Bracketology: Now things get interesting

USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday night saw the final auto bid handed out before a two-day lull, as Bucknell, a real team to watch next week, claimed the Patriot League title. On Thursday, action really ramps up with each of the power conferences in action, except for the Mountain West, which takes a day off before Friday's semifinals.

Wednesday's action didn't lead to many changes in the bracket, though Cincinnati and Villanova solidified places with wins in the Big East Second Round, and Boise State dropped down into the First Four with a loss to San Diego State in the Mountain West Quarters. I also had to make an adjustment at the very bottom of the bracket because of a pair of curious results in MEAC Tournament. More on that, along with an updated look at the Last Four In and First Four Out, after today's bracket in rundown.

(1) EAST
Washington (Thu/Sat)
(2) MIDWEST
Indianapolis (Fri/Sun)
Philadelphia (Fri/Sun) Dayton (Fri/Sun)
1 Duke 1 Indiana (Big Ten)
16 Southern (SWAC) 16 Hampton or LIBERTY
8 Missouri 8 San Diego State
9 BELMONT (OVC) 9 Colorado
San Jose (Thu/Sat) San Jose (Thu/Sat)
55 5 Oklahoma State 5 Pittsburgh
12 Cincinnati 12 St. Mary's
4 Saint Louis (A-10) 4 Kansas State
13 SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (Summit) 13 VALPARAISO (Horizon)
Dayton (Fri/Sun) Auburn Hills (Thu/Sat)
6 Syracuse 6 CREIGHTON (MVC)
11 Iowa State or Tennessee 11 La Salle
3 Ohio State 3 Marquette
14 DAVIDSON (Southern) 14 HARVARD (Ivy)
Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat) Lexington (Thu/Sat)
7 UCLA (Pac-12) 7 Colorado State
10 Temple 10 Minnesota
2 New Mexico (MWC) 2 Miami (ACC)
15 Montana (Big Sky) 15 IONA (MAAC)
(4) SOUTH
Arlington (Fri/Sun)
(3) WEST
Los Angeles (Thu/Sat)
Lexington (Thu/Sat) Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat)
1 Louisville 1 GONZAGA (WCC)
16 JAMES MADISON or LONG ISLAND U 16 WESTERN KENTUCKY (Sun Belt)
8 Oregon 8 North Carolina
9 N.C. State 9 Villanova
Kansas City (Fri/Sun) Austin (Fri/Sun)
5 Butler 5 Wisconsin
12 Oklahoma 12 Akron (MAC)
4 Michigan State 4 Arizona
13 BUCKNELL (Patriot) 13 Louisiana Tech (WAC)
Austin (Fri/Sun) Auburn Hills (Thu/Sat)
6 UNLV 6 Memphis (C-USA)
11 Wichita State 11 Boise State or Kentucky
3 Florida (SEC) 3 Michigan
14 FLORIDA GULF COAST (A-Sun) 14 Stephen F. Austin (Southland)
Kansas City (Fri/Sun) Philadelphia (Fri/Sun)
7 Notre Dame 7 VCU
10 Illinois 10 California
2 Kansas (Big 12) 2 Georgetown (Big East)
15 Long Beach State (Big West) 15 Vermont (AmEast)
FIRST FOUR (Dayton)
Tuesday: To Lexington Tuesday: To Auburn Hills
16 JAMES MADISON (CAA) 11 Boise State
16 LONG ISLAND U (NEC) 11 Kentucky
Wednesday: To Dayton Wednesday: To Dayton
16 Hampton (MEAC) 11 Iowa State
16 LIBERTY (Big South) 11 Tennessee

BIDS BY CONFERENCE LAST FOUR BYES ARRIVALS DEPARTURES
Big East: 8 California Hampton Norfolk State
Big Ten: 7 Oklahoma

A-10: 5 La Salle

Big 12: 5 St. Mary's

MWC: 5
LAST FOUR IN

Pac-12: 5
Kentucky

ACC: 4 Iowa State

SEC: 4 Boise State

MVC: 2 Tennessee PROCEDURAL MOVES
WCC: 2 FIRST FOUR OUT Illinois 9 down to 10
1-Bid Conferences: 21 Virginia Belmont 10 up to 9

