Bracketology 2012: Kentucky All But Locks Up Top Overall Seed

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 09: Kentucky Wildcats mascot The Wildcat performs during the quarterfinals of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at the New Orleans Arena on March 9, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Thanks to a Syracuse loss Friday night, the Wildcats have no more competition for the No. 1 spot overall on Selection Sunday. At the other end of the bracket, North Carolina State and Arizona roll in to replace Miami and Tennessee in our Saturday morning projection.

Just a little more than a day remains before the field of 68 is revealed, and doesn't it feel like the next two days of conference tournament play will provide a few more twists and turns -- with a potential surprise auto-bid winner or two among them?

Here are some of the most noteworthy moves since Friday's projection.

  • Kentucky will be the top overall seed in the bracket, even though they needed to put a lot more effort into defeating LSU in the SEC quarterfinals than expected. They can thank Cincinnati, who handled Syracuse in the Big East semifinals. The Orange are locked in at No. 2 overall.
  • As for spots three and four on the top line, North Carolina, Duke, Michigan State and Ohio State picked up wins, while Kansas joins Syracuse on the losing side of the ledger. The Jayhawks remain on the top line for now, alongside the Tar Heels, but the Blue Devils, Spartans, Buckeyes and Tigers will all have the opportunities to pass them over the weekend.
  • After topping Virginia in the ACC quarterfinals, N.C. State jumps into the field, replacing Miami, a team they happened to defeat twice during the regular season. The Hurricanes failed to respond as they fell to Florida State after learning that Durand Scott was suspended by the NCAA.
  • The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are suddenly hovering ever closer to the cut line. Sure, Tony Bennett's team owns an early win over Michigan, but Virginia failed to defeat the North Carolina Tar Heels, Duke Blue Devils and Florida St. Seminoles in the ACC. A 2-1 mark against the Wolfpack and Miami Hurricanes along with that win over the Wolverines and another over Drexel when Chris Fouch was injured, should be enough. But it could be closer than expected for Virginia.
  • Tennessee's stay was also a short one, as the Volunteers lost their bubble elimination contest to Mississippi. The win wasn't quite enough to move the Rebels into the field, however.
  • Arizona enters the field as the new Pac-12 auto-bid holder. Either the Wildcats or Colorado will enter the field automatically tomorrow evening while California should hold on to an at-large spot.
  • Southern Mississippi is another team who will be a bit more nervous over the weekend than they would have been just a couple of weeks ago thanks to a loss to Marshall -- the Golden Eagles' second in a seven-day span -- in the Conference USA semifinals. If the Thundering Herd defeat Memphis today, an at-large spot will disappear.
  • Another may vanish thanks to a typically topsy-turvy Atlantic 10 Tournament. Top-seeded Temple lost its quarterfinal to UMass, meaning either the Minutemen or St. Bonaventure will play for the conference crown on Sunday afternoon. Neither of those teams has a legitimate at-large chance.
  • Xavier solidified its position in the field by defeating archrival Dayton to close the day for the A-10 in Atlantic City. The Flyers are now likely in the NIT, while the Musketeers could very well play in enemy territory on Tuesday or Wednesday night.
  • As for seeding, Cincinnati, Louisville and Memphis are three teams whose position has skyrocketed since conference tournament play began.

The full projection, as of Saturday morning, is immediately below. Given the move of Kansas into the No. 4 spot overall, I moved Kentucky to the Midwest region, as St. Louis is about a half-hour closer to Lexington than Atlanta when driving.

Teams that have clinched automatic bids appear in all caps.

