2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 3, 2017

2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket: Latest Projection of the Field of 68

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    Villanova is a lock for a No. 1 seed.
    Villanova is a lock for a No. 1 seed.Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Reigning national champions have had trouble defending their titles over the past decade, but Villanova is locked into a No. 1 seed and remains the favorite for the No. 1 overall seed. Joining the Wildcats as teams projected on the top line are Kansas, North Carolina and Gonzaga.

    In less than 10 days, there will be no more projections. We'll know the full bracket for college basketball's 2017 NCAA tournament.

    But an awful lot can change in 10 days.

    Just ask Wake Forest, which climbed from the wrong side of the bubble into a somewhat comfortable position in the field with wins over Pittsburgh and Louisville. Or take a look at Wisconsin, Xavier or Maryland, which are rapidly trending in the wrong direction after several consecutive losses.

    Without knowing what the future holds, though, this is what the NCAA tournament field might look like todaybefore conference tournaments wreak havoc on the national landscape.

    Hate on RPI all you want, but it's still the primary metric the NCAA selection committee uses in picking and seeding the field. KenPom.com rankings and strength of schedule were also crucial pieces of this projection, but prepare yourself for many mentions of how teams have fared against opponents in varying ranges of the RPI.

    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.

           

    *Though a condensed bracket was published Sunday night, "stock up" and "stock down" teams are based on movement since the most recent full bracket on Feb. 21.

Last 5 In

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    USC could be sweating next Sunday.
    USC could be sweating next Sunday.Leon Bennett/Getty Images

    Last Team In: USC Trojans (21-8, RPI: 39, KP: 65, SOS: 70)

    The Trojans finally snapped a four-game losing streak with a home win over Washington State, but they need to continue avoiding those landmines if they want to remain in the projected field.

    USC finishes the regular season with a home game against Washington and would likely immediately face the Huskies again in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. Winning both of those games would get the Trojans to 23-8 with great home wins over SMU and UCLA, but those are their only RPI Top 65 wins and playing 9-20 Washington twice in a row could do some damage to their RPI.

    Depending on how other teams around the bubble fare in the next 10 days, USC might need to win its quarterfinal game against UCLA to lock up a bid.

          

    Second-to-Last: Illinois Fighting Illini (17-12, RPI: 56, KP: 66, SOS: 15)

    For as mediocre as the Big Ten seems to be, Illinois sure has racked up a lot of quality wins over the past two months.

    The Illini are only 8-9 in conference play, but they haven't yet played Rutgers. As a result, all 17 of those games came against the RPI Top 100. Through in early wins over VCU, BYU and Northern Kentucky, and head coach John Groce's squad has five Top 50 wins, 11 Top 100 wins and no losses outside the Top 100.

    Yet, the overall numbers leave something to be desired. The Illini swept Northwestern (RPI: 46) and won home games against Michigan State (45) and Michigan (47), so only the neutral-court victory over VCU really qualifies as a quality win. Moreover, they were swept by Penn State (95) and lost to Indiana (93). So, if we instead look at Top 40 and Top 85 buckets, Illinois is 1-7 against the former and 7-9 against the latter with three bad losses.

    In other words, the Illini better beat Rutgers this Saturday before also defeating Iowa in the projected No. 8 vs. No. 9 game of the Big Ten tournament. Neither win would help their resume, but they can't afford to pick up any questionable (or downright terrible) losses at this stage in the season.

    Third-to-Last: Syracuse Orange (17-13, RPI: 79, KP: 52, SOS: 43)

    Syracuse has great home wins over Duke, Florida State and Virginia. The Orange also beat Miami, Wake Forest and Monmouth in the Carrier Dome. But they don't have any quality wins away from home, and losses in four of the last five gamesafter early-season losses to Georgetown, Connecticut, St. John's and Boston Collegehave left them in dire straits.

    Winning Saturday's home finale against Georgia Tech is a must, but even getting to 10-8 in ACC play wouldn't make the Orange a lock. The win would most likely put them in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game in the ACC tournament against Miami for the right to face North Carolinawhich was the same situation Syracuse found itself in one year ago, albeit against Pitt instead of Miami.

