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Bracketology 2018: Oklahoma fades toward the bubble as Kansas returns to top line

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This is a fitting turn of events because “defeat” is the major theme of today’s post.

It’s another bracket with another new No. 1 seed. In the span of one week, we’ve gone from the Purdue Boilermakers holding down the fourth and final spot on the top line, to the Auburn Tigers replacing them on Friday, thanks to three straight Boiler losses, to the Kansas Jayhawks’ ascension today. Back on Saturday, Auburn suffered a double loss, as not only did the Tigers fall to the South Carolina Gamecocks, they also lost talented forward Anfernee McLemore for the remainder of the season to a severe leg injury.

Meanwhile, Kansas took down the West Virginia Mountaineers and fading Oklahoma Sooners to put itself into the thick of both the Big 12 title and the NCAA No. 1 seed chases. Saturday’s trip to Lubbock to take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders, now a two seed (despite a Saturday loss at Baylor Bears), will be crucial in both.

A similar matchup in the Big East on Saturday — the Villanova Wildcats’ impressive 95-79 victory on the Xavier Musketeers’ home floor — led to a switch in the order of the top line. While the Virginia Cavaliers still remain No. 1 overall, Nova jumped Xavier for the second spot, thanks to the Wildcats’ season sweep of the Musketeers.

On seed line two, Tigers and Red Raiders are joined by the Duke Blue Devils and the Michigan State Spartans, who maintain a Big Ten presence in the top eight. Even though Purdue ended its three-game skid by surviving the Penn State Nittany Lions‘ visit on Sunday night, the Boilermakers now occupy the lead spot on seed line No. 3, ahead of the North Carolina Tar Heels, a Cincinnati Bearcats squad that lost twice last week and the Pac-12-leading Arizona Wildcats.

The Clemson Tigers slid down to line four following Sunday’s home loss to Duke, joining a pair of holdovers, the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Tennessee Volunteers, and newcomer, a Wichita State Shockers squad that followed up a Thursday home win over the Temple Owls by snapping Cincinnati’s 39-game home winning streak.

Looking back at the top line, sure, Kansas is a major outlier, as its six losses is three fewer than the nine total defeats Virginia, Villanova and Xavier have racked up this season. However, North Carolina picked up the fourth No. 1 seed last year with seven losses and three top seeds had six or more in 2016. So, the Jayhawks’ presence is not unprecedented, not recently at least. After today’s full bracket and rundown, I’ll return to the theme of losses, specifically the number of teams likely to earn at-larges despite losing 10 or more contests.

Also considered (in order): Georgia, Western Kentucky, Penn State, Boise State, Notre Dame, Mississippi State, UCF, Colorado, Oregon, Boston College, Maryland, SMU

While the Kansas State Wildcats and N.C. State Wolfpack both found themselves on the right side of the cut line in Friday’s bubble post, they return to the official bracket today. Meanwhile, the Syracuse Orange, absent Friday, is back, thanks to a crucial road victory at Miami. As for today’s final at-large newcomer, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies, they only ended the Rhode Island Rams‘ perfect Atlantic 10 record and then-nation’s longest win streak of 16 games.

On the flip side, the Louisville Cardinals depart following a home loss to North Carolina, while the Washington Huskies slide out after splitting a weekend set in Seattle against Utah (loss) and Colorado (win). Temple, which disappeared on Friday after losing at Wichita State, now finds itself in the “Next Four Out” group thanks to an embarrassing home performance against the increasingly safe Houston Cougars on Sunday.

From the “college basketball comes at you fast” department, Oklahoma, a No. 1 seed in the first bracket of January, and Florida, a four seed back on January 23rd, now find themselves on the No. 8 line. While the Gators have dropped two in a row and fallen to 8-6 in the SEC — after a 4-0 start to league play, at least they’ve managed to win in February. The Sooners haven’t, as their Monday night loss in Lawrence was their sixth straight. And that total a sweep at the hands of the Texas Longhorns. Oklahoma’s struggles led Yahoo’s Jeff Eisenberg to bring up an interesting point on Twitter last night.

Using RPIForecast.com’s RPI Wizard, the Sooners would finish with an RPI of 49 if they only managed to defeat Iowa State. However, winning both home games would get them to 32nd, which should be enough with an 18-12 record and 8-10 Big 12 mark, especially with good non-conference wins over Wichita State and USC and conference victories over Kansas and Texas Tech. However, dropping all three games would put the Sooners at 16-14 overall and 6-12 in the league. And at that point, they would have to win the auto bid in Kansas City. Even though the Vanderbilt Commodores were selected last season with 15 losses, that was the first time a team with 14 or more defeats had been selected since 2008.

However, the 11-loss Sooners are just an example of a bigger issue. Back when I reviewing profiles for Friday’s post, I was struck by the sheer number of teams I encountered with eight, nine, 10 and more losses with three weeks to go before Selection Sunday. And that got me wondering (never a good thing) — what’s the highest number of double-digit-loss at-large teams selected in a single NCAA Tournament? And what’s the total number of teams, both auto bid and at-large, to find themselves in the field?

Thanks to Sports Reference’s College Basketball page, I did the research and I didn’t have to go that far back to find the answer to both questions. Fully half of the 2016 NCAA Tournament field, 34 teams, entered the event with 10 or more losses, and nearly two-thirds of the at-large pool, 22 of 36 teams, found themselves invited despite posting double digits in the loss column.

Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 10 tournaments have featured 24 or more double-digit loss teams. But six of those occurrences have come after the expansion to 68 in 2011. You’d expect this, since you had to get those extra teams from somewhere. The lone outlier in the 68-team era was the 2012 NCAA Tournament. It featured just 22 double-digit-loss teams, and only 15 such at-large entrants.

And that brings me to this season. This field already features eight teams with 10 or more losses and another 14 entrants have either eight or nine losses. Plus, all of the teams in the “first eight out” group have at least nine defeats on their records. Since elimination play dictates that nearly all of these teams will lose in their respective conference tournaments, 2018 could at least tie 2016’s mark of 22 at-large teams with double-digit losses.

However, it’s going to take many conference tournament upsets to equal 2016’s total of 34 double-digit-loss entrants. Just two conferences, the MEAC and SWAC, are guaranteed to be represented by a double-digit loss team, while the ASUN, Big South and Patriot League each feature a single nine-loss team. Every other conference leader currently has seven or fewer total losses. Therefore, if those teams win their respective championships, they won’t be added to the total, barring some late regular-season struggles. Naturally, I’ll be keeping an eye on this bit of trivia the rest of the way.

One thing that is assured though, this season’s field will not feature a team that completed a perfect conference season. With Rhode Island losing at St. Bonaventure Friday night, the America East’s Vermont Catamounts entered the weekend as the final team chasing league perfection. But on Sunday, the Hartford Hawks stunned the Catamounts on their home floor.

That snapped Vermont’s 15-game win streak, the nation’s longest for not even 48 hours, and the Catamounts’ 33-game regular-season conference win streak. Curiously, the Grambling State Tigers now own the nation’s longest winning run — of 11 games (as Jeff Parles informed me in a radio interview yesterday). Sadly, the SWAC leaders are ineligible for the NCAA Tournament due to APR penalties.

On Friday, I’ll be back with another look at the bubble picture. Maybe there will be some more locks named with a mere two weeks and two days left before Selection Sunday.

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