Aside from guessing at the impact of the NCAA’s new quadrant system — and to be clear, everyone is guessing how the 10 members of the basketball committee will interpret that data for seeding and selection purposes — the biggest puzzle of this college basketball season remains how the committee will treat the sizable group of at-large candidates with poor nonconference schedules.

History shows the committee isn’t kind to such teams; the last double-digit at-large seed with a nonconference schedule ranked worse than No. 250 was Air Force in 2006. So the solution for such teams is to create separation from the cut line, and thus make their weak schedules a moot point for the committee.

N.C. State (20-9, 10-6 ACC) is as close to achieving that as it has been all season. The Wolfpack, owners of victories over Arizona, Clemson, Duke and North Carolina, have won four in a row in increasingly impressive fashion.

“I just think we’re maturing,” N.C. State Coach Kevin Keatts said after Sunday’s 92-72 bludgeoning of Florida State. “I think we’re playing better basketball because we’re passing the ball. I think we get the right guys to take the shots and we’re not forcing shots.”

Virginia Tech (21-9, 10-7) is the Wolfpack’s in-conference doppelganger. The Hokies also have their share of high-end victories: Clemson, Duke, North Carolina and Virginia. They have an even worse nonconference schedule than the Wolfpack (No. 327, compared with N.C. State’s No. 262). And they’ve won eight of their past 11 games to substantially improve their resume.

Neither team is safely in the field just yet. N.C. State still must face Georgia Tech and Louisville. Virginia Tech closes the regular season against Miami. Both have a trip to Brooklyn next week to play in the ACC tournament. Neither team would be wise to lose out.

But if they can just avoid a silly misstep? Chances are they’ll both land somewhere between a No. 8 and No. 10 seed a week from Sunday, and maybe even better with a strong finish.


Field notes

Last four in: Louisville, UCLA, Syracuse, Providence
First four on the outside: Kansas State, Marquette, Baylor, Utah
Next four on the outside: Mississippi State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Washington
Moving in: Northern Kentucky, Texas Southern, UNC Greensboro, Virginia Tech
Moving out: Baylor, East Tennessee State, Southern, Wright State
Conference call: Atlantic Coast (10), Southeastern (8), Big East (6), Big 12 (6), Big Ten (4), Pac-12 (4), American Athletic (3), Atlantic 10 (2), West Coast (2)


Bracket projection


(1) ACC/Virginia vs. (16) IVY/Penn — SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC/Southern winner
(8) Arizona State vs. (9) Alabama

San Diego
(5) WEST COAST/Gonzaga vs. (12) SUN BELT/UL-Lafayette
(4) West Virginia vs. (13) WESTERN ATHLETIC/New Mexico State

(3) SOUTHEASTERN/Auburn vs. (14) OHIO VALLEY/Murray State
(6) Seton Hall vs. (11) Syracuse-UCLA winner

(7) Oklahoma vs. (10) Virginia Tech
(2) Purdue vs. (15) BIG WEST/UC Santa Barbara

Virginia is still the top overall seed. The Cavaliers aren’t far from locking in a place on the No. 1 seed line. … What’s the ceiling for Gonzaga? Probably no better than a No. 4 seed, and even that might be a stretch. Check back in a week for a better idea on that answer. … Oklahoma stabilized things a little with a victory over Kansas State. It probably can withstand a collapse from here, barring total chaos elsewhere, but it would be better for both the Sooners and nearly everybody else if they win once more and take themselves out of the running for the annual “Most Annoying Post-Selection Sunday Talking Point” derby. … Virginia Tech isn’t entirely safe after its defeat of Duke, but it’s done enough for now to create separation from the edge of the field and make its poor nonconference schedule less of an issue.


(1) BIG 12/Kansas vs. (16) ATLANTIC SUN/Florida Gulf Coast — SOUTHLAND/Nicholls State winner
(8) Butler vs. (9) Missouri

Boise, Idaho
(5) Clemson vs. (12) MID-AMERICAN/Buffalo
(4) Wichita State vs. (13) SUMMIT/South Dakota State

(3) Tennessee vs. (14) SOUTHERN/UNC Greensboro
(6) ATLANTIC 10/Rhode Island vs. (11) Texas

(7) Texas A&M vs. (10) Florida State
(2) BIG TEN/Michigan State vs. (15) BIG SKY/Montana

Like Virginia, Kansas might be a victory away from solidifying its grip on a No. 1 seed. It might not look like the strongest Jayhawks team, but it already has clinched yet another Big 12 regular season title and boasts 11 Quadrant 1 wins. … A potential Kansas-Missouri meeting in the second round was an unintended but welcome quirk. Of course, a Butler-Missouri first-round game could be a first-to-60-wins sort of contest. … Tennessee is getting ever closer to bagging a place in the Nashville subregional. … If a Texas A&MFlorida State first-round game came to fruition, the Aggies would have to find a way to get Jimbo Fisher there, right? … Michigan State has everything but a strong set of high-end wins. The Big Ten tournament isn’t going to let the Spartans add any more than two to their list.


(1) Villanova vs. (16) MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC/Savannah State
(8) Saint Mary’s vs. (9) Miami

Boise, Idaho
(5) Kentucky vs. (12) MISSOURI VALLEY/Loyola Chicago
(4) Ohio State vs. (13) AMERICA EAST/Vermont

(3) AMERICAN ATHLETIC/Cincinnati vs. (14) COLONIAL/College of Charleston
(6) Texas Christian vs. (11) Louisville-Providence winner

(7) Florida vs. (10) Southern California
(2) North Carolina vs. (15) NORTHEAST/Wagner

There’s a five-way tie in the loss column atop the MEAC, with Savannah State owning the best RPI (and the tiebreaker for these purposes, at the moment). Next week’s league tournament in Norfolk could be the wackiest in all of Division I. … Loyola Chicago and Vermont are both threats to win at least one game in the postseason. Having them both in the same pod could be entertaining. … Florida’s RPI isn’t great, but everything else about its resume is rock-solid outside of a couple regrettable losses in league play. The Gators should be fine for selection purposes after their defeat of Auburn over the weekend. … The gap between North Carolina and Duke is narrowing. Maybe the Blue Devils will end up getting bumped from the Charlotte subregional rather than the Tar Heels?


(1) Xavier vs. (16) BIG SOUTH/UNC Asheville
(8) MOUNTAIN WEST/Nevada vs. (9) N.C. State

(5) Michigan vs. (12) CONFERENCE USA/Middle Tennessee
(4) Texas Tech vs. (13) METRO ATLANTIC/Rider

San Diego
(3) PAC-12/Arizona vs. (14) PATRIOT/Bucknell
(6) Arkansas vs. (11) St. Bonaventure

(7) Creighton vs. (10) Houston
(2) Duke vs. (15) HORIZON/Northern Kentucky

Xavier jumps up to the top line after Duke’s loss to Virginia Tech on Monday. … A NevadaN.C. State matchup would not only pair the Wolf Pack with the Wolfpack, but also allow Nevada’s Caleb and Cody Martin to face their old school. The Martin twins played two seasons at N.C. State. … If Keenan Evans can return healthy before Selection Sunday, Texas Tech’s recent missteps probably won’t hurt the team’s seeding too much. … It’s anyone’s guess how Sean Miller’s absence would truly impact Arizona’s seeding. Here’s guessing it wouldn’t be too significant. … Creighton is the last of the No. 7 seeds, but there was clear drop-off in the middle of that seed line. The Bluejays could use some notable success away from Omaha.

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