    Beating the Yellow Jackets and Hurricanes would probably do the trick, but that RPI is rather ugly. The Orange received a gift from the selection committee last year, but they might want to beat the Tar Heels, just to be on the safe side.

    Fourth-to-Last: Providence Friars (19-11, RPI: 55, KP: 55, SOS: 40)

    The Friars took their sweet time hitting their stride and picked up bad losses to Boston College, DePaul and St. John's. But has any team had a better run over the past three weeks? Thanks to consecutive wins over Butler, Xavier, Creighton and Marquette, Providence has six RPI Top 50 and eight RPI Top 60 wins. The Friars are also 9-8 in conference play with just a road game against St. John's standing between them and possibly the No. 3 seed in the Big East tournament.

    Win against the Johnnies, and Providence should be safely in. Despite the aforementioned terrible losses, the overall resume is in good shape, since there are nearly three times as many good wins.

    Lose to the Red Storm, though, and the Friars would be in serious trouble. They would probably need to beat either Butler or Villanova in Madison Square Garden to make up for it.

    Fifth-to-Last: UNC-Wilmington Seahawks (24-5, RPI: 37, KP: 59, SOS: 142)

    We normally don't list projected auto bids on this "Last 5 In" slide, but I wanted to be sure to note that UNC-Wilmington (and Middle Tennessee, for that matter) has a better resume than most of the teams on the bubble. Plus, Xavier is supposed to be in this spot, and we'll have plenty to say about the Musketeers in a few slides.

    For the Seahawks, the overall SOS isn't great, but their nonconference SOS ranks 90th in the nation, which is solid. They missed out on opportunities against Middle Tennessee and Clemson, but they won eight games away from home and picked up a nice home win over East Tennessee State.

    UNC-Wilmington has five RPI Top 100 winsthough, only two were against the RPI Top 95and even the worst losses (at Elon; at William & Mary) weren't terrible. An early loss in the CAA tournament would be a problem, but if the Seahawks were to lose to College of Charleston (RPI: 63) in the finals, there's a good chance this could be a multi-bid league for the first time since 2011.

First 5 Out

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    Despite 14 losses, the Commodores still have a (La)Chance.
    Despite 14 losses, the Commodores still have a (La)Chance.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    First Team Out: Rhode Island Rams (20-9, RPI: 44, KP: 49, SOS: 58)

    Rhode Island has two nice wins over Cincinnati and VCU, two terrible home losses to La Salle and Fordham and a resume that is otherwise nondescript. In the other 25 games, the Rams are 2-7 against the RPI Top 100 with a home win over Belmont (57) and a road loss to Richmond (81). Boring stuff, really.

    But in the hunt for mid-major/minor-conference teams beyond Saint Mary's, Illinois State and VCU that are worthy of a spot on the bubble, this is about as good as it gets. That said, the Rams are probably going to need to reach the A-10 championship game by winning a semifinal against VCU in order to give this resume the boost it needs.

    Second Team Out: Vanderbilt Commodores (16-14, RPI: 49, KP: 40, SOS: 2)

    Vanderbilt had a marquee victory in its grasp, leading Kentucky (at Rupp Arena, no less) by 19 midway through the first half. But the Commodores went cold from three-point range, while Malik Monk caught fire and brought the Wildcats back for the win.

    As a result, Vanderbilt now must win Saturday's regular-season finale against Florida before doing some work in the SEC tournament. This team has four RPI Top 30 and seven RPI Top 90 wins in the past six weeks, but it simply racked up too many losses in the first two months of the season.

    Third Team Out: Kansas State Wildcats (18-12, RPI: 59, KP: 35, SOS: 48)

    In addition to a home win over West Virginia, Kansas State has four road wins against the RPI Top 80, including a fantastic success at Baylor. But is that enough to make up for a terrible nonconference schedule and losses to Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Tennessee and TCU?

