Bracketology: Arizona and Syracuse lead the way as February nears

Christian Petersen

Somewhat unbelievably, January is almost over. So how does the bid picture look with a little more than six weeks to go until Selection Sunday? SB Nation's Chris Dobbertean breaks it down conference by conference.

The four top seeds remain the same today as they did last Tuesday, though I've placed Kansas (South) ahead of Michigan State (Midwest) in the third spot overall, behind No. 1 Arizona (West) and second-ranked Syracuse (East).

Michigan enters the two line after Saturday's win in East Lansing, where the Wolverines are joined by holdovers Wichita StateVillanova and Florida. Meanwhile, Wisconsin falls to a three seed, with Oklahoma State dropping down to a four following Monday night's "Bedlam" loss to Oklahoma.

New teams are indicated by an asterisk (*), while teams shifted for bracketing purposes are marked with a caret (^).

(1) WEST
Anaheim (Thu/Sat)
(2) EAST
New York (Fri/Sun)
San Diego (Fri/Sun) Buffalo (Thu/Sat)
1 Arizona (Pac-12) 1 Syracuse (ACC)
16 Northern Colorado (Big Sky) 16 Chattanooga/Winthrop
8 Minnesota ↓ 88 Kansas State
9 George Washington 9 Oregon
San Diego (Fri/Sun) Raleigh (Fri/Sun)
55 5 Virginia ↓ 55 Kentucky
*12 Southern Miss. (C-USA) ↓^1212 Stanford
4 Oklahoma State 4 Cincinnati (AAC)
13 North Dakota State (Summit) *13 Toledo (MAC)
Orlando (Thu/Sat) Spokane (Thu/Sat)
6 Memphis 6 Ohio State
^11 Baylor/Richmond 11 California
3 Wisconsin 3 San Diego State (MW)
14 Stephen F. Austin (Southland) *14 Canisius (MAAC)
Buffalo (Thu/Sat) Milwaukee (Thu/Sat)
7 Oklahoma 7 Connecticut
10 New Mexico 10 Providence
2 Villanova (Big East) 2 Michigan (Big Ten)
*15 American U. (Patriot) *15 N.C. Central (MEAC)
(4) MIDWEST
Indianapolis (Fri/Sun)
(3) SOUTH
Memphis (Thu/Sat)
Milwaukee (Thu/Sat) St. Louis (Fri/Sun)
1 Michigan State 1 Kansas (Big 12)
16 Stony Brook (AE) 16 Southern/Utah Valley
8 Xavier 8 Gonzaga (WCC)
9 Florida State 9 VCU
Raleigh (Fri/Sun) Spokane (Thu/Sat)
5 UMass 5 Pittsburgh
12 Arizona State/Missouri 12 Green Bay (Horizon)
4 Duke 4 Creighton
13 Delaware (CAA) 13 Belmont (OVC)
San Antonio (Fri/Sun) San Antonio (Fri/Sun)
6 Louisville 6 Saint Louis (A10)
11 Harvard (Ivy) 11 North Carolina
3 Iowa State 3 Iowa
14 Mercer (A-Sun) 14 Georgia State (Sun Belt)
Orlando (Thu/Sat) St. Louis (Fri/Sun)
7 Texas 7 UCLA
10 Colorado 10 SMU
2 Florida (SEC) 2 Wichita State (MVC)
15 Robert Morris (NEC) 15 UC Irvine (Big West)
FIRST FOUR (Dayton)
Tuesday: To Buffalo Tuesday: To Orlando
16 Chattanooga (SoCon) ↓^ 11 Baylor
*16 Winthrop (Big South) *^ 11 Richmond
Wednesday: To St. Louis Wednesday: To Raleigh
16 Southern (SWAC) *12 Arizona State
16 Utah Valley (WAC) 12 Missouri

