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Bracketology 2019: Duke is back as the No. 1 overall seed in our NCAA tournament projection

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All four of last week’s No. 1 seeds faced serious, March-like tests this weekend. Only two passed.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Duke
Zion Williamson’s Blue Devils top this Tuesday’s bracket after a week away.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

After Michigan Wolverines, Virginia Cavaliers and Tennessee Volunteers all jumped them just one week ago, the Duke Blue Devils are again the No. 1 overall seed in SB Nation’s projected NCAA Tournament bracket. Zion Williamson and company dispatched Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers in a Saturday night classic at Cameron Indoor to shake up the top line. That result that ensured that no Division I team would complete a perfect season yet again, coming just hours after the nation’s other undefeated squad, Michigan, also picked up its first defeat, 64-54 at Wisconsin.

Naturally, the Cavaliers and Wolverines tumbled down the seed list. Virginia now ranks third overall behind Duke and Tennessee, who survived a test of its own in defeating Alabama 71-68 to claim a 12th straight win. As for the Wolverines, they’re now the top two seed, with their archrivals, the Michigan State Spartans, replacing them on the top line. On Monday night, Tom Izzo’s club took care of the surging Maryland Terrapins — now on the three line despite the loss — to cement their move up. Why Michigan State over Michigan? While the Spartans own one more loss than John Beilein’s squad, MSU also owns double the Group 1 wins Michigan currently owns (eight vs. four).

The Gonzaga Bulldogs, Kansas Jayhawks and Kentucky Wildcats follow Michigan on the two line. The Jayhawks could have been a contender for a No. 1 spot had they not become the West Virginia Mountaineers’ first Big 12 victim of the season on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Wildcats jumped up from a three, thanks to their Saturday road win over the Auburn Tigers.

Today’s quartet of No. 3 seeds is completely new, as the Texas Tech Red Raiders fell from line two after a Saturday loss to the Baylor Bears, while the Marquette Golden Eagles and aforementioned Maryland Terrapins jumped up. The fourth No. 3 seed, North Carolina Tar Heels, was a late rise, sliding up from line four following a Big Monday home victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Hokies slip to a No. 4 seed, along with the Houston Cougars, simply because Kelvin Sampson’s team has been passed by teams with more quality wins. The Buffalo Bulls remain a four for now, while the Iowa State Cyclones jump up all the way from the eight line, even though they were unable to complete a season sweep Kansas on Monday night.

After today’s full bracket and rundown, I’ll take a look at what’s going on down by the cut line. We start with the two regions on the left side of a traditional bracket (East and West) before moving to the right (South and Midwest).

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) East (Washington, D.C.)

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

(↑1) Duke Blue Devils vs. (*16) Norfolk State Spartans (MEAC)/Robert Morris Colonials (NEC)
(↓8) N.C. State Wolfpack vs. (↓9) Ohio State Buckeyes

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

(↑5) Kansas State Wildcats vs. (12) Murray State Racers (OVC)
(↑4) Buffalo Bulls (MAC) vs. (*13) Radford Highlanders (Big South)

Hartford, Conn. (Thu./Sat.)

(↑6) Villanova Wildcats (Big East) vs. (*11) VCU Rams/UCF Knights
(↑3) Maryland Terrapins vs. (14) UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (Big West)

Des Moines, Iowa (Thu./Sat.)

(↓7) Indiana Hoosiers vs. (↓10) TCU Horned Frogs
(↑2) Kentucky Wildcats vs. (↓15) Princeton Tigers (Ivy)

(4) West (Anaheim, Calif.)

Columbus, Ohio (Fri./Sun.)

(↑1) Michigan State Spartans (Big Ten) vs. (*16) Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners (WAC)
(↑8) Syracuse Orange vs. (↓9) Seton Hall Pirates

Tulsa, Okla. (Fri./Sun.)

(↓5) Oklahoma Sooners vs. (↓12) Saint Louis Billikens (A 10)
(↓4) Virginia Tech Hokies vs. (↓13) Liberty Flames (ASUN)

Tulsa, Okla. (Fri./Sun.)

(↑6) Purdue Boilermakers vs. (↓11) Arizona Wildcats/Temple Owls
(↓3) Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. (*14) South Dakota State Jackrabbits (Summit)

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

(↑7) LSU Tigers vs. (↓10) Minnesota Golden Gophers
(2) Gonzaga Bulldogs (WCC) vs. (*15) Northern Kentucky Norse (Horizon)

(2) South (Louisville, Ky.)

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

(1) Tennessee Volunteers (SEC) vs. (↓16) Rider Broncs (MAAC)
(↓8) Florida State Seminoles vs. (9) Cincinnati Bearcats

San José, Calif. (Fri./Sun.)

