After three weeks with the same four teams rather boringly occupying the top seed line of my projection, the final bracket of January sees a shakeup. Most noticeably, Florida replaces Arizona on the No. 1 line. However, the order of the top four has also been shuffled, as Kansas and Michigan both jumped Duke in the S-curve, thanks in part to the hammering the Blue Devils endured at newly-minted No. 2 seed Miami on Wednesday.
The No. 1 spot out West, the final one for this projection, came down to the Gators and Indiana, thanks to Villanova‘s wins over Louisville and Syracuse. The two teams are evenly matched, as both own 4-2 records against the RPI Top 50 and 7-2 marks against the Top 100. Plus, neither has the dreaded bad loss. However, Florida gets the edge for this week by virtue of its higher RPI placement (5th compared to 17th for Indiana, thanks to the Hoosiers' comparatively weaker non-conference slate) and superior number of wins in games away from home (8-2 vs. 5-1). Of course, the overall weakness of the SEC may work to the detriment of Florida, particularly if it happens to lose to one of the league's many lesser lights. While that doesn't seem likely given how the Gators have handled conference opposition so far, an upset is always a possibility. Strange things do happen on a nightly basis in this sport after all.
A league-by-league look at the national picture follows the bracket and rundown.
|(1) SOUTH |
|Kansas City (Fri/Sun)||Auburn Hills (Thu/Sat)|
|1||Kansas (Big 12)||1||Michigan (Big Ten)|
|16||Bryant (NEC)||↓ 16||Niagara (MAAC)|
|↓ 8||Illinois||↓ 8||VCU|
|↑ 9||Colorado State||↑ 9||Kentucky|
|San Jose (Thu/Sat)||Austin (Fri/Sun)|
|↓ 12||Memphis||↑ 12||Villanova|
|4||N.C. State||4||New Mexico (MWC)|
|13||Stephen F. Austin (Southland)||↓ 13||Southern Mississippi (C-USA)|
|Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat)||Kansas City (Fri/Sun)|
|↑ 6||Marquette||↑ 6||Mississippi (SEC)|
|↑ 11||La Salle||↑ 11||Louisiana Tech (WAC)|
|3||Gonzaga (WCC)||↓ 3||Louisville|
|14||Long Beach State (Big West)||14||Harvard (Ivy)|
|Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat)||Dayton (Fri/Sun)|
|↓ 7||Missouri||↑ 7||Georgetown|
|10||Oklahoma State||↓ 10||Wisconsin|
|↓ 2||Arizona||↑ 2||Miami (ACC)|
|↑ 15||Montana (Big Sky)||15||Northeastern (CAA)|
|(4) WEST |
Los Angeles (Thu/Sat)
|Lexington (Thu/Sat)||Philadelphia (Fri/Sun)|
|16||Southern or Western Illinois||16||Charleston Southern or Norfolk State|
|↓ 8||Notre Dame||↓ 8||Kansas State|
|San Jose (Thu/Sat)||Austin (Fri/Sun)|
|5||Ohio State||↓ 5||Minnesota|
|↓ 12||North Carolina||↑ 12||Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt)|
|↑ 4||Oregon (Pac-12)||4||Wichita State (MVC)|
|13||Akron (MAC)||↑ 13||Lehigh (Patriot)|
|Dayton (Fri/Sun)||Auburn Hills (Thu/Sat)|
|↑ 6||UNLV||6||San Diego State|
|11||Arizona State or St. Mary's||11||Iowa State or Temple|
|3||Butler (A-10)||3||Michigan State|
|↑ 14||Stony Brook (AmEast)||14||Valparaiso (Horizon)|
|Lexington (Thu/Sat)||Philadelphia (Fri/Sun)|
|↑ 7||Oklahoma||↑ 7||UCLA|
|10||Colorado||↑ 10||Belmont (OVC)|
|2||Indiana||2||Syracuse (Big East)|
|↑ 15||Florida Gulf Coast (A-Sun)||↓ 15||Davidson (Southern)|
|FIRST FOUR (Dayton)|
|Tuesday: To Lexington
||Tuesday: To Auburn Hills|
|16||Southern (SWAC)||↓ 11||Iowa State|
|↓ 16||Western Illinois (Summit)||11||Temple|
|Wednesday: To Philadelphia||Wednesday: To Dayton
|16||Charleston Southern (Big South)||↑ 11||Arizona State|
|16||Norfolk State (MEAC)||↑ 11||St. Mary's|
Note that I bumped the First Four matchups from the 12 line up to the 11 line to ensure that they feed into geographically convenient pods, given the tight travel windows of the first week of the tournament.