    Even if the Wildcats beat Texas Tech on Saturday, they'll be 8-10 in Big 12 play and will be the No. 6 seed in the Big 12 tournament—likely drawing Baylor in the quarterfinals. Beating the Bears away from home for a second time would be huge, but it's tough to see Kansas State getting in without that game.

    Fourth Team Out: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (16-13, RPI: 94, KP: 76, SOS: 54)

    After a surprising start in ACC play, February went more along the lines of what was expected from Georgia Tech this season. It won home games against Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Boston College and something called Tusculum, but it suffered five losses and had its RPI plummet from "Not Great" to "Pretty Bad."

    Trying to figure out the ACC tournament tiebreakers is a massive headache, but if the Yellow Jackets win Saturday's road game against Syracuse, they would be 9-9 in conference play and likely the No. 9 seed in the ACC tournament. Whether they're matched up with Virginia Tech, Virginia or Miami as the No. 8 seed, it would be a chance for a fifth RPI Top 50 winwhich they probably need, given their nonconference SOS that ranks 268th in the nation.

    That might be enough, but there are a ton of shifting factors in play.

    Fifth Team Out: California Golden Bears (19-10, RPI: 52, KP: 46, SOS: 42)

    Even before the Golden Bears laid an egg against Utah on Thursday night, I was beyond prepared to drop them out of the projected field.

    Honestly, I'm not sure how they stayed in the field for this long. Maybe it was a subconscious belief that the Pac-12 deserves a fourth team in the NCAA tournament and a subsequent overemphasis on the head-to-head road win over USC as the tiebreaker for that fourth spot.

    But at some point in the middle of watching the Utes blow the doors off Cal in the first half, it occurred to me that this team has one RPI Top 50 win and just two RPI Top 75 wins. Factor in the not-great losses to Stanford and San Diego State, and there's nothing to justify having this team ahead of USC and Rhode Island. Now that they also have a not-great loss to Utah, it might take a run to the Pac-12 title game to save their season.

On the Horizon

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    Is there any chance of Utah sneaking into the field?
    Is there any chance of Utah sneaking into the field?Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

    For most of the season, this slide has been dedicated to the slightly off-the-radar teams with the best chance of playing their way into the field.

    At this point, though, this is the full list of "other" teams that possibly could win their way into an at-large bid. For every team not listed in this projected bracket, it's auto bid or bust.

    Utah Utes (17-10, RPI: 83, KP: 54, SOS: 98)

    The only possible thing keeping Utah in the conversation is its minimal number of losses. The Utes entered Thursday with just one RPI Top 100 win—a home game against bubbly USC—but every other major-conference team with fewer than a dozen losses is either in the projected field or on the bubble. Still, an awful lot of bubble teams would need to play their way out of contention in order for Utah to get in; even with an upset of Oregon in the Pac-12 semifinals.

    Georgia Bulldogs (17-12, RPI: 51, KP: 53, SOS: 18)

    In a year where most bubble teams have a few great wins and a couple of brutal losses, Georgia has the type of resume we're used to seeing on the bubble. The Bulldogs are 0-7 against the RPI Top 30two losses each to Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina and one loss to Kansasbut they're 10-5 against teams in the RPI 45-110 range with no terrible losses.

    The fact that each of their seven "quality losses" came by a margin of 12 points or fewer could come into play in the selection committee's war room. But Saturday's road game against Arkansas (RPI: 29) could make waves on the level of Wake Forest's win over Louisville.

    Beating the Razorbacks would finally give Georgia something to show for all its close losses to tournament teams. Losing to the Razorbacks would leave the Bulldogs with a ton of work to do in the SEC tournament.

    Clemson Tigers (15-14, RPI: 60, KP: 37, SOS: 12)

    Try as we might, we just can't seem to bury the Tigers. They're going to be the No. 12 seed in the ACC tournament, but that means their path to a loss in the ACC championship game could be wins over Pittsburgh, Florida State, Duke and North Carolina.

    They already have four RPI Top 50 and nine RPI Top 100 wins with only one bad loss. And, let's be honest, a neutral-court loss to Oklahoma during a point in the season when Clemson didn't have Shelton Mitchell or Elijah Thomas hardly qualifies as a bad loss.

