Bracketology: Welcome to the best month of the year

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

March is here! The finish line is now in sight, as bracket clarity will arrive in just two weeks and two days. The Selection Show will arrive not a moment too soon, simply because there are times when the teams contending for spots in the field of 68 -- from those battling for No. 1 seeds to the ones scrapping for a place in Dayton -- don't seem all that interested in taking control of their own fates.

Overall No. 1 Indiana, East No. 1 Duke, South No. 1 Florida and top seed contenders Michigan and Arizona all lost between the release of my Tuesday projection and the arrival of today's version. Of the three top seeds to fall, only the Gators fell down to the No. 2 line, thanks to their setback at Tennessee. ACC leader Miami replaces its in-state rivals in the lead quartet. The Hurricanes can't get too comfortable, however, as a showdown with the Blue Devils, who remain the top team in the East, looms on Saturday in Durham. The loser will likely be replaced by either Kansas or Georgetown in my March 5th bracket.

Expect to see a fair amount of shuffling among the top three seed lines until conference titles, of both the regular season and tournament variety, are determined. As I keep saying, the Selection Committee respects championships, particularly in seasons where teams seem to be going out of their way to blend together. There are still many games left -- even at this late date -- that will decide those titles.

A few notes and the weekend TV schedule follow today's bracket and rundown.

(1) MIDWEST
Indianapolis (Fri/Sun)
(2) EAST
Washington (Thu/Sat)
Dayton (Fri/Sun) Philadelphia (Fri/Sun)
1 Indiana (Big Ten) 1 Duke
16 Charleston Southern or Southern 16 Northeastern (CAA)
8 N.C. State 8 Memphis (C-USA)
9 UCLA 9 Cincinnati
San Jose (Thu/Sat) San Jose (Thu/Sat)
5 Saint Louis (A-10) 5 Oklahoma State
12 Iowa State 12 La Salle
4 Marquette 4 Wisconsin
13 Louisiana Tech (WAC) 13 Bucknell (Patriot)
Dayton (Fri/Sun) Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat)
6 UNLV 6 Pittsburgh
11 St. Mary's or Temple 11 Kentucky
3 Louisville 3 New Mexico (MWC)
14 Harvard (Ivy) 14 Davidson (Southern)
Lexington (Thu/Sat) Auburn Hills (Thu/Sat)
7 Illinois 7 Butler
10 Wichita State (MVC) 10 Colorado
2 Florida (SEC) 2 Michigan State
15 Mercer (A-Sun) 15 Montana (Big Sky)
(4) SOUTH
Arlington (Fri/Sun)
(3) WEST
Los Angeles (Thu/Sat)
Lexington (Thu/Sat) Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat)
1 Miami (ACC) 1 Gonzaga (WCC)
16 Norfolk State or Robert Morris 16 Niagara (MAAC)
8 Missouri 8 Minnesota
9 Creighton 9 North Carolina
Kansas City (Fri/Sun) Austin (Fri/Sun)
5 Ohio State 5 Oregon (Pac-12)
12 California 12 Akron (MAC)
4 Syracuse 4 Kansas State
13 Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt) 13 South Dakota State (Summit)
Austin (Fri/Sun) Auburn Hills (Thu/Sat)
6 Notre Dame 6 Colorado State
11 Belmont (OVC) 11 Mississippi or Villanova
3 Arizona 3 Michigan
14 Northwestern State (Southland) 14 Valparaiso (Horizon)
Kansas City (Fri/Sun) Philadelphia (Fri/Sun)
7 San Diego State 7 Oklahoma
10 VCU 10 Virginia
2 Kansas (Big 12) 2 Georgetown (Big East)
15 Long Beach State (Big West) 15 Stony Brook (AmEast)
FIRST FOUR (Dayton)
Tuesday: To Lexington Tuesday: To Auburn Hills
16 Norfolk State (MEAC) 11 Mississippi
16 Robert Morris (NEC) 11 Villanova
Wednesday: To Dayton Wednesday: To Dayton
16 Charleston Southern (Big South) 11 St. Mary's
16 Southern (SWAC) 11 Temple

BIDS BY CONFERENCE LAST FOUR BYES ARRIVALS DEPARTURES
Big East: 8 California None None
Big Ten: 7 La Salle

A-10: 5 Kentucky

ACC: 5 Iowa State

Big 12: 5
LAST FOUR IN

Pac-12: 5
Temple

MWC: 4 St. Mary's

SEC: 4 Villanova

MVC: 2 Mississippi PROCEDURAL MOVES
WCC: 2 FIRST FOUR OUT Butler 6 down to 7
1-Bid Conferences: 21 Tennessee Notre Dame 7 up to 6

Boise State Memphis, Minnesota 7 down to 8

Baylor Illinois, Oklahoma 8 up to 7

Alabama North Carolina 8 down to 9

NEXT FOUR OUT N.C. State 9 up to 8

Arizona State VCU 9 down to 10

St. John's Creighton 10 up to 9

Southern Miss. Cal, Iowa St., La Salle 11 down to 12

Indiana State Belmont, Mississippi,
St. Mary's, Temple, Villanova
12 up to 11

Also considered (in order): Xavier, Iowa, UMass, Charlotte, BYU

Since the first automatic bids will be handed out next weekend (hard to believe, right?), we've reached the point of the season where teams are clinching regular season conference titles and the tournament top seeds and NIT bids that go along with them. So congratulations go to the following squads who will remain in this projection for the foreseeable future: Stony Brook (America East), Long Beach State (Big West), Northeastern (Colonial), Memphis (C-USA), Robert Morris (Northeast), Valparaiso (Horizon), Belmont (OVC), Bucknell (Patriot), Davidson (Southern), South Dakota State (Summit), Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt) and Gonzaga (WCC).

