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Bracketology 2019: Welcome to the month of madness!

And with a late Selection Sunday and flat-out strange bubble picture, March 2019 will truly be like none that have come before it.

NCAA Basketball: Washington at California
California provided a March appetizer by knocking off Washington on Thursday night. That was the Golden Bears’ first Pac-12 win of the season.
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The best month of the year is finally here! And with Selection Sunday falling on St. Patrick’s Day, 2019 will give you a little extra bang for your March buck. If you think back to last year, the first conference tournament games were played on Feb. 26. This time around, they’ll tip a full week later, on Monday, March 4. Conference Tournament Central is live over at Blogging the Bracket, so be sure to bookmark it for all of your bracket and TV info needs over the next 17 days.

The first look at the bid picture for March features just one new lock, not quite as many as I anticipated on Thursday afternoon, thanks to some late results on the West Coast. (Just dropping a second massive hint here, after the picture at the top of the post.) In 2019, 25 of the 68 spots in the 2019 NCAA tournament will go to the champions of likely single-bid conferences (a few of whom find themselves rather high up the bracket right now). That leaves 43 places — 36 at-large squads and the 7 champions of the probable multi-bid leagues — truly up for grabs.

As a reminder, you’ll see three sets of numbers in parentheses after each at-large candidate’s 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: Team records and NET data reflects games played through Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Info from Asterisks (*) denote auto bid holders.

Locks and protected seeds

No. 1s: 1. Virginia* (25-2/14/9), 2. Gonzaga* (28-2/11/3), 3. Duke (24-4/15/8), 4. Kentucky (24-4/14/9)
No. 2s: 5. North Carolina (23-5/13/7), 6. Michigan State* (23-5/14/10), 7. Tennessee (24-3/11/7), 8. Michigan (25-4/16/7)
No. 3s: 9. Houston* (27-1/13/3), 10. LSU* (23-5/15/8), 11. Kansas (21-7/14/10), 12. Purdue (21-7/14/7)
No. 4s: 13. Texas Tech (23-5/13/5), 14. Marquette* (23-5/13/9), 15. Virginia Tech (22-6/10/4), 16. Florida State (22-6/10/6)

The top 11 teams here are in the same order as in Tuesday’s full bracket, with the first change at the end of seed line No. 3. Purdue replaces Marquette there, following the Golden Eagles’ Wednesday loss at Villanova. Buzz Williams’ current team, Virginia Tech, joins his former one on line No. 4 thanks to the Hokies’ Tuesday home victory over Zion Williamson-less Duke. Tech replaces Wisconsin, following the Badgers double-overtime loss to the struggling Indiana Hoosiers.

Top four seeds by region

East: 1/1. Virginia* (Columbus 1), 2/7. Tennessee (Jacksonville 1), 3/12. Purdue (Jacksonville 2), 4/14. Marquette (Hartford 1) - Total of Top 4 Seeds = 34

West: 1/2. Gonzaga* (Salt Lake City 1), 2/8. Michigan (Des Moines 2), 3/9. Houston (Tulsa 1), 4/15. Virginia Tech (Hartford 2) - Total of Top 4 Seeds = 34

South: 1/3. Duke (Columbia 1), 2/6. Michigan State* (Des Moines 1), 3/10. LSU (Tulsa 2), 4/13. Texas Tech (San José 1) - Total of Top 4 Seeds = 33

Midwest: 1/4. Kentucky (Columbus 2), 2/5. North Carolina (Columbia 2), 3/11. Kansas (Salt Lake City 2), 4/16. Florida State (San José 2) - Total of Top 4 Seeds = 36

With the top four representatives in a conference placed in separate regions, Virginia Tech, the fourth ACC team in, is shipped West. That means the conference’s fifth squad, Florida State, gets a shorter second weekend trip — to Kansas City’s blueblood-heavy Midwest regional.

