (Patriot)
Greenville (Fri/Sun) Indianapolis (Fri/Sun)
7. Xavier 7. Iowa State
10. Kansas State 10. Arkansas
2. Duke 2. Louisville
15. FGCU (A-Sun) 15. North Dakota State (Summit)

4. West (Left) and 3. South (Right)

San José (Thu/Sat) Memphis (Fri/Sun)
San José (Thu/Sat) Memphis (Fri/Sun)
Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat) Greenville (Fri/Sun)
1. Gonzaga (WCC) 1. North Carolina (ACC)
16. UC Irvine (Big West) 16. North Dakota/New Orleans
8. Oklahoma State 8. Northwestern
9. Michigan 9. Miami
Milwaukee (Thu/Sat) Sacramento (Fri/Sun)
5. Wisconsin 5. Cincinnati
12. Nevada (MW) 12. UT Arlington (Sun Belt)
4. Butler 4. UCLA
13. Akron (MAC) 13. Monmouth (MAAC)
Orlando (Thu/Sat) Indianapolis (Fri/Sun)
6. Maryland 6. SMU (American)
11. Seton Hall 11. Wichita State/Clemson
3. Florida State 3. Kentucky
14. CS Bakersfield (WAC) 14. Belmont (OVC)
Sacramento (Fri/Sun) Tulsa (Fri/Sun)
7. South Carolina 7. Saint Mary's
10. Marquette 10. Michigan State
2. Oregon 2. Baylor
15. Furman (SoCon) 15. UNC Asheville (Big South)

First Four

To Buffalo (Tue.) To Orlando (Tue.) To Greenville (Wed.) To Indianapolis (Wed.)
To Buffalo (Tue.) To Orlando (Tue.) To Greenville (Wed.) To Indianapolis (Wed.)
16. Mount St. Mary's (NEC) 11. Georgia Tech 16. North Dakota (Big Sky) 11. Wichita State
16. N.C. Central (MEAC) 11. Providence 16. New Orleans (Southland) 11. Clemson


ACC: 10 Kansas State (38) Arkansas Boise State
Big East: 7 Arkansas (39) Clemson California
Big Ten: 7 Marquette (40) Illinois State Syracuse
Big 12: 6 Seton Hall (41) Nevada TCU
Pac-12: 4 LAST FOUR IN North Dakota Tennessee
SEC: 4 Georgia Tech (42) Providence UC Davis
American: 2 Providence (43) UC Irvine Weber State
A 10: 2 Wichita State (46)
MVC: 2 Clemson (47)
One-Bid: 22 California
Rhode Island
Wake Forest

Also considered (in order): Indiana, Georgia, Georgetown, Vanderbilt, Houston, Colorado, Richmond, Texas Tech

Starting with California‘s loss at Stanford on Friday night and ending with Utah‘s defeat at the hands of an Oregon State squad ranked 299th in the RPI at tip time on Sunday night, it was a typically tumultuous weekend on the bubble. Those results knocked the Golden Bears out for the moment and completely extinguished the Utes’ at-large hopes. And between those two games, just about every kind of bubble result played out.

The ACC’s total remains at 10, as Syracuse falls out, as Georgia Tech won the first of two late meetings with the Orange in Atlanta on Sunday night. Clemson replaces the Orange, even after a close loss at Miami on Saturday afternoon dropped the Tigers to 4-10 in the ACC. If non-conference scheduling matters, which is a safe assumption thanks to what we learned during the Committee’s sneak preview, then Brad Brownell’s squad will get a serious look. Four RPI top 50 wins, including non-league ones over South Carolina and UNC Wilmington help, as do victories over SEC bid contenders Georgia and Alabama. Things don’t look so rosy for Wake Forest, a loser at Littlejohn Coliseum one week ago, after the Demon Deacons dropped a five-point decision at Duke on Saturday. Those two defeats pushed the Deacs down the pecking order, while Pitt jumps back into the picture after its Saturday win over FSU. If a 14-12 Clemson team is under consideration, a Panther team with one more win must be as well.

On Saturday, TCU lost its third straight — a 13-point defeat at Iowa State. That result helped push the Horned Frogs out, while simultaneously boosting the Cyclones into a three-way tie for second in the Big 12 and closer to bid safety. Texas Tech‘s failure to take care of West Virginia in regulation led to a double-OT loss and yet another missed opportunity for the Red Raiders (who also lost to Iowa State in OT on Monday). Meanwhile, Kansas State and Oklahoma State snuck past the Big 12’s two worst teams — Texas and Oklahoma, respectively. Those wins kept the Wildcats in, barely, and prevented the Cowboys from further rocketing up the seed list.

While the Big 12 is down to six teams, the Big East jumps up to seven, as Providence, the 11th team out on Friday, jumped into the First Four. While the Friars lost to both Boston College and DePaul earlier this season, they now have three top 50 wins on their profile, including their last two victories — over Butler and struggling Xavier. The injury-plagued Musketeers have dropped three in a row, including Saturday’s loss at Marquette, a result that helped the Golden Eagles slightly improve their positioning. Meanwhile, Seton Hall remains in despite a 22-point home loss to Villanova. Getting blown out by the top team in the bracket is a preferable result to losing to a lesser foe. On the flip side, a 17-point loss at Creighton sent Georgetown to 14-13, diminishing the Hoyas’ selection chances just as they started to look rosier.

The Big Ten matches the Big East’s total of seven bids. While Northwestern gutted out a home win over Rutgers, Michigan State suffered a double setback. Not only did the Spartans get blown out at Purdue, but they lost Eron Harris to a nasty knee injury in the defeat. That’s not good news for a squad that’s struggled even with all of its key producers available. On Sunday night, Michigan dropped an overtime decision at Minnesota but that result didn’t damage the Wolverines’ hopes much — while the Golden Gophers are nearing lock status after five straight wins.

With Cal departing, the Pac-12 is down to four bids, matching the SEC’s total. Arkansas, which followed up a needed Wednesday win over South Carolina with a Saturday home victory over Ole Miss, replaces Tennessee. While the Volunteers defeated Missouri on Saturday, Tuesday’s blowout loss to Kentucky stings. Similarly, Georgia will rue its five-point home loss to the Wildcats from Saturday night, as the Bulldogs are now 0-6 against the SEC’s top three teams. Making matters all the more painful, five of those defeats came by single-digit margins. As for Alabama, consecutive wins over Missouri and LSU merely kept them in the picture heading into Thursday’s visit from Georgia.

For the moment, this projection features four two-bid conferences, as the Missouri Valley joins the American Athletic (Cincinnati and SMU), Atlantic 10 (still VCU and Dayton), and West Coast (Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s). However, if either Illinois State or Wichita State lose before the Arch Madness final on March 5, look for the Valley to only send one team, given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on quality wins. But given the other options out there with less than three weeks to play, don’t be surprised to a Valley championship game loser to get a look if they keep winning.

I’ll be back on Friday with a look at the bubble heading into the penultimate weekend of league play for the power conferences.