|BIDS BY CONFERENCE||LAST FOUR BYES||ARRIVALS||DEPARTURES|
|Big East: 8||North Carolina||Arizona State||Albany|
|Big Ten: 7||Villanova||Florida Gulf Coast||Boise State|
|Big 12: 6||La Salle||La Salle||Bucknell|
|Pac-12: 5||Memphis||Lehigh||Indiana State|
||LAST FOUR IN||Montana||Iowa|
|MWC: 4||Arizona State||Stony Brook||Weber State|
|SEC: 4||Iowa State||Villanova||Wyoming|
|C-USA: 2||St. Mary's||PROCEDURAL||MOVES|
|MVC: 2||LAST FOUR OUT||Georgetown||6 down to 7|
|WCC: 2||Indiana State||Mississippi||7 up to 6|
|1-Bid Conferences: 20||BYU||Notre Dame||7 down to 8|
|St. John's||Oklahoma||8 up to 7|
|Boise State||Wisconsin||9 down to 10|
|NEXT FOUR OUT||Colorado State||10 up to 9|
|Wyoming||Memphis||11 down to 12|
|Maryland||North Carolina||11 down to 12|
|Saint Louis||Villanova||11 down to 12|
|Charlotte||Arizona State||12 up to 11|
|Iowa State||12 up to 11|
|Louisiana Tech||12 up to 11|
|St. Mary's||12 up to 11|
|Temple||12 up to 11|
Also considered (in order): Iowa, Bucknell, Alabama, Rutgers, Xavier, Virginia
Bids This Week: 4/Last Week: 3
La Salle defeated both A-10 leader Butler (at Tom Gola Arena) and VCU (in Richmond) to land in this week's projection, though an earlier home victory over resurgent Villanova boosted its case too. The question now is whether the Explorers can stick around for a bit. La Salle is one of seven Atlantic 10 teams with two conference losses, and the Explorers face two of the others -- UMass and surprising George Washington -- this week. Ask Charlotte how difficult the Colonials can be to play at the Smith Center. The 49ers, VCU, Saint Louis and Xavier are the other two-loss clubs. Of that group, only the Rams are in the field, but they've slipped down to an 8 seed and will really need to pick up some wins in their tough late February-early March stretch to move up. The Billikens, meanwhile, are in the Next Four Out group, and losses this week sent Charlotte and Xavier further down the bubble.
Temple is not among that two-loss group, and the three loss Owls are barely in the field today after a week where they lost at Butler and struggled mightily in defeating a bad Penn team. As for the Bulldogs, they're hanging around the three seed line, thanks to four Top 50 wins and eight over the Top 100. Brad Stevens' team will have to watch out for Saint Louis, obviously looking to boost its shaky at-large case, in the A-10 game of the week on Thursday night.
Five A-10 Games To Watch
Dayton at Xavier, Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
Butler at Saint Louis, Thursday 9 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
Dayton at Saint Louis, Saturday 2 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Network)
Temple at St. Joseph's, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
Xavier at Richmond, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (FS Ohio)
Bids This Week: 4/Last Week: 4
Miami got center Reggie Johnson back earlier than expected from a broken thumb, just in time to blow out Duke and Florida State at home. Those victories solidified the Hurricanes' high placing in the RPI table and helped to push them up to the two line this week.
Is a one seed a possibility for Miami? I'd say "yes," simply because the Canes were without either Durand Scott or Johnson for each of its three losses (at Florida Gulf Coast back in November and against Arizona and Indiana State in Hawaii over Christmas week). The Committee will take those absences into consideration. Yet if Miami keeps taking care of business in the ACC, the group of 10 may not have much of a choice.
However, part of taking care of business in the league is surviving the road, and while everyone may be looking forward to Miami's visit to Durham on March 2nd, the Hurricanes will be tested long before that. This week, for example, they visit Virginia Tech and N.C. State. OK, the trip to Blacksburg might not be the most daunting, but the Wolfpack, currently holding the final protected seed spot, will surely be amped up for the league leaders' Saturday visit.
North Carolina, who felt the full force of N.C. State's power at home, at least until the Wolfpack puzzlingly let the Tar Heels back in the game late, have one of the field's last four byes this week. in reality, UNC doesn't have much on its profile beyond home triumphs over UNLV and Maryland, so its margin for error is rapidly decreasing. The Terrapins again find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble, as they've followed up a one-point home win over N.C. State with losses in Durham and Chapel Hill and a five-point victory over Boston College back in College Park. That won't get it done for a team with such a weak non-conference schedule.
