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Bracketology 2019: Bubble trouble from coast-to-coast

While it’s easy to put the top of the bracket together in late January, many teams near the cut line don’t seem interested in making cases for themselves.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Oklahoma
The Baylor Bears are one of the few bubble teams playing like an actual NCAA contender in late January.
Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the Michigan State Spartans held the No. 1 overall seed in Friday’s bubble update, Sparty’s reign at the top of the bracket was temporary.

Once again, the Duke Blue Devils lead off the bracket, just as they did one week ago, thanks in no small part to MSU’s Sunday loss at Purdue. The Virginia Cavaliers, Spartans and Tennessee Volunteers round out the top line — in that order. Of the No. 2 seeds, the Michigan Wolverines and Gonzaga Bulldogs continue to lead the way with the Kentucky Wildcats jumping the Kansas Jayhawks on the seed list after winning the pair’s Saturday meeting. But with all four No. 2 seeds again placed in the closest regional site the swap in the rankings had no real impact on the bracket itself.

This week’s No. 3 seeds are all returnees from last Tuesday — the North Carolina Tar Heels, Marquette Golden Eagles, Texas Tech Red Raiders and Maryland Terrapins. But it’s a different story for the quartet of No. 4 seeds. While the Houston Cougars and Virginia Tech Hokies return, the surging Louisville Cardinals and Purdue Boilermakers replace the Buffalo Bulls and Iowa State Cyclones.

After today’s full bracket and rundown, it will be time to change the subject to the absolute mess that is the bottom of the at-large pool. As usual, our look at the full bracket starts 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) Prairie View A&M Panthers (SWAC)/Norfolk State Spartans (MEAC)
(↑8) TCU Horned Frogs vs. (↑9) Minnesota Golden Gophers

San José, Calif. (Fri./Sun.)

(↑5) Villanova Wildcats (Big East) vs. (12) Wofford Terriers (SoCon)
(↑4) Purdue Boilermakers vs. (*13) Yale Bulldogs (Ivy)

Tulsa, Okla. (Fri./Sun.)

(↓6) Oklahoma Sooners vs. (*11) Alabama Crimson Tide/VCU Rams
(↑3) Marquette Golden Eagles vs. (14) South Dakota State Jackrabbits (Summit)

Des Moines, Iowa (Thu./Sat.)

(↑7) Florida State Seminoles vs. (↓10) Indiana Hoosiers
(2) Kentucky Wildcats vs. (↑15) Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners (WAC)

(4) West (Anaheim, Calif.)

Jacksonville, Fla. (Thu./Sat.)

(1) Tennessee Volunteers (SEC) vs. (*16) Sam Houston State Bearkats (Southland)/Robert Morris Colonials (NEC)
(8) N.C. State Wolfpack vs. (9) Ohio State Buckeyes

Hartford, Conn. (Thu./Sat.)

(↓5) Iowa State Cyclones vs. (12) Hofstra Pride (CAA)
(↑4) Louisville Cardinals vs. (↓13) Radford Highlanders (Big South)

Hartford, Conn. (Thu./Sat.)

(↓6) Buffalo Bulls (MAC) vs. (*↓11) Arizona State Sun Devils/Texas Longhorns
(3) Maryland Terrapins vs. (*14) George Mason Patriots (A 10)

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

(↑7) Cincinnati Bearcats vs. (↓10) Nebraska Cornhuskers
(2) Gonzaga Bulldogs (WCC) vs. (*15) UC Irvine Anteaters (Big West)

(2) South (Louisville, Ky.)

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

(1) Virginia Cavaliers (ACC) vs. (16) Rider Broncs (MAAC)
(↓8) Mississippi Rebels vs. (↑9) St. John’s Red Storm

San José, Calif. (Fri./Sun.)

(5) Kansas State Wildcats vs. (↑12) Liberty Flames (ASUN)
(4) Virginia Tech Hokies vs. (↑13) Northern Kentucky Norse (Horizon)

Tulsa, Okla. (Fri./Sun.)

(↓6) Nevada Wolf Pack (MW) vs. (11) Butler Bulldogs
(↑3) Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. (*14) Texas State Bobcats (C-USA)

Columbus, Ohio (Fri./Sun.)