Other locks

No. 5s: 17. Kansas State* (21-7/10/6), 18. Wisconsin (19-9/12/8), 19. Nevada* (26-2/8/0), 20. Mississippi State (21-7/11/9)
No. 6s: 21. Maryland (21-8/12/6), 22. Iowa (21-7/11/4), 23. Cincinnati (24-4/9/4), 24. Villanova (21-8/14/4)
No. 7s: 25. Iowa State (20-8/9/5)

We have just one new lock this week — Villanova, thanks to the Wildcats’ home win over Marquette. I was all set to put the Washington Huskies in this group too, but they managed to become the first Pac-12 team to lose to the California Golden Bears in 2019. Cal entered Thursday’s play ranked 275th in the NET (they’re now 253rd). It’s really hard to pick up a worse loss as a member of a power conference. Strangely enough, Mike Hopkins’ squad still clinched the Pac-12 regular-season title despite the loss, as the second-place Arizona State Sun Devils also dropped a game on Thursday, at Oregon.

Switching to the actual locks in this group, Wisconsin wasn’t the only Big Ten team to see its chances at a protected seed drop this week. Iowa and Maryland also picked up questionable losses, to Ohio State and Penn State, respectively, with both defeats coming in blowout fashion. The Hawkeyes’ loss in Columbus was doubly costly, as head coach Fran McCaffrey was suspended for two games following his postgame tirade directed at a game official.

Going back to our math, while we have 25 locks, only 23 of those count against the 43 places available. That’s because Gonzaga and Nevada represent conferences expected to place just a single team in the field. (That’s true even if the Mountain West has a second team in today.) Three such teams find themselves in the near-lock group.

Near locks

No. 7s: 26. Buffalo* (24-3/7/2), 27. Wofford* (22-4/7/3), 28. Baylor (19-9/12/4)
No. 8s: 29. Ole Miss (19-9/7/4), 30. Auburn (18-9/10/2), 31. VCU* (22-6/6/2), 32. Washington* (22-6/6/1)

I was tempted to move both Buffalo and Wofford into the lock group, but the Selection Committee’s historic treatment of “strong mid-major champions that fail to win their conference tournaments” makes me a little skittish. Based on the NET, both the Bulls and Terriers should be locks, since they are ranked 15th and 18th, respectively. In the RPI days, such lofty rankings would have guaranteed selection. At the moment, I feel a little more confident about Buffalo, thanks to the non-conference win at Syracuse. While Wofford has a superior total of Quad 1 victories, all of those came in Southern Conference play, with the Terriers’ best non-league result coming at 87th-ranked South Carolina.

In other words, we’ll have a good idea of how much the NET matters by how the Committee treats these teams should they fall in their conference tournaments.

VCU, not Washington, is the third single-bid conference rep in this group, even if the Huskies and Sun Devils are doing their best to make #Pac1Bid happen. In fact, the Atlantic 10 could still snag a second bid, thanks to the Dayton Flyers’ late resurgence.

With just 4 teams out of this group counting toward our total of 43 available bids, 27 spots are now accounted for. That leaves 16 up for grabs.

Bubble IN

No. 9s: 33. Florida (17-11/8/3), 34. Syracuse (18-10/8/3), 35. Ohio State (18-10/8/4), 36. Louisville (18-11/8/4)
No. 10s: 37. Oklahoma (17-11/9/3), 38. NC State (20-8/7/2), 39. TCU (18-10/7/3), 40. St. John’s (20-9/10/6)

While Florida and Ohio State improved their standing with mid-week victories, Louisville’s free-fall continued with a loss at Boston College and St. John’s saw its position become a bit more precarious, thanks to Thursday night’s home defeat to the suddenly-relevant Xavier Musketeers. That setback is the Red Storm’s third such Quad 3 result, with all of those coming in conference play. Chris Mullin’s team is now tied with Xavier for third in the Big East. And while that seems impressive, that sensation disappears when you look at the standings and see that both are 8-8.

