Editor's note: This story has been updated with the latest NCAA tournament projections through games played on March 13.
Zion Williamson's six-game absence from a knee injury saw Duke go 3-3 and slip from the NCAA tournament's top overall No. 1 seed to the last No. 1 seed with the Blue Devils now in jeopardy of falling to the No. 2 line.
With Williamson expected to return in the ACC tournament this week, his health and ability to gel with the team will be under a microscope by the selection committee a few days away from Selection Sunday.
If Duke (26-5, 14-4 ACC) loses against Syracuse in Thursday's quarterfinal matchup, the Blue Devils' résumé won't be as good as a Kentucky team that's fighting for the No. 1 line. Fellow No. 2 seeds Tennessee and Michigan State could also vault past Duke. While the committee will be lenient on injuries, just one game with Williamson back in the mix won't be enough of a sample size.
Duke Blue Devils forward RJ Barrett (5) taps the chest of teammate Zion Williamson prior to a game against the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome. (Photo: Mark Konezny, USA TODAY Sports)
Moving forward, if Duke were to face North Carolina in the ACC semifinals and lose for the third time this season to the Tar Heels, it could fall from the No. 1 line.
The committee will want to see whether Williamson is back to his old self to give them a sense that the same Duke squad that knocked off Virginia twice before the injury is the one they're looking at on Selection Sunday. While wins and losses matter most for seeding teams, injuries need to be considered, and clearly Duke is a national title contender with Williamson and a Sweet 16 team at best without him.
► No. 1 seeds: Virginia, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Duke
► Last four in: Ohio State, Belmont, Creighton, Georgetown
► First Four out: Florida, Alabama, Indiana, North Carolina State
• Others considered for at-large bid (in no particular order): UNC-Greensboro, Texas, Clemson, Furman, Lipscomb
• On life support: South Carolina, Memphis, Dayton, Providence, Davidson, Xavier, Butler
Multi-bid conferences: Big Ten (8), ACC (7), Big 12 (7), SEC (6), Big East (6), American (4), Mountain West (2), Ohio Valley (2), Pac-12 (2) West Coast (2).
Leaders or highest RPI from projected one-bid conferences — (23 total): VCU (Atlantic 10), Vermont (America East), Liberty (Atlantic Sun), Montana (Big Sky), Gardner-Webb (Big South) UC Irvine (Big West), Northeastern (CAA), Old Dominion (Conference USA), Northern Kentucky (Horizon), Yale (Ivy), Iona (MAAC), Buffalo (MAC), Norfolk State (MEAC), Bradley (MVC), Fairleigh Dickinson (Northeast), Colgate (Patriot), Wofford (Southern), Sam Houston State (Southland), Prairie View A&M (SWAC), Wofford (Southern), North Dakota State (Summit), Georgia State (Sun Belt), New Mexico State (WAC), Saint Mary's (WCC).
- Transition schools ineligible to participate: Cal Baptist, North Alabama.
Note: Mostly all statistical data is used from WarrenNolan.com. The NCAA's new NET rankings are also considered; that was rolled out at the beginning of 2018-19.
About our bracketologist: Shelby Mast has been projecting the field since 2005 on his website, Bracket W.A.G. He joined USA TODAY in 2014. In his sixth season as our national bracketologist, Mast has finished as one of the top three bracketologists in the past five March Madnesses. He’s also predicted for The Indianapolis Star, collegeinsider.com and is an inaugural member of the Super 10 Selection Committee. Follow him on Twitter @BracketWag.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.
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