2016 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 27, 2016

2016 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68

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    Rod Aydelotte/Associated Press

    Oklahoma is still the No. 1 overall seed in our latest projection of the 2016 NCAA tournament field, and as we'll discuss later, it isn't even close. The Sooners are head and shoulders ahead of the pack, though it does currently appear that North Carolina, Iowa and Villanova are the teams most likely to join them on the top line.

    February is just around the corner, and even though it's a leap year, March isn't far behind. Before you know it, Selection Sunday will be here.

    But we can't wait that long.

    It has been nearly a full month since our last bracket projection on New Year's Eve, but the plan is to post a new one every Tuesday night until the beginning of March. Adjust your reading plans accordingly.

    One important thing to note that's going to be different from most of the projections you'll find on other sites: The projected automatic bid for each conference does not automatically go to the team with the best conference record.

    For instance, Tulsa and Temple are tied for first place in the AAC with a 5-2 record, but neither one is projected to make the tournament. Instead, we have Connecticut as the AAC's automatic bid, because the Huskies are the best (tournament-eligible) team in that conference. There are several conferences where this came into play, but that's the biggest one.

    Other than that, it's business as usual.

    The three primary computer metrics considered in this projection are the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), KenPom.com's pythagorean rankings (KP) and CBS Sports' strength of schedule (SOS). And, of course, the oft-mentioned, never-quantifiable eye test was a large part of the seeding process.

    As always, we'll take a look at the last five teams to make the field, the first five out and a few on the horizon.

    After that, we'll present each seeded region, including the subregional locations in which each pod would be played, and some commentary on which teams have moved the most in each region. Then we'll defend the rankings of the No. 1 seeds, followed by a summary of the entire field broken up by conference.

Last 5 In

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    Last Team In: Kansas State Wildcats (12-8, RPI: 53, KP: 35, SOS: 22)

    Outside of the top-five seed lines, there is only one team in the country that has yet to lose to a team outside the RPI Top 25. That team is Kansas State, which just so happens to be 0-8 against teams in the RPI Top 25.

    In other words, this is the only team that is perfectly living up to expectations by consistently beating bad teams and consistently losing to good ones.

    Now, the Wildcats have been mighty close in some of those losses. They pushed both West Virginia and Baylor to double overtime and only lost by three at Texas. But the RPI doesn't care about almost. Those might as well be 50-point losses as far as that computer metric is concerned, but it explains why Kansas State is scoring well in KP and SOS despite a lack of quality wins.

    The Wildcats do still have home games remaining against Kansas, Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas. They need to win at least two of those games. But at a point in the season when every bubble team either has ugly losses or no quality wins, why not Kansas State?

    Second-to-Last: Syracuse Orange (13-8, RPI: 54, KP: 40, SOS: 31)

    This team has clearly been better with Jim Boeheim back in the saddle, but we can't completely forget the damage done in the nine games under assistant coach Mike Hopkins. (That isn't to say Hopkins coached poorly, but there's no denying that part of the season is why they might miss the tournament.)

    In particular, the loss to St. John'swhich is 0-10 since beating Syracuseis pretty damning. The Orange needed last week's road win over Duke just to begin to erase that terrible loss, let alone the home loss to Clemson a few weeks later.

    But that neutral-court win over Texas A&M in the Battle 4 Atlantis is aging like a fine wine on steroids, giving Syracuse two impressive wins away from the Carrier Dome. If the Orange can pick up one more at either Louisville or North Carolina, they should be comfortably in the field.

    Third-to-Last: UCLA Bruins (12-8, RPI: 51, KP: 62, SOS: 10)

    UCLA has one of the country's most bizarre resumes.

    On the plus side, the Bruins have home wins over Kentucky and Arizona, as well as road wins over Gonzaga and Oregon State. But those victories are weighed down by a total of eight losses, including Wake Forest, Monmouth and both Washington schoolsand the other four losses each came by a margin of at least 13 points.

    It's enough for now, but they still have road games remaining against USC, Arizona, California and Stanford. There aren't many opportunities for awful losses in Pac-12 play, but the sheer number of losses could grow too high by March.

