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Bracketology 2018: Does anyone want to play in the NCAA Tournament this season?

We might get some answers to that question, thanks to this weekend’s bubble-heavy schedule.

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Washington
While Utah hasn’t jumped into the field of 68 yet, Thursday’s home win over UCLA edged the Utes closer and set up a huge matchup with USC for Saturday.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

At least the top of the bracket has remained stable since Tuesday, as the Virginia Cavaliers, Villanova Wildcats, Xavier Musketeers and Kansas Jayhawks maintain their hold on the four No. 1 seeds. However, KU’s next opponent, the Texas Tech Red Raiders (Saturday 4:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), slipped down to the three line from the two, thanks to a Wednesday loss at the (still alive) Oklahoma State Cowboys. In response, the North Carolina Tar Heels, one of the hottest teams in the country thanks to six straight wins, jumps up to join the Auburn Tigers, Duke Blue Devils and Michigan State Spartans as the quartet of No. 2 seeds.

Note: Quality win data (the ratio in parentheses, see Jan. 26 post for more info) and RPI information are courtesy WarrenNolan.com and accurate as of the morning of Feb. 23, 2018 and only reflect games against Division I opponents.

Locks and 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. Virginia* (8/14) 5. Auburn* (8/12) 9. Purdue (6/10) 13. Tennessee (5/11)
2. Villanova* (7/15) 6. North Carolina (10/13) 10. Texas Tech (6/10) 14. Wichita State (3/12)
3. Xavier (6/14) 7. Duke (3/12) 11. Cincinnati* (5/12) 15. Gonzaga* (3/5)
4. Kansas* (10/16) 8. Michigan State* (3/7) 12. Arizona* (5/9) 16. Clemson (3/11)
avg. # of losses = 3.75 avg. # of losses = 4.75 avg. # of losses = 5.25 avg. # of losses = 5.75
* = auto bid

This week, I’ve added the average number of losses for each seed quartet, which will grow from line to line in most, but not all cases. This exercise will be more illustrative as we get closer to the cut line, as this season will feature a high number of at-large teams with double-digit losses, as I covered back on Tuesday.

Of the top 16, the Clemson Tigers, losers of three straight, are the team most in danger of dropping out. While Brad Brownell’s team should take care of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at home on Saturday (3 p.m., ACC Network/ESPN3), next week’s slate — a visit from the Florida State Seminoles and trip to the desperate Syracuse Orange — isn’t quite as manageable. Honorable mention goes to the Arizona Wildcats, currently a three seed, but not likely to hold that position unless Allonzo Trier returns from his ineligibility issue relatively quickly. The Pac-12 leader needed overtime to take down the Oregon State Beavers last night and next visits an Oregon Ducks squad (Saturday 10:15 p.m., ESPN) whose faint NCAA hopes got a boost with a completed season sweep of the Arizona State Sun Devils late Thursday.

Protected Seeds by Region

1. SOUTH 4. WEST 2. EAST 3. MIDWEST
1. SOUTH 4. WEST 2. EAST 3. MIDWEST
1. Virginia* (#1 - Charlotte) 1. Kansas* (#4 - Wichita) 1. Villanova* (#2 - Pittsburgh) 1. Xavier (#3 - Detroit)
4. Wichita State (#14 - Boise) 4. Tennessee (#13 - Dallas) 4. Gonzaga* (#15 - Boise) 4. Clemson (#16 - San Diego)
3. Texas Tech (#10 - Dallas) 3. Arizona* (#12 - San Diego) 3. Cincinnati* (#11 - Wichita) 3. Purdue (#9 - Nashville)
2. Michigan State* (#8 - Detroit) 2. Duke (#7 - Pittsburgh) 2. North Carolina (#6 - Charlotte) 2. Auburn* (#5 - Nashville)
Sum of top 4 seeds: 33 Sum of top 4 seeds: 36 Sum of top 4 seeds: 34 Sum of top 4 seeds: 33

Another new addition to this week’s post is the sum of the overall seed numbers for each region’s top four seeds. I’ve done this to show the balance between them. According to the Selection Committee’s Principles and Procedures document, no more than five points should separate the strongest and weakest regions. I achieved that goal with this arrangement.