Five ACC Games To Watch
N.C. State at Virginia, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Maryland at Florida State, Wednesday 8 p.m. ET (ACC Network/ESPN3)
Duke at Florida State, Saturday 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Wake Forest at Maryland, Saturday 2 p.m. ET (ACC Network/ESPN3)
Miami at N.C. State, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (CBS Regional)
Bids This Week: 6/Last Week: 6
The Big 12 barely has a half-dozen teams in this week, as Iowa State slips down to the First Four after an up-and-down week that featured a Wednesday loss at Texas Tech and a big Saturday home win over Kansas State.
If you look at the quintet of Big 12 games to watch for the week below, you'll notice that it's very possible that one or two of the five Big 12 teams in the field that aren't named Kansas might fall out completely by next Tuesday. All five are currently seeded seventh or worse, meaning they're squarely on the bubble. The Cyclones, in particular, have a huge week. Fred Hoiberg's squad visits Oklahoma State at midweek before welcoming both Baylor and Oklahoma to Hilton Coliseum on Saturday and Monday. Before they head to Ames, the Sooners, a team in need of some decent wins to justify a somewhat-inflated RPI ranking, host Kansas State, who defeated them in Manhattan.
Five Big 12 Games To Watch
Oklahoma at Baylor, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Iowa State at Oklahoma State, Wednesday 8 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network/ESPN3)
Kansas State at Oklahoma, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Baylor at Iowa State, Saturday 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Oklahoma at Iowa State, Monday 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Bids This Week: 8/Last Week: 7
Thanks to home wins over Louisville and Syracuse, Villanova rocketed into the projection, increasing the Big East's contingent to eight, a total more in line with the conference's recent banner years. Negatively for the league, those losses knocked the Cardinals and Orange out of the top seed conversation for the moment. Naturally, the Wildcats' staying power will be tested this week, as they visit a Notre Dame team that's dropped three of five, with the two wins in that span, over Rutgers at home and at USF, unconvincing ones.
Georgetown, winners of four of five, and Pittsburgh, victorious in five of its last seven, are on more solid ground than they were two weeks ago, while Cincinnati ends a long layoff with two winnable games (Rutgers and at Seton Hall). Co-leader Marquette, who handled USF on Monday night, can further establish itself as a championship threat by handing Louisville its fourth loss in five games on Sunday.
On the NIT side of the cut line, surging St. John's, who has rattled off four straight, might be able to sneak in next week's projection, especially since a Big 12 team or two may drop out. But first, the Red Storm will have to take care of business at home against DePaul on Wednesday (relatively simple) and win at Georgetown on Saturday (not so easy).
Five Big East Games To Watch
Villanova at Notre Dame, Wednesday 6 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Rutgers at Cincinnati, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (Big East Network/ESPN3)
Syracuse at Pittsburgh, Saturday 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Marquette at Louisville, Sunday 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Notre Dame at Syracuse, Monday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Bids This Week: 7/Last Week: 8
While things are looking rosy for the top of the Big Ten, thanks to a trio of teams sitting on the top three seed lines, the middle of the conference is starting to struggle with the weight of increased expectations. Minnesota has lost four straight, while Trevor Mbakwe aggravated a wrist injury at the end of the Gophers' loss to Wisconsin, while Illinois has gone 3-6 after starting 12-0. The Gophers have fallen from the group of protected seeds, while the Illini's early wins over Butler and Gonzaga are really the only things keeping them in the field. However, all bets are off if Illinois collapses completely in its final 11 league games.
Ohio State's relative lack of Top 50 (one, against Michigan) and Top 100 (five) wins keeps the Buckeyes out of the top four lines for the moment, though they'll have opportunities in the next two weeks to change that, starting tonight against Wisconsin.
Iowa dropped out after losing consecutive games to the Buckeyes and Purdue. The Boilermakers sit at 4-3 in the Big Ten and KenPom projects them to finish with a better conference record than Illinois (8-10 vs. 6-12), but several dreadful performances early in the season (losses to Bucknell, Eastern Michigan, an 0-2 trip to the 2K Sports Classic) will likely doom the Boilers to the NIT.
