The SEC is shaping up as the selection committee's biggest quandary heading into the final stretch of the regular season.
The league is as deep as any in the country, with 11 teams within touching distance of the bubble or the NCAA tournament. All 14 teams are in the top 100 at KenPom, 11 teams are in the top 75 of the RPI and 13 are in the top 100 of the BPI.
But here's where it gets difficult: As of Sunday night, six teams are between 15 and 35 in the RPI and another four are between 60 and 75. As a result, nearly every conference game is resulting in a Quadrant 1 or 2 win, depending on location and opponent. It's leading to gaudy quadrant metrics when looking at résumés, which could be boosting SEC teams in rankings and projected brackets.
For example, 18 teams in the country have double-digit Quadrant 1 and 2 wins. Six are in the SEC. Twenty-two teams have five or more Quadrant 1 wins. Nine are in the SEC.
Even LSU has seven Quadrant 1 wins. Georgia has five. Florida has one of the worst RPIs ever for an at-large contender, but the Gators have 11 Quadrant 1 and 2 wins.
Taking it a step further, most of the at-large contenders in the SEC have built up their résumés almost exclusively by beating SEC teams (and West Virginia and Oklahoma, for whatever reason). Kentucky's best wins besides West Virginia are over Texas A&M and Alabama. Texas A&M's best wins besides West Virginia are over Auburn, Kentucky, Arkansas and Missouri. Alabama's best wins are over Auburn, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Rhode Island. Missouri has Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama. Most of them do have a quality nonconference win or two, but most of the rest of the Quadrant 1 and 2 wins come from within the conference.
Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Deep conferences should benefit several at-large contenders. But what if the committee doesn't view the SEC as highly as some of the metrics do? If it views the league as one with no national championship contender and just a large group of middle-of-the-pack teams, seedings and number of bids could differ greatly than in rankings and projected brackets.
On the plus side, given what the committee showed us in last weekend's top-16 reveal, Quadrant 1 and 2 wins are going to count more than almost anything else. And the SEC's at-large contenders have plenty of those.
This week's rankings could be a harbinger of things to come for the SEC.
1. Virginia Cavaliers
Last week: 1
Virginia strengthened its grip on the No. 1 spot -- not solely because of a road win at Miami last week, but because Villanova suffered another loss. The Cavaliers also have high-level wins over Duke and North Carolina, as well as the top ranking in RPI and KenPom.
2. Villanova Wildcats
Last week: 2
A 16-point road win at Xavier erased all the ills of the prior stretch that saw the Wildcats lose two of three games. The Wildcats are 10-1 against Xavier since the Musketeers entered the Big East, with the wins coming by an average of 18.4 points.
3. Xavier Musketeers
Last week: 3
Despite the loss to Villanova, Xavier remains unmoved in the rankings. The Musketeers still have 15 wins against Quadrants 1 and 2, with a top-five RPI and SOS. To keep that 1-seed, though, Xavier might have to beat Villanova in the Big East title game -- or hope there's some upheaval in the Big Ten, Big 12 or ACC.
4. Kansas Jayhawks
Last week: 11
The Jayhawks have a big rise primarily due to the committee's top-16 reveal last Sunday. The committee is clearly valuing Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 wins over pretty much everything else, and Kansas leads the nation in both: 10 Quadrant 1 wins and 16 against Quadrants 1 and 2. The Jayhawks also have a chance to regain a grip on the Big 12 at Texas Tech on Saturday.
5. Michigan State Spartans
Last week: 5
With Purdue and Ohio State fading, suddenly Michigan State has a leg up on the rest of the competition for the Big Ten regular-season title after the Spartans overcame a 27-point deficit against Northwestern on Saturday. Wins over Illinois and Wisconsin would seal the deal.
6. Duke Blue Devils
Last week: 12
When Mike Krzyzewski said after the Virginia Tech game that Duke "will play a lot more zone" and that it would be their "primary defense," he meant it. And it's working. The Blue Devils are 3-0 without Marvin Bagley III, including Sunday's victory. Bagley's absence is becoming more of a question mark, though.
7. Auburn Tigers
Last week: 7
Not only did Auburn lose at South Carolina on Saturday, the Tigers also lost sophomore forward Anfernee McLemore, who will miss the next four to six months with a dislocated ankle and fractured tibia. McLemore was one of the SEC's best interior defenders -- a huge loss for a relatively small team.
8. Purdue Boilermakers
Last week: 4
The Boilermakers snapped their three-game losing streak Sunday against Penn State, but there are some concerns bubbling for Purdue. First is its perimeter shooting: The Boilermakers haven't made more than eight 3-pointers in a game since late January. Teams are forcing Purdue to beat them with Isaac Haas -- not 3-pointers.
9. North Carolina Tar Heels
Last week: 10
The total number of losses looks strange for a top-10 team, but North Carolina's résumé is beginning to look impressive at the right time. The Tar Heels have won five in a row and have top-10 marks in RPI, SOS and nonconference SOS -- to go with wins over Duke, Clemson, Tennessee, Ohio State and others.
10. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last week: 9
Losing at a suddenly hot Baylor team isn't the end of the world, but Keenan Evans' injury is something to monitor. He left the Baylor game with a toe injury and didn't return. Texas Tech relies heavily on Evans to create shots in late-clock, late-game situations -- and the Red Raiders don't have much to fill his shoes.
11. Cincinnati Bearcats
Last week: 6
After playing maybe one NCAA tournament team in the past two-plus months, Cincinnati didn't step up to the challenge last week. The Bearcats lost at Houston, then came home and dropped one to Wichita State. At home versus Houston is still their best win. They'll have Round 2 against the Shockers in less than two weeks.
12. Clemson Tigers
Last week: 8
The Tigers' résumé took a hit this week with back-to-back losses to Florida State and Duke -- but also because some of their previous résumé-boosting wins have lost some luster. They're just 2-6 against Quadrant 1 teams. The health status of Shelton Mitchell is also a concern.
13. Tennessee Volunteers
Last week: 13
Rick Barnes' team wasn't able to take advantage of Auburn's slip-up, falling at Georgia. The Volunteers have now lost two of three and sit two games behind the Tigers in the SEC standings. They're struggling to score the past couple of weeks, shooting 25-for-87 from 3-point range in their past four games.
14. Arizona Wildcats
Last week: 17
A road win at Arizona State gives the Wildcats a big edge for the Pac-12 title heading down the stretch and also pushes them into consideration for a top-three seed. They'll need some consistency from Rawle Alkins, though, who has been up and down since returning from injury.
15. Wichita State Shockers
Last week: 21
The Shockers take a significant jump after winning at home over Temple and then beating Cincinnati on the road. They're now just one game out of the first place in the AAC and get to host Round 2 against the Bearcats. They have 12 Quadrant 1 and 2 wins now, too.
16. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last week: 15
One of the biggest surprises to be left out of the top-16 reveal last weekend, Gonzaga is on track to win the West Coast Conference title yet again after Saint Mary's lost at San Francisco on Thursday. The Bulldogs' seed ceiling is a question, given their mid-40s RPI.
17. Ohio State Buckeyes
Last week: 14
Chris Holtmann has still done one of the best coaching jobs in the country, but the Buckeyes are fighting an uphill battle to win the Big Ten after back-to-back losses at Penn State and Michigan. The return of Kam Williams from suspension was expected to be a boost, but he scored six points combined in the two games.
18. Rhode Island Rams
Last week: 16
The Rams' 16-game winning streak ended at St. Bonaventure on Friday, but their result-based metrics are strong enough to prevent a big fall. They still have a top-10 RPI and top-five SOS with a 6-4 record against Quadrants 1 and 2. The win over Seton Hall is fading, though.
19. West Virginia Mountaineers
Last week: 19
There's something about West Virginia having double-digit, second-half leads against Kansas. The Mountaineers have now lost three straight to the Jayhawks -- blowing a double-digit, second-half lead in all three. Worth noting: Their seven-lowest defensive turnover percentage totals have all come in the past 10 games
20. Texas A&M Aggies
Last week: The Aggies don't do anything in one-offs. They lost five in a row at the start of SEC play, then won two in a row, then lost two in a row. Now, after winning four in a row, A&M went 0-2 last week with road losses at Missouri and Arkansas. They still have seven Quadrant 1 wins, though, and solid result metrics.
21. Kentucky Wildcats
Last week: NR
As alluded to above, this is where things start getting strange for the SEC. The Wildcats had lost four in a row before beating Alabama on Saturday -- and their résumé is markedly better than this time a week ago. Only seven teams have more Quadrant 1 and 2 wins than Kentucky's 11.
22. Nevada Wolf Pack
Last week: NR
The Wolf Pack finished up a season sweep of Boise State last week and now have the edge for the Mountain West title. They still have to go to UNLV and San Diego State, and losses could send their seed downward quickly. The Rhode Island win still carries weight.
23. Alabama Crimson Tide
Last week: NR
Avery Johnson's team has won eight of its past 12 games, despite the road loss at Kentucky on Saturday. The Tide finish the season with four straight likely NCAA tournament teams, though: at Auburn, vs. Arkansas, vs. Florida, at Texas A&M. This résumé still has a lot of shifting to do.
24. Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 20
Five straight losses, seven straight road losses, eight losses in their past 10 games ... and still in the top 25? This goes back to the committee reveal last weekend. The Sooners were a top-four seed a week ago, and losses to Texas Tech and Texas are unlikely to drop them three full seed lines. They seem likely to end up in the 8-9 game or lower when it's all said and done, though.
25. Houston Cougars
Last week: NR
Houston edges out Missouri and Arizona State for the final spot in the rankings after a huge week that included a win over Cincinnati and a road victory over Temple. The Cougars are ranked in the top 20 in the RPI and KenPom, as well as in ESPN's Strength of Record metric.