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Bracketology 2018: Duke returns to the top line, while the bubble finally shrinks

The latter development is due to poorly-timed losses in the Big Ten Tournament and in the other power conferences’ regular season finales.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Duke
Marvin Bagley III and Duke earned a season split with North Carolina on Saturday along with the No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament and the final No. 1 seed in this projection.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

While the American Athletic wraps its regular season up and the Big Ten closing its tournament today, every other power conference played its final non-elimination games on Friday and Saturday. And that meant plenty of teams had chances to make one last argument before entering bracketed play. Two results — the Kansas Jayhawks’ loss to, and resulting sweep at the hands of, the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Duke Blue Devils’ victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels — directly altered today’s top line, as the ACC runner-up replaced the Big 12 champs as a one seed. Meanwhile, a third contest, the Michigan State Spartans’ Big Ten semifinal defeat to the Michigan Wolverines, indirectly impacted the race for places on the top line, as Tom Izzo’s team really needed to win both Big Ten titles to really have a shot. With the loss, the Spartans appear likely to earn a No. 2 seed in one week’s time.

Michigan’s opponent in Sunday’s finale at Madison Square Garden, the Purdue Boilermakers, joins Kansas, Michigan State and the Cincinnati Bearcats as two seeds. Mick Cronin’s squad travels to the heartland to take on the Wichita State Shockers needing a victory to claim the conference title outright. If the Shockers win, they’ll share the title and take the top seed in the league tournament thanks to a season sweep of the Bearcats.

After today’s full bracket and rundown, I’ll zip through the Saturday’s key bubble results, league by league.

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

Atlanta (Thu./Sat.) Boston (Fri./Sun.)
Atlanta (Thu./Sat.) Boston (Fri./Sun.)
Charlotte (Fri./Sun.) Pittsburgh (Thu./Sat.)
1. Virginia (ACC) 1. Villanova
*16. SE La./Ark.-Pine Bluff *16. Radford/Hampton
↑8. Arkansas ↓8. Rhode Island (A 10)
↓9. Butler 9. Kansas State
Boise (Thu./Sat.) San Diego (Fri./Sun.)
↓5. Ohio State 5. Clemson
12. Loyola (Ill.) (MVC) 12. Buffalo (MAC)
↓4. Texas Tech 4. Gonzaga (WCC)
13. Louisiana (Sun Belt) 13. Vermont (AE)
Dallas (Thu./Sat.) Nashville (Fri./Sun.)
↑6. Miami (Fla.) ↓6. Kentucky
*11. UCLA 11. Marquette/USC
3. Auburn (SEC) ↓3. North Carolina
↑14. Bucknell (Patriot) 14. College of Charleston (CAA)
Detroit (Fri./Sun.) Nashville (Fri./Sun.)
↑7. Virginia Tech ↓7. TCU
↑10. St. Bonaventure ↓10. Providence
2. Purdue (Big Ten) ↑2. Cincinnati (American)
*15. Wright State (Horizon) *15. UC Davis (Big West)

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

Los Angeles (Thu./Sat.) Omaha (Fri./Sun.)
Los Angeles (Thu./Sat.) Omaha (Fri./Sun.)
Charlotte (Fri./Sun.) Detroit (Fri./Sun.)
↑1. Duke 1. Xavier (Big East)
16. FGCU (ASUN) *16. Iona (MAAC)
↓8. Creighton ↑8. Nevada (MW)
↓9. Oklahoma 9. Florida State
San Diego (Fri./Sun.) Boise (Thu./Sat.)
↑5. Florida ↓5. West Virginia
12. New Mexico State (WAC) ↓12. Arizona State/Alabama
↑4. Arizona (Pac-12) 4. Wichita State
13. South Dakota State (Summit) ↑13. MURRAY STATE (OVC)
Dallas (Thu./Sat.) Wichita (Thu./Sat.)
↑6. Houston 6. Texas A&M
11. Saint Mary's ↑11. Texas
3. Tennessee ↑3. Michigan
14. Montana (Big Sky) ↓14. UNCG (SoCon)
Pittsburgh (Thu./Sat.) Wichita (Thu./Sat.)
7. Seton Hall ↑7. Missouri
10. N.C. State ↑10. Middle Tennessee (C-USA)
2. Michigan State ↓2. Kansas (Big 12)
*15. Harvard (Ivy) 15. Wagner (NEC)

First Four

SOUTH (Automatic) EAST (Automatic) EAST (At-Large) MIDWEST (At-Large)
SOUTH (Automatic) EAST (Automatic) EAST (At-Large) MIDWEST (At-Large)
To Charlotte (Wed.) To Pittsburgh (Tue.) To Nashville (Wed.) To Boise (Tue.)
*16. SE Louisiana (Southland) *16. Radford (Big South) *11. Marquette ↓12. Arizona State
*16. Ark.-Pine Bluff (SWAC) *16. Hampton (MEAC) ↓11. USC ↓12. Alabama
KEY: * = new to bracket ↑ = seed rising ↓ = seed falling

Note that the East Region First Four matchup between the Radford Highlanders and Hampton Pirates will be a conference game next season, as the MEAC’s top seed is moving to the Big South after this academic year wraps up.