BIDS BY CONFERENCE AVOIDING DAYTON ARRIVALS DEPARTURES
Big 12: 7 New Mexico American U. Boston U.
Pac-12: 7 California Arizona State BYU
ACC: 6 Stanford Canisius Dayton
Big Ten: 6 North Carolina N.C. Central Manhattan
AAC: 5 LAST FOUR IN North Dakota State Old Dominion
A10: 5
Baylor Richmond Radford
Big East: 4 Richmond Southern Miss. Savannah State
SEC: 3 Arizona State Winthrop South Dakota
MW: 2 Missouri

1-Bid Conferences: 23 FIRST FOUR OUT


Indiana State


Tennessee


Dayton


Mississippi


NEXT FOUR OUT


Georgetown


St. Mary's


St. Joseph's


BYU

Teams are listed in the conference rundowns in seed list order. This post contains information about how I determine automatic bids before the conference tournaments, and my preseason bracket includes a rundown of the new bracket rules for this season. All RPI and SOS data is courtesy Basketball State ($) and reflects games against Division I opposition only that were completed before Monday, January 27, 2014.

American

Bids This Week (5): Cincinnati Bearcats (auto bid, in as at-large), Louisville Cardinals, Memphis Tigers, Connecticut Huskies, SMU Mustangs

Other Teams In The Picture: None

The top four in the AAC look pretty set for March, with Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis and UConn all having the chance at a protected seed down the road if they can earn the conference title. Conveniently, plenty of quality win opportunities remain thanks to the new conference's balanced schedule. Each bid contender has at least five games left against their closest competition (the Bearcats will play six), with SMU and Cincinnati getting three of those at home. Additionally, Memphis has a non-conference home game with Gonzaga left on its schedule.

I suppose Houston could make a late run at a bid, particularly if it can complete an unexpected sweep of UConn this week; however, the Cougars' 303rd-ranked non-conference schedule makes this is unlikely. The most probable way for the American to earn a sixth bid is for the Cougars or another talented second division squad, say UCF, to win the conference tournament on Memphis' home floor.

Talk about unlikely possibilities.

Five Games To Watch
SMU at USF, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPNews)
Memphis at UCF, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Cincinnati at Louisville, Thursday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Houston at Connecticut, Thursday 9 p.m. ET (CBS SN)
Memphis at SMU, Saturday 2 p.m. ET (CBS SN)

Atlantic 10

Bids This Week (5): UMass Minutemen, Saint Louis Billikens (auto bid, in as at-large), George Washington ColonialsVCU RamsRichmond Spiders (First Four)

Other Teams In The Picture: Dayton FlyersLa Salle Explorers, St. Joseph's Hawks

Half of the Atlantic 10 is within two games of first place -- and that group that doesn't include Dayton, which has a pair of Top 50 wins from the Maui Invitational. That means the next six weeks are going to be an absolute roller coaster in a conference that just might replicate its five-bid haul from 2013. The ride begins over the next seven days, as no fewer than six showdowns between the eight bid contenders are scheduled in that span (hence why I expanded the "Games To Watch" list by one).

Even though the A10 slate isn't balanced in the slightest, each contender will play six or more contests against their direct rivals. La Salle, UMass and Richmond are lucky in that they only play that half-dozen (though a couple of extra games against non-contenders won't really help the Explorers and Spiders), while St. Joe's and Saint Louis play eight.

Six Games To Watch
La Salle at George Washington, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (CSN Mid-Atlantic Plus/SNY/A10 Network)
St. Joseph's at Dayton, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (WHIO/Comcast Network Philadelphia)
Richmond at Saint Louis, Wednesday 8 p.m. ET (FS Midwest/FCS Atlantic)
Richmond at VCU, Saturday 12 p.m. ET (ESPN/ESPN2)
George Washington at Xavier, Saturday 12:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
UMass at St. Joseph's, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (CBS SN)

ACC

Bids This Week (6): Syracuse Orange (auto bid, in as at-large), Pittsburgh Panthers, Duke Blue Devils, Virginia Cavaliers, Florida State Seminoles, North Carolina Tar Heels

Other Teams In The Picture: Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Clemson Tigers, N.C. State Wolfpack, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Maryland Terrapins

The bid picture for the ACC is rather clear, even if 11 teams are technically involved at the moment. At the top, it would be an absolute shock if Syracuse, Pitt, Duke and Virginia failed to make it, and that's considering the Panthers' lackluster non-conference schedule. Florida State and North Carolina have the quality wins required, but both will need to finish at .500 in the ACC to feel secure, a challenge the inconsistent Tar Heels may not be able to meet.