Other than a pair of games involving Texas Tech, which faces a difficult road test at West Virginia (Monday 9 p.m., ESPN2) a little more than 48 hours after hosting Kansas, the remainder of the top 16 play winnable games over the next few days. (Note that Xavier has its weekend bye.) However, teams like Florida, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Texas will all be aiming for a late top tier win for their respective profiles.

Other Games to Watch

Seed numbers in parentheses. All times Eastern.

(4) Tennessee at Ole Miss, Saturday 1 p.m. (SEC Network)
(4) Wichita State at SMU, Saturday 2 p.m. (ESPN)
(1) Villanova at (8) Creighton, Saturday 2:30 p.m. (Fox)
(1) Virginia at Pitt, Saturday 4 p.m. (ESPNU)
(bubble) Syracuse at (2) Duke, Saturday 6:15 p.m. (ESPN)
(4) Gonzaga at BYU, Saturday 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
(2) Auburn at (8) Florida, Saturday 8:30 p.m. (SEC Network))
Tulsa at (3) Cincinnati, Sunday 12 p.m. (CBSSN)
(2) Michigan State at Wisconsin, Sunday 1 p.m. (CBS)
Minnesota at (3) Purdue, Sunday 4 p.m. (FS1)
(2) Duke at (8) Virginia Tech, Monday 7 p.m. (ESPN)
(11) Texas at (1) Kansas, Monday 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
(3) Texas Tech at (5) West Virginia, Monday 9 p.m. (ESPN2)

Locks (Teams 17-21) and Near Locks (Teams 22-28)

No. 5 seeds No. 6 seeds No. 7 seeds
No. 5 seeds No. 6 seeds No. 7 seeds
17. West Virginia (6/12) 21. Kentucky (4/12) 25. Texas A&M (4/10)
18. Ohio State (3/8) 22. Seton Hall (4/6) 26. Missouri (6/10)
19. Rhode Island* (2/6) 23. Alabama (5/10) 27. Florida State (6/7)
20. Michigan (3/7) 24. Saint Mary's (1/3) 28. Miami (Fla.) (4/6)
avg. # of losses = 6.5 avg. # of losses = 8.25 avg. # of losses = 9.25
* = auto bid

Much like last week, the lock group simply hasn’t grown much over the past seven days. The Michigan Wolverines and Kentucky Wildcats are the only two new additions, while three teams in this portion of the bracket, all from the SEC, have 10 or more losses on their records, while Kentucky and the Seton Hall Pirates are each at nine defeats.

Much like the top 16, consolidation will be the primary theme for the second-tier’s weekend games with the notable exceptions found in primetime. On Saturday, the Alabama Crimson Tide will welcome an Arkansas Razorbacks squad (6 p.m., SEC Network) that would like to stop its tumble toward oblivion, while the Missouri Tigers head to Lexington aiming to defeat the Kentucky Wildcats for a second time (8:15 p.m., ESPN). Then on Sunday night, the Florida State Seminoles take on the N.C. State Wolfpack in Raleigh (6 p.m., ESPNU) with seeding a key consideration for both.

Other Games to Watch

Dayton at (5) Rhode Island, Friday 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
(6) Seton Hall at St. John’s, Saturday 12 p.m. (Fox)
(5) Michigan at (bubble) Maryland, Saturday 12 p.m. (ESPN)
Boston College at (7) Miami, Saturday 2 p.m. (ACC RSNs/ESPN3)
(7) Texas A&M at Vanderbilt, Saturday 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
Iowa State at (5) West Virginia, Saturday 6 p.m. (ESPNU)
Santa Clara at (6) Saint Mary’s, Saturday 6 p.m. (TheW.tv)

It’s time to check in on the number of bids still up for grabs. With 23 likely one-bid conference winners (I’ve removed the Atlantic 10 from this group for the moment) and these 28 locks and near locks accounted for, just 17 of the 68 places in this season’s NCAA Tournament remain up for grabs.