(↑7) Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. (*10) Baylor Bears
(2) Michigan Wolverines vs. (15) Bucknell Bison (Patriot)

(3) Midwest (Kansas City, Mo.)

Columbus, Ohio (Fri./Sun.)

(1) Michigan State Spartans (Big Ten) vs. (*16) Northern Colorado Bears (Big Sky)
(8) Syracuse Orange vs. (↓9) Auburn Tigers

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

(5) Wisconsin Badgers vs. (12) Murray State Racers (OVC)
(4) Houston Cougars (American) vs. (13) Vermont Catamounts (America East)

Jacksonville, Fla. (Thu./Sat.)

(↑6) LSU Tigers vs. (↓11) Seton Hall Pirates
(3) North Carolina Tar Heels vs. (↓14) Loyola Chicago Ramblers (MVC)

Des Moines, Iowa (Thu./Sat.)

(7) Iowa Hawkeyes vs. (↑10) Washington Huskies (Pac-12)
(2) Kansas Jayhawks (Big 12) vs. (*15) UAB Blazers (C-USA)

Notes on today’s projection:

  • Five ACC teams and four Big Ten entrants appear on the top four seed lines. And with one of those ACC squads, Louisville, hosting the South regional, it took quite a bit of shuffling to keep teams apart and keep the regions balanced. Seed lines three and four were particularly challenging.
  • For the second Tuesday straight, I’ve projected Oklahoma’s placement in Tulsa (as the last six seed this time) and Iowa’s in Des Moines (as the top seven) with the Hawkeyes possibly facing Kansas in the Second Round.
  • There’s also the persistent possibility of Kentucky-Indiana Second Round matchup in the other Des Moines pod, but with the Hoosiers fading. They’re a 10-seed this week.
  • The chance of a Marquette-Villanova Elite Eight matchup in the East really makes me wish the Committee still worked to place top teams from the same conference in different regions regardless of their seeding.
  • Note also the projected Virginia-Virginia Tech South Regional semifinal.
  • We yet again have another titanic set of Elite Eight games in the extremely unlikely event of a chalk bracket. Saturday would likely open with a Virginia-Michigan matchup in Louisville followed by a rematch of one of the games of the year in Anaheim — Tennessee vs. Gonzaga. Sunday’s matchups would be a replay of the season-opening Champions Classic with Michigan State taking on Kansas in Kansas City and Duke facing Kentucky in the Nation’s Capital.


Full seed list

Last Four Byes: Nebraska, Baylor, Seton Hall, Butler
Last Four IN: Arizona State, Texas, Alabama, VCU
First Four OUT: Temple, UCF, San Francisco, Arizona
Next Four Out: Creighton, Florida, Saint Louis, Pittsburgh

New Today: Alabama, Arizona State, Baylor, George Mason, Northern Colorado, Texas State, UAB, UC Irvine, Yale
Leaving Today: Arizona, Georgia State, North Texas, Princeton, Saint Louis, Temple, UC Santa Barbara, UCF, Weber State

Bids by Conference: 10 Big Ten, 8 ACC, 8 Big 12, 7 SEC, 5 Big East, 2 American, 2 Atlantic 10, 2 Pac-12, 24 one-bid conferences

Counting Friday’s bubble post, this is my fifth attempt at filling out the field of 68 in 2019. But today’s bracket is the first where I got to, oh, the end of seed line no. 8 and started thinking to myself, “What exactly is going on here?” and “Where are we getting 36 at-larges from?” Let’s go team-by-team and see why.

