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Bracketology 2019: Florida and Arizona State are on the right side of the bubble

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In this week’s bubble update, the Gators join the field and the Sun Devils gain some breathing room after their respective overtime victories. Plus, the top of the bracket features new No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Arizona State
Arizona State picked up a vital home win over Arizona on Thursday night.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Back on Tuesday, I aired my specific grievances with 2019’s crop of bubble teams. Feel free to open that post and keep it handy as we take a look at how the field of 68 looks from top to bottom as February starts. Most of those criticisms remain valid three days later.

As a reminder, you’ll see three sets of numbers in parentheses after each at-large candidate’ name. The first is its overall record in games against Division I opposition only. The second is its total of Group 1 and 2 “quality” wins, with the third indicating the number of Group 1 wins, since the Selection Committee has indicated that it values these the most.

Note: While team records reflect games played through Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, the Group 1 and 2 win information reflects the NET data published before the games played on that date. Asterisks (*) denote auto bid holders.

Protected Seeds

No. 1s: 1. Duke* (18-2/10/6), 2. Virginia (19-1/11/5), 3. Michigan* (20-1/11/5), 4. Tennessee* (18-1/9/4)
No. 2s: 5. Michigan State (18-3/12/8), 6. Gonzaga* (20-2/6/4), 7. Kentucky (17-3/8/5), 8. Marquette (19-3/10/5)
No. 3s: 9.Kansas (16-5/12/7), 10. North Carolina (16-4/9/5), 11. Texas Tech (17-4/9/3), 12. Purdue (15-6/9/5)
No. 4s: 13. Houston* (21-1/10/2), 14. Maryland (17-5/8/4), 15. Louisville (16-5/8/4), 16. Virginia Tech (17-3/5/2)

There’s a change on this morning’s top line, as Michigan replaces Michigan State, with the Wolverines also jumping Tennessee for the third spot overall. We still have quite some time before the Big Ten powers make their respective cases against each other, as the first of two meetings between the Spartans and Wolverines is set for February 24th in Ann Arbor. Down on seed line no. 2, Marquette replaces Kansas, which is now the top three seed following a Tuesday loss to Texas. Purdue, meanwhile, also finds itself as three, though the Boilermakers would not have swapped places with Maryland had they lost in overtime at Penn State on Thursday night.

Top Four Seeds By Region

East: 1/1. Duke* (Columbia 1), 2/7. Kentucky (Des Moines 1), 3/12. Purdue (Hartford 1), 4/13. Houston* (Salt Lake City 2) - Total of Top 4 Seeds = 34

South: 1/2. Virginia (Columbia 2), 2/5. Michigan State (Columbus 2), 3/9. Texas Tech (Tulsa 2), 4/16. Virginia Tech (San José 2) - Total of Top 4 Seeds = 36

Midwest: 1/3. Michigan* (Columbus 1), 2/8. Marquette (Des Moines 2), 3/9. Kansas (Tulsa 1), 4/15. Louisville (San José 1) - Total of Top 4 Seeds = 32

West: 1/4. Tennessee* (Jacksonville 1), 2/6. Gonzaga* (Salt Lake City 1), 3/10. North Carolina (Jacksonville 2), 4/14. Maryland (Hartford 2) - Total of Top 4 Seeds = 34

Once again, these four regions aren’t ideally balanced thanks to the ACC and Big Ten accounting for more than half of the top 16 combined with the need to keep Louisville out of the South regional. As a result, Midwest No. 1 seed Michigan has a more difficult path to the Final Four than the other three regional anchors, while Virginia has an easier one, at least in theory. In my opinion, a potential third meeting with in-state rival Virginia Tech in the Sweet Sixteen limits that perceived advantage.

Next In Line

No. 5s: 17. Villanova* (17-4/10/4), 18. Wisconsin (15-6/9/5), 19. Kansas State* (15-5/6/4), 20. Iowa State (16-5/5/4)
No. 6s: 21. Buffalo* (18-2/4/2), 22. Nevada* (20-1/8/0), 23. LSU (17-3/8/2), 24. Oklahoma (15-6/9/4)

Keep an eye on Villanova, which is currently on a nine-game win streak. The Wildcats could turn that up to 11 before their February 9th trip to Marquette, with home games against Georgetown and Creighton on tap this week. While Jay Wright’s squad had some well-publicized early-season struggles, they might be peaking at the right time when it comes to seeding.