Five Big Ten Games To Watch
Wisconsin at Ohio State, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Illinois at Michigan State, Thursday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Michigan at Indiana, Saturday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Iowa at Minnesota, Sunday 1 p.m. ET (BTN)
Wisconsin at Illinois, Sunday 3:30 p.m. ET (BTN)
Bids This Week: 2/Last Week: 3
The revolving door at the bottom of the at-large pool sees Indiana State spinning out of the field after a midweek loss to Illinois State. The Sycamores still have a trio of chances for quality wins to add to their Diamond Head Classic victories over Miami and Mississippi, as they face Wichita State twice and host Creighton, with two of those contests coming in the next nine days. However, Greg Lansing's team simply cannot afford another slip-up against a non-NCAA contender.
Winning at Wichita State won't be easy for Indiana State, as the Shockers are simply pummeling teams right now, and they hold on to a protected seed this week. Creighton, meanwhile, sits down on the five line, though the Bluejays will have their chances to pass the Shockers between now and Selection Sunday.
Five Valley Games To Watch
Indiana State at Wichita State, Tuesday 8 p.m. ET (Cox-Kansas/ESPN3)
Missouri State at Creighton, Wednesday 8 p.m. ET (FS Midwest/CSN Chicago Plus/FCS Atlantic/ESPN3)
Bradley at Creighton, Saturday 3 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Wichita State at Northern Iowa, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Indiana State at Drake, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET (FS Midwest/CSN Chicago/ESPN3)
Bids This Week: 4/Last Week: 6
Deep down, you knew that the Mountain West was probably not going to send a half-dozen teams to the NCAA Tournament. The conference grind saw two teams' profiles take serious hits in the past seven days, as Boise State and Wyoming fell from this projection after failing to take care of business in games against the league's non-contenders. The Broncos followed up a home with against Fresno State with a loss at Nevada, though sharpshooter Jeff Elorriaga missed the loss with his second concussion in two weeks. If he comes back soon, which is not a given, Boise State will get a boost and consideration for the two losses suffered without him. Victories at Colorado State and over UNLV at home this week would also help BSU's cause.
On the other hand, Wyoming is clearly missing the injured/suspended Luke Martinez, as they lost in Las Vegas on Wednesday and at home to Air Force (who happened to beat Boise State in its first game without Elorriaga). Things won't get easier for the Cowboys this week, as they host a New Mexico team that will surely be looking to rebound from Saturday's embarrassing offensive performance at San Diego State before visiting archrival Colorado State (who also has a big bubble week on tap) on Saturday.
UNLV and San Diego State, who join New Mexico in the safe portion of the field, face tricky contests this week in their quest to stay within touching distance of the Lobos in the Mountain West race. The Runnin' Rebels welcome in-state rival Nevada to the Thomas & Mack Center on Tuesday before traveling to Boise on Saturday night. Meanwhile, the Aztecs, who already lost at Wyoming, play at altitude again on Saturday, visiting Air Force.
Five Mountain West Games To Watch
Nevada at UNLV, Tuesday 10 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
New Mexico at Wyoming, Wednesday 9 p.m. ET (ROOT Sports)
San Diego State at Air Force, Saturday 3 p.m. ET (Time Warner Cable Sportsnet)
Wyoming at Colorado State, Saturday 7 p.m. ET (ROOT Sports)
UNLV at Boise State, Saturday 9 p.m. ET (Time Warner Cable Sportsnet)
Bids This Week: 5/Last Week: 4
Oregon owns a two-game advantage in the loss column over Arizona, UCLA and bracket newcomer Arizona State after sweeping Washington State and Washington to move to 7-0 in the conference. The Ducks, winners of nine on the trot, have also risen to a protected seed in this projection (a No. 4) with plenty of opportunity to move up, though a one or two seed is unlikely thanks to a relatively weak non-conference schedule. Stumbling against the Bay Area schools this week might send Oregon back down the S-curve, particularly since the Ducks might be without freshman guard Dominic Artis, who is nursing an injured foot.
While the Ducks' continued dominance in Eugene was a significant storyline last week, the L.A.'s schools trip to the Desert had more impact on the field in the short-term. UCLA's resounding win at Arizona finally knocked the Wildcats off the top seed line, but the Bruins subsequent loss in Tempe limited the positive impact of Thursday's victory and gave the Sun Devils a second quality win (Colorado is the other) and a projected berth in the First Four. Again, the challenge for ASU will be solidifying its place, which won't be easy with a trip to Pullman and Seattle on tap for this week.
Colorado has won three straight, thanks to a home sweep of California and Stanford, meaning the Buffs have a bit more breathing room heading into Saturday's trip to Utah. However, Tad Boyle's team cannot get caught looking ahead to the visit to Oregon that follows.