The cut line

Last Four Byes (No. 11s): 41. Arizona State (19-9/8/3), 42. UCF (21-6/6/0), 43. Texas (15-13/8/4), 44. Alabama (17-11/9/2)

The fact Oregon is now ranked 67th in the NET helps Arizona State out, as that defeat remains a Quad 1 one for the Sun Devils. Texas, meanwhile, failed to convert on a golden opportunity to shore up its status on Wednesday, as the Longhorns gave away a road game at Baylor. Shaka Smart’s team fell in overtime despite the absence of Kerwin Roach II (suspension) and Dylan Osetkowski (illness).

No. 12s (Auto Bids): 45. Lipscomb* (20-6/3/2) and 48. Belmont* (23-4/5/2)

With the shape of 2019’s bubble, both “Battle of the Boulevard” rivals should at least earn some Committee discussion should they fail to win their respective conference tournaments next weekend.

Last Four IN (No. 12s - First Four): 46. Seton Hall (16-11/10/3), 47. Minnesota (17-11/9/2), 49. Utah State (22-6/3/1), 50. Clemson (17-11/5/1)

Clemson replaces Temple, Tuesday’s penultimate team in, following the Owls’ loss at Memphis that evening.

Minnesota had little trouble at Northwestern on Thursday night, so they stick around with games against Purdue and Maryland looming next week. And the Golden Gophers aren’t the only team in this quartet with much to play for this week. Seton Hall visits Georgetown on Saturday, then hosts both Marquette and Villanova over the season’s final week. Utah State gets its long-awaited second shot at Mountain West-leading Nevada on Saturday, while Clemson hosts North Carolina and Syracuse on consecutive Saturdays.

First Four OUT: 69. Temple (20-8/6/1), 70. Memphis (18-11/4/1), 71. Saint Mary’s (20-10/3/1), 72. Dayton (19-9/3/1)

Of the four teams listed here, the two American Athletic squads are best positioned to jump in. Not only did Memphis beat Temple on Tuesday, but the Tigers now have a Quad 1 win on their profile, as UCF ranks 30th in the NET as of this morning. Penny Hardaway’s team can grab a second at Cincinnati on Saturday. The Knights’ rise mean Temple could get one more shot at a quality win when Johnny Dawkins’ squad visits Philadelphia next Saturday.

Saint Mary’s will have to beat Gonzaga in Moraga Saturday night to have any real hope, while Dayton won’t get another quality win opportunity during the regular season. It’s likely a case of “auto bid or bust” for both.

Next Seven OUT: 73. Georgetown (17-11/8/3), 74. Xavier (16-13/9/3), 75. Furman (20-6/4/1), 76. Butler (15-13/7/2), 77. Oregon (16-12/4/1), 78. Liberty (21-6/2/1), 79. Murray State (22-4/1/0)

It’s a similar story for the trio of mid-majors in this expanded group that makes up the remainder of our bubble. Xavier, which picked up its third Quad 1 win of the season at St. John’s on Thursday, joins a pair of Big East rivals that also still have work to do. Butler ends up as the lowest-ranked of the trio thanks to a Tuesday overtime home loss to Providence.

While Oregon’s home win over Arizona State is a Quad 2 victory, the Ducks will have one last shot at a Quad 1 triumph next Saturday, since they visit Washington to close the regular season. At this point, a Duck win in Seattle could be a mixed blessing for a league that’s transformed into the “Conference of Brutality” over the past few months.

(Likely) One-bid conference reps

No. 13s: 51. New Mexico State*, 52. Yale*, 53. Old Dominion*, 54. Vermont*
No. 14s: 55. Hofstra*, 56. South Dakota State*, 57. UC Irvine*, 58. Radford*
No. 15s: 59. Montana*, 60. Texas State*, 61. Loyola Chicago*, 62. Wright State*
No. 16s (First Round): 63. Colgate*, 64. Sam Houston State*
No. 16s (First Four): 65. St. Francis (Pa.)*, 66. Iona*, 67. Prairie View A&M*, 68. Norfolk State*

Several teams in this group will wrap up their regular seasons this weekend, with the Metro Atlantic (four six-loss teams at the top), Missouri Valley (two 11-6 teams followed by an 10-7 one) and Patriot League (three-way tie for first) wrapping up particularly messy conference races. In other words, there might be some new names in my Tuesday projection.