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Bracketology 2020: Baylor is emerging as a title favorite

At a minimum, the Bears are building a great case to be the No. 1 overall seed on Selection Sunday.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Florida
Baylor dominated Florida in Gainesville on Saturday night to solidify its hold on a No. 1 seed.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

My, how things can change over just seven days of the 2019-20 college basketball season. Just one week ago, there was plenty of tumult at the top of the bracket, thanks to a historically bad run by projected top seeds. But now, after a 72-61 road win over the Florida Gators Saturday night, a game many pundits said they were due to lose, the Baylor Bears have solidified their hold on the No. 1 overall seed in this NCAA tournament projection. Not only is Scott Drew’s club ranked at the top of the NET rankings, it’s now 6-1 in Quadrant 1 games, with the lone loss coming by three on Opening Night to the Washington Huskies. Plus, the Bears are a perfect 5-0 in road games so far, though a visit to the Iowa State Cyclones is on deck for Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, ESPNU).

The rest of the top seed line also remains unchanged since last Tuesday. The Kansas Jayhawks, second overall, started the week by making the wrong sort of headlines against archrival Kansas State and ended it by dispatching both the Tennessee Volunteers in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and Oklahoma State Cowboys in a Big Monday matchup a little more than 48 hours later. Bill Self’s club leads the nation in Quadrant 1 wins, with eight. Meanwhile, the Pacific time zone’s two top seeds, the San Diego State Aztecs and Gonzaga Bulldogs, maintained their winning ways, with the Zags blowing out the Pacific Tigers in their lone outing of the week and the Aztecs defeating a woeful Wyoming Cowboys squad at home before edging their closest Mountain West rival, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, Sunday.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Seton Hall
It’s shaping up to be a special season in Newark, N.J.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

While Kansas leads the country in Quad 1 victories, Baylor’s total of six does not rank second. That position instead belongs to Seton Hall Pirates, who are 7-4 in Quad 1 contests so far, with plenty of opportunities remaining in a stacked Big East. Myles Powell and company how rank as the top No. 2 seed, followed by the Duke Blue Devils, West Virginia Mountaineers and Florida State Seminoles. Bob Huggins’ squad replaces the Dayton Flyers, now the top three seed, with the Oregon Ducks, Villanova Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals just behind them.

On Monday night, the Iowa Hawkeyes rallied to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers, 68-62 — their fifth straight win. As a result, the Hawks consolidated their position on seed line No. 4, which they first gained in Friday’s bubble update. Iowa ranks below the Michigan State Spartans and Butler Bulldogs, but ahead of the Kentucky Wildcats.

After today’s full bracket and rundown, I’ll talk a little more about the changes at the bottom of the bracket, including a surprise inclusion right by the cut line.

Today’s full seed list

1. South Region (Houston)

St. Louis, Missouri (Thu./Sat.)

1. Baylor (Big 12) vs. 16. Robert Morris (NEC)/Norfolk State (MEAC)
↓8. Wisconsin vs. 9. Stanford

Sacramento, California (Fri./Sun.)

5. Rutgers vs. *12. Yale (Ivy)
4. Kentucky vs. 13. Stephen F. Austin (Southland)

Albany, New York (Thu./Sat.)

↓6. Auburn vs. ↑11. Purdue
↑3. Villanova vs. ↓14. William & Mary (CAA)

Tampa, Florida (Thu./Sat.)

7. Arizona vs. ↑10. Saint Mary’s
2. Florida State vs. 15. Winthrop (Big South)

4. East Region (New York)

Spokane, Washington (Thu./Sat.)

1. Gonzaga (WCC) vs. ↓16. Little Rock (Sun Belt)
↑8. Indiana vs. ↑9. Oklahoma

Tampa (Thu./Sat.)

5. LSU (SEC) vs. ↓12. Northern Iowa (MVC)
↑4. Iowa vs. *13. Vermont (Amer. East)

St. Louis (Thu./Sat.)

6. Colorado vs. ↓*11. Memphis/VCU
3. Louisville (ACC) vs. ↓14. UC Irvine (Big West)

Albany (Thu./Sat.)

7. Ohio State vs. *10. Alabama
2. Seton Hall (Big East) vs. ↑15. Murray State (OVC)

2. Midwest Region (Indianapolis)

Omaha, Nebraska (Fri./Sun.)

1. Kansas vs. *16. Monmouth (MAAC)/Prairie View A&M (SWAC)
↑8. Houston (AAC) vs. ↓9. Arkansas

Greensboro, North Carolina (Fri./Sun.)

5. Creighton vs. ↓12. ETSU (SoCon)
↓4. Michigan State (Big Ten) vs. ↓13. Akron (MAC)

Cleveland, Ohio (Fri./Sun.)

6. Penn State vs. *11. Virginia Tech/Rhode Island
↓3. Dayton (A 10) vs. 14. Wright State (Horizon)

Greensboro (Fri./Sun.)