Five Pac-12 Games To Watch
USC at UCLA, Wednesday 10 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
Oregon at Stanford, Wednesday 11 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Arizona at Washington, Thursday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Oregon at California, Saturday 4:30 p.m. ET (FSN)
Arizona State at Washington, Saturday 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Bids This Week: 4/Last Week: 4
No matter what happens in Mississippi‘s home game with Kentucky tonight and Florida's visit from South Carolina on Wednesday evening, we'll have a genuine top of the table matchup in Gainesville on Saturday night. Both teams enter this week with 6-0 conference marks, but its the Gators who look like the overwhelming favorite for the title, as they're simply steamrolling teams, while Ole Miss has struggled in its last couple of SEC contests, a six-point home win over Tennessee and a come-from-behind two-point triumph at Auburn. For Florida, holding serve on Saturday will help its case for a No. 1 seed, while a victory at the O'Connell Center would provide Ole Miss with some separation from the other squads currently stuck the muddled 7-8 seed range.
Missouri has won two straight after being outclassed by Florida on January 19th, and the Tigers, who currently are projected as a seven seed, might get forward Laurence Bowers back this week from a knee injury, which would provide a major boost to Mizzou's hopes. Kentucky is still very much on the bubble after a week where the Wildcats lost at Alabama and survived a visit from LSU. The 2012 champs are currently a nine seed, though they should arguably be lower. (Lines 9 through 12 are just a mess right now.) The Crimson Tide, on the other hand, promptly went to Tennessee and lost by a point, keeping them on the wrong side of the cut line for another week.
Five SEC Games To Watch
Kentucky at Mississippi, Tuesday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Arkansas at Alabama, Thursday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Alabama at Tennessee, Saturday 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Kentucky at Texas A&M, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Mississippi at Florida, Saturday 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
At-Large Bids This Week: 2/Last Week: 1
Conference USA and the West Coast Conference are responsible for the remaining two at-large bids on this Tuesday. Southern Mississippi still owns a half-game lead over Memphis in C-USA, meaning its a two-bid league for another week. However, since the Golden Eagles only play on Saturday while the Tigers have two games slated this week, don't expect both to be around for my next update. As for the WCC's second entrant, St. Mary's sneaks in after winning five in a row and nine of 10, with the noteworthy victory in that group coming against fellow bubble team BYU in Provo. The Gaels' continued presence is not a given, however.
If you're looking for a team to replicate what Iona did last season, namely earn an NCAA bid out of nowhere after falling in its conference tournament, turn your gaze toward Nashville, where Belmont, the current leader of the Ohio Valley Conference, has risen to the Top 15 in the RPI. If the Bruins stay there, they would be all but assured of a bid even if they fall in the OVC Tournament, based on Selection Committee's precedent, even if their only Top 50 win came against Middle Tennessee.
Belmont is 5-2 against the Top 100, and its two "bad" losses came against a UCF team that's ineligible for the postseason and in the Great Alaska Shootout final against a Northeastern, who happens to be leading the Colonial Athletic Association comfortably. Compare that to 2012 Iona, who went 5-3 against the Top 100, but without a win over a team in the Top 50. Plus, the Gaels' four bad losses all came against teams with worse RPIs than Belmont's worst loss, 113th ranked Northeastern. They lost twice to teams rated worse than 200th in the RPI, a fate the Bruins have avoided so far.
This week's two biggest clashes in the one-bid leagues will take place in Lewiston, N.Y. and Akron, Ohio. Those Iona Gaels, a game behind Niagara (who needed the clock's help to win at archrival Canisius on Sunday afternoon) in the Metro Atlantic, visit the Purple Eagles on Thursday night looking to avenge a November 28th home loss. Meanwhile, on Saturday, Akron hosts Ohio with the MAC lead on the line. The question for the Zips and Bobcats is whether both will be 7-0 heading into that contest, as both face tricky contests on Wednesday. Akron visits Bowling Green, while Ohio hosts Eastern Michigan, who held Northern Illinois to 25 points (and four in the first half) on Saturday afternoon.
Five Other Games To Watch
Iona at Niagara, Thursday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Tulsa at Memphis, Saturday 2 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
Ohio at Akron, Saturday 5 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Drexel at Northeastern, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (Comcast SportsNet)
Gonzaga at San Diego, Saturday 11 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
My next projection will come on Friday, February 1st. Those expecting plenty of reading material for a Friday afternoon, prepare yourselves for disappointment. My pre-weekend updates this season will just be a quick look at how the bracket looks heading into the busy Saturday and Sunday schedule.