Middle Tennessee Wichita State 10 down to 11

Mississippi California 11 up to 10

Baylor Cincinnati 11 down to 12

NEXT FOUR OUT Boise State, Kentucky 12 up to 11

Alabama Oklahoma 11 down to 12

Southern Mississippi Iowa State, Tennessee 12 up to 11

Arizona State La Salle 11 down to 12

Iowa St. Mary's 12 up to 11

Also considered (in order): Maryland, Arkansas, UMass

A couple of significant upsets in the MEAC quarterfinals led me to reconfigure one of the First Four games featuring automatic qualifiers. There's an interesting reason for that, as USA Today's Patrick Stevens pointed out on Twitter on Tuesday night.

Well, on Wednesday both Norfolk State -- the unbeaten MEAC regular season champion -- and the N.C. Central -- the 15-1 No. 2 seed, who, by the way, didn't actually play the Spartans in the regular season -- both lost. That means the highest remaining seed, Hampton, takes over the conference's auto bid for now. The Pirates, 14-16 with and RPI ranking of 276, would definitely be on the way to Dayton if they won out.

So, Southern, the top seed in the SWAC Tournament (despite finishing third, thanks to the ineligibility of first place Texas Southern and second place Arkansas-Pine Bluff), moves out of the First Four. The Jaguars' RPI ranking of 190th is comparable to James Madison's (184th) and Long Island's (179th). Plus, they won at Texas A&M back in December -- not a huge win, but a Top 100 victory the competition doesn't have.

However, I'm not convinced that the Committee won't send both HBCU conference winners to Southwestern Ohio, particularly if Southern loses. In the two-year history of the First Four, the group of 10 hasn't really encountered a situation where both the MEAC and SWAC winners clearly fit within the group of the lowest four automatic qualifiers. Those teams very well might this season.

As for the teams participating in the other First Four games, the ones involving the last four at-larges, here's an updated look at how the Last Four In and First Four Out stack up. As three of these teams are in action today, expect to see some moves soon.

Last Four In

Note: All RPI and SOS information is courtesy Basketball State and is accurate as of the morning of Thursday, March 14, 2013. All records reflect only games against Division I opposition.

Avoiding Dayton: California, Oklahoma, La Salle, St. Mary's

Kentucky
21-10; 12-6 SEC; RPI: 50; SOS: 62; Non-conf. SOS: 69; R/N Record: 5-8
On Saturday, the Wildcats picked up their second win against a team in the RPI Top 50, as they toppled SEC regular season champion Florida. Curiously, both Saturday’s win and a home victory over Missouri came after Nerlens Noel was lost for the season with a torn ACL in Kentucky's loss in Gainesville. Since its star went down, John Calipari's team has gone 4-4, with all of the wins coming at home -- typical for an SEC club this season. With Noel, the Wildcats grabbed a rare quality SEC road win at fellow bubble squad Mississippi and lost at Alabama. Tennessee blew UK out of the water in the first full game Noel missed. At 7-9 against the Top 100, and owning a bad loss to Georgia, Kentucky still has to win games at the SEC Tournament in Nashville, where it could meet Missouri or Ole Miss in the semifinals, to qualify for an at-large.
Next game: SEC Tournament Quarterfinal (Fri.)

Iowa State
21-10; 11-7 Big 12; RPI: 47; SOS: 68; Non-conf. SOS: 62; R/N Record: 5-9
If the Cyclones had managed to close out Kansas in either one or both of the pair’s meetings, they’d be in far better shape today -- though ISU may get the benefit of the doubt based on the officiating shenanigans at the end of regulation in Ames on February 25th. Like so many teams this season, Iowa State’s best wins -- Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor, BYU and, yes, Florida Gulf Coast were picked up in the magical environment that is Hilton Coliseum, though the Cyclones did manage to beat the Bears in Waco too. Three Top 50 wins and a 7-8 mark against the Top 100 are Iowa State’s key selling points, but a 5-9 record away from Ames that includes losses to Iowa, Texas and, worst of all, Texas Tech might give the Committee reason to leave ISU out. Thursday’s quarterfinal in Kansas City against a Sooner team that also really needs a good late win might very well seal the Cyclones’ fate. They cannot get caught looking ahead to a possible semifinal grudge match with Kansas.
Next game: Big 12 Tournament Quarterfinal vs. Oklahoma (Thu.)

