Bracketology: Syracuse remains on top, but Florida is closing in

Rich Barnes

The undefeated Orange still own the No. 1 overall seed in Chris Dobbertean's Tuesday bracket projection, even after a pair of uncomfortably close wins last week. However, the Gators, who completed an unprecedented road sweep of Tennessee and Kentucky over the past seven days, have just passed Arizona for second overall and are breathing down Syracuse's back.

Four weeks from tonight, the First Four tips off in Dayton. Where has this season gone?

The four top seeds in this projection, the same quartet that occupied the top line on Friday, certainly want to keep this rapidly-fading campaign going as long as possible. Syracuse continues to anchor the New York-based East region, while Florida, the new second overall seed, heads up the South. West No. 1 Arizona slips down to the third spot overall, while Wichita State maintains its place in fourth, at the top of the Midwest.

Power Rankings: Florida steals top spot

Big East leader Creighton jumps all the way up from a four seed to a two, thanks in part to its second blowout win over fellow No. 2 Villanova. Kansas and Michigan State join the Bluejays and Wildcats.

Michigan drops down to line three following its loss to Wisconsin on Sunday. The Wolverines sit behind Cincinnati, Duke and San Diego State on today's seed list. Meanwhile, the Badgers head up the group of No. 4 seeds, with Iowa State, Kentucky and Virginia following. Iowa dropped out of the Top 16 and onto line five.

There are just two new at-large teams this week, with Baylor and St. Joseph's replacing West Virginia and struggling Oklahoma State.

I'll have more on the individual conference races after today's full bracket and rundown.

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

(1) EAST
New York (Fri/Sun)
(2) SOUTH
Memphis (Thu/Sat)
Buffalo (Thu/Sat) Orlando (Thu/Sat)
1 Syracuse (ACC) 1 Florida (SEC)
16 Alabama State/Davidson 16 Robert Morris (NEC)
8 Arizona State 8 88 Pittsburgh
9 George Washington 9 California
San Antonio (Fri/Sun) San Antonio (Fri/Sun)
55 5 Texas 5 5 Saint Louis (A 10)
*12 Western Michigan (MAC) ↓^1212 Xavier
4 Wisconsin 4 Iowa State
13 Belmont (OVC) 13 Delaware (CAA)
Raleigh (Fri/Sun) Raleigh (Fri/Sun)
6 VCU 666 Louisville
11 Baylor/Providence 11 Georgetown
3 Cincinnati (AAC) 3 Duke
14 Stephen F. Austin (Southland) 14 Georgia State (Sun Belt)
Buffalo (Thu/Sat) Milwaukee (Thu/Sat)
7 North Carolina 7 Oklahoma
10 Missouri 10 SMU
2 Villanova 2 Creighton (Big East)
15 Yale (Ivy) *15 Boston U. (Patriot)
(4) MIDWEST
Indianapolis (Fri/Sun)
(3) WEST
Anaheim (Thu/Sat)
St. Louis (Fri/Sun) San Diego (Fri/Sun)
1 Wichita State (MVC) 1 Arizona (Pac-12)
16 Coastal Carolina/Utah Valley 16 Weber State (Big Sky)
8 New Mexico 8 Kansas State
9 Colorado 9 Gonzaga (WCC)
San Diego (Fri/Sun) Spokane (Thu/Sat)
5 Ohio State 5 Iowa
12 Green Bay (Horizon) 12 North Dakota State (Summit)
4 Kentucky 4 Virginia
13 Iona (MAAC) *13 UTEP (C-USA)
Orlando (Thu/Sat) Spokane (Thu/Sat)
6 UCLA 6 Connecticut
^11 St. John's/St. Joseph's 11 Richmond
3 Michigan (Big Ten) 3 San Diego State (MW)
14 Mercer (A-Sun) *14 UC Irvine (Big West)
St. Louis (Fri/Sun) Milwaukee (Thu/Sat)
7 UMass 7 Memphis
10 Minnesota 10 Stanford
2 Kansas (Big 12) 2 Michigan State
15 Stony Brook (AE) 15 N.C. Central (MEAC)
FIRST FOUR (Dayton)
Tuesday: To Buffalo Tuesday: To Orlando
*16 Alabama State (SWAC) ^11 St. John's
16 Davidson (Southern) *^11 St. Joseph's
Wednesday: To St. Louis Wednesday: To Raleigh
16 Coastal Carolina (Big South) *11 Baylor
16 Utah Valley (WAC) 11 Providence

