Bracketology 2019: A single-bid Pac-12 inches closer to reality

This one image sums up Arizona State’s — and the Pac-12’s — Thursday night.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Remember last week’s bubble post, which featured both the Florida Gators and Arizona State Sun Devils on the right side of the bubble after gutsy midweek wins? Forget it. Completely. Don’t make me call Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones to come your home.

After we take a look at the teams whose positions are becoming more stable by the hour thanks to the chaos spreading beneath them, we’ll examine the Jackson Pollock painting that surrounding the cut line. Don’t think I wasn’t tempted to copy and paste ¯_(ツ)_/¯ numerous times, starting around seed line No. 9.

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, Feb. 7, 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. Virginia (20-1/10/6), 2. Duke* (20-2/10/5), 3. Tennessee* (20-1/10/4), 4. Michigan* (21-2/12/5)
No. 2s: 5. Gonzaga* (22-2/8/4), 6. Kentucky (19-3/9/6), 7. North Carolina* (18-4/10/5), 8. Houston* (22-1/11/3)
No. 3s: 9. Kansas (17-6/13/8), 10. Marquette (19-4/9/7) 11. Michigan State (18-5/11/8), 12. Purdue (16-6/10/5)
No. 4s: 13. Villanova* (19-4/12/3), 14. Wisconsin (17-6/11/6), 15. Louisville (17-6/8/4), 16. Kansas State* (17-5/8/4)

At the very top of the field, the Cavaliers and Blue Devils swapped places from Tuesday’s full bracket just in time for their rematch in Charlottesville on Saturday evening (6 p.m. ET, ESPN). Houston jumped up to a No. 2 seed following a dominant Thursday win at UCF, though the Cougars’ ascent is due in no small part to the struggles of Michigan State and Kansas. The Jayhawks’ situation bears further observation following another piece of bad news that broke last night in Lawrence.

So now Bill Self’s team will have to do without its best three-point shooter, another offensive weapon missing on a Kansas squad that already has well-documented frontcourt issues.

Kansas State, now all alone atop the Big 12 standings following Tuesday’s win over the Jayhawks and Baylor‘s Wednesday road loss at Texas, are the final No. 4 today.

Top Four Seeds By Region

East: 1/1. Virginia* (Columbia 1), 2/8. Houston (Tulsa 1), 3/12. Purdue (Tulsa 2), 4/13. Villanova* (Hartford 2) – Total of Top 4 Seeds = 34

South: 1/2. Duke (Columbia 2), 2/6. Kentucky (Columbus 2), 3/11. Michigan State (Hartford 1), 4/16. Kansas State (San José 2) – Total of Top 4 Seeds = 35

Midwest: 1/3. Tennessee* (Jacksonville 1), 2/7. North Carolina (Jacksonville 2), 3/9. Kansas (Des Moines 1), 4/14. Wisconsin (Salt Lake City 2) – Total of Top 4 Seeds = 33

West: 1/4. Michigan* (Columbus 1), 2/5. Gonzaga* (Salt Lake City 1), 3/10. Marquette (Des Moines 2), 4/15. Louisville (San José 1) – Total of Top 4 Seeds = 34

The four regions are relatively balanced, despite the presence of quartets of ACC and Big Ten members.

Nearing Safety

No. 5s: 17. LSU (18-4/10/4), 18. Maryland (18-6/9/4), 19. Iowa State (18-5/7/4), 20. Nevada* (22-1/8/0)
No. 6s: 21. Texas Tech (18-5/9/3), 22. Virginia Tech (18-4/8/3), 23. Mississippi State (16-6/9/6), 24. Florida State (17-5/7/3)
No. 7s: 25. Iowa (18-5/9/4), 26. Cincinnati (20-3/6/3), 27. Washington* (19-4/6/3), 28. Buffalo (18-3/4/2)

This week’s biggest winners on seed lines five and six are LSU, who picked up a crucial overtime win at Mississippi State to keep pace with Tennessee and Kentucky in the SEC race, and Florida State, who dominated Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome. On the other hand, Virginia Tech will remain in real trouble as long as Justin Robinson remains out.