As for the five teams currently on the outside looking in, each will need to make a serious run between now and the ACC Tournament to earn serious consideration. That's because this quintet doesn't have the non-conference results. The best three wins by the group came against Tennessee (N.C. State), Richmond (Wake) and Providence (Maryland), and from that trio, only the Friars look like a greater than 50% bet to make the NCAAs right now.

Six Games To Watch
Virginia at Notre Dame, Tuesday 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Florida State at N.C. State, Wednesday 9 p.m. ET (ACC Network Regional/ESPN3)
N.C. State at North Carolina, Saturday 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Duke at Syracuse, Saturday 6:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Virginia at Pittsburgh, Sunday 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Notre Dame at Syracuse, Monday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Big 12

Bids This Week (7): Kansas Jayhawks (auto bid, in as at-large), Oklahoma State Cowboys, Iowa State Cyclones, Oklahoma SoonersTexas LonghornsKansas State Wildcats, Baylor Bears (First Four)

Other Teams In The Picture: None

Just three teams -- West Virginia, Texas Tech and TCU -- are out of the NCAA race in the Big 12. That means the final six weeks of the conference schedule will be packed with games that will have an impact both at the top of the bracket, where Kansas has an excellent shot at a No. 1 seed and Oklahoma State and Iowa State will contend for a protected seed, and the bubble, where fading Baylor will look to hang on. (Oklahoma, Kansas State and Texas look like they'll be in the middle of the bracket at worst.) The Bears play four games against the bottom three in their final 12, which is average for the seven contenders. Iowa State and Kansas play five, while Oklahoma State faces just three.

Five Games To Watch
Iowa State at Kansas, Wednesday 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Baylor at Oklahoma State, Saturday 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Kansas at Texas, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Oklahoma at Iowa State, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network/ESPN3)
Iowa State at Oklahoma State, Monday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Big East

Bids This Week (4): Villanova Wildcats (auto bid, in as at-large), Creighton Bluejays, Xavier Musketeers, Providence Friars

Other Teams In The Picture: Georgetown Hoyas, Marquette Golden Eagles, St. John's Red Storm, Seton Hall Pirates

Mathematically, it's not possible for the "new" 10-team Big East to match the "old" mega-Big East's bid hauls. However, the reborn league does have quality among its small crop of qualifiers. Both Villanova and Creighton will contend for places on the top four lines until the end, while Xavier has an excellent chance at wearing home whites in the Round of 64 at this point. Providence, meanwhile, has used some strong performances at home to get on the right side of the bubble, but with seven of their last 11 on the road, they may struggle to stay in.

Of course, one of the four other teams I've listed could make a late run. The odds are stacked against them, though. Georgetown will have to make their push without Josh Smith, lost for the season due to academics. St. John's and Seton Hall, while perfectly capable of picking off an opponent here and there, don't have the non-conference wins on their respective profiles. That leaves Marquette, which actually has a win to hang its hat on outside of the league -- over George Washington in the Wooden Legacy semifinals. However, the Golden Eagles will need to improve on a 3-4 Big East mark, which includes a trio of losses to teams currently in the field, the rest of the way. A pair of mid-February home games against Xavier and Creighton may well seal Marquette's fate, barring a run at Madison Square Garden.

Five Games To Watch
Providence at Marquette, Thursday 7 p.m. ET (FS1)
Georgetown vs. Michigan State at New York, Saturday 3 p.m. ET (FS1)
Villanova at Temple, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (CBS SN)
Xavier at Villanova, Monday 7 p.m. ET (FS1)
Georgetown at DePaul, Monday 9 p.m. ET (FS1)

Big Ten

Bids This Week (6): Michigan State Spartans (auto bid, in as at-large), Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Ohio State Buckeyes, Minnesota Golden Gophers

Other Teams In The Picture: Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Purdue Boilermakers

There is an excellent chance for the Big Ten to earn four protected seeds in 2014, which would extend a streak that began in 2012. However, between Michigan State's injuries, Wisconsin's January swoon and Michigan's non-conference struggles (the Wolverines' loss to Charlotte in Puerto Rico is the single most inexplicable result of the season, in my opinion), there's a chance that the league won't earn a No. 1 nod. Ohio State's unexpectedly weak non-conference schedule and Minnesota's struggles away from Williams Arena mean they'll likely earn middling seeds (lines six to eight) at best.