(↑5) Wisconsin Badgers vs. (12) Wofford Terriers (SoCon)
(↑4) Iowa State Cyclones vs. (*13) Loyola Chicago Ramblers (MVC)

Jacksonville, Fla. (Thu./Sat.)

(↓6) Auburn Tigers vs. (*11) Butler Bulldogs
(↑3) North Carolina Tar Heels (ACC) vs. (*14) North Texas Mean Green (C-USA)

Columbus, Ohio (Fri./Sun.)

(↑7) Mississippi Rebels vs. (↑10) Texas Longhorns
(↓2) Michigan Wolverines vs. (15) Bucknell Bison (Patriot)

(3) Midwest (Kansas City, Mo.)

Hartford, Conn. (Thu./Sat.)

(1) Virginia Cavaliers vs. (*16) Sam Houston State Bearkats (Southland)/Prairie View A&M Panthers (SWAC)
(↓8) Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. (↓9) Nebraska Cornhuskers

San José, Calif. (Fri./Sun.)

(5) Nevada Wolf Pack (MW) vs. (12) Hofstra Pride (CAA)
(↓4) Houston Cougars (American) vs. (*13) Vermont Catamounts (America East)

Jacksonville, Fla. (Thu./Sat.)

(↑6) Louisville Cardinals vs. (*11) Washington Huskies (Pac-12)
(3) Marquette Golden Eagles vs. (↓14) Georgia State Panthers (Sun Belt)

Des Moines, Iowa (Thu./Sat.)

(↑7) Iowa Hawkeyes vs. (↓10) St. John’s Red Storm
(2) Kansas Jayhawks (Big 12) vs. (*15) Weber State Wildcats (Big Sky)

This bracket features plenty of interesting, some might even say questionable, choices. Many of those are the result of anticipating the Selection Committee’s recent history of keeping teams close to home no matter their seed.

  • With this in mind, not only does one Des Moines pod feature a potential Kentucky-Indiana second round matchup last seen in 2016, but Kansas could potentially face Iowa in the other.
  • Similarly, Oklahoma is sent to Tulsa as a five seed.
  • With two ACC No. 1 seeds and three league members on the line no. 8, there had to be a potential all-ACC second round matchup. In this case, I sent both Florida State and N.C. State to Columbia pods, but assigned the Wolfpack to the pod containing Duke. Not only do the Blue Devils and Wolfpack meet just once in conference play, but this arrangement places the top two No. 8 seeds in the regionals closest to them — in the unlikely event both make the second weekend.
  • LSU is only a seven seed today, even though they’re ranked 14th in NET. But the Tigers, 4-0 in the SEC, own just two Group 1 wins, and that discrepancy is a main reason why they end up as a dangerous potential opponent for Gonzaga in the second round and not as a top five seed.
  • The quartet of pods anchored by the No. 4 seeds all feature teams capable of winning at least one game, making them great bets for ticket buyers in the host markets.
  • As for the projected top matchups for the regional finals, we would have Tennessee-Michigan (South) likely followed by Michigan State-Gonzaga (West) on Saturday and Virginia-Kansas (Midwest) starting Sunday’s doubleheader, with Duke-Kentucky capping the weekend.

Rundown

Full seed list

Last Four Byes: Minnesota, St. John’s, Texas, Butler
Last Four IN: VCU, UCF, Arizona, Temple
First Four OUT: Arizona State, Alabama, Florida, San Francisco
Next Four Out: Baylor, Pittsburgh, Creighton, Clemson

New Today: Butler, Cal State Bakersfield, Loyola Chicago, Northern Kentucky, North Texas, Prairie View A&M, Radford, Robert Morris, South Dakota State, VCU, Vermont, Washington, Weber State
Leaving Today: Alabama, Arizona State, Arkansas Pine Bluff, Detroit Mercy, Northern Colorado, Purdue Fort Wayne, Stony Brook, UMKC, UNLV, UTSA, Valparaiso, Wagner, Winthrop

Bids by Conference: 10 Big Ten, 8 ACC, 6 Big 12, 6 SEC, 5 Big East, 4 American, 2 Atlantic 10, 2 Pac-12, 24 one-bid conferences

The bubble picture is starting to percolate, as power conference teams start to assert themselves in mid-January. We have two new at-large entrants today, as Butler and VCU replace Alabama and Arizona State. Further down the “out” list, the emergence of teams like Baylor and Pittsburgh as at-large threats isn’t the best development for teams like the Rams and Temple (who remains in despite Saturday’s Big Five loss to Penn). And that’s especially true with the Sun Devils and Crimson Tide close and Clemson, Creighton and Florida all lurking. One bright note for the mid-major group, the West Coast Conference’s two-bid hopes are edging upward, as Saint Mary’s has joined Gonzaga and San Francisco in the NET’s top 50, increasing the number of quality wins available to league contenders.

But I’ll have more on this topic on Friday, when I take my first look at the bubble picture of 2019.