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Bracketology: The race for top seeds narrows, the bubble could get messier

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With Oklahoma, Xavier and Miami falling on Friday night, there are now just six candidates for four spots on the top line. At the bottom of the at-large pool, the American and SEC each have potential surprise auto bid winners lurking.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Last night wasn't a great one for the top seed contenders sitting on the two line in Friday morning's projection. The Oklahoma Sooners were hundredths of a second away from defeating the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Big 12 Tournament's second semifinal, but a 69-67 loss eliminates Buddy Hield and company from the picture (while the Mountaineers' seven losses might be too many for them to jump in, especially with a loss tonight).

The Xavier Musketeers' loss to the Seton Hall Pirates in the Big East Tournament semis was only their fifth of the season, but Chris Mack's team doesn't have the number of top-quality wins the other candidates bring to the discussion. Finally, the Miami Hurricanes, burdened by three losses to teams from outside of the Top 100, saw their hopes end with an ACC Tournament semifinal loss to Virginia Cavaliers.

As a result, the Cavaliers join the Kansas Jayhawks (the only sure lock of the group), the Villanova Wildcats and Michigan State Spartans on the Selection Eve morning top line. The North Carolina Tar Heels, still just 4-5 against the Top 50 are knocking on the door, but will likely need a win over Virginia to get through. Of course, a Spartan loss to the Maryland Terrapins in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals this afternoon or a Nova loss in the Big East final could alter the picture.

At Blogging the Bracket, I have a more comprehensive look at today's conference championships and semifinals, and how they'll affect the seed picture beyond the top line.

After this morning's full bracket and rundown, I'll take a quick look at the games that will affect the bubble.

Chicago (Fri/Sun)
(2) EAST
Philadelphia (Fri/Sun)
Des Moines (Thurs/Sat) Brooklyn (Fri/Sun)
1 Kansas (Big 12) 1 Villanova (Big East)
8 Providence 8 Texas Tech
9 Cincinnati 9 Pittsburgh
Denver (Thurs/Sat) Spokane (Fri/Sun)
5 Notre Dame 5 Duke
12 NORTHERN IOWA (MVC) 12 Little Rock (Sun Belt)
4 Indiana 4 Purdue
13 Yale (Ivy) 13 IONA (MAAC)
Denver (Thurs/Sat) Brooklyn (Fri/Sun)
6 Texas 6 Arizona
11 San Diego State (MW) 11 Monmouth/St. Bonaventure
3 Utah 3 West Virginia
14 Hawai'i (Big West) 14 Stephen F. Austin (Southland)
St. Louis (Fri/Sun) Raleigh (Thurs/Sut)
77 Iowa 7 Dayton (A-10)
10 GONZAGA (WCC) 10 Temple (American)
2 Xavier 2 North Carolina (ACC)
15 GREEN BAY (Horizon) 15 UNC ASHEVILLE (Big South)
(4) WEST
Anaheim (Thu/Sat)
Louisville (Thu/Sat)
St. Louis (Fri/Sun) Raleigh (Thurs/Sat)
1 Michigan State (Big Ten) 1 Virginia
8 Saint Joseph's 8 USC
9 Butler 9 Connecticut
Des Moines (Thurs/Sat) Oklahoma City (Fri/Sun)
5 Baylor 5 Iowa State
4 Kentucky 4 Texas A&M (SEC)
13 Akron (MAC) 13 SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (Summit)
Providence (Thurs/Sat) Providence (Thurs/Sat)
6 California 6 Seton Hall
11 South Carolina 11 Oregon State/Saint Mary's
3 Miami 3 Maryland
14 Stony Brook (Am East) 14 Middle Tennessee (C-USA)
Spokane (Fri/Sun) Oklahoma City (Fri/Sun)
7 Wisconsin 7 Colorado
10 Wichita State 10 VCU
2 Oregon (Pac-12) 2 Oklahoma
15 Weber State (Big Sky) 15 New Mexico State (WAC)
Tuesday: To Des Moines Tuesday: To Providence
16 FLORIDA GULF COAST (A-Sun) 11 Oregon State
16 HOLY CROSS (Patriot) 11 Saint Mary's
Wednesday: To Brooklyn Wednesday: To Brooklyn
16 AUSTIN PEAY (OVC) 11 Monmouth
*16 Jackson State (SWAC) 11 St. Bonaventure
Big 12: 7 Cincinnati (36) Texas Southern (SWAC) Jackson State (SWAC)
Pac-12: 7 VCU (38)

ACC: 6 Wichita State (40)

Big Ten: 6 South Carolina (41)

Big East: 5 LAST FOUR IN

Atlantic 10: 4 St. Bonaventure (42)

American: 3 Monmouth (43)

SEC: 3 Saint Mary's (44)

MAAC: 2 Oregon State (45)


WCC: 2 Michigan

One-Bid Conferences: 21 Syracuse








Also considered (in order): George Washington, Princeton, LSU, UAB

The bubble team that can do itself the most good today are the Michigan Wolverines. A win over the Purdue Boilermakers in the first game of the afternoon in Indianapolis would give them five RPI Top 50 wins (against 10 losses), while likely bumping themselves into that group. While I wouldn't be throwing a party if I were a fan of the Maize and Blue because of those 10 defeats, the fact that Michigan was able to avoid a bad loss all season also helps its case.

In other conference tournament play, the Atlantic 10 Tournament has a possible bid thief among its final four teams, the Davidson Wildcats, who will play a Virginia Commonwealth Rams team that's among the cluster of teams near the cut line. Last night, the Wildcats defeated the third-seeded St. Bonaventure Bonnies, meaning the weekend will be a nervous one in Olean, N.Y.

However, the American Tournament and SEC Tournament each have two potential interlopers. The second semifinal in Orlando will feature the 10th-seeded Tulane Green Wave and sixth-seeded Memphis Tigers, the latter of whom likely ended the NCAA hopes of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane last night. Matters are further complicated there simply because both teams in the first semifinal, the Temple Owls and Connecticut Huskies, also could use wins to assure their places. I'm particularly interested in seeing how UConn looks after winning a quadruple overtime thriller over the Cincinnati Bearcats yesterday.

In Nashville, the LSU Tigers still have a chance to send Ben Simmons to the NCAA Tournament, but they'll need to knock off the top-seeded Texas A&M Aggies to get to tomorrow's final to even have a chance. The second SEC semifinal features a rematch of the Kentucky Wildcats' Feb. 9 82-48 romp at Rupp Arena over the Georgia Bulldogs. Mark Fox's team will need the auto bid to make a second straight tourney trip, despite their late resurgence. The Bulldogs have three wins over the South Carolina Gamecocks, who have fallen out of the RPI Top 50 and are back on the bubble, and little else for an at-large case.

The Mountain West Tournament final in Las Vegas might also lead to further bubble nerves. There, the San Diego State Aztecs will face a Fresno State Bulldogs team that played them to split -- a six-point Aztec win in overtime at home and a one-point Bulldog triumph in the return. While SDSU has just one win against an NCAA team, a victory over the California Golden Bears on a neutral floor in Vegas, their RPI is currently 33rd. A second defeat to the Bulldogs would drop that ranking, but not far enough that the Aztecs wouldn't get a look.

Later, I'll be back with a more comprehensive look at the bubble picture following the afternoon's action.

* * *

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