    It will take a deep run in the ACC tournament to get back into the conversation, but this could be the first 15-loss team in tournament history to earn an at-large bid.

    TCU Horned Frogs (16-13, RPI: 68, KP: 43, SOS: 28)

    TCU has lost six in a row and 10 of the last 13. However, 10 of its 13 losses have come against the RPI Top 30 and none have come outside the RPI Top 100.

    The problem for the Horned Frogs is a lack of noteworthy wins. They won at home against Iowa State and Illinois State and picked up a road win over Kansas State, but that's it. And they finish the regular season at Oklahoma, so they don't even get another shot at a nice win before the Big 12 tournament.

    If they can beat the Sooners before knocking off two of the top five teams in the Big 12 tournament, though, there's still a chance they could break a NCAA tournament drought of nearly two decades.

    Indiana Hoosiers (16-14, RPI: 93, KP: 50, SOS: 37)
    Ohio State Buckeyes (17-13, RPI: 66, KP: 67, SOS: 34)
    Iowa Hawkeyes (17-13, RPI: 90, KP: 71, SOS: 47)

    Each of these Big Ten teams has serious flaws, but that conference tournament is loaded with opportunity. Half of the conference is in the RPI Top 50 and only Rutgers resides outside the Top 100.

    There aren't any fantastic wins to be had in the Big Ten, but, for example, if Indiana suddenly catches fire this weekend, it could reach the conference title game by scoring wins over Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Minnesota and Purdue. That would put the Hoosiers at 21-14 with seven RPI Top 50 wins, 12 RPI Top 100 wins and only that one awful loss to Fort Wayne. Let's just say we're still considering significantly worse resumes than that.

    The best candidate of the bunch, though, is the one with the most hideous loss of any bubble team.

    Ohio State has spent the past 12 weeks trying to shake off the stink of its home loss to Florida Atlantic (RPI: 286), but it helps that it's the Buckeyes' only defeat to a team outside the RPI Top 90. They have wins over Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan State, Michigan and Providence, each of which is projected to make the tournament. A deep run in the Big Ten tourney could be enough to save their season.

East Region (New York City)

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    What has happened to the Badgers?
    What has happened to the Badgers?Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Buffalo, New York

    No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary's/North Carolina Central

    No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 9 VCU

    Buffalo, New York

    No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 13 Vermont

    No. 5 Purdue vs. No. 12 UNC-Wilmington

    Indianapolis, Indiana

    No. 3 Louisville vs. No. 14 Winthrop

    No. 6 Cincinnati vs. No. 11 Illinois/California

    Orlando, Florida

    No. 2 Florida vs. No. 15 South Dakota

    No. 7 Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 Middle Tennessee

    Stock Up: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (Up 10 Spots)

    Playing at home against the worst team in Conference USA, Middle Tennessee got quite the scare Thursday night. Florida International jumped out to a 20-1 lead on the Blue Raiders before they clawed their way back for their 25th D-I win of the year.

    Without a single RPI Top 100 opponent in their conference, MTSU has spent the past two months watching its once-Top 10 RPI trickle away. They entered the day at No. 31, but beating RPI No. 340 FIU caused the Blue Raiders to drop seven spots to No. 38. They also slipped six spots on KenPom from 48 to 54.

    Still, this is the best not-major resume among the unusual suspects. Gonzaga, Saint Mary's, Wichita State, Dayton and VCU are each in better shape than the Blue Raiders, but their current resume is more deserving of a spot in the field than the likes of Illinois State, UNC-Wilmington, Nevada, Texas-Arlington and Monmouth. That's the benefit of playing a nonconference SOS that ranks 22nd in the country and picking up wins over UNC-Wilmington, Vanderbilt, Belmont and Ole Miss.

    The problem for MTSU is that a loss at any point in the C-USA tournament could be a deadly one. The Blue Raiders already have three losses to teams outside the RPI Top 100, including an awful one against UTEP (246). Their best-case scenario with another loss would be losing to Louisiana Tech (112) in the championship game. Even with four RPI Top 80 wins and what would be just five total losses, that might be too many bad losses.

