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Virginia No. 1 in preliminary NCAA rankings

By JOHN MARSHALL
AP Basketball Writer

Virginia suffered a surprising home loss to unranked Virginia Tech, ending its winning streak at 16 games.

One recent defeat was not enough to sway the NCAA Division I Basketball Committee. The Cavaliers are still viewed as the best team in the country a month before Selection Sunday.

Virginia was the top overall seed in preliminary NCAA Tournament rankings released on Sunday, a day after losing to the Hokies. Villanova, Xavier and Purdue earned the other No. 1 seeds.

"Virginia's a dominant defensive team, but they're much better offensively than they've been," committee chair and Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen said during the selection show. "They have a great strength of schedule and they're 10-1 from home."

The NCAA followed the precedent set by College Football Playoff a year ago by releasing its rankings early to drum up support for Selection Sunday. The preliminary rankings held up: The committee stuck with 15 of the top 16 seeds.

This year, the committee is using a new quadrant system that gives more weight to wins on the road and neutral courts.

Virginia, No. 2 in The Associated Press poll , has five Quadrant 1 wins four wins against top-10 RPI teams. The top four teams are a combined 40-8 away from home this season.

The Cavaliers (23-2, 12-1 ACC) would play in Atlanta as the No. 1 seed in the South, a region that includes Cincinnati, Michigan State and Tennessee.

Villanova , the No. 2 overall seed, tops the East Region in Boston with Duke, Texas Tech and Ohio State.

Xavier was the top seed in the Midwest Region, joined by Auburn, Clemson and Oklahoma in Omaha.

Purdue , despite losing both of its games last week, is No. 1 in the West Region with Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona in Los Angeles.

The committee originally had Kansas in the South, but swapped with Cincinnati in the West to even out the regions. It also placed Clemson, the top No. 3 seed, in Omaha because there were already ACC teams in Boston and Atlanta.

"One of the responsibilities of the committee is to make sure the four regions are balanced as much as possible in terms of strength of teams," Rasmussen said. "If we did not switch Kansas and Cincinnati, those regions would be unbalanced."

Many of the top seeds have suffered recent losses, but those were balanced out by key wins early in the season.

Purdue earned a No. 1 seed despite losing both games this week, though both were to ranked teams - No. 14 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan State. The Boilermakers (23-3, 12-1 Big Ten) had won 19 straight heading into this week.

Villanova (23-2, 10-2 Big East), the No. 1 team in the AP poll the past five weeks, lost to St. John's this week. Duke (19-5, 7-4 ACC) lost to the Red Storm last week and to rival North Carolina this week. Kansas (19-6, 8-4 Big 12) lost to Baylor this week and has dropped two of three to fall a game behind Texas Tech in its bid to win a 14th straight Big 12 championship.

Oklahoma (16-8, 6-6 Big 12), which climbed to No. 4 in the AP Top 25 early in the season behind freshman phenom Trae Young, has lost three straight and six of eight. Arizona (20-6, 10-3) has losses to Washington and UCLA the past two weeks.

"The committee was pretty strong in its consensus of the No. 1 teams, but there was a lot of dialogue all the way through the first quadrant because the teams are so close," Rasmussen said. "It's paper thin."

The rankings could certainly change before the field of 68 is selected on March 11 with more than 1,000 games yet to be played.

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