In the final NCAA tournament bracket projection of the regular season, Kansas moved ahead of Xavier on the overall seed list but competition remains for top spots and geographic priority.
SI.com's first Bracket Watch of the week is released on Monday. On Thursday, we go back to the bracket drawing board after the week's early results to reassess the field. See the updated bracket below.
It’s here. You can feel it, right? It creeps up every year slowly but surely, and then arrives in waves. It’s the feeling that anything is possible, driven mostly by buzzer beaters, dramatic upsets, crowning of champions and more than a few crushing heartbreaks. March is upon us.
This will be the final SI.com Bracket Watch of the regular season, setting the scene heading into the weekend. We’ll update our projected field of 68 every day during Championship Week, reacting to the wins and losses as they happen. We’ll also get our first official punched tickets this weekend, with the Big Ten, Missouri Valley, Atlantic Sun and Big South championships all taking place on Sunday. After those four, 64 more will join their ranks over the course of seven wild days. March Madness may refer to the NCAA tournament itself, but we know better. The madness is already here.
The big news this week is that Kansas pushed ahead of Xavier on the seed list, which gives it geographic priority. That moved the Jayhawks to the Midwest Region, which will be staged in Omaha—which isn’t really the Midwest, but that’s another discussion for another column—and shipped the Musketeers out to Los Angeles and the West Region. With Virginia and Villanova all but locked into the top line in the South and East Regions, respectively, and no West Coast team in contention for a No. 1 seed, there will be intense competition to remain in the middle of the country, rather than head out to Los Angeles. (With that, I’d like to congratulate myself for being the first person in human history to ever write that previous sentence. Seriously, in what other context could a group of people want to “remain in the middle of the country rather than head out to Los Angeles”?)
Differentiating between the Jayhawks’ and Musketeers’ resumés is really splitting hairs, but that’s part of the Selection Committee’s job description. Xavier has a better RPI (No. 2 vs. No. 5) but Kansas is superior in every other category. Kansas has the No. 3 strength of schedule, while Xavier’s is No. 5. The Jayhawks own 11 Quadrant 1 wins, while the Musketeers have six. Kansas beat Kentucky on a neutral floor and won at TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia. Xavier beat Cincinnati at home and won at Creighton, Seton Hall and Butler. That gives Kansas the edge in best wins, too. The Jayhawks do have one unsightly loss, dropping a game to Oklahoma State at home, but that isn’t quite enough for Xavier to draw even, let alone pull ahead. For now, Kansas has the inside track to Omaha, but Xavier—and for that matter, Michigan State—are not far behind.
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