The first bracket of February features a new name among the top four seeds, Missouri. The Tigers replace Baylor as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, thanks to Saturday's somewhat controversial win over Kansas. Even though the Tigers' non-conference wins aren't quite as impressive as either of their rivals' collections, Missouri now owns victories over its two main competitors for the Big 12 crown, and that fact is a significant reason for the team's elevation.
Yet the Tigers cannot get too comfortable, as challenges await this week in the form of two sweep opportunities. On Monday night, Missouri visits Oklahoma, who lost in Columbia by 38 on January 3rd. That's a potential trap game, as the real test comes Saturday afternoon when Baylor visits Mizzou Arena looking to avenge a 89-88 home loss back on January 21st. If Baylor can force a split, the race will open up again, especially since the Bears have the chance to split with Kansas Wednesday night. As I wrote in Bid Watch on Friday, matters likely won't be resolved until the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.
Baylor-Missouri II isn't the only game that affects the top seed race this week, as both Syracuse and Kentucky host their biggest conference rivals, and ... yes, there's a certain contest scheduled for Tobacco Road on Wednesday night.
More on those in a bit, but first here's this week's full bracket.
|(1) EAST |
| (2) SOUTH
|Pittsburgh (Thu/Sat)||Louisville (Thu/Sat)|
|1||Syracuse (Big East)||1||Kentucky (SEC)|
|16||Long Island U. (NEC)||16||
Miss. Valley St./Stony Brook
|9||New Mexico||↑ 9||Notre Dame|
|Portland (Thu/Sat)||Portland (Thu/Sat)|
|↑ 5||Florida State (ACC)||↓ 5||Wisconsin|
|↑ 12||BYU||12||Long Beach State (Big West)|
|4||Murray State (OVC)||↓ 4||
|13||California/Seton Hall||13||Cleveland State (Horizon)|
|Columbus (Fri/Sun)||Pittsburgh (Thu/Sat)|
|6||Temple (A-10)||↑ 6||Indiana|
|14||Oral Roberts (Summit)||14||Iona (MAAC)|
|Omaha (Fri/Sun)||Albuquerque (Thu/Sat)|
|↓ 7||Vanderbilt||↓ 7||Virginia|
|↑ 10||Harvard (Ivy)||↑ 10||Washington (Pac-12)|
|15||Weber State (Big Sky)||↓ 15||Nevada (WAC)|
|(4) WEST |
St. Louis (Fri/Sun)
|Louisville (Thu/Sat)||Omaha (Fri/Sun)|
|1||Ohio State (Big Ten)||↑ 1||Missouri (Big 12)|
|↓ 16||Norfolk State (MEAC)||16||UNC Asheville/UT Arlington|
|↓ 8||West Virginia||8||Gonzaga|
|Columbus (Fri/Sun)||Nashville (Fri/Sun)|
|5||St. Mary's (WCC)||5||San Diego State (MWC)|
|↓ 13||Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt)||↑ 13||Davidson (SoCon)|
|Albuquerque (Thu/Sat)||Nashville (Fri/Sun)|
|6||Mississippi State||↓ 6||Michigan|
|↑ 11||Saint Louis||↑ 11||Colorado State|
|14||Akron (MAC)||↑ 14||Drexel (CAA)|
|Greensboro (Fri/Sun)||Greensboro (Fri/Sun)|
|↑ 7||Southern Mississippi (C-USA)||7||Connecticut|
|10||Purdue||↑ 10||Iowa State|
|15||Belmont (A-Sun)||↑ 15||Bucknell (Patriot)|
|FIRST FOUR (Dayton)|
|Tuesday: To Louisville
||Tuesday: To Portland|
Miss. Valley St. (SWAC)
|16||Stony Brook (America East)||↓ 13||Seton Hall|
|Wednesday: To Omaha||Wednesday: To Columbus
UNC Asheville (Big South)
|16||UT Arlington (Southland)||↑ 12||Northwestern|
After this week's rundown, I'll run through four of this week's bracket winners and a quartet of losers.
