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Bracketology 2018: Xavier would be No. 1 seed over Duke, Kansas if March Madness started today

The late January/early February struggle is real, everyone. After the majority of bubble teams stumbled heading into the weekend, Saturday and Sunday saw several teams close to the bracket’s top line take on losses.

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Xavier
Xavier owes its rise to the top line to its star, who bailed the Musketeers out against Georgetown on Saturday night.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

As we enter the final month of the 2017-18 regular season, one thing looks abundantly clear. It’s going to take a near seismic shift in college basketball’s national picture to displace the three top teams in today’s bracket. The Villanova Wildcats, Virginia Cavaliers, and Purdue Boilermakers, with their four combined losses, appear to be head and shoulders above the other 348 teams in Division I in early February. While I’m not a betting man, I would be tempted to place a decent amount of money on the proposition the trio will each anchor a region when selections are announced on March 11.

However, the NCAA Tournament concludes with a Final Four. Thus, barring an unforeseen format change and overcomplication, we need four No. 1 seeds to have a proper bracket. A couple of weeks back, I looked at the 11 teams most likely to earn one of the top spots available in the field of 68. Now, that group has seemingly been reduced to eight — with the North Carolina Tar Heels, Oklahoma Sooners, and West Virginia Mountaineers falling off the pace. This weekend might have seen the lead pack reduced even further.

While Virginia and Villanova were able to dispose of the Syracuse Orange and Seton Hall Pirates, respectively, and Purdue held off a brave Rutgers Scarlet Knights squad in Piscataway, two No. 1 seed prospects suffered bad losses within moments of each other on Saturday afternoon. First, final top seed in last Tuesday’s bracket, the Kansas Jayhawks, dropped its fourth home game of the season, falling to an Oklahoma State Cowboys club that needed a quality win to stay in the at-large picture. Nearly simultaneously at Madison Square Garden, Tuesday’s top No. 2 seed, the Duke Blue Devils, fell to the St. John’s Red Storm — a team that last tasted victory on Dec. 20 and was riding an 11-game skid.

At that point, the Xavier Musketeers, the second No. 2 seed on Tuesday, were in line to anchor the West region today. But Chris Mack’s team trailed the Georgetown Hoyas late at home, and the Musketeers looked set to become the sixth ranked team to lose by that point on early Saturday evening. Then, with 25 seconds left, the officials called Jagan Mosely for a foul on a Trevon Bluiett made three-point attempt.

Xavier tied the game with the made free throw, forcing an overtime that the Big East contenders escaped. And today’s top line was set.

After Saturday’s losses, Kansas and Duke are the top two No. 2 seeds, with the Auburn Tigers and Clemson Tigers hot on their heels. In a move foreshadowed on Friday, the Tennessee Volunteers now find themselves on the three line, along with another newcomer, the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Cincinnati Bearcats, and North Carolina. Following consecutive losses to the Texas Longhorns and visiting West Virginia, Oklahoma now finds itself on the four line, alongside the Mountaineers, Kentucky Wildcats, and Michigan State Spartans.

After today’s full bracket and rundown, I’ll take a look at the conference picture and some of the weekend’s key bubble winners.

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

Boston (Fri./Sun.) Atlanta (Thu./Sat.)
Boston (Fri./Sun.) Atlanta (Thu./Sat.)
Pittsburgh (Thu./Sat.) Charlotte (Fri./Sun.)
1. Villanova (Big East) 1. Virginia (ACC)
16. New Orleans/Ark.-Pine Bluff 16. Penn/N.C. A&T
8. Arkansas 8. Butler
9. Wichita State 9. TCU
Boise (Thu./Sat.) San Diego (Fri./Sun.)
5. Ohio State 5. Seton Hall
12. Middle Tennessee (C-USA) 12. Buffalo (MAC)
4. West Virginia 4. Michigan State
13. Vermont (AE) 13. Louisiana (Sun Belt)
Nashville (Fri./Sun.) Dallas (Thu./Sat.)
6. Michigan 6. Florida
11. USC/Kansas State 11. N.C. State
3. Tennessee 3. Texas Tech (Big 12)
14. Rider (MAAC) 14. Montana (Big Sky)
Pittsburgh (Thu./Sat.) Nashville (Fri./Sun.)
7. Rhode Island (A 10) 7. Florida State
10. Texas A&M 10. Washington
2. Clemson 2. Auburn (SEC)
15. Bucknell (Patriot) 15. Wright State (Horizon)

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

Los Angeles (Thu./Sat.) Omaha (Fri./Sun.)
Los Angeles (Thu./Sat.) Omaha (Fri./Sun.)
Detroit (Fri./Sun.) Detroit (Fri./Sun.)
1. Xavier 1. Purdue (Big Ten)
16. FGCU (ASUN) 16. UNC Asheville (Big South)
8. Gonzaga 8. Louisville
9. Nevada (MW) 9. Texas
Boise (Thu./Sat.) San Diego (Fri./Sun.)
5. Miami (Fla.) 5. Arizona (Pac-12)
12. Loyola (Ill.) (MVC) 12. New Mexico State (WAC)
4. Oklahoma 4. Kentucky
13. South Dakota State (Summit) 13. ETSU (SoCon)
Wichita (Thu./Sat.) Dallas (Thu./Sat.)
6. Alabama 6. Saint Mary's (WCC)
11. Virginia Tech/St. Bonaventure 11. Houston
3. Cincinnati (American) 3. North Carolina
14. Belmont (OVC) 14. College of Charleston (CAA)
Charlotte (Fri./Sun.) Wichita (Thu./Sat.)
7. Creighton 7. Providence
10. Arizona State 10. Missouri
2. Duke 2. Kansas
15. Wagner (NEC) 15. UC Santa Barbara (Big West)