    Fourth-to-Last: Texas Tech Red Raiders (12-7, RPI: 39, KP: 48, SOS: 8)

    As also evidenced by Kansas State, it seems we've reached that weird point in the season where "good losses" are at their maximum value.

    Texas Tech has a respectable winning percentage and an incredible strength of schedule, thus resulting in tournament-worthy computer numbers. However, the Red Raiders have yet to win a road/neutral game against a team in the KenPom.com Top 100. And while they do have a lot of decent wins (vs. High Point, vs. Hawaii, vs. South Dakota State, vs. Arkansas-Little Rock, vs. Texas), they don't have a marquee win.

    At some point, they need to beat at least one or two of the top-notch Big 12 teams, because a 6-12 conference record isn't going to cut it.

    Fifth-to-Last: Saint Joseph's Hawks (16-3, RPI: 35, KP: 49, SOS: 100)

    Saint Joseph's is also lacking in the quality-wins department—a close home win over Rhode Island is as good as it getsbut the Hawks only have three losses, all against respectable teams (Villanova, Florida and VCU).

    Marquee wins will be extremely difficult to come by in the A-10mid-February games against George Washington and Dayton are the closest they'll come to resume-boosting opportunitiesbut the Hawks could wind up with a good enough profile if they keep beating the teams they're supposed to beat.

First 5 Out

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    First Team Out: Seton Hall Pirates (13-6, RPI: 44, KP: 42, SOS: 52)

    Seton Hall does have a pair of quality wins over Wichita State and Providence, and the Pirates have already played arguably their four toughest Big East games (at Villanova, at Xavier, vs. Villanova, at Providence)and they were competitive in all of them. If there's a team currently outside of my field that could end up getting a single-digit seed on Selection Sunday, it's Seton Hall.

    However, the nonconference strength of schedule was pretty atrocious, and it included losses to George Washington and Long Beach Stateneither of which is particularly bad, but those two losses effectively cancel out the two good wins.

    The mid-February three-game stretch of Georgetown, Butler and at Georgetown will likely decide Seton Hall's fate.

    Second Team Out: Gonzaga Bulldogs (14-5, RPI: 62, KP: 41, SOS: 92)

    With games remaining at SMU, at BYU and versus Saint Mary's, there's still time to right the ship. At the moment, though, Gonzaga's best win of the season came against Connecticut, and the second-best W is a tossup between Tennessee and Washington, which isn't saying much.

    Individually, the losses are plenty understandable. There's no shame in losing by five points to UCLA or Arizona, nor losing by a single-possession margin to Texas A&M, Saint Mary's or BYU.

    Taken collectively, though, we're left with a Bulldogs team that has three home losses and an 0-4 record versus the RPI Top 50. Let's just say there won't be any discussions about Gonzaga's case for a No. 1 seed this year.

    Third Team Out: Florida State Seminoles (13-7, RPI: 52, KP: 45, SOS: 37)

    Those computer numbers look great, but here's one that doesn't: Florida State's nonconference strength of schedule ranks 218th in the country. Five of the Seminoles' wins came against Nicholls State, Jacksonville, Southeastern Louisiana, Florida Atlantic and Charleston Southerneach of which ranks well outside the Top 250 on KenPom.com.

    The wins over Virginia, VCU and Florida are solid, but it's going to take a little more than that to make up for all of the cupcakes they fattened up on over the first six weeks of the season. At any rate, they can't afford to lose to any other teams outside of the ACC's top six.

    Fourth Team Out: Alabama Crimson Tide (11-8, RPI: 67, KP: 89, SOS: 23)

    SEC play has not been kind to the Crimson Tide, as they have lost five of their first seven conference games. However, nonconference wins away from home against Wichita State, Notre Dame and Clemson were impressive enough to catch the attention of RPI and SOS alike.

    Road losses to Auburn and Ole Miss were ill-advised, but the other six losses were all to teams in the KenPom Top 60. Thus, this eight-loss record isn't nearly as bad as others. Still, Alabama will need to win at least two of its four remaining games against Texas A&M, Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina to have any realistic chance of dancing.