Boise State
19-9; 9-7 MWC; RPI: 33; SOS: 48; Non-conf. SOS: 54; Road/Neutral (R/N) Record: 7-9
After two games in the span of five days against San Diego State -- a Saturday home win and Wednesday loss in the Mountain West Quarterfinals -- the Broncos stand at 8-8 against the Top 100, with four Top 50 wins. While Boise State handled the Aztecs, UNLV and Colorado State at home, perhaps its most impressive win came on the road -- at Creighton on November 28th, as the Bluejays lost just one other time in Omaha all season. Certainly, there are some lost opportunities on the Broncos' profile, as they couldn't close out New Mexico in either of their meetings and fell in close contests at San Diego State (twice now), UNLV and Michigan State. Plus, there are a couple of bad losses -- at Nevada and Utah. However, Bronco sharpshooter Jeff Elorriaga was out for both of those games and a 20-point loss to Colorado State. The Committee will take his absence into consideration. However, not getting another crack or two at a late quality win in Vegas hurts.
Next game: None

Tennessee
19-11; 11-7 SEC; RPI: 60; SOS: 46; Non-conf. SOS: 84; R/N Record: 5-8
If the Volunteers had managed to find some offense in back-to-back early losses at Georgetown (37-36) and Virginia (46-38), I wouldn't need to be writing this paragraph right now ... but here we are. Winner of eight of nine, Tennessee is one of the hottest teams in the country. Three of those victories -- over Kentucky, Florida and Missouri -- are quality ones, though all of them came at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols also own a quality non-conference win over Wichita State, which again came in Knoxville. However, the Shockers are renowned as a quality road team. On the flip side, Tennessee has lost to Virginia and was swept by both fellow SEC bubble contender Ole Miss and Georgia, an NIT team at best. Injuries have played a toll, as Jeronne Maymon has missed the entire season with a knee injury and several other Vols have missed games in 2012-13. The fact Tennessee has responded while shorthanded should give it a boost when its fate is discussed, but winning games in Nashville will help its case more. A potential quarterfinal game with Alabama looms as an elimination contest, especially as the two split their regular season meetings; however, the Vols would be destined for the NIT with a loss to Mississippi State today.
Next game: SEC Tournament Second Round vs. Mississippi State (Thu.)

First Four Out

Virginia
21-10; 11-7 ACC; RPI: 64; SOS: 125; Non-conf. SOS: 78; R/N Record: 3-9
In a season full of messy profiles, the Cavaliers, along with Indiana State, really take the cake. On the plus side, the Cavaliers have a nice record of 8-3 against the RPI Top 100, with a 4-2 mark against the Top 50. That quartet of wins -- over Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State at home and at Wisconsin -- is among the finest in America. However, Virginia is 13-7 against teams from outside the Top 100, a winning percentage that is weighing down its RPI. The worst loss came at the hands of Old Dominion, 318th out of 347 Division I teams, on a neutral court in Richmond, though the Cavaliers were without point guard Jontel Evans on that afternoon. However, the Cavaliers have continued to play woefully on the road, as illustrated by losses to Florida State, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Clemson. Sunday's overtime win over Maryland, a team with slim NCAA hopes of its own, was a good start, but the Cavaliers will need to take advantage of potential quality win opportunities against N.C. State and Miami in this week's ACC Tournament.
Next game: ACC Tournament Quarterfinal (Fri.)