Bubble In

No. 8 seeds No. 9 seeds No. 10 seeds
No. 8 seeds No. 9 seeds No. 10 seeds
29. Creighton (2/7) 33. Houston (5/7) 37. Kansas State (3/9)
30. Virginia Tech (4/9) 34. Nevada* (2/6) 38. TCU (4/7)
31. Arizona State (3/7) 35. Butler (3/8) avg. # of losses = 8.5
32. Florida (6/10) 36. Oklahoma (6/8)
avg. # of losses = 9 avg. # of losses = 8
* = auto bid

Thanks to late road losses for Arizona State (Oregon) and Houston (Memphis), this group looks slightly different than I anticipated when I first put it together early Thursday evening. And more change could be afoot, as the Kansas State Wildcats will have a great chance on Saturday night (6 p.m., ESPN2) to extend the Oklahoma Sooners’ losing streak to seven and send Lon Kruger’s team ever closer to the NIT. While the Wildcats are 0-6 against the Big 12’s top three of Kansas, Texas Tech and West Virginia, they’ve won every single league game against teams outside of that grouping.

Before Virginia Tech hosts Duke on Big Monday, the Hokies face the Louisville Cardinals in the middle game of a three-game homestand (Saturday 1 p.m., CBS). That’s a contest the Cards, currently on the wrong side of the cut line, badly need.

Other Games to Watch

(8) Arizona State at Oregon State, Saturday 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
East Carolina at (9) Houston, Sunday 3 p.m. (ESPN3)
Colorado State at (9) Nevada, Sunday 4 p.m. (CBSSN)

Most of this week’s action is on the bubble, with the Pac-12 taking the lion’s share of attention, following a trio of midweek matchups that shook things up considerably. On Wednesday, the USC Trojans took care of the first leg of their Rocky Mountain road trip, smacking the Colorado Buffaloes by 11. Then Thursday’s lineup featured a pair of key results — the Utah Utes boosted their chances by simultaneously denting those of the UCLA Bruins, while the Washington Huskies saw their hopes take a serious hit as they were swept by the Stanford Cardinal. These results mean there was some significant late jostling around the cut line.

Cut Line

Last Four Byes Last Four In First Four Out Next Four Out
Last Four Byes Last Four In First Four Out Next Four Out
37. N.C. State (5/7) 41. St. Bonaventure (3/7) 69. Utah (2/6) 73. LSU (5/8)
38. Arkansas (4/7) 42. Baylor (4/6) 70. USC (1/6) 74. Temple (3/7)
39. Providence (3/8) 43. Texas (5/8) 71. UCLA (2/5) 75. Washington (4/5)
40. Marquette (4/7) 44. Syracuse (2/6) 72. Louisville (2/3) 76. Nebraska (1/3)
avg. # of losses = 9.75 avg. # of losses = 9.75 avg. # of losses = 9.25 avg. # of losses = 10.5

Last four in

Avoiding Dayton: 39. N.C. State, 40. Arkansas, 41. Providence, 42. Marquette

41. St. Bonaventure Bonnies

(21-6, 11-4 A 10); RPI: 26; KenPom: 68; “Super Average”: 49.5; SOS: 92

The Bonnies’ win last Friday over Rhode Island Rams was their third Group 1 victory and second triumph over a team with at-large hopes. Yet Mark Schmidt’s team cannot get comfortable, as they already own a quartet of losses to teams ranked 100th or worse in the RPI, with a pair of those coming against sub-150 foes. All three of St. Bonaventure’s remaining regular season games come against squads with triple-digit RPIs, with two of those on the road.

Next game: at VCU, Saturday 8 p.m. (CBSSN)

42. Baylor Bears

(16-11, 7-8 Big 12); RPI: 58; KenPom: 36; “Super Average”: 41.3; SOS: 23

Predictive-based metrics love the Bears, particularly Sagarin, where they’re ranked 22nd. However, a 4-9 record against Group 1 and 2-7 mark in true road games mean Baylor has a bit more work to do. Scott Drew’s squad closes against a trio of opponents who they have yet to defeat this season, all of whom currently qualify as Group 1 victories. Unfortunately, two of those will come on the road, starting on Saturday in Fort Worth, with a home contest against fading Oklahoma in the middle.