    Fifth Team Out: Washington Huskies (13-6, RPI: 72, KP: 92, SOS: 57)

    I absolutely adore what this team has done. Two of our five experts had Lorenzo Romar listed as the coach on the hottest seat in the country coming into the season, but he is excelling with one of the youngest rosters in the country. A senior (Andrew Andrews) is leading the team in scoring, but two through seven on that list are all new to the team (five freshmen and a JUCO transfer).

    However, the computers aren't nearly as impressed, and at least some part of the eye test will recall the 32-point loss at Arizona and the other blowouts at the hands of Oakland and Gonzaga.

    The Huskies are currently tied for first place in the Pac-12, but there are an awful lot of land mines remaining on the road ahead. An 11-7 conference record (aka a 6-5 finish) could be enough, but winning six of their final 11 games might require some divine intervention.

On the Horizon

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    Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

    Presented alphabetically, here are eight other teams that didn't quite make the cut but have our attention.

    Boise State Broncos

    It's going to be pretty difficult to justify sending two Mountain West Conference teams to the Big Dance, but Boise State could certainly get into the conversation.

    Three of the Broncos' five losses came away from home against Arizona (twice) and Michigan State, so it's not like there are a ton of horrible losses holding them back. But a two-point home victory over an Oregon team playing without Tyler Dorsey is the only thing even remotely resembling a quality win for Boise State.

    Clemson Tigers

    Since our New Year's Eve bracket projection, Clemson is 5-1 with wins over Louisville, Miami, Duke, Syracuse and Florida State and a competitive road loss to Virginia. No stock in the country has risen as meteorically in the past four weeks as this one.

    However, at the end of December, Clemson was a penny stock at best. The Tigers were 7-6 with losses to Massachusetts, Minnesota, Alabama and Georgia and nary a win better than a home game against Texas Southern.

    If they continue to play as well as they have in January, though, save the Tigers a spot in the tournament. Their only remaining games against the ACC's top half are at home against Virginia, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. There's no way they'll run the table from this point forward, but a 13-5 conference record is absolutely feasible.

    Cincinnati Bearcats

    Swept by Temple is not a great look for a team with an identity crisis and only one particularly impressive win (at VCU). The Bearcats do still have two games against Connecticut and a home game against SMU, but they need to play their way into the field at this point.

    Creighton Bluejays

    Home wins over Butler and Georgetown look good. Back-to-back losses to Arizona State and Loyola-Chicago do not. Other than that, this is a very "blah" resume with four road games (read: opportunities) against Villanova, Xavier, Providence and Butler still remaining.

    Georgia Bulldogs

    It has literally been 47 months since Georgia's last marquee win. This team has mastered the art of doing nothing to impress us and just enough to not upset us. But a road win over Baylor on Saturday or Kentucky in early February could change that story.

    LSU Tigers

    They have definitely played better, but they still have five nonconference losses to teams that aren't projected to make the tournament. One good week against Kentucky and Vanderbilt isn't enough to fix that, but a home win over Oklahoma on Saturday would be.

    Temple Owls

    Temple has home wins over SMU and Cincinnati and road wins over Connecticut and Cincinnati, but they went 0-5 in nonconference games against the KenPom Top 200. The Philadelphia Big Five game against Villanova in mid-February looms quite large.

    Vanderbilt Commodores

    Like Alabama and Kansas State, Vanderbilt is loaded with quality losses, but the Commodores are almost completely devoid of quality wins. Aside from Wednesday night's less-than-dominant home win over Florida, an overtime home win over Stony Brook is all they have done.