(1) MIDWEST
St. Louis (Fri/Sun)
(2) EAST
Boston (Thu/Sat)
Louisville (Thu/Sat) Pittsburgh (Thu/Sat)
1 Kentucky (SEC) 1 Syracuse
16 MVSU/WKU 16 UNC ASHEVILLE (Big South)
8 Iowa State 8 Vanderbilt
9 Purdue 9 Kansas State
Portland (Thu/Sat) Albuquerque (Thu/Sat)
5 CREIGHTON (MVC) 5 Temple
12 Arizona (Pac-12) 12 BYU
4 Florida State 4 Indiana
13 DAVIDSON (Southern) 13 Mississippi State/USF
Columbus (Fri/Sun) Albuquerque (Thu/Sat)
6 Wichita State 6 Cincinnati (Big East)
11 West Virginia 11 Southern Miss.
3 Michigan 3 Baylor
14 BELMONT (A-Sun) 14 Akron (MAC)
Omaha (Fri/Sun) Greensboro (Fri/Sun)
7 San Diego State (MWC) 7 New Mexico
10 VCU (CAA) 10 HARVARD (Ivy)
2 Missouri (Big 12) 2 Duke
15 MONTANA (Big Sky) 15 LONG ISLAND U. (NEC)
(4) WEST
Phoenix (Thu/Sat)
(3) SOUTH
Atlanta (Fri/Sun)
Omaha (Fri/Sun) Greensboro (Fri/Sun)
1 Kansas 1 North Carolina (ACC)
16 Lamar (Southland) 16 Norfolk State/Stony Brook
8 Saint Louis (A-10) 8 ST. MARY'S (WCC)
9 Alabama 9 Connecticut
Nashville (Fri/Sun) Portland (Thu/Sat)
5 MURRAY STATE (OVC) 5 UNLV
12 Colorado State 12 Xavier
4 Wisconsin 4 Louisville
13 N.C. State/Drexel 13 SOUTH DAKOTA ST. (Summit)
Pittsburgh (Thu/Sat) Nashville (Fri/Sun)
6 Gonzaga 6 Memphis (C-USA)
11 Virginia 11 California
3 Georgetown 3 Marquette
14 LOYOLA (MD) (MAAC) 14 New Mexico State (WAC)
Louisville (Thu/Sat) Columbus (Fri/Sun)
7 Notre Dame 7 Florida
10 Texas 10 Long Beach St. (Big West)
2 Ohio State 2 Michigan State (Big Ten)
15 LEHIGH (Patriot) 15 DETROIT (Horizon)
FIRST FOUR (Dayton)
Tuesday: To Louisville
Tuesday: To Albuquerque
16 Miss. Valley State (SWAC) 13 Mississippi State
16 WESTERN KENTUCKY (Sun Belt) 13 USF
Wednesday: To Greensboro Wednesday: To Nashville
16 Norfolk State (MEAC) 13 N.C. State
16 Stony Brook (AmEast) 13 Drexel

An explanation of the Last Four In and Last Four Out follow the rundown.

BIDS BY CONFERENCE LAST FOUR BYES ARRIVALS DEPARTURES
Big East: 9
California Arizona Miami
Big Ten: 7 Southern Mississippi New Mexico State Nevada
Big 12: 6 Colorado State N.C. State Tennessee
ACC: 5 BYU

SEC: 5
LAST FOUR IN PROCEDURAL SHIFTS
MWC: 4
Drexel Southern Mississippi Up to an 11 from a 12
A-10: 3 USF Xavier Down to a 12 from an 11
WCC: 3 N.C. State

CAA: 2 Mississippi State

C-USA: 2 LAST FOUR OUT

MVC: 2 Mississippi

Pac-12: 2 Seton Hall

1-Bid Conferences: 19 Washington


Iona


NEXT FOUR OUT


Tennessee


Miami


Dayton


Northwestern

Last Four In

California, Southern Mississippi, Colorado State and BYU sit above the group that may very well be ticketed for Dayton on Sunday evening.

All records and RPI and SOS are accurate as of Saturday, March 10, 2012 and are courtesy BBState.com. Records only reflect games against Division I competition, per Selection Committee standards.