First Four

EAST (Automatic) SOUTH (Automatic) WEST (At-Large) EAST (At-Large)
EAST (Automatic) SOUTH (Automatic) WEST (At-Large) EAST (At-Large)
To Pittsburgh (Tue.) To Charlotte (Wed.) To Wichita (Tue.) To Nashville (Wed.)
16. Nicholls State (Southland) 16. Penn (Ivy) 11. Virginia Tech 11. USC
16. Ark.-Pine Bluff (SWAC) 16. N.C. A&T (MEAC) 11. St. Bonaventure 11. Kansas State


Texas A&M SMU Missouri Harvard
Washington Temple Nicholls State Long Beach State
Houston UCLA Penn Marquette
N.C. State Marquette St. Bonaventure New Orleans
USC (Dayton) Syracuse UC Santa Barbara Radford
Virgnia Tech (Dayton) Georgia UNC Asheville Syracuse
Kansas State (Dayton) LSU
St. Bonaventure (Dayton) Western Kentucky

Also considered (in order): Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Boise State, Maryland, UCF, Boston College, Mississippi State, Colorado, Utah, Baylor, Nebraska, Wyoming, Stanford, BYU

Bids by Conference

Conference Bids Teams (in Seed List Order)
Conference Bids Teams (in Seed List Order)
ACC 9 Virginia (auto bid), Duke, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami (Fla.), Louisville, Florida State, N.C. State, Virginia Tech (First Four)
SEC 8 Auburn (auto bid), Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas A&M
Big 12 7 Kansas, Texas Tech (auto bid), Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas, TCU, Kansas State (First Four)
Big East 6 Villanova (auto bid), Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton, Providence, Butler
Big Ten 4 Purdue (auto bid), Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan
Pac-12 4 Arizona (auto bid), Arizona State, Washington, USC (First Four)
American 3 Cincinnati (auto bid), Wichita State, Houston
A 10 2 Rhode Island (auto bid), St. Bonaventure (First Four)
WCC 2 Saint Mary's (auto bid), Gonzaga

The conference picture is roughly the same as it ever was, at least for 2018. The ACC and SEC lead the way in raw bid totals, while the Big 12 and Big East rank at the top in terms of the percentage of their memberships selected. The disappointing Big Ten and Pac-12 each provide a quartet of teams, with the American Athletic currently a three-bid league. With the St. Bonaventure Bonnies’ return to the field, as today’s very last entrant, the Atlantic 10 joins the West Coast Conference as providing a pair of teams.

The Bonnies, who needed every one of Jaylen Adams’ 40 points to win at Duquesne Dukes and extend their winning streak to four, were one of the weekend’s biggest bubble winners. So were Texas (over Oklahoma) and the NC State Wolfpack (which avenged a 30-point loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish with an 18-point home win). Further down the pecking order, Syracuse’s surprising win at Louisville improved the Orange’s precipitous standing in a bubble picture .

However, the two biggest victories of the weekend went to the Washington Huskies and Missouri Tigers. Mizzou defeated Kentucky for the first time ever on Saturday — the Tigers’ fifth Tier 1 quality win of the season. As for Mike Hopkins’ Huskies, they picked up their fourth such victory in dramatic circumstances on Saturday night — defeating the visiting Arizona Wildcats on a Dominic Green buzzer beater.

But for every winner, there must be a loser, and in bracketology, these don’t even have to come in the same game. The Marquette Golden Eagles dropped out of today’s projection after dropping their fourth straight, this time by a 77-75 count to the visiting Providence Friars. The USC Trojans slipped down into the First Four places, as their six-game winning streak ended at the hands of their crosstown rival, the UCLA Bruins. Andy Enfield’s team’s two best wins are still from Christmas week’s Diamond Head Classic — over the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders and New Mexico State Aggies, currently a pair of 12th-seeded auto bids. In other words, with the Pac-12 going through a down year, the Trojans’ run of a half-dozen league wins that ended at Pauley simply didn’t help their case much. Elsewhere, the Virginia Tech Hokies missed a golden opportunity to put themselves on more solid footing, as they couldn’t dig themselves out of an early hole against the visiting Miami Hurricanes. And while a Kansas State Wildcats’ win at West Virginia wasn’t expected, Bruce Weber’s club was embarrassed in Morgantown, 89-51.

I’ll be back on Friday with a fresh look at the bubble and the first declaration of “tournament locks” for 2018. Expect more upheaval thanks to a week that’s going to be defined by more than just the season’s first Duke-UNC game.