BIDS BY CONFERENCE AVOIDING DAYTON ARRIVALS DEPARTURES
A 10: 6 Minnesota Alabama State American
Big 12: 6 Georgetown Baylor Oklahoma State
Big East: 6 Xavier Boston U. Southern
Big Ten: 6 Richmond St. Joseph's Southern Mississippi
Pac-12: 6 LAST FOUR IN UC Irvine UC Santa Barbara
AAC: 5
Providence UTEP West Virginia
ACC: 5 Baylor

SEC: 3 St. John's

MW: 2 St. Joseph's

1-Bid Conferences: 23 FIRST FOUR OUT


Tennessee


Oklahoma State


BYU


Dayton


NEXT FOUR OUT


Nebraska


N.C. State


West Virginia


Oregon

Also considered: Southern Mississippi, LSU, Mississippi, Marquette, UNLV, Harvard, Clemson, Florida State, Arkansas, Louisiana Tech

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, Feb. 17, 2014.

American

Bids This Week (5): Cincinnati (auto bid), Louisville, Connecticut, Memphis, SMU

Leader Cincinnati (12-1) can take a significant step toward both the AAC regular season crown and a protected seed by completing a sweep of Louisville (10-2) on Saturday, though both teams face winnable games against the conference's struggling Florida contingent at midweek. The Cardinals could certainly use another quality victory for seeding purposes. They've been fattening up on the league's bottom half with eight of Louisville's 10 AAC wins coming against teams that have no chance at the NCAAs outside of the auto bid.

Thanks to the win it picked up Saturday, Connecticut jumped Memphis in the league pecking order, though both are in solid position with less than a month to go. The same cannot be said for the American's fifth squad, SMU, which somewhat inexplicably lost at Temple on Sunday, giving the Owls their second conference victory of 2013-14. The Mustangs' need for a quality road win is now officially desperate with only two chances remaining -- Sunday at UConn and March 8th's regular season finale at Memphis.

Five Games To Watch
Cincinnati at UCF, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Memphis at Rutgers, Thursday 7 p.m. ET (CBS SN)
Connecticut at Temple, Thursday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Louisville at Cincinnati, Saturday 12 p.m. ET (CBS Regional)
SMU at Connecticut, Sunday 2 p.m. ET (CBS SN)

Atlantic 10

Bids This Week (6): Saint Louis (auto bid), VCU, UMass, George Washington, Richmond, St. Joseph's (First Four)

On Saturday, Saint Louis (10-0) held off VCU to put itself three games up in the loss column on both the Rams (8-3) and Richmond (7-3) in an Atlantic 10 race that's not quite as dramatic as anticipated. Yet the Billikens cannot relax yet, with significant tests on each of the next two Saturdays. George Washington visits Chaifetz Arena on Feb. 22, then SLU heads to VCU one week later. Thanks to a largely uninspiring set of non-conference wins, the Billikens will probably need to keep winning and sweep the A 10 regular season/tournament crowns to earn a protected seed, just like last year.

While the Billikens and Rams are virtually assured of bids at this stage, the other five Atlantic 10 contenders are having mixed results. UMass, in particular, seems intent on making its fans sweat. Just last week the Minutemen followed up a truly horrible home loss to George Mason (the Patriots' second-ever A-10 win) with a surprising victory at George Washington. Expect more unease when VCU visits Amherst on Friday.

UMass, in particular, seems intent on making its fans sweat.

Saturday's loss to UMass was the second in a row for the Colonials, who face a pair of formidable road games this week at Richmond and the previously mentioned trip to the Gateway City. Since those are the last two quality opponents GW will play away from the Smith Center before the Atlantic 10 Tournament, a split would be helpful for a team that has a neutral-site win over Creighton and very little else on its selection sheet in terms of victories away from D.C.

