Welcome to March, where the Madness is just around the corner. It's time for championships to be won and 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket bids to be earned. I hope you're ready for a month full of great performances and plenty of upsets, if the early acts of this season are any indication of what's about to unfold.
Seven days later, both teams are firmly on line two, after Saturday losses to bubble teams. The Longhorns lost for the second Saturday in a row on the road, following up February 19th's loss at Nebraska with a defeat at the hands of Colorado, a helpful victory for the Buffaloes' shaky profile. A few hours later, the Blue Devils fell victim to desperate conference foe Virginia Tech, their third loss of the season.
Texas went on to drop their third game in four Monday against Kansas St. Wildcats, which means the Horns fall down to a three seed for this week. Could this be 2010 all over again for Rick Barnes' team?
Saturday's pair of losses opened the door for BYU to rise up, particularly as the Cougars dominated Mountain West foe San Diego State for the second time this season. It's likely BYU will need to claim both the MWC regular season and tournament crowns to stay on the top line, but that won't be an issue if Dave Rose's team keeps playing at its current level. If they don't, look for Duke to return to the top line, as long as they take care of North Carolina on Saturday and survive the ACC Tournament in Greensboro.
Otherwise, things remain rather stable at the top of the bracket. San Diego State remains a two seed, despite their issues with BYU. Syracuse rises up to the three line and Georgetown falls to a four after the Orange's Saturday afternoon win over the Hoyas in Washington. After BYU's rise and Georgetown's fall, Notre Dame and Purdue are now two seeds. The Irish crushed falling Villanova on Monday night, while the Boilermakers picked up an easy 20-point win at Michigan State on Sunday.
However, the wackiness at the bottom of the bracket continues, as four teams enter this projection via the revolving door, including three of the four squads ticketed for the First Four in Dayton.
Colorado's win over Texas was their fifth over a team ranked in the RPI Top 50 this season, meaning the Buffaloes are back in after a few weeks on the outside. Baylor is the second Big 12 team to re-enter this week, thanks to their season sweep of Texas A&M. The Big Ten's total remains the same, but Michigan replaces Minnesota winning in Minneapolis. The loss to the Wolverines was the Golden Gophers seventh in their last eight.
A trio of Bulldogs, including Gonzaga, the newly crowned West Coast Conference co-champion, find themselves barely in the main draw. The Zags replace Boston College, who slides out (for the moment) after an indifferent 4-6 stretch that dropped their ACC record to .500. The only team in this quartet bearing a non-canine moniker, Michigan State, is also barely hanging on, as the Spartans' loss to Purdue on Sunday shows they are far from being a serious March contender.
I say that BC is out "for the moment" because they get another chance on a Tuesday night that features numerous important bubble games. The Eagles visit Blacksburg, where the Hokies will be looking to avoid a letdown after their significant victory on Saturday night (ESPNU, 9 p.m. ET). Penn State can add another huge home Big Ten win to their profile, if they can topple overall top seed Ohio State (Big Ten Network, 9 p.m. ET). Over in the SEC, West champ Alabama can boost its case significantly with an overall league title, which will be on the line when they visit East leader Florida (ESPNU, 7 p.m. ET).
In other words, expect to see even more changes in my next update. It would only be par for the course this season.
Seeds in Parentheses
Big East: 11
Pittsburgh (1), Notre Dame (2), Louisville (3), Syracuse (3), Georgetown (4), St. John's (4), Connecticut (5), West Virginia (6), Villanova (6), Cincinnati (8), Marquette (9)
Big 12: 7
Kansas (1), Texas (3), Texas A&M (7), Missouri (8), Kansas State (8), Colorado (12, 1st Rd.), Baylor (12, 1st Rd.)
Big Ten: 6
Ohio State (1), Purdue (2), Wisconsin (4), Illinois (9), Michigan State (11), Michigan (12, 1st Rd.)
Florida (3), Kentucky (5), Vanderbilt (5), Tennessee (10), Georgia (11)
Duke (2), North Carolina (4), Florida State (7), Virginia Tech (10)
Atlantic 10: 3
Xavier (5), Temple (6), Richmond (12, 1st Rd.)
Mountain West: 3
BYU (1), San Diego State (2), UNLV (9)
Arizona (6), UCLA (7), Washington (10)
George Mason (7), Old Dominion (9)
Butler (11), Milwaukee (13)
West Coast: 2
Gonzaga (10), St. Mary's (11)
One Bid Leagues: 20
America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky (1st Rd.), Big South, Big West, Conference USA, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern (1st Rd.), Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland (1st Rd.), Southwestern (1st Rd.), Summit, Sun Belt, WAC
The first two conference tournaments of the season tip off tonight, as the Big South quarterfinals and Horizon League first round will begin on the home courts of the higher seeded teams. Coastal Carolina is a shaky favorite in the Big South after recent NCAA compliance and injury issues, while the top two in the Horizon, Milwaukee and Butler, earned a bye to the semifinals, have the night off as the other eight open up with campus site games.
Here are your games to watch between now and Friday morning's full bracket update, when I'll have a full list for the weekend, including the first conference tournament finals of 2011. For more specifics, please visit Blogging The Bracket for my nightly viewing picks, and follow me on Twitter.
Tuesday, March 1
Illinois at Purdue, ESPN (7 p.m. ET)
Baylor at Oklahoma State, ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET)
Alabama at Florida, ESPNU (7 p.m. ET)
Kent State at Bowling Green, STO/ESPN3/Full Court (7:30 p.m. ET)
Missouri at Nebraska, Big 12 Network/ESPN3/Full Court (8 p.m. ET)
Vanderbilt at Kentucky, ESPN (9 p.m. ET)
Boston College at Virginia Tech, ESPNU (9 p.m. ET)
Ohio State at Penn State, Big Ten Network (9 p.m. ET)
Wednesday, March 2
Iowa at Michigan State, Big Ten Network (6:30 p.m. ET)
North Carolina at Florida State, ESPN (7 p.m. ET)
Connecticut at West Virginia, ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET)
Maryland at Miami, ESPNU (7 p.m. ET)
Memphis at East Carolina, FS South (7 p.m. ET)
UAB at Southern Mississippi, CSS (7 p.m. ET)
Providence at Louisville, Big East Network/ESPN3/Full Court (7 p.m. ET)
Charlotte at Xavier, FS Ohio/CSN Philly/Time Warner-NC (7 p.m. ET)
Miami (OH) at Buffalo, STO (7:30 p.m. ET)
Colorado at Iowa State, Iowa State Sports/ESPN3/Full Court (7:30 p.m. ET)
LSU at Georgia, SEC Network Regional/ESPN3/Full Court (8 p.m. ET)
Minnesota at Northwestern, Big Ten Network (8:30 p.m. ET)
Clemson at Duke, ESPN (9 p.m. ET)
Texas A&M at Kansas, ESPN2 (9 p.m. ET)
Pittsburgh at USF, ESPNU (9 p.m. ET)
Utah at Colorado State, CBS College Sports (9 p.m. ET)
New Mexico at BYU, The Mtn. (10 p.m. ET)
Utah State at New Mexico State, ESPN2 (11 p.m. ET)
Thursday, March 3
Big South Semifinals, ESPNU (6 and 8:30 p.m. ET)
Tennessee at South Carolina, ESPN (7 p.m. ET)
St. John's at Seton Hall, ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET)
UCLA at Washington, ESPN (9 p.m. ET)
Wisconsin at Indiana, ESPN2 (9 p.m. ET)
Oregon State at Arizona, FSN/Comcast SportsNet (9 p.m. ET)