Next game: at (10) TCU, Saturday 12 p.m. (ESPN2)

43. Texas Longhorns

(16-12, 6-9 Big 12); RPI: 53; KenPom: 41; “Super Average”: 41.8; SOS: 16

While the Longhorns have lost 12 times, they also own five Group 1 wins, with three of those coming away from home. Those totals are things the other teams on this list can’t claim. Texas has two chances to improve upon those marks, starting at Kansas on Monday night. However, next Saturday’s finale, at home against West Virginia, might be a more likely victory. In any case, an early exit from the Big 12 Tournament wouldn’t be a good idea for Shaka Smart’s squad.

Next game: vs. Oklahoma State Saturday 2 p.m. (LHN)

44. Syracuse Orange

(18-10, 7-8 ACC); RPI: 46; KenPom: 51; “Super Average”: 48.3; SOS: 22

Had the Orange defeated North Carolina on Wednesday, their position would be much more secure. However, losses elsewhere keep them in for now. In the unlikely event they win at Duke on Saturday night, they’ll finally have the top tier win their decent, but unremarkable profile needs. However, Syracuse will probably have to wait a week, as Clemson, 10th in the RPI, visits the Carrier Dome to close out the regular season next Saturday.

Next game: at Duke, Saturday 6:15 p.m. (ESPN)

First Four Out

69. Utah Utes

(18-9, 10-6 Pac-12); RPI: 42; KenPom: 59; “Super Average”: 58; SOS: 59

The Utes seem to be peaking at the right time, as they’ll look to extend their current winning streak to six when USC visits on Saturday afternoon. Other than a November win over Missouri, Utah’s non-conference schedule does it no favors, which puts Larry Krystkowiak’s team a bit behind its competition. A weak Pac-12 doesn’t help either. Arizona swept Utah, while the Utes took two from Washington. With a win Saturday, they’ll have splits with UCLA, USC and Arizona State.

Next game: vs. USC, Saturday 2:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

70. USC Trojans

(20-9, 11-5 Pac-12); RPI: 35; KenPom: 52; “Super Average”: 47.7; SOS: 53

Even though the Trojans won at Colorado on Wednesday, they lost a Group 1 victory on Thursday, when the New Mexico State Aggies, whom USC defeated in the Diamond Head Classic final, dropped out of the RPI Top 50. That makes USC’s position particularly tenuous and a win at Utah, which would keep Group 1 status the rest of the way, an absolute requirement.

Next game: at Utah, Saturday 2:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

71. UCLA Bruins

(19-9, 10-6 Pac-12); RPI: 50; KenPom: 54; “Super Average”: 52; SOS: 64

Wins over Kentucky in New Orleans and Arizona in Tucson are among the best the Pac-12 bubble teams have to offer. However, the victory over the Wildcats is just one of two true road wins UCLA has managed to cobble together in eight tries — and that makes Thursday’s loss at Utah hurt even more. And things won’t get easier, as Steve Alford’s team won’t see Pauley Pavilion the rest of the way. On Saturday, the Bruins face a Colorado team that’s aiming for a historic season sweep, while a trip to USC follows to wrap up regular season play.

Next game: at Colorado, Sunday 4 p.m. (ESPNU)

72. Louisville Cardinals

(18-10, 8-7 ACC); RPI: 49; KenPom: 38; “Super Average”: 41; SOS: 31

Wednesday’s hammering at the hands of Duke didn’t close the door on the Cardinals. No, results elsewhere ensured that David Padgett’s squad would remain in the picture. And that’s fair, since Louisville still has a trio of Group 1 win chances remaining, three further opportunities to improve upon a 2-8 record against that tier. However, none are gimmes. The Cards’ 3-6 record in true road games is more likely to get worse than improve, thanks to trips to Blacksburg and Raleigh. Meanwhile, Louisville’s lone remaining home contest comes on Thursday — against top-ranked Virginia.