Richmond has won three in a row over lower-division teams to solidify its place somewhat, while St. Joseph's followed its huge home win over VCU with a road win over Big Five rival La Salle on Saturday. That result was enough to get the Hawks into the First Four for today. Dayton, meanwhile, has won four in a row to get back to the precipice of selection. However, a trio of bad losses weigh down the Flyers' profile a bit.

Five Games To Watch
George Washington at Richmond, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
La Salle at Dayton, Wednesday 9 p.m. ET (CBS SN)
VCU at UMass, Friday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
La Salle at Richmond, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (CBS SN)
George Washington at Saint Louis, 8 p.m. (FS Midwest/SNY/CSN Mid-Atlantic Plus/A10 Network)

ACC

Bids This Week (5): Syracuse (auto bid), Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Pittsburgh

Had Clemson toppled Virginia on Saturday afternoon and N.C. State won its delayed game at Syracuse a few hours later, the ACC would likely have more than five teams in this projection. Instead, the same five teams that represented the league on Friday remain, and the Tigers and Wolfpack are scheduled to play a bubble tiebreaker game on Tuesday night at Littlejohn. (With the quality of this year's bubble, I'm not calling it an elimination game at this stage.)

With the first Duke-North Carolina meeting of the season rescheduled for Thursday, the Blue Devils can make a strong case for at least a two seed during a 48-hour span that sees them travel to Chapel Hill and host a Syracuse team they nearly toppled at the Carrier Dome. While the Orange are winning without the injured Baye Moussa Keita, the limitations of a six-man rotation are starting to show. However, even with a loss at Cameron Indoor, the Orange would remain in prime position for a top seed.

Even though Duke and North Carolina are both surging, it is actually 12-1 Virginia that has the best chance at keeping the Orange from winning the ACC title in its inaugural season, provided the Cavaliers don't stumble before the pair meet on March 1 in Charlottesville. As for Pitt and UNC, it looks increasingly like the Panthers are destined for that 8/9 game the Tar Heels seemed to have locked down for most of the season. Pitt is a staggeringly disappointing 1-6 against the RPI Top 50, while the Tar Heels have won seven in a row and own five Top 50 victories.

Five Games To Watch
N.C. State at Clemson, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Duke at North Carolina, Thursday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN/ACC Network)
Syracuse at Duke, Saturday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Florida State at Pittsburgh, Sunday 6 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Syracuse at Maryland, Monday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Big 12

Bids This Week (6): Kansas (auto bid), Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor (First Four)

While Kansas is very much in the hunt for a No. 1 seed, this week will help determine whether Texas can crack the Top 16, possibly at the expense of Iowa State, which currently sits on the four line. Those two meet in Ames on Tuesday night, with Texas heading to Lawrence on Saturday. (The Cyclones get a relatively easy trip TCU to close out the week.)

Oklahoma looks to be in good shape, until you realize they host Kansas State and Texas and visit Phog Allen in their next three games.

Beyond the top three, things start to get murky. Oklahoma looks to be in good shape, until you realize they host Kansas State and Texas and visit Phog Allen in their next three games. Kansas State just dropped a double-OT decision to Baylor and has yet to defeat anyone other than TCU during its conference travels. Oklahoma State's and Baylor's troubles are well documented by now, though the Bears actually replace the Cowboys -- who have lost seven straight -- after Monday's overtime win in Waco. West Virginia, meanwhile, must keep winning to overcome its poor early season performances, which cost it a place this week.

These teams are likely to play each other in the first and quarterfinal rounds of the Big 12 Tournament, which would make that Wednesday and Thursday in Kansas City must-watch basketball.

Five Games To Watch

Texas at Iowa State, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Baylor at West Virginia, Saturday 1:30 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network Regional/ESPN3)
Kansas State at Oklahoma, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network/ESPN3)
Texas at Kansas, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Oklahoma at Kansas, Monday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Big East

Bids This Week (6): Creighton (auto bid), Villanova, Georgetown, Xavier, Providence (First Four), St. John's (First Four)

Creighton's second dismantling of Villanova in as many attempts sees the Bluejays jump the Wildcats on this week's seed list, even though the Wildcats have a slightly more impressive overall selection sheet. Making matters more interesting for the Big East is that the gap between top two and the other five teams in the hunt (including Marquette, which has quietly rattled off three wins in a row) is now more like a chasm.