East Region (Philadelphia)

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    Raleigh, North Carolina

    No. 1 North Carolina (18-2, RPI: 4, KP: 5, SOS: 32)
    No. 16 Navy (Patriot auto bid)

    No. 8 California (14-6, RPI: 38, KP: 37, SOS: 35)
    No. 9 Michigan (14-5, RPI: 32, KP: 29, SOS: 54)

    Denver, Colorado

    No. 4 Maryland (17-3, RPI: 11, KP: 14, SOS: 45)
    No. 13 Stony Brook (America East auto bid)

    No. 5 Baylor (14-4, RPI: 26, KP: 25, SOS: 51)
    No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock (Sun Belt auto bid)

    St. Louis, Missouri

    No. 3 Iowa State (16-4, RPI: 13, KP: 12, SOS: 7)
    No. 14 Belmont (Ohio Valley auto bid)

    No. 6 Dayton (16-3, RPI: 10, KP: 43, SOS: 17)
    No. 11 Texas Tech / UCLA (Last 5 In)

    St. Louis, Missouri

    No. 2 Xavier (18-2, RPI: 5, KP: 17, SOS: 24)
    No. 15 Stephen F. Austin (Southland auto bid)

    No. 7 Notre Dame (14-5, RPI: 34, KP: 28, SOS: 34)
    No. 10 Valparaiso (15-4, RPI: 30, KP: 23, SOS: 130)

    Stock Way Up: Baylor Bears (Climbed 21 spots)

    The knock on Baylor for most of this season was that it couldn't win away from home. Through the first week of January, the Bears were 11-0 at home with an average margin of victory of 24.0 points per game, but they were 0-3 away from home with an average margin of defeat of 18.0 points per game.

    So, of course, they won at Iowa State, merely one of the nation's toughest venues for road teamsjust ask Kansas and Oklahoma. Now tied for first place in the Big 12 standings, Baylor is beginning to look the part of a team that could win it all.

    Stock Up: Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Climbed 14 spots)

    Don't look now, but the most efficient offense in the country is on a four-game winning streakits first such stretch of the entire seasonincluding a road win over Duke.

    It was around this time last year that the Fighting Irish started to emerge as a title contender, and they could certainly do the same this year in early-February games against Miami, North Carolina and Louisville.

    Holding Steady: Maryland Terrapins (Dropped one spot)

    Did you know Maryland doesn't have any RPI Top 50 wins? Like, not a single one. The Terrapins are the only team in the top eight seed lines that can make that claim, and it's precisely why they're barely hanging on to a No. 4 seed once again.

    To be fair, the only games they have played against the RPI Top 50 were on the road against Michigan, Michigan State and North Carolina. Those are their only three losses of the season, and they were each by a single-digit margin. But they desperately need to win home games against Iowa and Purdue in the next couple of weeks if they expect to even sniff the No. 1 seed conversation.

    Stock Down: UCLA Bruins (Dropped 21 spots)

    We already harped on UCLA on the "Last 5 In" slide, but it bears repeating how hard the Bruins have fallen. (Not to mention, this region is completely devoid of any other teams that have dropped.)

    The Bruins are 3-4 in Pac-12 play. They lost by 14 at Oregon (acceptable), lost by 14 at home to USC (not quite as acceptable) and were swept at Washington and Washington State (that can't happen). Fortunately, they managed to squeeze in a last-second win over Arizona and a road win over Oregon State, but it was barely enough to keep them in the field. A loss at home to either Washington school this weekend could be the kill shot.

Midwest Region (Chicago)

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    Des Moines, Iowa

    No. 1 Iowa (16-3, RPI: 7, KP: 2, SOS: 13)
    No. 16 Weber State (Big Sky auto bid)

    No. 8 Colorado (14-5, RPI: 23, KP: 55, SOS: 29)
    No. 9 South Carolina (17-2, RPI: 28, KP: 46, SOS: 151)

    Denver, Colorado

    No. 4 Louisville (16-3, RPI: 18, KP: 3, SOS: 79)
    No. 13 South Dakota State (Summit League auto bid)

    No. 5 Utah (14-5, RPI: 17, KP: 50, SOS: 21)
    No. 12 Kansas State / Syracuse (Last 5 In)

    Providence, Rhode Island

    No. 3 Miami (16-3, RPI: 14, KP: 9, SOS: 38)
    No. 14 Yale (Ivy League auto bid)

    No. 6 Arizona (16-4, RPI: 29, KP: 11, SOS: 91)
    No. 11 Saint Joseph's (16-3, RPI: 35, KP: 49, SOS: 100)

    Des Moines, Iowa

    No. 2 Kansas (15-4, RPI: 3, KP: 15, SOS: 6)
    No. 15 UNC-Asheville (Big South auto bid)

    No. 7 Wichita State (13-5, RPI: 41, KP: 16, SOS: 80)
    No. 10 George Washington (15-4, RPI: 31, KP: 68, SOS: 96)

    Stock Way Up: Wichita State Shockers (Climbed 17 spots)

    Once 2-4 with wins over Charleston Southern and Emporia State, Wichita State has won 12 of its last 13 gamesmostly in blowout fashionto get firmly back onto the right side of the bubble.