As for seed line seven, Iowa (over Indiana), Cincinnati (Memphis) and Washington (Arizona) all picked up Group 1 road wins on Thursday to boost their respective profiles. And thanks to other events on the West Coast last night, the Huskies now lead the Pac-12 race by four full games.

Above The Bubble For Now

No. 8s: 29. Baylor (15-7/9/4), 30. Oklahoma (15-8/7/3), 31. Auburn (15-6/7/1), 32. St. John’s (17-6/7/5)
No. 9s: 33. Syracuse (16-7/6/2), 34. Minnesota (16-7/6/3), 35. Ole Miss (15-7/5/3), 36. Lipscomb* (17-4/4/2)
No. 10s: 37. Ohio State (15-7/5/3) 38. TCU (16-6/5/0)

Baylor slipped slightly thanks to that midweek loss at Texas, while Oklahoma desperately needs to stop its three-game slide when Texas Tech visits Saturday (4 p.m. ET, ESPNU), especially since they visit the Bears Monday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Auburn earned some breathing room by handling Florida on Wednesday, while St. John’s did the same by sweeping Marquette.

Syracuse could have really used the win over Florida State, while Minnesota is currently 0-2 in its most difficult three-game stretch of the season. And salvaging something from the swing will be a near impossibility, as the Golden Gophers visit a Michigan State squad that has dropped its last three on Saturday afternoon (2 p.m. ET, ESPN). Ole Miss survived Texas A&M in Oxford on Wednesday to win for the first time in five outings, while Lipscomb obliterated North Florida by 37 to stay undefeated in Atlantic Sun play.

Ohio State averted disaster against Penn State in Columbus on Thursday, much like TCU did when Oklahoma State visited Fort Worth one night earlier. The Horned Frogs, still lacking a Group 1 victory, face a near-must-win on Saturday at Iowa State (2 p.m. ET, ESPNU).

The Cut Line

Last Four Byes (No. 10s): 39. Texas (13-10/7/4), 40. Alabama (14-8/8/2)
Last Four Byes (No. 11s): 41. Indiana (13-10/6/3), 42. Seton Hall (13-9/7/2)

Not only does Texas have seven Group 1 and 2 wins at this point, their Wednesday victory over Baylor is their sixth over a top 40 team. Given how the rest of the bubble is shaping up, those should more than outweigh the Longhorns’ double-digit loss total. In the SEC, Alabama took care of business against visiting Georgia and will need to do the same at Vanderbilt on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network).

Indiana’s position remained stable despite Thursday’s home setback to Iowa, but that’s mostly thanks to others’ losses. And it’s a similar story for Seton Hall, idle following a Saturday loss at Butler. The Pirates’ early wins over Kentucky and Maryland continue to hold up thanks largely to the failures of others’ attempts to claim results of similar quality.

Last Four IN (No. 11s – First Four): 43. N.C. State (16-7/5/1), 44. VCU (16-6/3/1), 45. Temple (17-6/6/1), 46. Butler (13-10/6/1)

N.C. State followed up its 24-point performance at Virginia Tech by scoring 96 — in a 17-point loss at North Carolina on Tuesday. VCU swept aside George Washington, while Temple had an easy time against UConn. While the Owls still have just a single Group 1 win over Houston, their 77-75 overtime triumph over Davidson from December 15th is looking increasingly good.

But the last spot … Arizona State was relatively safe heading into Thursday night, which featured an eminently winnable visit from the Washington State, who had only defeated winless California in Pac-12 play. Then this happened …

That unfathomable loss means the Pac-12 will have just one team in today’s field, runaway leader Washington.

Making matters worse, six of the first eight teams out in the preliminary list I built for this update lost their midweek matchups, while Butler was idle and Belmont entered the field as OVC leader. In the end, I put the Bulldogs in the bracket, thanks to their neutral-site win over Florida (even if the Gators gained revenge in the rematch in Gainesville) and home victories over St. John’s, Ole Miss, Creighton and Seton Hall.