Considering how closely the quintet of teams near the cut line are bunched, it's possible that more than one Big East squad might be slotted in Dayton. Based on a bullet on the very first page of this season's updated Principles and Procedures document, an all-Big East First Four game is possible.

Any principle can be relaxed if two or more teams from the same conference are among
the last four at-large teams selected to the field to participate in the First Four;

Even though I didn't set up such a matchup today, I would not be surprised for a conference pair to meet for the third, or even fourth time in Dayton. The Selection Committee likes to pair conflicting profiles in the First Four so that teams can settle matters on the court. There may be many such options in the middle of the Big East.

Five Games To Watch
Villanova at Providence, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (FS1)
Creighton at Marquette, Wednesday 8 p.m. ET (FS1)
Xavier at Georgetown, Saturday 11:30 a.m. ET (FS1)
St. John's at Villanova, Saturday 1:30 p.m. ET (FS1)
Providence at Butler, Sunday 6 p.m. ET (FS1)

Big Ten

Bids This Week (6): Michigan State, Michigan (auto bid), Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota

The good news for Big Ten fans is that there's a good chance that three or four conference teams will earn a protected seed in one month's time. Now comes the bad news. Thanks to recent inconsistent spells from Michigan State and Michigan, the conference's chances at securing a No. 1 seed for the third straight year are fading fast. The Spartans, who lost to Nebraska on Sunday afternoon, have not won consecutive games since their 11-game win streak ended at the hands of the Wolverines on Jan. 25. Michigan has been in a similar rut for the last six games.

It's possible that a five-loss Big Ten team will earn the regular season crown

With Iowa one loss back of Michigan and Michigan State and Wisconsin two losses behind, it's possible that a five-loss Big Ten team will earn the regular season crown. That record won't be enough to compete with Syracuse, Florida, Arizona, Wichita State and Kansas.

Closer to the cut line, it appears that Nebraska has replaced Indiana as a potential seventh Big Ten qualifier. The Cornhuskers are (fittingly) red hot right now, having won six of their last eight, including Sunday's stunning win in East Lansing. The biggest problem with the Huskers' selection sheet is a lack of wins away from home. Other than Sunday's win, Nebraska has won just twice away from its shiny new arena, at Northwestern and against Georgia in a Charleston Classic consolation game that I happened to catch in person (and thought would end up being completely inconsequential). That total will need to increase for Tim Miles' team to get in the field.

Five Games To Watch
Illinois at Minnesota, Wednesday 9 p.m. ET (BTN)
Michigan State at Purdue, Thursday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Wisconsin at Iowa, Saturday 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Minnesota at Ohio State, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (BTN)
Michigan State at Michigan, Sunday 12 p.m. ET (CBS)

Mountain West

Bids This Week (2): San Diego State (auto bid), New Mexico

Thanks to San Diego State's (11-1) Tuesday night loss at Wyoming, the Mountain West title race is wide open. The Aztecs still have to play New Mexico (10-2) twice, once Saturday in Albuquerque and again on March 8. Meanwhile UNLV (8-4), which sits three losses back of first, hosts both San Diego State and New Mexico before the regular season wraps up, with the Lobos visiting the Thomas & Mack on Wednesday. While the Runnin' Rebels may have too much ground to make up because of some early season struggles, a pair of late quality victories might just push them into an at-large position.

Five Games To Watch
Boise State at Colorado State, Tuesday 9 p.m. ET(ESPN3)
Utah State at San Diego State, Tuesday 11 p.m. ET(ESPNU)
New Mexico at UNLV, Wednesday 11 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
UNLV at Boise State, Saturday 8 p.m. ET (CBS SN)
San Diego State at New Mexico, Saturday 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Pac-12

Bids This Week (6): Arizona (auto bid), UCLA, Arizona State, Colorado, California, Stanford

Much like the Mountain West title chase, the Pac-12 race has also tightened, though there is one significant difference: The two frontrunners, Arizona (10-2) and UCLA (9-3), won't meet again during the regular season. Advantage: Wildcats.