    Now, with 11 regular-season games remaining against a putrid Missouri Valley Conference, it might only take one misstep to put the Shockers back in some danger. After all, their two best wins of the season were at home against Utah and Evansville, and they don't have much else to brag about. But with a healthy Fred VanVleet, Wichita State is finally playing as well as we expected.

    Stock Up: Colorado Buffaloes (Climbed 11 spots)

    I'm not entirely sure how this team managed to jump a few lines while going 4-3 in conference play, but welcome to the Pac-12, where every team's computer resume looks way better than its eye test.

    With 11 double-doubles on the year, Josh Scott has been a beast in the paint. George King is certainly giving Providence's Ben Bentil a run for his money as the most improved player in the country. And when Wesley Gordon is also playing well, the Buffaloes are mighty tough to beat.

    Holding Steady: Miami Hurricanes (Dropped one spot)

    Despite losing back-to-back games to Virginia and Clemson, Miami has barely moved an inch since New Year's Eve. Perhaps that's a different story if we had posted this before Monday's win over Duke, but it was certainly a dose of reassurance that the 'Canes are back on the right track.

    The next couple of weeks should only reinforce Miami's high seed, but there's a storm brewing. During an 11-day stretch as February bleeds into March, the Hurricanes will face North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville and Notre Dame. It looks like they'll either enter the ACC tournament flying high as a kite or licking their wounds.

    Stock Down: Arizona Wildcats (Dropped 14 spots)

    Arizona's recent losses certainly haven't been bad. They lost by three at UCLA on one of those nights where Bryce Alford could do no wrong, lost by two at USC in four overtimes and lost by one at California on one of those nights where Jordan Mathews could do no wrong.

    If you thought Arizona was a Final Four team one month ago, there's no good reason to have a different opinion now. It's just going to be a little tougher for the Wildcats to do so from a significantly lower seed.

    Expect a rebound, though. They have already played their three toughest Pac-12 games, they don't travel to Oregon or Oregon State, and Allonzo Trier should be back on the court by the time they travel to Colorado and Utah. They won't go 11-0 the rest of the way, but anything worse than 9-2 would be a bit of a surprise.

South Region (Louisville)

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    Timothy J. Gonzalez/Associated Press

    Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

    No. 1 Oklahoma (17-2, RPI: 1, KP: 1, SOS: 5)
    No. 16 Texas Southern / Norfolk State (First Four)

    No. 8 Indiana (17-4, RPI: 40, KP: 19, SOS: 135)
    No. 9 Oregon State (11-6, RPI: 43, KP: 72, SOS: 20)

    Spokane, Washington

    No. 4 Providence (17-4, RPI: 21, KP: 38, SOS: 53)
    No. 13 Hawaii (Big West auto bid)

    No. 5 Kentucky (15-4, RPI: 16, KP: 22, SOS: 41)
    No. 12 Monmouth (MAAC auto bid)

    Brooklyn, New York

    No. 3 Michigan State (17-4, RPI: 20, KP: 13, SOS: 43)
    No. 14 William & Mary (Colonial auto bid)

    No. 6 Texas (13-7, RPI: 19, KP: 36, SOS: 1)
    No. 11 VCU (15-5, RPI: 47, KP: 31, SOS: 81)

    Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

    No. 2 Texas A&M (17-2, RPI: 9, KP: 7, SOS: 36)
    No. 15 UAB (Conference USA auto bid)

    No. 7 Duke (15-6, RPI: 27, KP: 20, SOS: 19)
    No. 10 Saint Mary's (16-2, RPI: 36, KP: 18, SOS: 168)

    Stock Way Up: Oregon State Beavers (New to the Field)

    As was the case with Colorado on the previous slide, this makes no sense. Oregon State is 3-4 since the last bracket update, and yet the Beavers have a computer profile that couldn't possibly be ignored.