Drexel (27-6, 18-3 CAA, RPI: 70, SOS: 222, non-conf. SOS: 215)
The Dragons lost just twice after a slow 2-4 start, when they were hampered by the absence or ineffectiveness of guard Chris Fouch, who was recuperating from a knee injury. Bruiser Flint's club certainly passes the "eye" test, particularly by how they came back against VCU in the CAA final on Monday night. However, the weakness of Drexel's non-conference schedule and a relative down year for its conference could see them left out in the cold.

South Florida (19-13, 13-7 Big East, RPI: 40, SOS: 27, non-conf. SOS: 28)
The Bulls must sit and wait after but they were completely unable to put away Notre Dame on Thursday night. Recent wins over the two Big East finalists help the Bulls' case, especially the road win over Louisville, as does a win over fellow bubble team Seton Hall. However, early season struggles could make this a close call for USF.

N.C. State (22-11, 11-7 ACC, RPI: 53, SOS: 26, non-conf. SOS: 65)
The Wolfpack toppled Virginia this afternoon to pick up another quality win. Recent victories by Miami and Texas also boost N.C. State's case. A win over North Carolina in tomorrow's ACC semifinal would all but seal the deal for Mark Gottfried's squad.

Mississippi State (21-11, 8-9 SEC, RPI: 65, SOS: 66, non-conf. SOS: 52)
One standout win (at Vanderbilt) and a handful of decent ones (Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arizona) help the Bulldogs' case. Maddening inconsistency, highlighted by two losses at the hands of Georgia and a loss at Auburn, do not.

First Four Out

Mississippi (20-12, 10-8 SEC, RPI: 59, SOS: 39, non-conf. SOS: 36)
The Rebels moved closer to their first bid in a decade, thanks to Friday's victory over Tennessee, their seventh over an opponent in the Top 100. However, much like N.C. State, victories over the Top 50 have been an issue, and Ole Miss currently owns just one of those. A late December injury to Murphy Holloway should also create some discussion in the Committee room. Still, the Rebels have a clear path now, namely by avenging a February 16th 26-point loss Vanderbilt in New Orleans.

Seton Hall (20-12, 9-11 Big East, RPI: 62, SOS: 44, non-conf. SOS: 31)
On the surface, the Pirates should be in good shape, thanks to three wins over the RPI Top 50 and seven over the Top 100. However, late losses to Rutgers and DePaul, their two worst, mean Seton Hall has likely left a poor late impression for the Committee.

Washington (21-10, 14-5 Pac-12, RPI: 54, SOS: 81, non-conf. SOS: 101)
Yes, the Huskies won the Pac-12 regular season crown, but given the conference's struggles this season, that doesn't really mean much. Making matters worse, Washington dropped its tournament quarterfinal to Oregon State on Thursday. One win against the Top 50 and a lackluster 4-7 mark against the Top 100 may not be enough to get the Huskies in.

Iona (25-7, 16-4 MAAC, RPI: 41, SOS: 144, non-conf. SOS: 174)
On the surface, the Gaels' record and RPI, along with their win totals over the Top 50 (1) and 100 (5) compare favorably with other bubble teams. However, will the Committee respect the names behind those numbers? Iona's only Top 50 win came against Nevada and the next best came against St. Joseph's. A one-point loss to Purdue in their season opener in Puerto Rico may have turned the Gaels into an NIT squad from the start, much like Wichita State's close loss to Connecticut in Maui in November of 2010.

----

After Friday night's defeat to Mississippi, Tennessee now sits firmly in NIT territory. Miami joins them, partially because of their loss to Florida State but also because of the question of Durand Scott's availability. Further down the line, Dayton might have been able to survive its loss to Xavier, had it not dropped a few particularly bad games throughout the season. Results also didn't help Northwestern in its quest to stay relevant. More positively, Colorado's profile may warrant another look on Saturday, even if it happens to lose in the Pac-12 final.