Next game: at Virginia Tech, Saturday 1 p.m. (CBS)

Next Four Out: 73. LSU, 74. Temple, 75. Washington, 76. Nebraska

Also Considered

Teams 77-80 Teams 81-84 Teams 85-88
Teams 77-80 Teams 81-84 Teams 85-88
77. Miss. State (3/6) 81. Penn State (2/4) 85. Oregon (2/5)
78. Notre Dame (2/6) 82. Georgia (5/8) 86. Colorado (3/5)
79. WKU (2/4) 83. UCF (1/4) 87. Maryland (0/1)
80. Boise State (0/5) 84. Oklahoma State (4/6) avg. # of losses = 11.33
avg. # of losses = 8.25 avg. # of losses = 11.25

As you’ll see below, there are plenty of potential near-elimination games for bubble teams this weekend. The most interesting might be in Lincoln, where the Nebraska Cornhuskers host the Penn State Nittany Lions (Sunday 5:15 p.m., BTN). While Pat Chambers’ team has seen its at-large chances all but evaporate after consecutive losses to Purdue and Michigan, the Huskers still have a shot — they just might need to make a run through the early Big Ten Tournament to get there.

Currently, Nebraska and Michigan are tied for fourth in the league with a 12-5 record, but as our Purdue blog, Hammer and Rails, points out, the Cornhuskers have the edge for the tournament’s No. 4 seed, and the bye to the quarterfinals that goes with it, thanks to their 72-52 win over the Wolverines from back on January 18th.

Michigan closes at Maryland on Saturday. If Nebraska equals or betters the Maize and Blue’s result, they’ll have that No. 4 seed, which could be vital for their at-large hopes. Why? While both the No. 4 and 5 seeds present the holder with a chance to meet the No. 1 seed, likely to be Michigan State, in the semifinals, avoiding that extra game against either the 12 or 13 seed — a potential bad loss — is vital at this point of the season.

Other Games to Watch

(11) Providence at Georgetown, Saturday 12 p.m. (CBSSN)
(11) Marquette at DePaul, Saturday 12 p.m. (FSN)
(bubble) LSU at (bubble) Georgia, Saturday 2 p.m. (ESPNU)
(bubble) Notre Dame at Wake Forest, Saturday 3 p.m. (ACC Network/ESPN3)
South Carolina at (bubble) Mississippi State, Saturday 3:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
(bubble) Washington at California, Saturday 4:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)
Old Dominion at (bubble) Western Kentucky, Saturday 7 p.m. (Stadium)
(bubble) UCF at (bubble) Temple, Sunday 2 p.m. (ESPNU)
(11) Marquette at Georgetown, Monday 7 p.m. (FS1)

Likely Auto Bid Only

No. 12 seeds No. 13 seeds No. 14 seeds No. 15 seeds No. 16 seeds
No. 12 seeds No. 13 seeds No. 14 seeds No. 15 seeds No. 16 seeds
47. Middle Tennessee* (2/4) 51. Vermont* 55. Murray State* 59. Bucknell* 63. Harvard*
48. New Mexico State* 52. Louisiana* 56. Rider* 60. Wright State* 64. UNC Asheville*
49. Loyola (Ill.)* 53. South Dakota St.* 57. Charleston* 61. Wagner* 65. Nicholls State*
50. Buffalo* 54. ETSU* 58. Montana* 62. FGCU* 66. UC Irvine*
avg. # of losses = 5.75 avg. # of losses = 5.5 avg. # of losses = 6.5 avg. # of losses = 8.5 67. N.C. A&T*
* = auto bid 68. Southern*
avg. # of losses = 11.67

We have our first bracket of the postseason, courtesy of the ASUN! That conference will halve its field on Monday night — the first four games of hundreds of elimination contests that will play out across the country over a two-week period. For all but one of the teams in the table above, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, sweeping through a bracket is going to be the only way for them to secure a place in the field of 68.

My next update will arrive on Tuesday, which is when we’ll start really turning things up for the stretch run.