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Bracketology 2018: The ACC dominates the top of the bracket (for now)

While the SEC’s nine teams are still the most in the projected field, it’s a seven-bid league that’s best in position to provide most of the bracket’s headliners.

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

There’s one new name at the very top of this Tuesday’s bracket when compared to last week’s version, as the Duke Blue Devils replace the West Virginia Mountaineers as the fourth No. 1 seed, anchoring the West region. With the East’s Villanova Wildcats still the top team overall and the Kansas Jayhawks (Midwest) and Purdue Boilermakers (South) remaining in place, this bracket’s one seeds now match the top four teams from Friday’s look at the contenders for those coveted spots.

Even after a Big Monday loss at the very much on-the-bubble Virginia Tech Hokies, the North Carolina Tar Heels are again a No. 2 seed, meaning the ACC provides half of the top eight teams in today’s projected bracket. The Virginia Cavaliers and Clemson Tigers join their league rivals from Chapel Hill on the two line with another Big Monday loser, West Virginia, the lone interloper. But the Tigers’ position, in particular, bears watching, as they must play the rest of the way without star forward Donte Grantham, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Saturday. Brad Brownell’s team faces a huge test tonight against ... Virginia in Charlottesville (7 p.m. ET, ACC RSNs/Watch ESPN).

Kansas, West Virginia and the third-seeded Oklahoma Sooners give Big 12 three of the top 12 overall, with the Xavier Musketeers, Auburn Tigers and Pac-12-leading Arizona Wildcats joining the Sooners as three seeds. Tonight’s lineup offers another mouthwatering Big 12 matchup that will have significant impact at the top of the field — as Oklahoma, looking to snap a two-game skid, welcomes Kansas to Norman (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The Cincinnati Bearcats and Florida Gators, atop the American Athletic and SEC, respectively, lead the quartet of four seeds, with the Tennessee Volunteers and Seton Hall Pirates rounding out the top 16. The SEC and Big East each provide three teams to the protected seed group — rivaling the Big 12.

The Wichita State Shockers, who lost to both the SMU Mustangs and Houston Cougars last week; the Kentucky Wildcats, defeated by Florida at Rupp Arena on Saturday night; and Texas Tech Red Raiders, losers of three of their last four, all fall out of the top 16. On the flip side, keep an eye on the Louisville Cardinals. Scott Padgett’s team was an eight-seed a week ago and completely absent from January’s first projection, but now they’ve quietly risen up to the No. 5 seed line after four straight victories.

After today’s full bracket and rundown, I’ll take a quick look at some changes near the cut line. It wasn’t a great week for those hoping for a wider representation of conferences in this season’s field.

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

Boston (Fri./Sun.) Omaha (Fri./Sun.)
Boston (Fri./Sun.) Omaha (Fri./Sun.)
Pittsburgh (Thu./Sat.) Wichita (Thu./Sat.)
1. Villanova (Big East) 1. Kansas (Big 12)
16. Wagner/Ark.-Pine Bluff 16. Penn (Ivy)
8. Miami (Fla.) 8. Florida State
9. Arkansas 9. Butler
Boise (Thu./Sat.) San Diego (Fri./Sun.)
5. Louisville 5. Arizona State
12. Buffalo (MAC) 12. Loyola (Ill.) (MVC)
4. Florida (SEC) 4. Tennessee
13. South Dakota State (Summit) 13. ETSU (SoCon)
Wichita (Thu./Sat.) Detroit (Fri./Sun.)
6. Kentucky 6. TCU
11. Kansas State/SMU 11. Missouri/Washington
3. Oklahoma 3. Xavier
14. Northeastern (CAA) 14. Vermont (AE)
Nashville (Fri./Sun.) Nashville (Fri./Sun.)
7. Rhode Island (A 10) 7. Saint Mary's (WCC)
10. USC 10. Texas
2. Clemson 2. North Carolina
15. Hawai'i (Big West) 15. Radford (Big South)

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

Los Angeles (Thu./Sat.) Atlanta (Thu./Sat.)
Los Angeles (Thu./Sat.) Atlanta (Thu./Sat.)
Charlotte (Fri./Sun.) Detroit (Fri./Sun.)
1. Duke 1. Purdue (Big Ten)
16. FGCU (ASUN) 16. SE La./Bethune-Cookman
8. Texas A&M 8. Marquette
9. Nevada (MW) 9. Alabama
Boise (Thu./Sat.) Dallas (Thu./Sat.)
5. Michigan State 5. Texas Tech
12. New Mexico State (WAC) 12. Middle Tennessee (C-USA)
4. Seton Hall 4. Cincinnati (American)
13. Belmont (OVC) 13. Louisiana (Sun Belt)
San Diego (Fri./Sun.) Dallas (Thu./Sat.)
6. Creighton 6. Wichita State
11. Houston 11. Providence
3. Arizona (Pac-12) 3. Auburn
14. Montana (BIg Sky) 14. Wright State (Horizon)
Pittsburgh (Thu./Sat.) Charlotte (Fri./Sun.)
7. Ohio State 7. Michigan
10. Georgia 10. Gonzaga
2. West Virginia 2. Virginia (ACC)
15. Canisius (MAAC) 15. Bucknell (Patriot)

