Over the past week, the insanity level of the college basketball season was turned down to "average" after spending some time at "extreme." So, while this week's NCAA Tournament Bracketology isn't exactly static, it won't deliver an overwhelming number of thrills and surprises either.
There certainly is nothing new about the top line, where the same four No. 1 seeds from last week's bracket and bubble watch posts return. However, their order has changed slightly, as surging Texas moves up to the second slot overall, just behind top-ranked Ohio State. The Longhorns anchor the Southwest region, meaning they'd play in San Antonio, right in their Lone Star State-sized backyard, if they reach the second weekend. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are at the top of the East, based in Newark, which is considerably closer to Columbus than New Orleans is.
The Panthers have separated themselves from the rest of the Big East, but there are no fewer than five teams in a chase pack behind them, all of whom find themselves on the two and three lines this week. That means we have the potential for an all-Big East regional semifinal in the East, where Connecticut is the two seed and Notre Dame is the three.
The one place at the top of the bracket where things shifted significantly was line four, as Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin all rise up thanks to strong (though not necessarily great, in the case of the Gators) recent play and overall profiles.
Last Four IN (First Round): Baylor vs. Old Dominion and Memphis vs. Virginia Tech
This week, we have First Four perfection, a game for each region and an auto bid and at-large game on each day.
Next Four IN: (Second Round): Kansas State, Richmond, Oklahoma State, St. John's
First Eight OUT: VCU, Gonzaga, Colorado State, New Mexico, Washington State, Colorado, Michigan State, Cleveland State
Breakdown of those Outside Looking In
The big loser this week is the Big Ten, which saw two teams drop out, dropping the conference's contribution from seven entrants to five. Michigan State falls out after dropping five of their last six, capped by a 26-point implosion in Madison on Sunday. Penn State is also off the board, as they can't seem to handle prosperity, dropping games at Illinois and at home against Michigan after appearing in last week's projection.
The beneficiary of the Big Ten's struggles is the Big 12, which has three more teams in, all at the bottom of the at-large pool. Kansas State and Oklahoma State are in the main draw, while Baylor is one of the four headed to Dayton in this projection. However, not all is rosy in the Heartland, as both Missouri and Texas A&M have been struggling lately, which means they've both slipped from the top four seed lines.
The Big East holds steady at 11, but given St. John's and Cincinnati's remaining conference slates (explained in Friday's detailed Bubble Watch), expect at least one of those teams to drop out. The other major conferences also return the same number of teams as last week, including the SEC, which is still led by Alabama, a team that's not yet a solid at-large candidate (something explained by CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm on Sunday). In the Pac-10, Washington slipped significantly after they were swept in Oregon over the weekend, while Arizona and UCLA made nice gains after grabbing dramatic weekend sweeps.
Three mid-major conferences receive multiple bids this week, the Atlantic 10, Colonial, and Conference USA. In C-USA, Memphis returns to the field, albeit in the First Four, after their win over Gonzaga in Spokane on Saturday. At this point, the Bulldogs' best hope is to win the West Coast Conference tournament in Las Vegas.
Over in the CAA, George Mason shares the conference lead with VCU, but gets the auto bid because of a marginally better overall record. The Rams are the first team out of the field this week because a couple of bad losses in the conference, at Northeastern and Georgia State, are major blemishes on their profile. (Think of it this way, Anthony Grant's recent success in Tuscaloosa is keeping his former employer out.) However, VCU gets another shot to jump in on Saturday, when they host Old Dominion, who's tied for third in the CAA with Hofstra, two games behind the leaders. The Monarchs own the best overall profile of the CAA contenders, but they will likely need to finish in the conference's top three to receive serious consideration.
As for the A-10, Xavier receives the nod as the conference's automatic bid holder over co-leader Duquesne because the Musketeers own one more Division I win. The two meet on Sunday in Cincinnati, and a win there is the Dukes' only hope to get in at this time. Much like Alabama, their overall profile, particularly outside of the conference, leaves much to be desired.
Seeds in Parentheses
Big East: 11
Pittsburgh (1), Connecticut (2), Georgetown (3), Syracuse (3), Villanova (3), Notre Dame (3), Louisville (5), West Virginia (5 [natural 6]), Marquette (9), Cincinnati (9), St. John's (12 [natural 11])
Big 12: 7
Texas (1), Kansas (1), Missouri (5), Texas A&M (6), Kansas State (11), Oklahoma State (11), Baylor (12, 1st Rd.)
Florida (4), Kentucky (5), Vanderbilt (6 [natural 5]), Tennessee (8), Georgia (10), Alabama (13)
Duke (2), North Carolina (4), Florida State (9), Boston College (10 [natural 9]), Virginia Tech (12, 1st Rd.)
Big Ten: 5
Ohio State (1), Wisconsin (4), Purdue (4), Minnesota (7), Illinois (7)
Atlantic 10: 3
Temple (6), Xavier (8), Richmond (11)
Mountain West: 3
BYU (2), San Diego State (2), UNLV (7)
Arizona (6), Washington (7), UCLA (8)
George Mason (10), Old Dominion (12, 1st. Rd)
Conference USA: 2
Memphis (12, 1st. Rd.), UTEP (12)
One Bid Leagues: 21
America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky (1st Rd.), Big South, Big West, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley, Northeast (1st Rd.), Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland (1st Rd.), Southwestern (1st Rd.), Summit, Sun Belt, West Coast, WAC
I'll post my next projection on Tuesday, March 15th, exactly one month from tipoff of the newly-expanded and branded First Four in Dayton. On Friday, check in with Bubble Watch both, here to see how the field stacks up heading into the weekend, and at Blogging The Bracket for a more detailed look at the teams playing for the last few places in the field of 68. You can also check in at Blogging the Bracket and follow me on Twitter for information on the nightly TV schedule, focused on games that have bracket impact.