After LSU hosts Arkansas Saturday, the Tigers will play three of four on the road, including contests at Mississippi State and Kentucky. Win both of those and Will Wade’s club, currently light on marquee wins, will be in line for a protected seed.

Above The Bubble For Now

No. 7s: 25. Baylor (14-6/8/5), 26. Iowa (16-5/8/3), 27. Mississippi State (15-5/8/2), 28. Florida State (15-5/6/2)
No. 8s: 29. Cincinnati (18-3/4/2), 30. Syracuse (15-6/6/2), 31. Minnesota (16-5/5/4), 32. Washington* (17-4/4/1)

Baylor continues its rapid rise up the bracket, while Syracuse, Minnesota and Pac-12 leader Washington all consolidated their positions by not falling on their faces against lesser opposition this week. In terms of rising above the bubble, that’s how low the bar currently is.

Bubble IN

No. 9s: 33. Mississippi (14-6/5/3), 34. N.C. State (16-5/6/1), 35. Auburn (13-6/5/1), 36. TCU (15-5/5/0)
No. 10s: 37. Ohio State (13-7/6/3), 38. St. John’s (16-5/7/2)

A lack of quality wins continues to limit Auburn, N.C. State and TCU, while inconsistency hampers Mississippi, Ohio State and St. John’s. The Rebels’ recent performance is particularly worrying, as they’ve dropped three straight and have only defeated Arkansas in their last five outings.

The Cut Line

Last Four Byes (No. 10s): 39. Texas (12-9/6/4), 40. Seton Hall (13-8/7/2)
Last Four Byes (No. 11s): 41. Arizona State (15-6/7/3), 42. Alabama (13-7/7/2)

Texas picked up a much-needed win over Kansas on Tuesday night, a nice addition to a profile that already included victories over Purdue and North Carolina. As for Seton Hall, a midweek win over Providence snapped a four-game skid. Arizona State increased its cushion by knocking off visiting Arizona in OT on Thursday — Bobby Hurley’s first win over the Wildcats during his Tempe tenure. Meanwhile, Alabama continues to play superbly in Tuscaloosa, with Mississippi State the Crimson Tide’s latest victim.

Last Four IN (No. 11s - First Four): 43. Indiana (12-9/5/2), 44. VCU (14-6/3/1), 45. Nebraska (12-8/5/2), 46. Florida (12-8/4/1)

Florida, victorious over Ole Miss in overtime on Wednesday, replaces Butler in the field, though the Gators’ stay could be short thanks to Saturday’s visit from Kentucky (4 p.m. ET, ESPN). VCU, off since Saturday’s win at Duquesne, hangs on, while Indiana and Nebraska don’t look like they’ll remain in the field all that much longer. The Hoosiers’ losing streak now stands at seven, while the Huskers, who will be without Issac Copeland for the remainder of the season, have dropped their last four.

First Four OUT: 69. Temple (15-6/5/1), 70. UCF (16-4/3/0), 71. San Francisco (16-4/1/0), 72. Butler (12-10/5/1)

On Thursday night, Temple had a chance to better its case by sweeping Houston, but the Cougars avenged their January 9th loss in Philadelphia by handling the Owls, 73-66. Next Thursday, UCF will get a chance at claiming its first Group 1 win of 2018-19 when Kelvin Sampson’s team visits Orlando. The biggest week of San Francisco’s season starts on Saturday at Saint Mary’s (4 p.m. ET, TheW.tv), while Butler will look to end a three-game skid when Seton Hall visits Hinkle Fieldhouse earlier in the day (12 p.m. ET, FS1).