First Four

EAST (Automatic) SOUTH (Automatic) EAST (At-Large) MIDWEST (At-Large)
EAST (Automatic) SOUTH (Automatic) EAST (At-Large) MIDWEST (At-Large)
To Pittsburgh (Tue.) To Detroit (Wed.) To Wichita (Tue.) To Detroit (Wed.)
16. Wagner (NEC) 16. SE Louisiana (Southland) 11. Kansas State 11. Missouri
16. Ark.-Pine Bluff (SWAC) 16. Bethune-Cookman (MEAC) 11. SMU 11. Washington


Texas Syracuse Arkansas-Pine Bluff Cal State Fullerton
Georgia Notre Dame Belmont Drake
Houston St. Bonaventure Bethune-Cookman Jackson State
Providence South Carolina Hawaii LSU
Missouri (Dayton) Western Kentucky Kansas State Murray State
Washington (Dayton) N.C. State Loyola (Ill.) N.C. Central
Kansas State (Dayton) Maryland Northeastern Nicholls State
SMU (Dayton) Colorado SMU Notre Dame
SE Louisiana Robert Morris
Wagner St. Bonaventure
Washington William & Mary

Bids by Conference

Conference Bids Teams (in Seed List Order)
Conference Bids Teams (in Seed List Order)
SEC 9 Auburn, Florida (auto bid), Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri (First Four)
ACC 7 Duke, Virginia (auto bid), Clemson, North Carolina, Louisville, Miami (Fla.), Florida State
Big 12 7 Kansas (auto bid), West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, TCU, Texas, Kansas State (First Four)
Big East 7 Villanova (auto bid), Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton, Butler, Marquette, Providence
Big Ten 4 Purdue (auto bid), Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan
American 4 Cincinnati (auto bid), Wichita State, Houston, SMU (First Four)
Pac-12 4 Arizona (auto bid), Arizona State, USC, Washington (First Four)
WCC 2 Saint Mary's (auto bid), Gonzaga

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you, only eight conferences placed multiple teams in today’s projection. While the Saint Mary’s Gaels‘ huge Thursday night road win over the Gonzaga Bulldogs solidified the West Coast Conference’s multi-bid prospects, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies’ loss at Davidson Wildcats one night later moved the Atlantic 10 ever closer to one-bid status for 2018 (barring a team other than the Rhode Island Rams winning the conference tournament). While Mark Schmidt’s team still has three Group 1 wins, all away from home, it has also dropped four of its last five and sits at 2-4 in the standings, good for 11th place in a 14-team conference. And this isn’t the year to struggle through A 10 play, as eight squads rank in the RPI bottom 200, and the Saint Louis Billikens barely miss that cut — ranking 151st.

The Boise State Broncos, 34th in the RPI, couldn’t defeat theMountain West-leading Nevada Wolf Pack on Saturday — when a win in Reno would have given Leon Rice’s team a more legitimate chance at earning an at-large. While the Broncos host the Wolf Pack on Valentine’s night, a Boise win in a potential third meeting — the Mountain West final on Selection Eve — might be the conference’s best shot at snagging a second bid.

With the mid-majors’ best at-large hopes struggling, the First Four is populated by power conference outfits. SMU returns to the field thanks to a road win over Wichita State and revenge win over Tulane. A Rocky Mountain split — capped by an impressive win over Colorado — pushes the Washington Huskies back in. Those two entries mean both the American and Pac-12 provide a quartet of teams to today’s bracket. The Missouri Tigers, the ninth SEC team in, hangs on thanks to a midweek home win over Tennessee, but a Saturday loss at Texas A&M kept Cuonzo Martin’s team from further solidifying its place. Finally, the Kansas State Wildcats took advantage of Group 1 home wins over Oklahoma and TCU and an impressive Monday night win at Baylor to slide in.

The LSU Tigers, who followed up a disappointing home loss to Alabama with another to Georgia and a very horrible road road setback at Vanderbilt, join St. Bonaventure on the outside looking in. Also on the wrong side of the cut line — a Notre Dame Fighting Irish team that’s now lost four in a row. While Matt Farrell returned to the Irish lineup last week, Mike Brey’s squad seriously missed Bonzie Colson during its most difficult stretch of games.

On Friday, I’ll be back with a first look at a crowded bubble picture — which is exactly what you’d anticipate in late January.