Thanks to a dearth of quality non-conference wins between them, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue will all need to step it up down the stretch. That's easier said than done for a Fighting Illini team that's dropped six straight after a 13-2 start. As for the Hoosiers and Boilermakers, who each sit at 3-4 in the Big Ten, more consistency and several quality wins will be required.

Five Games To Watch
Michigan State at Iowa, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Ohio State at Wisconsin, Saturday 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Georgetown vs. Michigan State at New York, Saturday 3 p.m. ET (FS1)
Iowa at Illinois, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET (BTN)
Michigan at Indiana, Sunday 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Mountain West

Bids This Week (2): San Diego State Aztecs (auto bid, in as at-large), New Mexico Lobos

Other Teams In The Picture: Boise State Broncos, UNLV Runnin' Rebels

In late January, it's safe to say that the Mountain West will not repeat its five-bid performance from 2013. While conference play has been highly competitive early on, a lack of quality non-league performances left the majority of teams with too much work to do in the season's second half. While San Diego State is challenging for a spot on the two line and New Mexico looks secure further down the seed list, Boise State and UNLV sit on the outside looking in, with a single Top 100 win between them.

At this point, the most likely path for a third Mountain West bid is a conference tournament title for a squad like the Broncos or Runnin' Rebels. You'd think that would work best for UNLV, but the hosts haven't won the crown since 2008.

Five Games To Watch
New Mexico at Utah State, Tuesday 11 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Air Force at Boise State, Wednesday 9 p.m. ET (ROOT Sports Rocky Mtn./MWN)
Colorado State at Nevada, Wednesday 10 p.m. Et (MWN)
Colorado State at San Diego State, Saturday 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Boise State at UNLV, Saturday 8 p.m. ET (CBS SN)

Pac-12

Bids This Week (7): Arizona Wildcats (auto bid, in as at-large), UCLA Bruins, California Golden Bears, Oregon Ducks, Colorado Buffaloes, Stanford CardinalArizona State Sun Devils (First Four)

Other Teams In The Picture: Utah Utes, Washington Huskies, Oregon State Beavers

No conference's combined NCAA hopes are in as much flux as the Pac-12's. Sure, Arizona is in great position to end up on the top line, but the Wildcats could be joined in the field by anywhere between three and six of their rivals. UCLA and California look to be in the best shape, while Oregon should be fine if it gets out of its recent funk. On the other hand, Colorado is 1-4 since Spencer Dinwiddie was lost for the season with a torn ACL, which doesn't bode well for the Buffaloes' future prospects. Meanwhile, Stanford will have to finish strong, which has been a problem during Johnny Dawkins' tenure.

While Arizona State sneaks in today, it will need to grab some quality wins to remain, as the Sun Devils' non-conference schedule was rather soft. An early win over Marquette simply doesn't count for much right now. With a pair of weekends against the Bay Area and Oregon schools, good victories are out there for the taking. Utah, Washington and Oregon State, meanwhile, will virtually need to run the table, thanks to an absence of quality non-conference wins.

Five Games To Watch
Arizona at Stanford, Wednesday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Arizona State at California, Wednesday 11 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
UCLA at Oregon, Thursday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Arizona State at Stanford, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
Arizona at California, Saturday 10:30 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)

SEC

Bids This Week (3): Florida Gators (auto bid, in as at-large), Kentucky Wildcats, Missouri Tigers (First Four)

Other Teams In The PictureTennessee Volunteers, Mississippi Rebels, LSU Tigers, Arkansas Razorbacks, Mississippi State BulldogsTexas A&M Aggies, Georgia Bulldogs

Outside of Florida and Kentucky, the 2013-14 version of the SEC has been as disappointing to follow as the worst of the conference's recent "vintage" seasons. For a time, Missouri looked like the third-best team in the league, until it started league play with three inexplicable losses (one at home). The Tigers remain in this week as the final team in, largely due to a home win over UCLA.