Saturday's Games To Watch

No fewer than 12 tickets will be punched on Selection Eve, by far the busiest day in terms of conference championship games.

America East Championship (11a.m. ET, ESPN2)
Vermont visits Stony Brook with a spot on the No. 16 line up for grabs. The pair split their regular season meetings, with each winning at home.

Conference USA Championship (11:30 a.m. ET, CBS)
Top seed and host Memphis will look to keep Marshall from popping some unlucky team's bubble.

MEAC Championship (1 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Regular season runner-up Norfolk State can claim the conference's automatic bid with a victory over No. 4 seed Bethune-Cookman. The Spartans won the only regular season meeting of the two, in Daytona Beach, by three.

Southland Championship (3 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
The top two seeds fell in Thursday's semifinals, leaving Pat Knight's Lamar squad to grapple with McNeese State, who routed runaway regular season champion UT Arlington, for the bid, and likely a game against a No. 1 seed.

Pac-12 Championship (6 p.m. ET, CBS)
Arizona ended Oregon State's run in the semifinals and will look to make the conference a multi-bid one (maybe) with a victory over sixth-seeded Colorado.

Big 12 Championship (6 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Baylor finally got past Kansas and the Bears look like a completely revitalized team heading into a title clash against a Missouri team that has hopes for a No. 1 seed.

Mountain West Championship (7 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)
Surprising San Diego State will look to win the Mountain West Tournament for the third consecutive season. They'll have to get past New Mexico, who took out UNLV last night, to do it.

MAC Championship (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Regular season champion Akron will look to defeat No. 3 seed Ohio for a second time this season, though the Bobcats thrashed the Zips in Athens a little less than two weeks ago.

SWAC Championship (8 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
In a rarity for the SWAC, the top two seeds will meet for the title as regular season champ Mississippi Valley State meets runner-up seed Texas Southern for a likely trip to Dayton.

Big East Championship (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Cincinnati, a bubble team not all that long ago, is now in without a doubt. The Bearcats can enter as conference champions with a win over surging Louisville, in a renewal of a rivalry that has moved from the Metro to Conference USA to the Big East.

Big West Championship (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Long Beach State can ease much bubble anxiety by defeating UC Santa Barbara and wrapping up the automatic bid.

WAC Championship (12 a.m. ET, ESPN2)
No. 2 seed New Mexico State is in the driver's seat for the auto-bid, thanks to regular season champion Nevada's loss last night to Louisiana Tech.

The four conferences that wrap up on Sunday determine their finalists this afternoon.

ACC Semifinals
Top seed North Carolina will may have to play its semifinal against N.C. State (1 p.m. ET, ESPN/ACC Network) without John Henson, who injured his left wrist in Friday's quarterfinal win over Maryland. That injury could impact the No. 1 seed race over the next two days, along with the Wolfpack's bid hopes. In game two, Duke will look to keep pace by grabbing the rubber match against Florida State (approx. 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ACC Network)

Atlantic 10 Semifinals
Bubble teams will hope the winner of Massachusetts or St. Bonaventure (1 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network) loses in tomorrow's final, particularly since the winner of semifinal number two, either Saint Louis or Xavier (approx. 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network) is likely in the field at this point.

Big Ten Semifinals
All four top seeds advanced to Indianapolis. Michigan State looks to continue its push toward a possible top seed against Wisconsin (1:30 p.m. ET, CBS). If the Spartans can defeat the Badgers, they'll face the Michigan-Ohio State winner (approx. 4 p.m. ET, CBS) for the third time this season.

SEC Semifinals
Florida will attempt to avenge a pair of losses to Kentucky in the first of today's semifinals (1 p.m. ET, ABC), while Mississippi can stake its claim to one of the final at-large spots by defeating Vanderbilt in game two (approx. 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

Check back on Selection Sunday morning for my second-to-last full projection of 2012. If events warrant during the day, I'll update the Last Four In and Out before then.

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