↑7. Wichita State vs. 10. Florida
2. Duke vs. *15. South Dakota State (Summit)

3. West Region (Los Angeles)

Sacramento (Fri./Sun.)

1. San Diego State (MW) vs. ↓16. Montana (Big Sky)
8. USC vs. ↓9. Michigan

Omaha (Fri./Sun.)

5. Maryland vs. 12. Liberty (ASUN)
↓4. Butler vs. ↑13. North Texas (C-USA)

Spokane (Thu./Sat.)

↑6. Illinois vs. ↓11. BYU
↑3. Oregon (Pac-12) vs. ↓14. New Mexico State (WAC)

Cleveland (Fri./Sun.)

7. Marquette vs. ↑10. Minnesota
↑2. West Virginia vs. ↓15. Colgate (Patriot)

Bids by Conference: 12 Big Ten, 6 SEC, 5 Big East, 5 Pac-12, 4 ACC, 4 Big 12, 3 A 10, 3 AAC, 3 WCC, 23 one-bid conferences

Last Four Byes: Saint Mary’s, Alabama, BYU, Purdue
Last Four IN: Virginia Tech, Memphis, VCU, Rhode Island
First Four OUT: NC State, Texas Tech, Washington, Richmond
Next Four OUT: Mississippi State, Arizona State, Syracuse, DePaul

Lowest-Ranked NET At-Large: Memphis (51)
Highest-Ranked NET Exclusion: Texas Tech (38)

New Today (7/68): Alabama, Monmouth, Rhode Island, South Dakota State, VCU, Vermont, Yale
Leaving Today: DePaul, NC State, North Dakota State, Princeton, Quinnipiac, Stony Brook, Texas Tech

Bracket Notes

  • Of the four projected 1 vs. 2 regional final matchups in this bracket, only one — Kansas-Duke in the Midwest — features traditional blue-bloods. That matchup would undoubtedly be the nightcap of Saturday’s Elite Eight doubleheader, with San Diego State-West Virginia leading off out West. Sunday’s matchups? Baylor and Florida State in Houston, followed by Gonzaga and Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden.
  • The 5 vs. 12 matchups all look like they could be trendy upset picks, along with Kentucky-Stephen F. Austin and Iowa-Vermont among the 4 vs. 13 games.
  • With two Atlantic 10 teams among the First Four group and the need to have those games feed to both Thursday and Friday sites, a possible all-conference second round matchup with Dayton in Cleveland was unavoidable.

Bubble Talk

NCAA Basketball: Rhode Island at West Virginia
Rhode Island lost by just five at West Virginia back on December 1st.
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday night, the NC State Wolfpack recorded a second bad loss in a three-day span, following a 64-58 Saturday loss at Georgia Tech with a 75-65 setback in Raleigh against a North Carolina Tar Heels team that was without both Cole Anthony and Jeremiah Francis. Naturally, Kevin Keatts’ club is out of today’s bracket as a result.

The Wolfpack’s replacement is the third entrant from the Atlantic 10 alluded to above, the 14-5 Rhode Island Rams, who have defeated the VCU Rams, the conference’s other First Four squad, on the road, and the Alabama Crimson Tide, currently a 10 seed, in Kingston. Sure, Rhody has a road loss to the Brown Bears, currently 229th in the NET, but the Selection Committee has repeatedly indicated that a single bad loss will not disqualify a team from earning an at-large.

You’re probably wondering why the Texas Tech Red Raiders, nine spots higher in the NET than Rhode Island, find themselves on the outside looking in. Well, Chris Beard’s club really needed to defeat Kentucky at home on Saturday to grab a second Quadrant 1 win. While the Red Raiders are 12-7, only four of their victories have come against top-100 teams. Making matters worse, they have eight Quadrant 4 wins, all of which came against teams ranked 230th or worse. Rhode Island, on the other hand, has six top-100 wins and five Quad 4 wins, with just three of those coming against teams outside of the top 200. Tech simply has to start winning in the Big 12 to get back into the field.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Liberty vs Mississippi State
After a shocking 0-2 week, Liberty will almost assuredly need to win the ASUN Tournament to earn another chance at recording an NCAA win.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

But the biggest bubble news of the week originated from the Sunshine State. On Friday, it looked like the at-large hopes of the ASUN favorite Liberty Flames were on life support after a road loss to the North Florida Ospreys. Those hopes are now all but extinguished after the Stetson Hatters stunned the Flames in DeLand on Saturday. (Note that the Ospreys then turned around and picked up a road loss to the Lipscomb Bisons on Saturday.) If you recall, Thursday’s loss dropped Liberty 26 places in the NET, from 24th to 50th. Saturday’s dropped the Flames all the way down to 73rd — that’s a 49-spot drop in total. And with Liberty’s lone Quad 1 or 2 victory coming against the 65th-ranked Akron Zips, Ritchie McKay’s club will be left needing to win the ASUN’s auto bid to make it back to the field.

On Friday, I’ll be back with more bubble talk, and I’ll be handing out the first locks of the 2019-20 season to deserving teams for good measure.