Tennessee briefly made its own claim, thanks to non-conference wins over Virginia and Xavier, until it hit its own rough patch. The Vols and Mizzou currently sit in a logjam of 3-3 teams, which includes an inconsistent LSU squad and Mississippi State and Texas A&M teams that don't have any quality non-conference wins. Arkansas, which has enough talent to earn a bid, continues to struggle mightily away from Fayetteville. As a result, the Hogs sit a game behind the muddle of .500 teams. On the flip side, Georgia has been a surprise early, but the Bulldogs don't have any good non-league wins to accompany their 4-2 SEC mark.

That means Ole Miss, currently tied with Kentucky for second at 5-1, joins Mizzou as the conference's best hope for a third bid for a second season in a row. Now, the Rebels' two best non-conference wins, over Penn State and Georgia Tech in Brooklyn, won't give them much of a bump. However, they should be able to get enough SEC wins to make a case, particularly if they can knock off Kentucky and Florida when they visit on February 18 and 22, respectively.

Or the Rebels can just run the table in Atlanta and take matters out of the Committee's hands again.

Five Games To Watch
Missouri at Arkansas, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Kentucky at LSU, Tuesday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Ole Miss at Tennessee, Wednesday 8 p.m. ET (SEC TV Regional/ESPN3)
Kentucky at Missouri, Saturday 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Arkansas at LSU, Saturday 5 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Probable Single-Bid Leagues

Automatic Bids This Week (23): Stony Brook Seawolves (America East), Mercer Bears (Atlantic Sun), Northern Colorado Bears (Big Sky), Winthrop Eagles (Big South), UC Irvine Anteaters (Big West), Delaware Blue Hens (Colonial), Southern Miss. Golden Eagles (Conference USA), Green Bay Phoenix (Horizon), Harvard Crimson (Ivy), Canisius Golden Griffins (Metro Atlantic), Toledo Rockets (Mid-American), N.C. Central Eagles (Mid-Eastern), Wichita State Shockers (Missouri Valley, in as at-large), Robert Morris Colonials (Northeast), Belmont Bruins (Ohio Valley), American U. Eagles (Patriot), Chattanooga Mocs (Southern), Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (Southland), Southern U. Jaguars (Southwestern), North Dakota State Bison (Summit), Georgia State Panthers (Sun Belt), Gonzaga Bulldogs (West Coast, in as at-large), Utah Valley Wolverines (Western Athletic)

Possible At-Large Candidates: Indiana State Sycamores, BYU CougarsSt. Mary's Gaels

Even though the bubble picture is still developing, it's clear that power conference teams will be cheering hard for Wichita State and Gonzaga to claim their respective conference crowns at the beginning of Championship Week. While BYU, Indiana State, and St. Mary's have simply been too inconsistent to build passable at-large profiles, they are perfectly capable of making a conference tournament run.

The Cougars, who slid into the First Four last week, fall back out after being swept by Portland and Gonzaga last week.

Seven Games To Watch
Belmont at Morehead State, Wednesday 8 p.m. (CBS SN)
Canisius at Quinnipiac, Thursday 7 pm. (SNY)
Bryant at Robert Morris, Thursday 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
Manhattan at Iona, Friday 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
Toledo at Ohio, Saturday 1 p.m. (ESPNU)
Indiana State at Northern Iowa, Saturday 8 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Utah Valley at New Mexico State, Saturday 9 p.m. ET (AggieVision/ESPN3)

That's bracketology for this week, the final one with a single update. In February, I'll update the field on both Tuesdays and Fridays. To pass a bit of time before next week's full projection, head over to Blogging the Bracket for my daily TV previews and follow me during each night's action on Twitter @ChrisDobbertean.


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