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Bracketology 2017: Kansas seizes top overall seed amid bubble mayhem

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Before looking at the tumult near the cut line, there’s been another change on what had been a stable top line up to this week.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Kansas Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Back on Tuesday, North Carolina replaced Baylor as one of the four No. 1 seeds in my NCAA tournament projection. Today, thanks to Villanova‘s home loss to Butler — a result that gave the Bulldogs a season sweep of the defending national champions — the Wildcats have slipped from first to second overall, with now-perennial Big 12 champion Kansas rising to the top spot in response. UNC and Gonzaga remain third and fourth, respectively.

An asterisk (*) denotes a current projected automatic bid holder.

Protected seeds

No. 1 seeds No. 2 seeds No. 3 seeds No. 4 seeds
No. 1 seeds No. 2 seeds No. 3 seeds No. 4 seeds
1. Kansas* 5. Baylor 9. Duke 13. Florida State
2. Villanova* 6. Oregon 10. Butler 14. UCLA
3. North Carolina* 7. Louisville 11. Florida* 15. Purdue
4. Gonzaga* 8. Arizona* 12. Kentucky 16. West Virginia

After John Gillon’s banked three gave bracket returnee Syracuse a victory over Duke on Wednesday night, the Blue Devils drop back to line three, with Arizona now joining Baylor, Oregon, and Louisville as the quartet of No. 2 seeds. Butler, now 9-2 against Top 50 opponents, jumps up to line three to join Duke, Florida and Kentucky. Note that only one of the two SEC squads is likely to remain a three after the pair’s second meeting of the season on Saturday afternoon in Lexington.

Florida State, a No. 2 seed just one week ago, sits on line four temporarily. That’s what happens when you lose to Pittsburgh and beat a poor Boston College squad in the interim. Provided the Seminoles win at bubble team Clemson on Saturday (not a given considering how they often struggle away from Tallahassee), they’re likely to replace the Florida-Kentucky loser in my next projection. But for now FSU, UCLA, Purdue, and West Virginia comprise the final four protected seeds.

Here’s how the top 16 group looks when separated by region. Note that the Kansas-Villanova switch didn’t change things all that much, though we now have a potential 2016 National Championship Game rematch in the national semifinals.

Protected seeds by region

1. Kansas (Tulsa) 1. Gonzaga (Salt Lake City) 1. Villanova (Buffalo) 1. North Carolina (Greenville)
4. UCLA (Sacramento) 4. Florida State (Orlando) 4. West Virginia (Buffalo) 4. Purdue (Milwaukee)
3. Butler (Indianapolis) 3. Kentucky (Milwaukee) 3. Duke (Greenville) 3. Florida (Orlando)
2. Louisville (Indianapolis) 2. Oregon (Sacramento) 2. Arizona (Salt Lake City) 2. Baylor (Tulsa)

Last week, the total number of locks stood at just 24, but that number has grown by four to 28, as Minnesota, Saint Mary’s and a pair of Big 12 squads — Oklahoma State and Iowa State — have solidified their cases. However, a South Carolina squad that’s dropped four of five needs to recover in its next two games, both at home, to not see its status downgraded. You’ll also note that Wisconsin has dropped down to a No. 6 seed. While the Badgers are now 13-6 against the Top 100 after Thursday night’s loss to Ohio State, only two of those wins have come against Top 50 foes. Contrast that with Minnesota, Wisconsin’s best current win. The Golden Gophers own six Top 50 wins even though their Top 100 record is a less sterling 11-7.

Other locks

No. 5 seeds No. 6 seeds No. 7 seeds
No. 5 seeds No. 6 seeds No. 7 seeds
17. Creighton 21. Notre Dame 25. Maryland
18. Virginia 22. Wisconsin 26. Oklahoma State
19. Cincinnati* 23. SMU 27. Iowa State
20. Minnesota 24. Saint Mary's 28. South Carolina

With 23 bids awarded to the tournament champions of likely one-bid conferences, 45 spots are up for grabs. And now that 28 of those are locked up, just 17 remain available.