St. Bonaventure Syracuse Arkansas-Pine Bluff Baylor
Providence Louisville Harvard Louisville
Saint Mary's Utah Iona Nicholls State
UCLA Baylor Marquette Northern Kentucky
Marquette (Dayton) Oklahoma State Radford Penn
USC (Dayton) Notre Dame Southeastern Louisiana Prairie View A&M
Arizona State (Dayton) Washington UCLA Rider
Alabama (Dayton) Boise State Wright State UNC Asheville

Also considered (in order): Nebraska, Mississippi State, Oregon, Temple, LSU, Penn State, Western Kentucky, UCF

Bids by Conference

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

The Syracuse Orange were the ACC’s big bubble winner on Saturday, even though their win over the Clemson Tigers wasn’t yet enough to boost them into this projection. It might just be a different story if Jim Boeheim’s team can get past the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in Tuesday’s ACC Tournament opening round and then defeat UNC in the resulting second round matchup on Wednesday. The Louisville Cardinals also remain just outside the field, as they followed Thursday’s heartbreaker against the Virginia Cavaliers with a road loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack. However, David Padgett’s Cards still have a decent chance of barging in the field, as they’ll face the Florida State Seminoles in the ACC’s 8/9 game on Wednesday. Win that and another chance against the top-seeded Cavaliers would await.

FSU’s win over the Boston College Eagles all but burst the latter’s bubble, while the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, with Bonzie Colson back on the court, will need to do some real damage in Brooklyn to earn a bid following their Saturday loss in Charlottesville. And no, a first round win over the woeful Pittsburgh Panthers won’t do it alone — though that result would give the Irish a Virginia Tech-Duke path to the semifinals.

In the Big East, the Marquette Golden Eagles’ home victory over the Creighton Bluejays gave them a second sweep of a likely NCAA Tournament qualifier (alongside one of Seton Hall Pirates). But Steve Wojciechowski‘s squad faces a tricky Big East Tournament opener against the DePaul Blue Demons, which defeated Marquette by eight in Chicago on February 24th. The Providence Friars kept themselves in this projection by edging the St. John’s Red Storm.

Don’t look now, but there’s a non-zero chance the Big 12 places nine of its 10 members in the field, though the stars are going to have to align perfectly for that to happen. If Oklahoma State can win its rubber match against the Oklahoma Sooners in the Big 12 Tournament opening round on Wednesday, they’ll get a chance to defeat Kansas for a third time in Thursday’s quarters. Those two wins would be the Cowboys’ sixth and seventh against Group 1 opposition and even with a sub-par RPI (currently 87th), Mike Boynton’s team would have a strong shot at sneaking in.

However, to get to nine bids, the Baylor Bears are probably going to need to win at least their quarterfinal over the West Virginia Mountaineers, if not a semifinal. That’s thanks to a Saturday loss at the increasingly safe Kansas State Wildcats, which knocked Scott Drew’s team out of this bracket. The Texas Longhorns, meanwhile, moved up slightly after an overtime win over West Virginia.

Thanks to the Nebraska CornhuskersBig Ten quarterfinal defeat at the hands of Michigan and the Penn State Nittany Lions’ semifinal setback against Purdue, the conference looks likely to place only four teams in the field — with three of those squads in position to earn protected seeds.

Saturday’s finales ensured that the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas is going to be a battle royale for bids. For starters, the Arizona State Sun Devils, a No. 1 seed back in January, are barely hanging on now. Bobby Hurley’s squad dropped to the ninth seed in Vegas after losing to the Stanford Cardinal in Tempe — ASU’s fourth loss in their last five games. Meanwhile, the Cardinal will be the No. 5 seed in the league soiree, perfectly placed to wreak havoc on the bracket, especially after winning four of five. The Washington Huskies moved closer to the NIT with a home loss to the Oregon Ducks, yet another squad that could disrupt the national picture with a strong postseason performance.

On the positive side of the ledger, the UCLA Bruins earned a season sweep of the USC Trojans, a victory that returned Steve Alford’s squad to this projected field. The Trojans also remain in, barely. Meanwhile, the Utah Utes remained in the hunt by toppling the Colorado Buffaloes, though they remain on the outside looking in.

The SEC increasingly looks like it will be a seven-bid league. While the Georgia and Mississippi State Bulldogs‘ respective losses to the Tennessee Volunteers and LSU Tigers pushed them further out of the picture, the Alabama Crimson Tide’s 68-66 road loss to Texas A&M Aggies was their fifth straight. And now the Tide now hold the final at-large spot. And guess who Avery Johnson’s squad has to play again in Thursday’s SEC Tournament second round?

The Atlantic 10’s prospects for two bids are increasingly bright, as the St. Bonaventure Bonnies’ Saturday win over the Saint Louis Billikens was their 12th straight. (Despite consecutive defeats at the hands of the Saint Joseph’s Hawks and Davidson Wildcats, the Rhode Island Rams are still safe, though their seeding has taken a hit over the last week.) On the other side of the country, we’re still on course for a Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s WCC Tournament championship game, which would be a boost for the Gaels’ profile. However, don’t expect Conference USA to supply two teams to the field, as both the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders dropped their regular season finales on Saturday. I still think the Blue Raiders have a strong chance to nab an at-large, but they cannot lose to the Marshall Thundering Herd, their likely semifinal opponent, for a third time.

Last night, the Murray State Racers added the OVC Tournament title to their regular season crown, becoming the first auto bid winner of the season as a result. The Racers, projected as a 13 seed, become the first team to appear in ALL CAPS this year. Four more teams will join them this afternoon, as there are finals in the ASUN, Big South, Big Ten and Missouri Valley.

Tomorrow’s bracket update will feature a more comprehensive look at the teams around the cut line — going a bit deeper than the four teams on either side.