Middle Tennessee
28-5; 19-1 Sun Belt; RPI: 31; SOS: 135; Non-conf. SOS: 178; R/N Record: 13-5
On Sunday night, the Blue Raiders were upset in the Sun Belt semifinals by Florida International, a year after they fell unexpectedly in the quarterfinals in Hot Springs. That leaves Middle Tennessee’s fate in the hands of the Selection Committee. It will be an interesting debate. On one hand, the Blue Raiders’ RPI is superior to last season’s Iona squad that earned a First Four spot (32nd vs. 40th). Neither squad beat a Top 50 foe, but that Gaels squad went 5-3 against the Top 100. On this front, the Blue Raiders do not compare favorably. They're 2-3, with none of those games came after a December 13th loss at Belmont. Sure, Middle Tennessee has a home win over Mississippi, but head-to-head results aren’t necessarily a tiebreaker. Making matters worse, UCF, who was Middle Tennessee’s fifth Top 100 opponent, just dropped down to 101st. I suspect that despite the respectable RPI, the strength of schedule numbers will keep the Blue Raiders out, much like Drexel who dominated the CAA last season and was left out after losing in the championship game. I can’t say I’d be disappointed if I was proven wrong, however.
Next game: None

Mississippi
23-8; 12-6 SEC; RPI: 55; SOS: 134; Non-conf. SOS: 110; R/N Record: 7-7
The Rebels' win at LSU on Saturday pushed their record against the Top 100 to just above .500 at 7-6. Unfortunately, just one of those wins came against a Top 50 foe, Missouri, which naturally was a home win. A sweep of Tennessee is helpful, but falling to Kentucky at home is not. A loss to Indiana State in Hawaii looked better when the Sycamores were a bid threat, but not so much now that they're on their way to the NIT or CBI. Making matters worse, Ole Miss lost at South Carolina and Mississippi State -- two of the worst a bad SEC has to offer --very late in the season. Sure, the Rebels have struggled without three injured players -- forwards Anthony Perez and Aaron Jones and guard Martavious Newby -- but they haven't responded like Tennessee has to being shorthanded. Much like the Volunteers, Kentucky and Alabama, Mississippi's fate will be decided in Nashville, where the Rebels should get a rubber match against Mizzou in Friday's quarterfinals.
Next game: SEC Tournament Quarterfinal (Fri.)

Baylor
17-13; 9-9 Big 12; RPI: 62; SOS: 22; Non-conf. SOS: 27; R/N Record: 6-8
The Bears' blowout home win over Kansas was only their second against a Top 50 opponent (with a whopping 10 losses). With the weakness of the bottom four teams of the Big 12 limiting games against teams ranked between 51 and 100, Baylor's record against the Top 100 is an unimpressive 5-10. Making matters worse, Baylor dropped two home games in the early part of the season to College of Charleston and Northwestern, both of whom are out of the RPI Top 150. In other words, while the win over Kansas was a good late statement, Baylor will need to make a run in Kansas City this week to make the field.
Next game: Big 12 Tournament Quarterfinal vs. Oklahoma State (Thu.)

Next Four Out: Alabama, Southern Mississippi, Arizona State, Iowa

As always, this post ends with a look at today's most important games. I haven't included all of today's conference tournament action, but you can find listings for those games at Matt's College Sports on TV Website.

ACC Quarterfinals

All Games on ACC Network or ESPNU and ESPN3D (Check Your Local Listings)
Virginia Tech vs. N.C. State, approx. 2:30 p.m. ET
While the Wolfpack should still be OK with a loss, Virginia‘s case wouldn't get much of a boost from a quarterfinal against the Hokies.

Wake Forest vs. Maryland, 7 p.m. ET
A loss to the Demon Deacons would extinguish the Terps' already slim hopes.

A10 First Round

All Games on NBC Sports Network
Dayton vs. Butler, approx. 2:30 p.m. ET
Two wins last week cushioned the Bulldogs' seeding freefall, but a loss to the Flyers might send them back down to the seven or eight line.

St. Joseph's vs. Xavier, 6:30 p.m. ET
The Musketeers are one of the most dangerous teams in this field. Since they need to win the whole thing to make the Tournament, they're one of the most desperate too.

George Washington vs. UMass, approx. 9 p.m. ET
A home loss to Butler one week ago all but ended the Minutemen's at-large hopes, but they still are a team that can win four games in Brooklyn and get the auto bid.

Big 12 Quarterfinals

Iowa State vs. Oklahoma, 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
The loser may have an agonizing Selection Weekend, though the Sooners should be in slightly better shape thanks to superior RPI and SOS rankings.

