In my Bubble Watch post for last week, I looked at just about every single team that had a sliver of a chance at an at-large bid. It was a long column. Some of you just may even be waking up from a week-long nap after reading it.
So, for the next two weeks, that type of post is going on the shelf (and into the recesses of my mind for a rework). A more traditional bubble watch will return in this space on Friday, February 4th, five weeks and two days from Selection Sunday. Hopefully in the intervening fortnight, we'll have a little more bubble clarity, and a shorter list, though that isn't a given with the way the 2010-11 season has gone so far.
In its place, you'll find something like an interim bracketology but with less structure. Instead of potential matchups and game locations, I'll be focusing on who fits within the various tiers on the bracket: who's safe vs. who's not; protected seeds vs. the First Four, and so forth. However, I won't really talk much about one-bid leagues in this post, as there is no guarantee in those races, thanks to the unpredictability of conference tournaments.
For starters, let's break down how I see the field shaking out heading into the weekend.
18 automatic bids held by one-bid leagues
13 automatic bids held by potential multiple-bid conference leaders, 6 of these teams are locks
17 at-large teams are locks
20 at-large teams still have work to do
Now let's see how these teams fit down the S-curve.
The Safe And Protected
Our first group of locks consists of the "protected seeds," the top 20 teams on the S-curve, so named because of a bracketing principle in the NCAA's Principles and Procedures Document (emphasis from the document).
To recognize the demonstrated quality of such teams, the committee shall not place teams seeded on the first five lines at a potential "home-crowd disadvantage" in the first round.
These are the teams that have the best shot of playing closest to home on the first weekend, and really don't have to worry about facing a situation like playing Ohio State in Cleveland or Duke in Charlotte. I've paired each of the top 16 with the best geographically-appropriate first weekend site. Note that I've placed Pitt in Washington (a Thursday/Saturday site), instead of Cleveland (Friday/Sunday) as in this week's bracketology, as this allows the committee to place a 16-seed First Four game in each of the Tuesday and Wednesday doubleheaders in Dayton
Note: Teams with an asterisk currently own their conference's automatic bid.
|1 line||1. Ohio State* (Cleveland)||2. Kansas*
|3. Pittsburgh* (Washington)||4. Duke*
|2 line||8. Villanova
|7. Connecticut (Washington)||6. San Diego State* (Tucson)||5. Syracuse (Cleveland)|
|3 line||9. Texas
|12. Texas A&M (Tucson)|
|4 line||16. Washington* (Denver)||15. Missouri
|13. Notre Dame (Chicago)|
|5 line||17. Illinois||18. Michigan State||19. Louisville||20. Wisconsin|
With a whopping four Big Ten teams spread between lines 4 and 5, and Ohio State parked on the top line, it's likely one of the 5 seeds would be swapped for a 6 seed in an actual bracket, to balance things out.
Most of the top 16 is the same as on Tuesday, though Washington has jumped up to line 4 after their convincing home win over fellow Pac-10 contender Arizona on Thursday night.
In Good Shape
The second tier consists of teams who aren't quite on the level of the top 20, though they may have had moments or runs of brilliance. While these teams are safely in the field for the moment, a bad loss or two, or significant changes surrounding their opposition that might make wins or losses look worse, could send them tumbling down to the bubble. In fact, just on Wednesday and Thursday nights, West Virginia (to Marshall), Gonzaga (at Santa Clara), and UNLV (at home to Colorado State) suffered losses that dropped them from safety.
|6 line||24. Georgetown||23. Vanderbilt||22. West Virginia||21. Minnesota|
|7 line||25. St. Mary's*||26. Temple||27. UNLV||28. Gonzaga|
Work To Do
These are the teams that have the most to do the rest of the way for a variety of reasons--loading up on soft non-conference opponents, playing poorly on the road, not playing up to potential, dropping a game they shouldn't have, generally being inconsistent, or all of the above. Since all of these teams are in power conferences, they'll have plenty of opportunities to either improve or further damage their lot. Virginia Tech moves up here after their big victory at Maryland on Thursday night, while Florida drops after an unconvincing win at Auburn.
|8 line||32. North Carolina||31. Georgia||30. Tennessee||29. Florida*|
|9 line||33. Arizona||34. St. John's||35. Boston College||36. Kansas State|
|10 line||37. Virginia Tech|
Living On The Edge
With the expansion to 68-teams, and the shift from an Opening Round/Play-In Game to the "First Four," the teams at the bottom of the at-large pool now have two aims: 1) to get in the field in the first place and 2) avoid a trip to Dayton (and an extra game) if at all possible.
For the first time ever, the "Last Four In" should be evident, as it's assumed these teams will play at UD Arena on March 15th and 16th. Additionally, the category of the "Next Four In" has added importance, as these teams receive direct entry into the new Second Round.
For clarity's sake, I've stripped out the three auto bid holders who fit in this portion of the S-curve, Xavier, Utah State, and Missouri State. That's why the numbers will skip in places over the next few tables.
|Direct Entry (Next Four In)||38. Florida State||39. Cincinnati||41. Old Dominion||43. Oklahoma State|
|First Four (Last Four In)||44. UCF||45. Colorado||46. Marquette||47. Butler|
|First Four Out||48. Penn State||49. Richmond||51. Colorado State||52. Cleveland State|
Finally, the "Next Eight Out" are just a few wins from the field, here's how stack up on the S-curve as well. Again, auto bids (in this case, Harvard, UTEP, and VCU) are left out.
|53. UCLA||55. Washington State||56. Dayton||59. Clemson|
|60. Marshall||61. Baylor||62. Maryland||63. Wichita State|
My next bracket projection will appear here on SB Nation on Tuesday, January 25th. In the meantime, be sure to visit Blogging the Bracket (and follow me on Twitter) for more analysis and TV picks between now and Selection Sunday.