Next Four OUT: 73. Arizona (14-8/3/1), 74. Creighton (11-9/5/1), 75. Utah State (14-5/2/0), 76. Clemson (12-8/4/0)

While Arizona got Chase Jeter back on Thursday night, losing in Tempe could end up being quite costly for the Wildcats. Looking at Creighton, Wednesday’s home loss to St. John’s doesn’t bode well for the Bluejays’ long-term hopes, particularly with a three-game road trip following Sunday’s visit from Xavier (1 p.m. ET, FSN). Utah State really has no chance without a win against Nevada — the Wolf Pack visit Logan on March 2nd. As for Clemson, Tuesday’s home rout of Pitt was the ideal start for a three-game set of must-win contests.

The Next 12 Out

(presented in order) 77. Georgetown (14-7/6/2), 78. Murray State (14-4/0/0), 79. Davidson (14-5/3/0), 80. Liberty (15-5/1/0), 81. Providence (13-8/4/1), 82. Saint Louis (14-7/2/1), 83. Saint Mary’s (13-9/1/1), 84. Pittsburgh (12-9/2/1), 85. Fresno State (14-5/2/1), 86. Oregon (13-8/3/2), 87. Arkansas (12-8/2/0), 88. DePaul (11-9/3/2)

Thanks to Thursday night’s loss at Jacksonville State, Ja Morant and Murray State find themselves down in this group instead of in the main bracket. But with a lack of quality wins and two OVC losses, the Racers don’t really have much of an at-large chance.

Georgetown, winner of two straight, looks like the most dangerous team in this group, and the Hoyas have a great chance to further improve their standing at Villanova on Sunday (12 p.m. ET, FS1). Oregon, who handled Utah in Salt Lake City last night, also looks set to make a late charge, though the Pac-12’s lack of quality limits the Ducks’ ceiling.

(Likely) One-Bid Conference Reps

At-Large Hopefuls

No. 12s: 47. Lipscomb* (15-4/4/2), 48. Wofford* (15-4/3/1), 49. Hofstra* (18-3/0/0), 50. Old Dominion* (17-6/2/1)

Lipscomb replaces Liberty as the Atlantic Sun representative in today’s seed list, thanks to the 79-59 thumping the Bisons delivered to the Flames in Lynchburg, Va. on Tuesday night. And while Liberty remains under consideration, it’s Casey Alexander’s squad that has the legitimate at-large case, one Russell Steinberg laid out over at Mid-Major Madness. Heading into Thursday, Lipscomb ranked 36th in the NET. In the bad old days of the RPI, such a ranking would have put the Bisons firmly in the at-large picture. We’ll just have to see if that will remain the case in the brave new world of the NET.

Old Dominion is back as the Conference USA representative following Thursday’s home win over North Texas, but the Monarchs are just one of five three-loss teams in the league.

As for Hofstra (16 straight victories) and Wofford (10), they just keep on winning.

Must Win Conference Tournament

No. 13s: 51. Vermont*, 52. Yale*, 53. Radford*, 54. Jacksonville State*
No. 14s: 55. New Mexico State*, 56. Texas State*, 57. South Dakota State*, 58. George Mason*
No. 15s: 59. Loyola Chicago*, 60. Northern Kentucky*, 61. UC Irvine*, 62. Bucknell*
No. 16s (First Round): 63. Rider*, 64. Northern Colorado*
No. 16s (First Four): 65. Sam Houston State*, 66. Robert Morris*, 67. Prairie View A&M*, 68. Norfolk State*

Even though the remaining 18 teams in the bracket will all need to cut down the nets during the Championship Fortnight to earn a bid, there are plenty of teams here capable of a First Round upset. And that’s not limited to a Radford squad that’s won at Texas and Notre Dame or a Loyola outfit attempting to replicate last season’s March magic. Jacksonville State has not only beaten Murray State, but it’s also swept the OVC’s other preseason favorite, Belmont. UC Irvine has won at both Saint Mary’s and Texas A&M. Yale has taken out both California and Miami, while Vermont has won at Atlantic 10 leader George Mason. Yes, many of those upset victims are bad, but it still takes a high level of confidence to beat a favorite in a hostile environment, particularly in November or December when hopes and expectations are still high.

My next full bracket update will come on Tuesday.