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Joe Boozell | | March 1, 2018

Top 16 reactions: What the rankings mean for March Madness

The Division I men’s basketball committee gave a sneak peek at its top 16 teams as of mid-February on Sunday. The full list:

Going into the week, Virginia, Villanova and Purdue had a combined 42-game win streak rolling. Since the latest AP Poll was released, those teams are 2-4 with losses to St. John’s, Virginia Tech, Michigan State and Ohio State.

RELATED: How last year's in-season Top 16 seeds eventually fared on Selection Sunday

But the Wildcats, Cavaliers and Boilermakers are still on the 1-line in the committee’s eyes, which shows how far ahead of the pack they were before this recent skid. Sure, their margin for error is smaller from now on. But there isn’t a team on the 2-line with a legitimate argument to jump any of those squads – yet. Auburn, ranked fifth, took a home loss to Texas A&M on Wednesday. Perhaps the Tigers could jump with a win over Kentucky and some good fortune above them. Xavier, also a 1-seed, plays Villanova on Saturday – if the Musketeers lose, there could be a top seed up for grabs.

Moving down the rankings, Kansas’ No. 6 ranking jumps out. The Jayhawks are ranked 10th in the AP Top 25 and are flawed, subjectively. This Kansas team doesn’t look like as strong of a Final Four contender as previous Bill Self squads.

But this is key:

Kansas has wins over Kentucky, Syracuse, Texas, TCU, Kansas State, West Virginia, Baylor, Texas A&M and TCU. Say what you want about the Jayhawks – their defense is inconsistent, they can be one-dimensional on offense. But the wins are the wins. If Kansas goes on a run down the stretch, a 1-seed is in reach.  

North Carolina, ranked 12th, is also noticeably higher than its AP ranking (21). Part of that is a result of what the Tar Heels did this week – wins over Duke and North Carolina State were huge. But UNC has beat a bunch of quality foes, including Michigan, Ohio State, Tennessee and Clemson. Four wins over the current top 16 is an accomplishment. The Tar Heels are proof that the committee seems to value signature wins more than bad losses. The same logic applies to Oklahoma – the Sooners might not even finish over .500 in the Big 12, but only five teams have more Quadrant 1 wins than OU.

On the things that stood out for opposite reasons: Michigan State at No. 11 feels a bit lower than expected. The Spartans are ranked fourth in the AP Poll and just downed Purdue.

But there’s a theme here: it’s all about who you’ve beat. The Purdue win was crucial. The North Carolina win at the PK-80 stands out. Beyond those, nothing about the Spartans’ resume screams “1-seed.’ Its third best victory is over Notre Dame, which will likely land on the bubble come Selection Sunday.

The Spartans don’t have a top-75 KenPom team left on their regular season schedule. The Big Ten is down this year; that’s out of their control. It’s also all the more reason Michigan State needs to run through the conference tournament in order to jump onto the 1 or 2-line.

RELATED: Michigan State vs. Purdue analysis

Two notable teams were left off of Sunday’s rankings: Gonzaga and Rhode Island. The Bulldogs are 23-4 with wins over Ohio State, Creighton and Saint Mary’s. The Rams are 20-3 with victories over Seton Hall and Providence.

Rhode Island could very well run the table between now and the NCAA tournament, but the Rams’ wins just don’t pop off of the page – even if they very clearly pass the eye test. You don’t want to face them in March. But we haven’t seen the Rhodies knock off anyone particularly scary – that’s partially because of a lack of opportunities, but it’s also because Rhode Island lost to Virginia and Nevada in November.

If the Rams don’t lose between now and Selection Sunday, attrition among current top-16 teams could vault them onto the 3 or 4-line. But for now, the wins are the wins, and Rhode Island doesn’t have the caliber of victories the teams ahead of it do.

That’s why the Gonzaga omission is a little more surprising. Ohio State, Creighton and St. Mary’s are all better wins than anything Rhode Island has done, and on a neutral floor, you’d take the Bulldogs over a few of these top 16 teams. The Zags have played St. Mary’s twice, so their next opportunity for a signature win would likely come at the WCC tournament final.

Selection Sunday is just four weeks away. Plenty can change between now and then, but this information from the committee tells us what to watch for in the month ahead.

If the last week was any indication, we're in for another wild March.

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