February 11, 2017

Villanova had a surprising loss to unranked Marquette last month, a setback that bumped the Wildcats from the top spot in the AP Top 25.

The NCAA Tournament selection committee was not swayed by one surprising loss. It still sees the defending national champions as the best team in the country.

Villanova, No. 2 in the AP Top 25, was the top overall seed in preliminary rankings released by the NCAA on Saturday, joining Kansas, Baylor and undefeated and top-ranked Gonzaga atop the four regions.

''Villanova played a challenging non-conference schedule and has achieved considerable success against several quality opponents on the road and on neutral courts,'' NCAA Tournament selection committee chair Mark Hollis said. ''Their consistency throughout the season gave them slight separation from other candidates for the overall top seed.''

The NCAA followed the lead of the College Football Playoff be releasing its rankings early in an effort to drum up interest before Selection Sunday. The first in-season rankings by the NCAA are based upon games played through Friday and certainly could change; between the regular season and conference tournaments, there are more than 1,300 games still to be played before the final field of 68 is selected and seeded on March 12.

Villanova (23-2) is the top seed in the East Regional and would play in New York. Kansas (21-3), No. 3 in the AP poll, is the top seed in the Midwest and would play in Kansas City.

Baylor (21-3) gets the top seed in the South Regional, which ends in Memphis. Gonzaga (25-0), the only undefeated Division I team, is the top seed in the West Regional, slated to finish in San Jose.

''The separation is great; The 1s are clearly 1s,'' Hollis said. ''There was nobody really that was close. None of the 2s were really in the conversation on the 1 line.''

North Carolina was the fifth overall seed and would play in the South, which also includes Florida and Butler. The Tar Heels were put in the South to avoid being in the same region as Villanova

Florida State was second behind Kansas in the Midwest, followed by Arizona and Duke. The East also includes Louisville, Kentucky and UCLA, with Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia filling out the West.

Gonzaga has yet to lose and has some marquee wins on its resume, including Arizona, Florida and Saint Mary's. The Zags have been No. 1 in the AP poll the past two weeks and face their toughest remaining obstacle to an undefeated regular season when they play at Saint Mary's later Saturday.

Gonzaga was the No. 4 overall seed in the preliminary rankings.

''An unblemished record is something that obviously put them on that 1 line,'' Hollis said. ''But there's lots to play and I think there's going to be movement.''

The initial rankings were heavy on teams from power conferences, led by the ACC with four.

Oregon, No. 5 in the AP poll, was the top seed from the Pac-12 despite losing to No. 10 UCLA on Thursday, meaning the Ducks would have the shortest travel in the conference. Oregon had the edge, in part, due to its lopsided win over Arizona last Saturday.

''At this point, we don't have all the data points like we will in March, so head to head, common opponents became important,'' Hollis said. ''The head to head between Arizona and Oregon was looked at.''

One conference that was left out: The Big 10.

Hollis said Purdue and Wisconsin - along with Cincinnati and Creighton - were close to the top 16, but just missed the cut.

''Those teams are really in the mix of everything we're talking about here, teams that are very close,'' Hollis said. ''We don't have the data points to really make those lines of separation. We've listed the 16, but we still have a long way to go.''

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More AP college basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25 .

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