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Bracketology 2019: Michigan, Virginia fight to stay as country’s only undefeated teams

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The nation’s two remaining unbeatens, Michigan and Virginia, now hold the top two spots in this projection. Both will be challenged to keep those places in the coming days.

NCAA Basketball: VCU at Virginia
The Cavaliers may be dancing now, but will that be the case after tonight and Saturday?
Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

If you all ever wondered why I release brackets on Tuesdays instead of on Mondays, last night’s action explained why.

While the four No. 1 seeds in today’s projection are the same as last week’s, the order is radically different thanks to the (admittedly shorthanded) Duke Blue Devils’ home defeat at the hands of the Syracuse Orange in the first game of ESPN’s Big Monday doubleheader. That result pushed the nation’s two remaining undefeated teams, the Michigan Wolverines (South) and Virginia Cavaliers (East) into the top two spots, with the Tennessee Volunteers (Midwest) and Duke (West) rounding out the quartet.

But seismic changes could be on the way over the next seven days. That’s because the Cavaliers host in-state rival Virginia Tech tonight (8 p.m., Raycom/ESPN3) before traveling to Durham on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN). As for the Wolverines, they have a few days to prepare for a Saturday road test at Wisconsin Badgers (12 p.m., ESPN).

That means the right combination of results could push the lead contenders from seed line No. 2 to an anchor spot next Tuesday. The Gonzaga Bulldogs and Michigan State Spartans are best positioned to make the leap with the Kansas Jayhawks a step behind the top six. Then there are the Texas Tech Red Raiders, a new two seed thanks to their 4-0 Big 12 start. Chris Beard’s team replaces the Kentucky Wildcats, who find themselves on line No. 3 alongside the returning Oklahoma Sooners and Houston Cougars and a Virginia Tech squad bumped up from the four line.

The ACC’s two three seeds of a week ago, the Florida State Seminoles and North Carolina Tar Heels, dropped after experiencing very different home losses on Saturday — the Seminoles to Duke on a buzzer-beater and the Tar Heels in blowout fashion to Louisville. While Tar Heels are a four seed today alongside the Markus Howard-powered Marquette Golden Eagles, Buffalo Bulls and Auburn Tigers, the Seminoles fell all the way to a five, thanks to a Monday loss at resurgent Pittsburgh. Note that MAC-leading Buffalo’s long-term prospects for remaining among the top 16 are limited because of the number of power conference squads in the race.

After today’s full bracket, I’ll take a look at the activity by the cut line for the first time this winter.

Note: Auto bid holders in this section are noted by the conference names in parentheses. Arrows indicate movement up or down the seed list. New entrants are marked with an asterisk.

(1) South (Louisville, Ky.)

Columbus, Ohio (Fri./Sun.)

(1) Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten) vs. (*16) Sam Houston State Bearkats (Southland)/Norfolk State Spartans (MEAC)
(*8) Mississippi Rebels vs. (↑9) TCU Horned Frogs

Hartford, Conn. (Thu./Sat.)

(↑5) N.C. State Wolfpack vs. (12) Wofford Terriers (Southern)
(↑4) Marquette Golden Eagles vs. (13) Georgia State Panthers (Sun Belt)

Jacksonville, Fla. (Thu./Sat.)

(6) Seton Hall Pirates vs. (↓↓11) Texas Longhorns/Alabama Crimson Tide
(↑3) Virginia Tech Hokies vs. (↑14) Princeton Tigers (Ivy)

Des Moines, Iowa (Thu./Sat.)

(↑7) Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. (↑10) Syracuse Orange
(2) Kansas Jayhawks vs. (↑15) Rider Broncs (MAAC)

(4) West (Anaheim, Calif.)

Jacksonville, Fla. (Thu./Sat.)

(1) Duke Blue Devils vs. (**16) UMKC Kangaroos (WAC)/Arkansas Pine Bluff Golden Lions (SWAC)
(↓8) Iowa State Cyclones vs. (↓9) Minnesota Golden Gophers

San Jose, Calif. (Fri./Sun.)

(↓5) Florida State Seminoles vs. (12) Hofstra Pride (CAA)
(↑4) Auburn Tigers vs. (*13) UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (Mountain West)

Tulsa, Okla. (Fri./Sun.)

(6) Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. (*↓11) Temple Owls/Arizona State Sun Devils
(3) Oklahoma Sooners vs. (*14) Valparaiso Crusaders (MVC)

Salt Lake City, Utah (Thu./Sat.)

(↓7) Ohio State Buckeyes vs. (↑10) Arizona Wildcats (Pac-12)
(2) Gonzaga Bulldogs (WCC) vs. (↑15) Northern Colorado Bears (Big Sky)

(2) East (Washington, D.C.)

Columbia, S.C. (Fri./Sun.)

(1) Virginia Cavaliers (ACC) vs. (*16) Wagner Seahawks (NEC)
(8) Iowa Hawkeyes vs. (↓9) St. John’s Red Storm

San Jose, Calif. (Fri./Sun.)

(↑5) Nevada Wolf Pack vs. (12) Murray State Racers (OVC)
(↑4) Buffalo Bulls (MAC) vs. (13) Stony Brook Seawolves (America East)

Des Moines, Iowa (Thu./Sat.)

(↓6) Indiana Hoosiers vs. (*11) UCF Knights (American)
(↓3) Kentucky Wildcats vs. (*14) UTSA Roadrunners (C-USA)

Tulsa, Okla. (Fri./Sun.)