|BIDS BY CONFERENCE||LAST FOUR BYES||ARRIVALS||DEPARTURES|
|Big East: 9
|Big Ten: 9||Alabama||BYU||George Mason|
|ACC: 5||Colorado State||Drexel||Massachusetts|
|Big 12: 5||BYU||Miami||Mercer|
||LAST FOUR IN||Northwestern||Xavier|
|WCC: 3||Seton Hall|
|MVC: 2||LAST FOUR OUT|
|1-Bid Conferences: 20||Wyoming|
|NEXT FOUR OUT|
The Week's Winners
The Hurricanes are a late addition to this week's bracket, thanks to their impressive win at Duke on Sunday afternoon (when most people were getting ready for their Super Bowl parties). While Miami fell to N.C. State, their main rival for a possible fifth ACC bid, on January 22nd, the Hurricanes picked up something Sunday that the Wolfpack doesn't have, a marquee win. Plus, the Canes' profile lacks a bad loss, while the Wolfpack fell at home to a woeful Georgia Tech team. Jim Larranaga's team was able to jump into the First Four from virtually nowhere simply because they've added a win at Cameron Indoor to what was previously a so-so profile.
While the Cougars' West Coast Conference title hopes are slim, thanks to a sweep at the hands of St. Mary's, Thursday's win over Gonzaga put them back in the field for the moment. Still, BYU's long-term hopes will likely rely on its February 23rd trip to Spokane and a potential third meeting (rubber match?) in Las Vegas in early March.
On Wednesday, the Tigers lost a heartbreaker at Southern Mississippi, as the two split the season series, but Josh Pastner's team rebounded nicely on Saturday, with a home win over Xavier, Memphis' second RPI top 50 win. The Tigers another that to add some substance to their shiny computer numbers (RPI 27, SOS 9).
The Fighting Irish continue to surprise, as they picked up a fifth win over a top 50 team Saturday, with Marquette joining Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville, and Seton Hall on an impressive list of victims. Given Notre Dame's early struggles away from South Bend, it's a bit surprising that only the wins over the Orange and Golden Eagles came at home. That bodes well for the Fighting Irish's long-term prospects.
The Week's Four Losers
Contenders For A Sixth SEC Bid
Arkansas snuck into Bid Watch on Friday, becoming the sixth SEC team in the field. Then the Razorbacks went and did what they do best this season--lose away from Fayetteville--as they dropped a 71-65 decision at LSU. That makes the Hogs 16-0 at Bud Walton Arena and 0-7 on the road, which includes a semi-home loss to Houston in North Little Rock. That's not a formula that will result selection, and victories in upcoming trips to Georgia and Tennessee may not be slam dunks either. Mississippi had a chance to jump in to replace the Razorbacks, but the Rebels dropped their second double-overtime game in the state of Alabama this season, falling to the Crimson Tide on Saturday evening. Considering the Rebels' best two wins (Mississippi State and Arkansas) came in Oxford, Andy Kennedy's team may regret its inability to hold a second half lead in Tuscaloosa on February 4th come Selection Sunday. So may the SEC office.
The Atlantic 10
Thanks to the rigors of conference play, two to three bids looks to be the A-10's fate for this season. Dayton and Xavier both fell out of the bracket, with Northwestern moving in after winning in Champaign Sunday afternoon (again, needed to boost some good computer numbers) and Seton Hall staying in because of their overall profile (still some quality wins and no bad RPI losses present). That leaves Temple, the current A-10 frontrunner, and Saint Louis, which has the best at-large profile of the five three-loss teams, in the best position earn an at-large out of the conference. Given the unpredictability of the 14-team loop this season, plenty of bubble teams will be keeping an eye on goings-on at the tournament in Atlantic City over Selection Weekend.
The Pac-12 (Of Course)
While Washington, probably the most talented team in the Pac-12, is now at the top of the standings, thanks to a sweep of UCLA and USC, the race for a possible second bid is now even more muddied after this week's games. California lost to Arizona on Thursday night, which knocked the Golden Bears out of the lead pack. The Wildcats then went and won at Stanford, further denting the Cardinal's chances while providing evidence that perhaps Sean Miller's team will continue to be a factor for both an NCAA bid and the conference crown, even with Kevin Parrom lost for the season. Surprising Colorado swept Oregon State and Oregon, to move into a tie for second with Cal, but the Buffaloes profile is full of missed opportunities from their non-conference slate.
For this projection, California just stays in, as one of the "First Four," but you won't necessarily see them there in a week's time. The Pac-12 race is just as unpredictable as the one in the Atlantic 10.