That edge fades a bit, however, when you examine the pair's closing schedules. Each hit the road for two of the final three weeks of the season. Arizona visits Colorado then the state of Oregon (OSU on March 5, UO on March 8), while UCLA heads to the Bay Area (Cal on Feb. 19, Stanford on Feb. 22) and Washington (UW on March 6, WSU on March 8). The Bruins get a slight edge there, along with one for their final homestand, which comes against the Ducks and Beavers while the Wildcats welcome Cal and Stanford to the desert.

Arizona State's somewhat controversial win in Tucson on Friday night helped solidify their place in the field. The Sun Devils now sit in the RPI table's Top 30. Colorado, on the other hand, is merely treading water without Spencer Dinwiddie. The Buffaloes best win since his knee injury came against Utah, a fact that isn't going to provide much of a seed boost. Cal and Stanford hold steady after a week in which the Golden Bears earned a sweep and the Cardinal a split during a trip to Seattle and Pullman.

Five Games To Watch
Arizona at Utah, Wednesday 10 p.m. ET (FS1)
UCLA at California, Wednesday 10 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
Arizona State at Colorado, Wednesday 11 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
UCLA at Stanford, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Arizona at Colorado, Saturday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

SEC

Bids This Week (3): Florida (auto bid), Kentucky, Missouri

Florida took care of its daunting two-game road trip, completing a regular-season sweep of Tennessee on Tuesday, then winning with aplomb at Kentucky for the first time since 2007 on Saturday. While the Gators are not locked into a top seed yet, they arguably have fewer obstacles in their way than most of their competitors. Despite the loss, the Wildcats remain in the Top 16, though they'll be challenged to stay there with a trip to bid-hungry Ole Miss and a visit from LSU on this week's schedule.

Missouri provides the SEC with a third entrant for the second projection in a row after the Tigers followed up Thursday's one-point win over Arkansas with a five-point triumph over Tennessee two days later. The Volunteers, on the other hand, could have snuck back into the bracket had they defeated Mizzou or Florida this week, but they sit just outside, where LSU, Mississippi and Arkansas provide sad company.

Five Games To Watch
Kentucky at Ole Miss, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Georgia at Tennessee, Tuesday 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Auburn at Florida, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (SEC on FSN/ESPN3)
Florida at Ole Miss, Saturday 12 p.m. ET (CBS Regional)
LSU at Kentucky, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Likely Single-Bid Conferences

Auto Bids This Week (23): Vermont (America East), Mercer (Atlantic Sun), Weber State (Big Sky), Coastal Carolina (Big South), UC Irvine (Big West), Delaware (Colonial), UTEP (Conference USA), Green Bay (Horizon), Yale (Ivy), Iona (Metro Atlantic), Western Michigan (Mid-American), N.C. Central (Mid-Eastern), Wichita State (Missouri Valley, in as at-large), Robert Morris (Northeast), Belmont (Ohio Valley), Boston U. (Patriot), Davidson (Southern), Stephen F. Austin (Southland), Alabama State (Southwestern), North Dakota State (Summit), Georgia State (Sun Belt), Gonzaga (West Coast), Utah Valley (Western Athletic)

One week ago, BYU carried the mid-major banner into the at-large pool, but after a Thursday night loss at Pacific -- the West Coast Conference's seventh-place team -- the Cougars are now on the outside looking in, even after a win at St. Mary's on Saturday. As I keep saying, BYU's computer numbers are going to keep them on the board, but either a home win over Gonzaga on Thursday or place in the WCC Tournament final may be necessary to get them into the actual field.

This week, the number of teams with perfect conference records sits at five, after San Diego State and Georgia State each dropped games somewhat unexpectedly and Delaware fell at Towson on Monday night. Your remaining league unbeatens are Florida, Saint Louis, Stephen F. Austin, Syracuse and Wichita State. Only the Lumberjacks are not assured of a bid at this point.

Five Games To Watch
Akron at Buffalo, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (TWCS/ESPN3)
Gonzaga at BYU, Thursday 11 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
UTEP at Southern Mississippi, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (CBS SN)
Ohio at Akron, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (TWCS/ESPN3)
Harvard at Princeton, Saturday 8 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

My next bracketology will come on Friday. In the meantime, head over to Blogging the Bracket for my daily TV previews and morning recaps, and follow me during each night's action on Twitter @ChrisDobbertean.

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