    But if they get back on the right track and win the C-USA, the No. 15 seed that upset Michigan State in last year's NCAA tournament could end up with a better seed than the Spartans this March.

    Stock Down: Wisconsin Badgers (Down 13 Spots)

    If it feels like every team in the Big Ten is still in the NCAA tournament picture, it's because Wisconsin has been handing out RPI Top 50 wins like some kind of Oprah Winfrey giveaway.

    "Hey Northwestern! You get a quality win! Michigan and Michigan State get quality wins! Hell, even Ohio State and Iowa get to stay alive, courtesy of the Badgers!"

    They have lost three in a row since our last projection, as well as five of their last six. Yet, the Badgers somehow entered the day at No. 33 in RPI. (Thursday's home loss to Iowa dropped them to No. 43, though.)

    There's no chance the Badgers will miss the NCAA tournament. They have 13 RPI Top 100 wins and not one of their losses came to a team outside the Top 100. But, in the space of three weeks, they have gone from a snub from the selection committee's top 16 to a team that could be headed for a No. 9 or even a No. 10 seed.

Midwest Region (Kansas City)

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    At this point, the Hurricanes are just playing for seeding.
    At this point, the Hurricanes are just playing for seeding.Chet Strange/Getty Images

    Tulsa, Oklahoma

    No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 UC Irvine

    No. 8 Miami vs. No. 9 Michigan

    Sacramento, California

    No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 13 Belmont

    No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No. 12 Nevada

    Greenville, South Carolina

    No. 3 Duke vs. No. 14 East Tennessee State

    No. 6 Iowa State vs. No. 11 Marquette

    Indianapolis, Indiana

    No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast

    No. 7 Creighton vs. No. 10 Illinois State

    Stock Up: Miami Hurricanes (Up Nine Spots)

    Despite a loss to Virginia Tech this past Monday, the previous wins over Duke and Virginia make Miami one of the biggest risers in this projection.

    Technically, the win over Virginia came before our last bracket update but only by a couple of hours. The full effect of that road victory wasn't felt until the following weekend when the Hurricanes followed it up with the win over the Blue Devils.

    Neither game was pretty. Miami scored 54 in overtime against Virginia before beating Duke with just 55 points. But each win looks beautiful on a resume that already featured wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech. The 'Canes now have 10 ACC wins, which might have been their minimum for reaching the NCAA tournament, given how uninspiring their nonconference schedule was.

    If they remain hot, they could soar much higher on the seed list. Miami finishes the season at Florida State, which could be their fourth RPI Top 20 win. Proceed to make a deep run in the ACC tournament by picking up neutral-court wins over the likes of Duke, Louisville or Notre Dame, and the Hurricanes could sneak up to a No. 5 seed. 

    Stock Down: Creighton Bluejays (Down 12 Spots)

    It took about six weeks, but losing Maurice Watson Jr. to a torn ACL is finally taking its toll on Creighton's resume.

    On the day of his injury, the Bluejays were 18-1 and had a legitimate case for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Since then, though, they're 5-6 overall with four of those wins coming against Georgetown, St. John's and DePaul.

    Meanwhile, several of their quality wins have lost value. Victories over Wisconsin and Xavier don't look anywhere near as good now as they did a month ago.

    The good news is that—unless you count the road game against Georgetown—Creighton doesn't have any terrible losses. It also has a season sweep of Butler, which could be in the running for a No. 2 seed. Coupled with an overall record of 23-7, Creighton is in no danger of missing the NCAA tournament.

    That said, the Bluejays are a season-ending loss to Marquette and an early exit from the Big East tournament away from being the most unanimously picked-against team in the history of No. 8 vs. No. 9 first-round games.