(↑7) Villanova Wildcats (Big East) vs. (↑10) LSU Tigers
(↑2) Texas Tech Red Raiders (Big 12) vs. (15) Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons (Summit)

(3) Midwest (Kansas City, Mo.)

Columbia, S.C. (Fri./Sun.)

(1) Tennessee Volunteers (SEC) vs. (*16) Detroit Mercy Titans (Horizon)
(8) Purdue Boilermakers vs. (9) Cincinnati Bearcats

Hartford, Conn. (Thu./Sat.)

(↑5) Maryland Terrapins vs. (*12) Liberty Flames (ASUN)
(↓4) North Carolina Tar Heels vs. (13) Winthrop Eagles (Big South)

Salt Lake City, Utah (Thu./Sat.)

(↓6) Wisconsin Badgers vs. (*11) Saint Louis Billikens (Atlantic 10)
(3) Houston Cougars vs. (14) UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (Big West)

Columbus, Ohio (Fri./Sun.)

(7) Louisville Cardinals vs. (↑10) Kansas State Wildcats
(2) Michigan State Spartans vs. (*15) Bucknell Bison (Patriot)

Here are some quick observations about this projection’s matchups:

  • The last time Des Moines hosted the first weekend, in 2016, Kentucky was a No. 4 seed and lost to Indiana in the second round. This bracket has them in the same site as a No. 3 seed with the Hoosiers again as their potential second opponent.
  • The East’s No. 4 seed pod in San Jose would feature plenty of mid-major-on-mid-major violence, with a potential second round matchup between Buffalo and Nevada the highlight. But to get there, the Bulls would need to get past SUNY rival Stony Brook and the Wolf Pack would have to solve OVC power Murray State in the first round. Brutal.
  • Last season’s East regional final, Villanova vs. Texas Tech, is a potential second round contest here.
  • Louisville-Michigan State (Midwest) and Arizona-Gonzaga (West) are a pair of potential round of 32 rematches that would excite CBS and Turner, while Mississippi State could meet Arizona State in round one (with a Sun Devil win in Dayton). Remember the Sun Devils defeated the Bulldogs in the MGM Resorts Main Event in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving week.
  • Nebraska-Kansas (South) and Maryland-North Carolina (Midwest) are second round matchups that would reunite rivals driven apart by conference realignment.
  • As for the 1-vs.-2 regional finals, Saturday’s potential doubleheader features Michigan-Kansas (South) followed by a Duke-Gonzaga (West) Maui final rematch, with Virginia-Texas Tech (East) and Tennessee-Michigan State (Midwest) filling Sunday’s lineup.

Rundown

Full seed list (and other goodies)

Last Four Byes: St. John’s, Kansas State, LSU, Syracuse
Last Four IN: Texas, Alabama, Temple, Arizona State
First Four OUT: VCU Rams, San Francisco Dons, Butler Bulldogs, Creighton Bluejays
Next Four Out: Florida Gators, Washington Huskies, Lipscomb Bisons, Clemson Tigers,

New Today: Arkansas Pine Bluff, Bucknell, Detroit Mercy, Liberty, Mississippi, Saint Louis, Sam Houston State, Temple, UCF, UMKC, UNLV, UTSA, Valparaiso, Wagner
Leaving Today: Cal State Bakersfield, Creighton, Fresno State, George Mason, Green Bay, Lehigh, Loyola Chicago, NJIT, North Texas, Robert Morris, San Francisco, Stephen F. Austin, Texas Southern, VCU

Bids by Conference: 10 Big Ten, 8 ACC, 7 Big 12, 7 SEC, 4 American, 4 Big East, 2 Mountain West. 2 Pac-12, 24 one-bid conferences

Thanks to Syracuse’s upset win last night, there are just two new at-large entrants in today’s field, as the Mississippi Rebels and Temple Owls replace the Creighton Bluejays and San Francisco Dons. (The VCU Rams dropped out thanks to the addition of the UCF Knights as the American Athletic’s leader.) While Fran Dunphy’s Owls find themselves in the First Four, Kermit Davis’ first Rebel squad is an eight seed, thanks to 10 straight wins, including recent ones over Auburn and Mississippi State. As for Temple, it avoided near disaster on Saturday against a much-improved South Florida squad, winning in OT. A loss to the Bulls would have undone much of the goodwill the Owls earned in defeating Houston on Wednesday.

As for the Orange, their overtime heroics not only earned them a reprieve from the NIT, where I was prepared to drop them following Saturday’s home loss to Georgia Tech, but a 10 seed, which keeps Jim Boeheim’s squad out of the First Four — for now. A Saturday visit from Pitt (2 p.m., ACC RSNs/ESPN3) awaits, and danger lurks for Syracuse thanks to a bad habit of playing to its opposition’s level.

As for the two teams that departed, Creighton’s hopes of a return are a bit higher than San Francisco, thanks to the quality wins available in the Big East. The Dons, meanwhile, must improve upon their 0-2 record in Group 1 games, with Saturday’s home loss to Gonzaga and December’s defeat at the hands of Buffalo in Northern Ireland already looking like real missed opportunities. (Plus there was the Dons’ scheduled November home game with Arizona State that was called off due to the California wildfires and not rescheduled.) Kyle Smith’s squad must now focus on consecutive early February road games at Saint Mary’s (nearing the NET’s top 50) and Gonzaga — contests that are undoubtedly circled in red somewhere in the Dons’ locker room.

On Friday, I’ll be back with a look at how the race for the four No. 1 seeds looks here in mid-January.