Bubble in

No. 8 seeds No. 9 seeds No. 10 seed
No. 8 seeds No. 9 seeds No. 10 seed
29. Xavier 33. Northwestern 37. Arkansas
30. VCU* 34. USC
31. Dayton 35. Virginia Tech
32. Miami 36. Michigan

For a little while there, both Xavier and Northwestern looked set to join the locks. But after four straight losses the Musketeers are teetering and it’s a similar story for a Wildcat squad that just got swept by Illinois. Conversely, Miami, winners of three straight including Monday’s OT triumph over Virginia, might be able to lock up a bid by defeating Duke at home on Saturday, while an Arkansas outfit that’s won four straight is getting closer to assuring the presence of four SEC teams in the field of 68.

Cut line

Last Four Byes Last Four In First Four Out Next Four Out Next Seven Out
Last Four Byes Last Four In First Four Out Next Four Out Next Seven Out
38. Michigan State 42. Syracuse 69. Rhode Island 73. Pittsburgh 77. Illinois
39. Marquette 43. Kansas State 70. California 74. Tennessee 78. Houston
40. Seton Hall 44. Wichita State 71. TCU 75. Clemson 79. Georgia
41. Providence 45. Vanderbilt 72. Wake Forest 76. Georgia Tech 80. Texas Tech
81. Indiana
82. Alabama
83. Ohio State

Things remain interesting around the cut line, as there are now three Big East squads joining Michigan State (a name you’re likely surprised to see here) in the last four byes. Providence, whose road win over Creighton was its third in a row over a team in the field, avoids Dayton for today, along with conference rivals Marquette and Seton Hall.

Following their respective Tuesday losses to North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Clemson fall out, though the Tigers and Yellow Jackets join fellow ACC squads Wake Forest and Pitt among the first eight teams out. Syracuse, now 6-6 against the RPI Top 50 after toppling Duke, is the only new ACC entrant in this projection, reducing the league’s bid total to nine. Still, the Orange’s RPI of 78 needs some work and they could very well drop back out with a loss at Louisville on Sunday.

Kansas State, 2-7 in its last nine, needs to sweep its final three winnable games to hang around. Wichita State, like Valley rival Illinois State, needs an Arch Madness title to be absolutely safe. Meanwhile, the Shockers’ opponent in 2016’s First Four, Vanderbilt, is the last team in this projection. While the Commodores are only 15-13 overall, they’re 4-6 against the Top 50 and own the third-strongest and the top non-conference slates in the country.

California would have returned to the field had Oregon’s Dillon Brooks not felled them at the buzzer on Wednesday night, while Rhode Island can put themselves in great position by defeating VCU in Kingston on Saturday.

Last week’s “Last 10 Out” has been reduced to just seven, as Providence and Nevada have jumped into the field and Utah, Boise State, Richmond, and Georgetown have all fallen out of the picture. There’s one new name here — Illinois. Thanks to their sweep of Northwestern, the Fighting Illini sit at 16-12 with an RPI ranking of 58th and a 3-7 Top 50 record. Even with a 6-9 Big Ten mark, that will be enough for John Groce’s team to get a look.

Likely auto-bid only

Nos. 11-12 seeds No. 13 seeds No. 14 seeds No. 15 seeds No. 16 seeds
Nos. 11-12 seeds No. 13 seeds No. 14 seeds No. 15 seeds No. 16 seeds
46. Middle Tennessee* 51. Nevada* 55. Belmont* 59. FGCU* 63. Texas Southern*
47. Illinois State* 52. Princeton* 56. ETSU* 60. Cal St. Bakersfield* 64. North Dakota*
48. UT Arlington* 53. Monmouth* 57. Bucknell* 61. UNC Asheville* 65. UC Davis*
49. UNCW* 54. Vermont* 58. Akron* 62. North Dakota State* 66. New Orleans*
50. Valparaiso* 67. Mount St. Mary's*
68. N.C. Central*

The first elimination action of the season arrives on Monday night, when the Atlantic Sun will reduce its eight-team field to four. Then, one week from tomorrow, the Ohio Valley Conference will award the first automatic bid of 2017. Note that with the Ivy League’s addition of a conference tournament that will end on Selection Sunday afternoon, the Ancient Eight will move from being one of the first conferences to hand out a dance ticket to one of the last.

If this season is anything like 2016, when a whopping 15 top seeds failed to win their conference tournaments, look for many of the names in this group to change over the next two weeks.