South Region (Memphis)

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    If Wichita State gets left out in favor of a team like Clemson or Georgia, college basketball fans will riot.
    If Wichita State gets left out in favor of a team like Clemson or Georgia, college basketball fans will riot.Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    Greenville, South Carolina

    No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 Texas Southern/New Orleans

    No. 8 Northwestern vs. No. 9 Arkansas

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    No. 4 Minnesota vs. No. 13 Princeton

    No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 12 Providence/Syracuse

    Salt Lake City, Utah

    No. 3 Arizona vs. No. 14 Bucknell

    No. 6 Saint Mary's vs. No. 11 Xavier

    Tulsa, Oklahoma

    No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 15 Akron

    No. 7 Wichita State vs. No. 10 Seton Hall

    Stock Up: Wichita State Shockers (Up Seven Spots)

    Aside from taking care of business against a couple of teams hovering around .500 overall (Evansville and Missouri State), Wichita State hasn't done anything since our last projection. However, the Shockers have benefited from the collapse of other teams around them.

    They jumped over VCU, which lost to both Rhode Island and Dayton. They also bypassed Northwestern, which lost to both Illinois and Indiana. Meanwhile, Creighton, Maryland, Wisconsin and Xavier all plummeted enough to help the Shockers move more comfortably into the field.

    Outside of maybe Northwestern, no bubble team has been more scrutinized than Wichita State has been over the past month. Based on the proverbial eye test, this is clearly a tournament-worthy team. All but three of their 26 D-I wins have come by a double-digit margin, including a 41-point shellacking of Illinois State. Thanks to blowout after blowout, the Shockers are No. 10 on KenPom.

    But the rest of the resume leaves something to be desired. Part of the reason they keep destroying opponents is because they don't play good ones. Wichita State is 1-4 against the RPI Top 75 and only has three wins against the RPI Top 145. You know who also has three RPI Top 145 wins? Oral Roberts, which is 6-22 overall and ranks 282 in RPI.

    The Shockers rank No. 41 in RPI and 150 in SOS. If they lose to Illinois State in the MVC title game, they should be in with room to spare. But an early loss to a team like Indiana State or Missouri State could be catastrophic. Conversely, if they win the MVC tournament, I could see the Shockers faring as well as a No. 5 seed. There is plenty at stake in St. Louis this weekend.

    Stock Down: Xavier Musketeers (Down 15 Spots)

    At this point in the season, it takes a special kind of collapse to drop almost four full seed lines in the span of 10 days, but that's exactly what Xavier has been putting together.

    Following consecutive home losses to Butler and Marquettein which it felt like they gave up a combined 1 billion pointsthe Musketeers have lost six in a row and 10 of their last 15. Since our last projection, their RPI has dropped from 18 to 35 while their rank on KenPom went from 37 to 48.

    They're now 8-9 in Big East play and have been swept by Villanova, Butler and Marquette. Even if they win Saturday's road game against DePaul to get to .500 in conference, they'll be 3-9 against Big East opponents currently projected to reach the NCAA tournament. Their best win of the season was a road nail-biter against a Creighton team that is also crashing and burning due to injury.

    Win or lose Saturday, Xavier will likely be the No. 7 seed in the Big East tournament, which means another game against DePaul before a quarterfinal against Butler. Even if the Musketeers win both games against the Blue Demons, those will almost certainly damage their RPI.

    Should they lose to Butler, would a 20-13 team with an RPI rank in the 40s and no great wins be worthy of a bid? Stay tuned.

West Region (San Jose)

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    Are you not entertained by John Collins and the Demon Deacons?
    Are you not entertained by John Collins and the Demon Deacons?Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Salt Lake City, Utah

    No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Eastern Washington

    No. 8 Maryland vs. No. 9 Virginia Tech

    Orlando, Florida

    No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 13 Monmouth

    No. 5 SMU vs. No. 12 Texas-Arlington

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    No. 3 Butler vs. No. 14 Valparaiso

    No. 6 Dayton vs. No. 11 Wake Forest

    Sacramento, California

    No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 15 New Mexico State

    No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 10 Michigan State

    Stock Up: Wake Forest Demon Deacons (New to the Field)

    Month after month, Wake Forest kept hanging around the bubble for no good reason. Outside of a decent home win over Miami, the best thing the Demon Deacons did from November-February was play a tough schedule and avoid terrible losses. Heading into Wednesday night's game against Louisville, they were 1-11 against the RPI Top 60.