Texas Tech vs. Kansas, approx. 3 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
The Jayhawks will likely need to cut down the nets at Sprint Center to earn a No. 1 seed. A loss to the woeful Red Raiders would keep them on the No. 2 line ... or drop them down to a three.

Texas vs. Kansas State, 7 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network/ESPN3)
The Wildcats are playing for a protected seed. Taking care of the Longhorns before a potential third game with Oklahoma State is vital.

Baylor vs. Oklahoma State, approx. 9:30 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network/ESPN3)
The Cowboys are looking to set up a rubber match with the Wildcats, while the Bears want to begin a run that will land them in the NCAA field.

Big East Quarterfinals

All Games on ESPN
Cincinnati vs. Georgetown, 12 p.m. ET
After ending Providence's NCAA hopes on Wednesday, the Bearcats can end the Hoyas' hopes of securing a spot on the top line.

Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh, approx. 2:30 p.m. ET
The Orange will attempt to avenge a February 2nd loss at the Pete. A spot on line five (or even four) could be on the line, as both these teams are close on the seed list.

Villanova vs. Louisville, 7 p.m. ET
The Wildcats, winners over St. John's last night, can further solidify their position by defeating the Cardinals for the second time. Louisville, like Georgetown, needs to win to stay in the hunt for a No. 1 seed.

Notre Dame vs. Marquette, approx. 9:30 p.m. ET
While the Golden Eagles are looking to keep their place on line No. 3, while the Fighting Irish need to grab a couple of more wins to move up from the six to seven range.

Big Ten First Round

Minnesota vs. Illinois, 12 p.m. ET (BTN)
This one is slightly more important for the Gophers' selection hopes than the Illini's, but it is a must-win for both.

Penn State vs. Michigan, approx. 2:30 p.m. ET (BTN)
The Wolverines, still in play for a No. 1 seed, look to get some revenge for a February 27th loss at State College

Nebraska vs. Purdue, 6:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Northwestern vs. Iowa, approx. 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
All four of these teams really need to win four games in Chicago to make the field, but the Hawkeyes might be able to sneak in with a couple of wins and some help elsewhere.

Conference USA Quarterfinals

All Games on CBS Sports Network
UAB vs. Southern Mississippi, 1 p.m. ET
Despite their position in the Next Four Out, the Golden Eagles' only real hope is to win on each of the next three days.

Tulane vs. Memphis, 7 p.m. ET
The Tigers should be in the field with or without a C-USA title, but a loss this weekend will cost them on the seed list.

Pac-12 Quarterfinals

Arizona State vs. UCLA, 3 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
The Sun Devils popped Stanford's bubble in the first round, but they'll need to keep winning to keep their own chances afloat. Meanwhile, a Pac-12 championship double would really boost the Bruins' position.

Colorado vs. Arizona, approx. 5:30 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
It's a rematch of last season's championship game and the rubber match of an interesting and controversial regular season series. The Wildcats may need a win to stay in the protected seed race.

Utah vs. California, 9 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
The Utes dispatched USC, a team many thought could make a run at the auto bid, in the first round. Tonight, they can push the Bears toward a weekend of waiting.

Washington vs. Oregon, approx. 11:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
The Ducks have stumbled into the Pac-12 Tournament, with a 6-6 record, primarily thanks to the absence or limited availability of point guard Dominic Artis. A third win over the Huskies would provide a nice confidence boost, but not necessarily a seeding one.

SEC Second Round

All Games on SEC Network/ESPN3
Mississippi State vs. Tennessee, approx. 3:30 p.m. ET
If the Volunteers lose this one, their destination will be clear.

Vanderbilt vs. Arkansas, 7;30 p.m. ET
Can the Razorbacks win a virtual road game and keep their slim hopes alive?

Texas A&M vs. Missouri, approx. 10 p.m. ET
Mizzou must keep winning to get out of the middle of the bracket. A loss tonight would probably keep them in an 8 vs. 9 game.

With so many significant games on today's slate, expect far more changes when Friday's bracket arrives. Look for further, shorter updates as events warrant throughout the afternoon and evening.

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