    Granted, it helps immensely that the three wins were over Oregon, USC and Californiaby far their best wins of the seasonbut there's still a lot of work to be done to maintain a spot in the field. Seven of their remaining 11 games are on the road, which has been a death sentence for almost everyone so far in Pac-12 play. But at least Oregon State is in a position where it might only take one or two surprising road wins to make the tournament.

    Stock Up: Texas A&M Aggies (Climbed 15 spots)

    Not that they weren't already in great shape, but the Aggies are now one spot away from a No. 1 seed. If you have evidence of any preseason banter with Iowa and Texas A&M projected for consideration as the best team in the country, you might be the most prophetic person to ever walk this earth.

    Since their disturbing 67-54 loss at Arizona State, the Aggies have won 10 straight and are quite clearly the team to beat in the SEC. If they can extend that streak to 13 wins at Arkansas, versus Iowa State and at Vanderbilt, they just might be in the running for the No. 1 overall seed. What a time to be alive.

    Holding Steady: Providence Friars (Dropped three spots)

    Big East play has been an absolute roller coaster for the Friars. They started out 2-0 with a road win over Butler and a blowout of St. John's before a rough three-game stretch against Marquette, Creighton and Seton Hall. But they bounced back nicely with wins over Butler and Villanova before falling just short of another great win over Xavier.

    But like all (properly functioning) roller coasters, Providence ended up right back where it started. 

    Stock Down: Duke Blue Devils (Dropped 11 spots)

    I'm not going to sit here and pretend the Blue Devils are in great shape, but reports of their demise are exaggerated. Taken individually, there's nothing wrong with any of their losses, especially when you consider that five of them occurred without Amile Jefferson in the lineup. And their computer numbers are still strong.

    True, they don't have any quality wins in nearly two months, and yes, this is their worst start in ACC play in nearly two decades. But you might want to go find 40 better tournament resumes before you try to bury Duke. This team absolutely does not belong in the AP Top 25 after losing four of its last five games, but Duke still has a resume worthy of a bid. If they don't turn it around soon, though, we'll talk bubble.

West Region (Anaheim)

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    Brooklyn, New York

    No. 1 Villanova (17-3, RPI: 2, KP: 4, SOS: 2)
    No. 16 Wagner / Cal St. Bakersfield (First Four)

    No. 8 Pittsburgh (15-3, RPI: 33, KP: 47, SOS: 75)
    No. 9 Stanford (10-7, RPI: 50, KP: 86, SOS: 3) 

    Spokane, Washington

    No. 4 Oregon (15-4, RPI: 6, KP: 24, SOS: 4)
    No. 13 Chattanooga (Southern auto bid)

    No. 5 Purdue (17-4, RPI: 25, KP: 10, SOS: 66)
    No. 12 San Diego State (Mountain West auto bid)

    Providence, Rhode Island

    No. 3 West Virginia (17-3, RPI: 15, KP: 6, SOS: 62)
    No. 14 Akron (MAC auto bid)

    No. 6 USC (15-5, RPI: 24, KP: 27, SOS: 39)
    No. 11 Butler (13-6, RPI: 49, KP: 39, SOS: 55)

    Raleigh, North Carolina

    No. 2 Virginia (16-4, RPI: 12, KP: 8, SOS: 26)
    No. 15 North Florida (Atlantic Sun auto bid)

    No. 7 Florida (13-7, RPI: 21, KP: 26, SOS: 9)
    No. 10 Connecticut (14-5, RPI: 58, KP: 30, SOS: 85)

    Stock Way Up: Stanford Cardinal (New to the Field)

    This is one team where I deviate from popular opinion, but I'm not sure what everyone else is missing with Stanford. The Cardinal have three RPI Top 50 wins and have yet to lose a game to a team outside the RPI Top 50.