First Four OUT: 69. Arizona State (15-7/8/3), 70. UCF (16-5/3/0), 71. Creighton (12-10/5/2), 72. Florida (12-10/4/1)
Next Four OUT: 73. Utah State (17-5/3/1), 74. Nebraska (12-10/5/2), 75. Georgetown (15-8/6/2), 76. Oregon (14-9/3/2)

Naturally, Arizona State slipped into the NIT places after Thursday’s debacle. The Sun Devils simply haven’t been able to build upon their quality non-conference wins over Kansas and Mississippi State. With the Pac-12 struggling mightily, Bobby Hurley’s team simply cannot afford to lose numerous games to mediocre-to-bad conference rivals. UCF (blown out by Houston in Orlando), Creighton (an OT loser at Villanova) and Florida (unable to keep up at Auburn) also lost ground this week. Among the next four out, Utah State, currently 33rd in the NET but without a true marquee win, will be an interesting test case for the Selection Committee’s use of the new tool, while Georgetown, Nebraska and Oregon will all have varying opportunities to improve upon their quality win totals. However, the Cornhuskers’ struggles without Issac Copeland mean their chances are fading quickly.

The Next 12 Out

(presented in order) 77. Arkansas (14-8/3/1), 78. Arizona (14-9/4/1), 79. San Francisco (16-6/1/0), 80. Clemson (14-8/3/0), 81. Saint Mary’s (15-9/2/1), 82. Oregon State (14-8/5/1), 83. UNC Greensboro (19-3/2/1), 84. Liberty (17-5/1/0), 85. Murray State (16-4/0/0), 86. South Florida (16-6/2/0), 87. Fresno State (15-6/2/1), 88. Penn (12-7/2/2)

Arizona State wasn’t the only Pac-12 team to pick up a damaging loss on Thursday night. Sure, Arizona’s home loss to conference-leading Washington wasn’t totally unexpected, especially with Brandon Williams out with a knee injury, but Oregon State took a page from the Sun Devils’ playbook in losing by 23 to a mediocre Stanford squad in Corvallis.

San Francisco basically entered “WCC Tournament title or bust” territory with last night’s blowout loss at Gonzaga, joining the remainder of the mid-majors in this group, all of whom will almost assuredly need the auto bid to make the field of 68. And when you add the Pac-12 squads to them your result is that just three teams in this group have legitimate hope of an at-large with five weeks to go — Arkansas, Clemson and surprising South Florida. Both the Razorbacks and Tigers have five quality win opportunities left, while Bulls have four. And all come during a two-week stretch bookended by a home-and-home series against Interstate 4 rival UCF. In between, Brian Gregory’s team will host Temple and visit Houston.

(Likely) One-Bid Conference Reps

At-Large Hopefuls

No. 12s: 47. Belmont* (17-4/5/2), 48. Wofford* (17-4/5/2), 49. Davidson* (16-5/3/0), 50. Hofstra* (19-4/0/0)

We very nearly had a two-bid OVC in today’s seed list, but Jacksonville State fell out of what was a four-way tie for first with a loss at UT Martin. And with Belmont having defeated both Murray State and Austin Peay, the Bruins own the auto bid for the day. Wofford, meanwhile, needed overtime to win at East Tennessee State and keep their perfect Southern Conference run intact.

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

We still have a two-bid MAC, however, as Bowling Green leads at-large squad Buffalo by a game in the conference race.

Ten teams still have a chance at recording a perfect regular-season conference record, with Norfolk State, Prairie View A&M, Princeton and Sam Houston State from the group immediately above joining at-large candidates Gonzaga, Lipscomb, Tennessee, Villanova, Washington and Wofford in this select group.

My next full bracket update will arrive on Tuesday. Remember that Saturday afternoon’s lineup includes the NCAA’s now-annual March Madness bracket preview show (12:30 p.m. ET, CBS). I’m particularly curious to see how the NET’s adoption will affect seeding, something that should be evident in the Selection Committee’s reveal of the top four seeds in each region. Expect this information to heavily influence each and every projection between now and Selection Sunday.

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