    Granted, they played well in most of those losses. They were swept by Duke by a total margin of seven points. They almost won road games against Notre Dame, Northwestern and Xavier and fought hard in home losses to Clemson and North Carolina. Led by Bryant Crawford, Keyshawn Woods and John Collins, Wake Forest was a formidable foe that just couldn't seem to close out quality wins.

    At long last, they picked up a huge victory over the Cardinals and suddenly have something a little better than a resume with no great wins and no bad losses. But we're still talking about a 12-loss team with just two winsboth at homeagainst solid at-large candidates. It was a big step in the right direction, but it was only the first step.

    A road win over Virginia Tech on Saturday would just about seal the deal, but a loss would be their 10th in ACC play. Nonconference wins over Bucknell, Richmond and College of Charleston are nice, but they aren't nearly enough to make up for a sub-.500 ACC record.

    Even if they beat the Hokies, the Demon Deacons would only be the No. 10 seed in the ACC tournament, which means a first-round game against Boston College that they cannot afford to lose. A subsequent win over the No. 7 seed (possibly Miami?) would definitely get Wake Forest into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.

    Stock Down: Maryland Terrapins (Down 10 Spots)

    While Maryland was eking out one-point wins over Georgetown, Kansas State and Oklahoma State and playing too-close-for-comfort games against American, Towson and Richmond, it felt like this team wasn't as good as its record. Two months later, the Terrapins were 20-2 overall and 8-1 in the Big Ten and we started talking ourselves into this being a team that just finds ways to win games.

    However, after going 3-5 in February with recent blowout losses at home to Minnesota and Iowa, doubts about Maryland are back in full force.

    The Terps now have three home losses to teams outside the RPI Top 70 (Pittsburgh, Nebraska and Iowa) as well as a road loss to Penn State (RPI: 95). But they also have road wins over Minnesota, Northwestern, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State to help balance the equation.

    Regardless, their projected seed is falling like a sack of bricks. They aren't in any imminent danger of missing the tournament, but that could change if they lose to Michigan State on Sunday before getting bounced from the Big Ten tournament by a team like Nebraska, Penn State or Rutgers. Even if that happens, though, Maryland probably only slips to a No. 10 seed. But that's a heck of a lot worse than what it was projected for a month ago.

Ranking the No. 1 Seeds

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    Will the loss to BYU eventually knock Gonzaga from the No. 1 line?
    Will the loss to BYU eventually knock Gonzaga from the No. 1 line?William Mancebo/Getty Images

    No. 4 Gonzaga Bulldogs (29-1, RPI: 11, KP: 1, SOS: 82)

    In the four weeks between Gonzaga's games against Saint Mary's, it became apparent that even if the Zags were to lose a game to the Gaels in either Moraga or the WCC championship, they would remain the No. 1 seed in the West Region as a one-loss team.

    But the home loss to BYU could be another story.

    As things stand, Gonzaga still has a good-enough resume for the top line. However, there are a bunch of teams that could leapfrog the Bulldogs by winning a major-conference tournament. Baylor would belong as a No. 1 seed if it wins the Big 12 tourney. Either Florida or Kentucky would have a strong case by winning the SEC. Between the Pac-12 and ACC, there are at least six teams (aside from North Carolina) that could make the jump. Heck, even Butler would have a reasonable shot if it beats Villanova for a third time in the Big East championship game.

    As long as Gonzaga wins the West Coast Conference tournament by beating Saint Mary's in the finals, though, there's a good-not-great chance it gets a No. 1 seed.

    No. 3 North Carolina Tar Heels (24-6, RPI: 5, KP: 3, SOS: 17)

    Despite Monday's ugly-looking loss at Virginia, the Tar Heels remain firmly on the top line.

    Though they probably set a modern school record for offensive futility, it was a road loss to an RPI Top 25 team out for revenge. It wasn't fun to watch, but it didn't do much to damage UNC's resume. At any rate, the Heels still have nine RPI Top 50 wins and no terrible losses.