Note that if any of these teams fall in their respective conference tournaments, they'll be replaced in the bracket by the highest remaining seed, at least until the title is actually handed out. Belmont, Middle Tennessee and MAC leader Akron will be on the Selection Committee's "Under Consideration" board should they fail to claim their respective league auto bids. I'll discuss their at-large prospects in more depth on Tuesday.

If you're a fan of a team that's trying to earn one of the final at-large bids, you may want to turn your attention toward Omaha, Nebraska at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday afternoon, as Wichita State and Creighton meet for the Missouri Valley regular season title. Both of these teams looked like March locks heading into the conference campaign, but the Valley's typical craziness manifest itself once the calendar turned to January. As a result, each team has dropped five league games -- with the Shockers falling at home to Evansville on Wednesday night -- moving both closer to the cut line. Saturday's victor will earn the top seed in Arch Madness and probable bid safety, while the loser may have a long wait to Selection Sunday if it fails to claim the automatic bid on March 10th. Given the number of teams capable of putting together a three-game streak in St. Louis, the Missouri Valley could earn anywhere between one and three bids based on how things play out for the remainder of the season.

A team that could benefit from a Wichita State collapse is one the Shockers actually defeated in Knoxville on December 13th -- Tennessee. The Volunteers are in prime position to sneak into the bracket after recent wins over Florida and Kentucky in a season where they've been bitten by the injury bug. Had the Vols managed to score more than 40 points in consecutive games against Georgetown and Virginia immediately before the loss to Wichita State, they might already have a bid locked up, particularly now that the Cavaliers bucked the national trend by moving closer to safety by grabbing a win over Duke last night...Instead, the Vols will have to keep winning late, starting at Georgia on Saturday afternoon.

Incredibly, a couple of weeks after thinking the SEC might earn just two bids, five is a realistic possibility. Alabama has a shot to work itself into the picture alongside Tennessee, thanks to back-to-back road games against Florida (which should welcome three injured players back for the occasion) and Mississippi.

Like Tennessee and Alabama, Arizona State, Iowa State, Kentucky, Ole Miss, St. John's, Villanova and Virginia hit the road looking to improve their bubble position over the weekend, while Boise State, California, North Carolina, St. Mary's and Xavier get the advantage of a crucial weekend home game. Tuesday might see significant moves -- good or bad -- for Baylor and Cincinnati, who play twice in a 72-hour span.

Here's a more comprehensive look at the games of importance for the weekend, with the info courtesy Matt's College Sports on TV Website.

Friday

Showcase Game
Harvard at Princeton, 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Saturday

Showcase Games
Louisville at Syracuse, 12 p.m. ET (CBS)
Alabama at Florida, 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Butler at VCU, 12 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Iowa State at Oklahoma, 1:30 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network/ESPN3)
Notre Dame at Marquette, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Wichita State at Creighton, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Connecticut at Cincinnati, 2 p.m. ET (Big East Network/ESPN3)
Colorado at California, 5 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Miami at Duke, 6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Kansas State at Baylor, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Colorado State at Boise State, 8 p.m. ET (No TV)
Arizona at UCLA, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Other Games of Bracket Importance
Maryland at Wake Forest, 12 p.m. ET (ACC Network/ESPN3)
Jacksonville State at Belmont, 1 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Memphis at UCF, 1 p.m. ET (FSN/FCS Atlantic)
Tennessee at Georgia, 1:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network/ESPN3)
West Virginia at Kansas, 2 p.m. ET (CBS)
UMass at Xavier, 2 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
Arizona State at USC, 3 p.m. ET (FSN)
Penn State at Minnesota, 3 p.m. ET (BTN)
Kentucky at Arkansas, 4 p.m. ET (CBS)
Texas at Oklahoma State, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)
UNLV at Nevada, 4 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Network)
Saint Louis at George Washington, 4 p.m. ET (CSN Mid-Atlantic Plus/FS Midwest Plus/CSS)
Mississippi at Mississippi State, 5 p.m. ET (FSN/ESPN3)
Portland at Gonzaga, 5 p.m. ET (Time Warner Cable Sportsnet/ROOT Sports Northwest)
Wyoming at New Mexico, 5 p.m. ET (ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain/KABY)
Indiana State at Evansville, 5 p.m. ET (FS Midwest/CSN Chicago/ESPN3)
Nebraska at Illinois, 5:15 p.m. ET (BTN)
New Mexico State at Denver, 6 p.m. ET (Altitude/MASN/CST/ESPN3)
Middle Tennessee at Western Kentucky, 6:30 p.m. ET (CSS/CST/ESPN3)
Iowa at Indiana, 7:30 p.m. ET (BTN)
St. John's at Providence, 8 p.m. ET (Big East Network/ESPN3)
Rutgers at Georgetown, 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Santa Clara at St. Mary's, 10 p.m. ET (CSN California/ROOT Sports Northwest)
BYU at Loyola Marymount, 11 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Sunday

Showcase Games
Villanova at Pittsburgh, 12 p.m. ET (Big East Network/ESPN3)
Michigan at Michigan State, 4 p.m. ET (CBS)

Other Games of Bracket Importance
Purdue at Wisconsin, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Florida State at North Carolina, 2 p.m. ET (CBS)
Virginia at Boston College, 4 p.m. ET (ACC Network/ESPN3)
Utah at Stanford, 4 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
N.C. State at Georgia Tech, 6 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Monday

Showcase Game
Cincinnati at Louisville, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Other Games of Bracket Importance
Texas Tech at Kansas, 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Baylor at Texas, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

I'll post my final longform projection post of the season on Tuesday morning. Enjoy the weekend's busy slate of games!

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