    Translation: several quality wins and no bad losses.

    Few teams can boast that line right now. Sure, five of the seven losses were by a double-digit margin and four of them came at home, but you've seen some of the other resumes on the bubble, yes?

    The remaining schedule will likely be the death of Stanford, but it's hard not to be impressed by what this team has done thus far.

    Stock Up: West Virginia Mountaineers (Climbed eight spots)

    Because of a terrible nonconference strength of schedule (ranked 192nd in the country), a No. 3 seed is going to be the ceiling for the Mountaineersunless they win at Iowa State and/or Kansas in the next couple of weeks to become the favorite to win the Big 12. That would almost certainly be enough for a No. 2 seed, even with nothing better than a win over James Madison for the first seven weeks of the year.

    But thanks to a home win over Kansas and a near road win over Oklahoma, West Virginia is in way better shape than anyone expected before the season began. Nobody plays a ton of minutes in this uptempo scheme, but as far as per-minute production is concerned, there aren't many trios in the country better than Jaysean Paige, Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton.

    Holding Steady: Pittsburgh Panthers (Dropped three spots)

    The Panthers picked up a pair of quality road wins against Notre Dame and Florida State, but those victories bookended a pair of blowout losses to Louisville and NC State.

    The Louisville loss is whatever. It was extremely uglyPittsburgh entered the night averaging 85.3 points per game before getting held to 41 by the Cardinalsbut a road loss to Louisville is far from RPI-crushing. However, the home loss to NC State was disturbing, even though we could dismiss it as the night when NC State's desperation for a quality win finally manifested.

    The net result is a wash, though, and the Panthers are back to a flimsy resume devoid of much effort to build a nonconference profile. There are lots of tough games remaining, and a 5-6 finish might not be good enough for a bid.

    Stock Down: Butler Bulldogs (Dropped 26 spots)

    "They do have nice wins away from home over Purdue and Cincinnati, but three cupcakes per quality win isn't the best formula for a spot on the top three seed lines. They'll need to do some damage in Big East play to climb any higher than this."

    That's what I wrote about Butler on New Year's Eve. Though the 11-1 record and AP rank were impressive, the Bulldogs had done little to earn their projected seed, aside from simply not losing many games.

    Well, they proceeded to open Big East play with a 2-5 record, and the pair of wins came against DePaul and St. John's, thus dropping from "tough to justify as a No. 4 seed" to "tough to justify as a tournament team." They still don't have any terrible losses, but a 1-5 record against teams projected to make the tournament isn't a ringing endorsement. Butler better turn things around in a hurry.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    No. 4 Villanova Wildcats (17-3, RPI: 2, KP: 4, SOS: 2)

    Even after the home loss to Providence on Sunday, Villanova still has one of the most incredible resumes in the country.

    The Wildcats have six RPI Top 50 wins and 10 RPI Top 100 winsseven of which came away from home. And of their three losses, one was on a neutral court to our No. 1 overall seed and another was on the road against a very good Virginia team.

    Losing to the Friars did eliminate their cushion, but it doesn't hurt that Kansas has lost three of its last five games to at least temporarily drop out of the conversation for a spot on the top line.

    No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes (16-3, RPI: 7, KP: 2, SOS: 13)

    The Hawkeyes aren't just kicking butt. They're taking names, too.

    In a span of four weeks, Iowa won two games each against Michigan State and Purdue and still found time to take care of business against Michigan. It has been nearly six full weeks since this team did anything other than win by a margin of at least six points, and the only reason that streak isn't a few games longer is because Iowa State was able to claw back from a 20-point second-half deficit.

    Can you imagine if Iowa had won that game at Hilton Coliseum? Would the Hawkeyes be the unanimous No. 1 team in the country right now?

    It's tough to say, but they'll certainly have my vote if they're able to win at Maryland on Thursday.

    "This team is for real, folks," Sam Vecenie wrote for CBS Sports on Sunday. "It is right in the middle of the mix for the national championship in this wide-open year."