Formerly Undefeated Conference Leaders
When last week's projection was posted, 12 teams still had the chance to earn a perfect conference record. Seven days later, that number is down to eight. For three of the four teams that fell last week, the defeats may be especially costly, as their at-large hopes may have all but evaporated as a result.
Summit League leader Oral Roberts lost at South Dakota State by 16 on Thursday, not a good sign for the Golden Eagles, considering the conference tournament is in Sioux Falls, right in the Jackrabbits' backyard. On Saturday, Middle Tennessee traveled to the Mile High City where Denver dispatched them 75-60. Finally, on Saturday night, Nevada dropped a home game to fourth-place Idaho. Plus, MEAC leader Norfolk State--a team whose only ticket in is through the conference's auto bid--dropped two games this week, against Coppin State on Monday and Delaware State on Saturday. Those losses leave only Bucknell, Harvard, Kentucky, Long Beach State, Mississippi Valley State, Murray State, St, Mary's, and UT Arlington with a chance to run the table in league play. Of course, only the Racers can finish with a completely unblemished record.
As usual, I'm going to close with a dozen games to keep an eye on between now and Bid Watch on Friday. Don't make any plans for Wednesday, as it could very well be one of the most meaningful nights in the entire regular season.
Monday, February 6
Connecticut at Louisville, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Huskies handled fading Seton Hall on Saturday in the first game of Jim Calhoun's medical leave of absence; however, a visit to the surging Cardinals will be a completely different challenge, particularly for UConn's struggling offense.
Tuesday, February 7
Florida at Kentucky, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Gators close a three games in six days swing with a trip to Rupp Arena, where the Wildcats' stacked frontcourt, led by Anthony Davis, will challenge Patric Young and company.
Purdue at Ohio State, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Boilermakers are hanging around the bracket because of four top 50 wins. An unexpected victory over the Buckeyes in Columbus would give Purdue far more security.
Wednesday, February 8
Georgetown at Syracuse, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The only meeting of the season between the two rivals responsible for so much Big East lore. The Carrier Dome should be rocking for Fabricio Melo's first home game since his reinstatement.
Kansas at Baylor, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
It's the first of two revenge opportunities for the Bears, who should have a far better chance at defeating the Jayhawks in Waco than they did in Lawrence, as long as their forwards are more effective than they were in game one.
Saint Louis at St. Joseph's, 8:30 p.m. ET (Comcast Network/CW 11 in St. Louis)
The Billikens visit Hagan Arena for the first of two consecutive bubble games in Philadelphia. Their opponents: the Hawks, who sit a game back in a tie for seventh, and La Salle, one of the three other teams tied for second in the A-10 alongside Rick Majerus' team.
Duke at North Carolina, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN or ACC Network)
The winner will become the ACC's frontrunner for a spot on the top seed line. The Blue Devils really need to grab a win in Chapel Hill after they were upset by Miami on Sunday.
Notre Dame at West Virginia, 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
The Fighting Irish get another opportunity for a quality road win, especially as the Mountaineers have struggled of late. Note that West Virginia now has just one top 50 win, over Georgetown back on January 7th.
Thursday, February 9
Wisconsin at Minnesota, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Golden Gophers begin a make-or-break stretch with a visit from the Badgers, but they can't get caught looking ahead to Tuesday's visit from Ohio State.
Mississippi at Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
After falling in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, the Rebels get another chance to grab a quality road win, and to sweep their fiercest rivals in the process.
Illinois at Indiana, 9 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
These two begin their contrasting closing stretches in Bloomington. While the Hoosiers get five of their final seven at home, the Fighting Illini are on the road for five of their last eight. Illinois needs to pull a surprise on the road after following up their big win over Michigan State with a disappointing loss to Northwestern.
St. Mary's at Gonzaga, 11 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
The Bulldogs will look to ruin the Gaels' perfect WCC mark and avenge the 21-point defeat they suffered at the hands of their rivals on January 12th in the process. Meanwhile, St. Mary's would all but wrap up the conference regular season title with a win in Spokane, as they would be up three games with four to play, owning the tiebreaker over both Gonzaga and BYU.
Look out for Bid Watch on Friday, as it will feature an updated look at the bid and bubble picture, along with a rundown of the weekend's key games. My next full projection will arrive on Monday, February 13th.