  • N.C. State has a single Group 1 win and the 349th-ranked non-conference schedule out of 353 teams.
  • While TCU has three top 50 wins, none of those have come away from Fort Worth, so the Horned Frogs currently own an 0-4 Group 1 record (to go with a NET ranking of 28th).
  • Ohio State’s Saturday win over Nebraska snapped a five-game skid. But with a game at Michigan on tap for tonight (9 p.m., ESPN2), I’m not all that confident in the Buckeyes’ building upon that.
  • Auburn, N.C. State’s lone Group 1 triumph, is 0-5 in such games themselves, something they likely won’t be able to improve upon until February 9th trip to LSU. The Tigers, 25th in today’s NET, own just a single top 50 victory — over Washington at home.
  • Minnesota, meanwhile, has four Group 1 victories, including one at Wisconsin. But the Golden Gophers also picked up costly losses at Illinois and Boston College, a pair of teams who aren’t making the tournament without an auto bid.
  • St. John’s actually rose a seed line this week, even after Sunday’s dispiriting home loss to Georgetown, because of the lack of quality around them. The Red Storm must improve upon a 1-3 Group 1 record to stick around though.
  • The value of Indiana’s home wins over Louisville and Marquette is increasing steadily, but if the Hoosiers’ six-game skid continues, those victories will be overwhelmed by quality losses. Note that after Wednesday’s trip to Rutgers (7 p.m., BTN), Indiana plays eight games in a row against at-large contenders.
  • Nebraska’s two best wins — at Indiana and Clemson — aren’t holding up. And that’s a bad sign for a team that’s won just two of its last seven.
  • Washington, undefeated in the Pac-12, has just one Group 1 win, over an Oregon team that’s not an at-large threat.
  • After thrashing Oklahoma in Norman last night, Baylor now has a 5-3 record against Group 1 and an 8-4 mark against Groups 1 and 2. If it weren’t for the two horrible home losses the Bears picked up in non-conference play (against Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin), they would have been in the field earlier. Scott Drew’s club looks to be the only team of this group that truly wants an NCAA bid.
  • Seton Hall has defeated Kentucky at Madison Square Garden and Maryland in College Park. But the Pirates have also won just one of their last six.
  • Butler is yet another Big East team that’s failed to distinguish itself in conference play. The Bulldogs’ have five conference losses, like the St. John’s and Seton Hall teams seeded ahead of them. But those two clubs have better top wins (Marquette and Kentucky, respectively) than Butler’s (Florida).
  • Arizona State should have dropped out following Saturday’s loss at USC. But after comparing the Sun Devils to the rest of this group, it’s difficult to leave out a team that’s defeated Kansas and Mississippi State, even with their sub-100 losses to Princeton (in Tempe) and Stanford.
  • Texas has four Group 1 wins, including marquee ones over North Carolina (in Vegas) and Purdue, along with nine losses, including one at Georgia on Saturday. The possibility of defeat no. 10 looms tonight when the Longhorns host Kansas (7 p.m., ESPN).
  • Alabama returns despite Saturday’s loss to Baylor, thanks to an abundance of quality home wins. But for the Crimson Tide to improve their position, they’ll need to pick up some wins away from home. Maybe starting at Auburn on Saturday?
  • VCU’s wins at Texas and over Temple in New York keep the Rams around despite a midweek loss to Rhode Island.

And then you get to the first eight teams left out of the bracket, seven of whom picked up losses over the weekend. Proceed with caution.

  • After collapsing against Cincinnati on Sunday, Temple’s profile basically consists of a home win over Houston and little else.
  • UCF has wins over Temple and Alabama at home — and no Group 1 wins, thanks to Sunday’s blowout loss at Memphis.
  • San Francisco also lacks a Group 1 win, though they’ll get two opportunities soon — at Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga. The Dons’ NET ranking has also dropped to 47th after Saturday’s loss at San Diego.
  • Arizona, missing Chase Jeter due to injury, got swept out of L.A., a potentially devastating turn of events for a team that only had a Maui win over Iowa State to fall back on.
  • Creighton, the only team of the First Eight Out to win over the weekend, is still just 1-7 in Group 1 games. Florida has the same record against that class, failing to improve upon it on Saturday at TCU.
  • Saint Louis has defeated both over Butler and Seton Hall, but the Billikens have also picked up sub-150 losses against Duquesne and Southern Illinois. Travis Ford’s club followed up their Wednesday loss to the Dukes by gifting a home game to Davidson on Saturday, and a place in the A 10 lead pack along with it.
  • While Pitt has defeated both Louisville and Florida State in the Steel City, the Panthers have dropped three in a row since taking the Seminoles apart on January 14th.

As I said ... the picture is clear as mud. And that means it’s not yet time to close the door on the numerous teams who still have time to work themselves into the hunt. Expect more shuffling in Friday’s bubble update.