    Some have brought up North Carolina's struggles on the road as a possible reason to get bumped from the top line, but it's not like Baylor or Kentucky has been any more dominant away from home.

    If the Tar Heels lose the regular-season finale to Duke and/or get eliminated early in the ACC tournament, there might be cause for concern. But without knowing what will happen in the next 10 days, they're in great shape.

    No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks (27-3, RPI: 2, KP: 9, SOS: 21)

    No. 1 Villanova Wildcats (27-3, RPI: 1, KP: 2, SOS: 24)

    Barring consecutive losses to both close out the regular season and open the conference tournament, there's no scenario where either Kansas or Villanova fails to get a No. 1 seed.

    Conference record almost always doesn't matter, but it has to count for something that the Jayhawks have a three-game lead in what KenPom rates as the best conference in the country. Likewise, the Big East could send as high as 70 percent of its teams to the NCAA tournament, yet Villanova's stranglehold on first place in that league has never been in doubt.

    The Jayhawks don't have quite as many RPI Top 50 wins as several of the teams in the running for a No. 1 seed, but that's only due to lack of opportunity. They swept Baylor, won at Kentucky and won a neutral-court game against Duke, giving them a 4-0 record against the RPI Top 13. Take out the season-opening loss to Indiana, and there's no question Kansas would be the No. 1 overall seed.

    But since we can't just erase that game from history, Villanova gets the edge for the top spotdespite an 0-2 record against the RPI Top 13. The Wildcats do have 10 RPI Top 50 wins, though, six of which came away from home. Even back-to-back losses to Georgetown in the next seven days might not be enough to make them a No. 2 seed.

    These two might switch spots based on how the conference tournaments go, but you can just about take it to the bank that Villanova will be the No. 1 seed in the East Region with Kansas at No. 1 in the Midwest.

Seeding by Conference

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    Is the Big 12 seriously only going to get five teams in?
    Is the Big 12 seriously only going to get five teams in?Chris Covatta/Getty Images

    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" are in italics.)

    American: 20. SMU; 21. Cincinnati

    Atlantic 10: 23. Dayton; 33. VCU; 69. Rhode Island

    ACC: 3. North Carolina; 9. Louisville; 12. Duke; 14. Florida State; 15. Virginia; 18. Notre Dame; 29. Miami; 34. Virginia Tech; 42. Wake Forest; 46. Syracuse; 72. Georgia Tech

    Big 12: 2. Kansas; 5. Baylor; 19. West Virginia; 24. Iowa State; 25. Oklahoma State; 71. Kansas State

    Big East: 1. Villanova; 10. Butler; 27. Creighton; 40. Seton Hall; 41. Marquette; 43. Xavier; 45. Providence

    Big Ten: 16. Minnesota; 17. Purdue; 30. Northwestern; 31. Maryland; 32. Wisconsin; 35. Michigan; 39. Michigan State; 47. Illinois

    Missouri Valley: 26. Wichita State; 38. Illinois State

    Pac-12: 8. Oregon; 11. Arizona; 13. UCLA; 48. USC; 73. California

    SEC: 6. Kentucky; 7. Florida; 28. South Carolina; 36. Arkansas; 70. Vanderbilt

    West Coast: 4. Gonzaga; 22. Saint Mary's

    Other: 37. Middle Tennessee; 44. UNC Wilmington; 49. Texas-Arlington; 50. Nevada; 51. Monmouth; 52. Vermont; 53. Princeton; 54. Belmont; 55. East Tennessee State; 56. Winthrop; 57. Valparaiso; 58. Bucknell; 59. New Mexico State; 60. Akron; 61. Florida Gulf Coast; 62. South Dakota; 63. Eastern Washington; 64. UC Irvine; 65. Texas Southern; 66. New Orleans; 67. Mount St. Mary's; 68. North Carolina Central

    Stats are courtesy of WarrenNolan.comKenPom.com and Sports-Reference.com and are current through start of play Thursday, March 2. Win-loss records only include games played against D-I opponents.

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