    No. 2 North Carolina Tar Heels (18-2, RPI: 4, KP: 5, SOS: 32)

    North Carolina—Brice Johnson, in particular—has played extremely well to this point in the season, but Tar Heels fans better hope they've saved the best for last.

    Of the seven most difficult games on UNC's regular-season schedule, six are yet to come. Outside of the home game against Maryland in the ACC/B1G Challenge, their schedule hasn't been all that challenging. The only reason the Tar Heels have a SOS rank in the top 50 is because they played half a dozen games against teams currently outside the RPI Top 110, and only one game against a team outside the RPI Top 260.

    But that's about to change in a big way. In addition to the season finale at Duke on March 5, North Carolina will play at Louisville, Notre Dame and Virginia and will host Pittsburgh, Duke and Miamiall in the month of February.

    If they win at least five of those seven games, go ahead and lock in the Tar Heels for a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday.

    No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners (17-2, RPI: 1, KP: 1, SOS: 5)

    One could (and 29 did) argue that North Carolina deserved to move ahead of Oklahoma for the top spot in the AP pollgiven that Oklahoma suffered two losses in January and North Carolina hasn't lost since mid-December.

    However, there is no argument for anyone other than Oklahoma as the No. 1 overall seed right now.

    The Sooners have wins over Villanova, Iowa State, West Virginia and Baylorotherwise known as a No. 1 seed, two No. 3 seeds and a No. 5 seed. Their only losses of the season came at the Phog (Kansas) and at Hilton Coliseum (Iowa State)otherwise known as two of the most impossible places to win a basketball game.

    Everyone knows about Buddy Hield. Most know about Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. But Khadeem Lattin's two-month transformation from "occasionally decent rebounder" to "defensive juggernaut" has elevated Oklahoma to the clear-cut favorite to win the national championship, in this writer's humble opinion.

    That may well change in a week, but if the tournament started today, I'd pick the Sooners to win it all, regardless of their draw.

Seeding by Conference

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    In case seeded regions aren't for you and you want to know where the "top" 68 teams stand in relation to one another, here is a list of each team's overall seed, broken down by conference. ("First Five Out" in italics.)

    American: 38. Connecticut

    Atlantic 10: 22. Dayton; 39. George Washington; 41. VCU; 43. Saint Joseph's

    ACC: 2. North Carolina; 8. Virginia; 12. Miami; 14. Louisville; 25. Notre Dame; 26. Duke; 29. Pittsburgh; 47. Syracuse; 71. Florida State

    Big 12: 1. Oklahoma; 7. Kansas; 9. Iowa State; 11. West Virginia; 20. Baylor; 21. Texas; 44. Texas Tech; 48. Kansas State

    Big East: 4. Villanova; 6. Xavier; 16. Providence; 42. Butler; 69. Seton Hall

    Big Ten: 3. Iowa; 10. Michigan State; 15. Maryland; 19. Purdue; 30. Indiana; 33. Michigan

    Pac-12: 13. Oregon; 17. Utah; 23. USC; 24. Arizona; 31. Colorado; 32. California; 34. Stanford; 36. Oregon State; 46. UCLA; 73. Washington

    SEC: 5. Texas A&M; 18. Kentucky; 28. Florida; 35. South Carolina; 72. Alabama

    West Coast: 37. Saint Mary's; 70. Gonzaga

    Other: 27. Wichita State; 40. Valparaiso; 45; Monmouth; 49. San Diego State; 50. Arkansas-Little Rock; 51. Stony Brook; 52. Hawaii; 53. South Dakota State; 54. Chattanooga; 55. William & Mary; 56. Yale; 57. Belmont; 58. Akron; 59. North Florida; 60. UAB; 61. Stephen F. Austin; 62. UNC-Asheville; 63. Weber State; 64. Navy; 65. Cal St. Bakersfield; 66. Texas Southern; 67. Wagner; 68. Norfolk State

    Statistics courtesy of NCAA.com, Sports-Reference.com and KenPom.com. RPI, KP and SOS numbers are current through the start of play on Jan. 26. Win-loss records include only games against D-I opponents and are current through the start of play on Jan. 27.

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @kerrancejames.