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Bracketology: Kentucky on the outside looking in

One month from today, the First Four tips off in Dayton. The race for those eight places, as well as for the other 60 bids in the NCAA Tournament bracket, has been unpredictable so far. For instance, who would have imagined that the 2012 National Champions would be on the outside looking in at any point this season?


At the top of the bracket, Friday's four top seeds all return with only a slight tweak to their order. Indiana remains the No. 1 overall seed with Miami just behind. Florida has jumped into third position over Duke, which now gets shipped out West. The Blue Devils face a challenge in staying on the top line, as Gonzaga, the West's new No. 2 seed, and surging Michigan State are both in position to make a push for the top line.

I'll have more on how a very active at-large picture shapes up after today's projection and rundown.

Indianapolis (Fri/Sun)
(2) EAST
Washington (Thu/Sat)
Dayton (Thu/Sat) Philadelphia (Fri/Sun)
1 Indiana (Big Ten) 1 Miami (ACC)
16 High Point or Southern 16 Northeastern (CAA)
8 Memphis (C-USA) 8 San Diego State
9 Creighton 9 Wichita State (MVC)
Austin (Fri/Sun) Austin (Fri/Sun)
5 Butler 5 Ohio State
12 Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt) 12 California
4 Kansas State (Big 12) 4 Marquette
13 Louisiana Tech (WAC) *13 South Dakota State (Summit)
Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat) Kansas City (Fri/Sun)
6 Colorado State 6 Cincinnati
11 Iowa State 11 Mississippi
3 Arizona 3 Kansas
14 Davidson (Southern) 14 Valparaiso (Horizon)
Dayton (Fri/Sun) Auburn Hills (Thu/Sat)
7 N.C. State 7 UNLV
10 La Salle 10 UCLA
2 Syracuse (Big East) 2 Michigan
*15 Stony Brook (AmEast) *15 Mercer (A-Sun)
(4) WEST
Los Angeles (Thu/Sat)
Arlington (Fri/Sun)
Philadelphia (Fri/Sun) Lexington (Thu/Sat)
1 Duke 1 Florida (SEC)
*16 Robert Morris (NEC) 16 Niagara or Norfolk State
8 Oklahoma 8 VCU (A-10)
9 Saint Louis 9 Illinois
San Jose (Thu/Sat) Kansas City (Fri/Sun)
5 Pittsburgh 5 Oklahoma State
12 Belmont (OVC) 12 Arizona State or Virginia
4 Wisconsin 4 Georgetown
*13 Bucknell (Patriot) 13 Akron (MAC)
Lexington (Thu/Sat) Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat)
6 Minnesota 6 Oregon (Pac-12)
11 Baylor or Villanova 11 St. Mary's
3 Louisville 3 New Mexico (MWC)
14 Harvard (Ivy) *14 Northwestern State (Southland)
San Jose (Thu/Sat) Auburn Hills (Thu/Sat)
7 Missouri 7 Notre Dame
10 Colorado 10 North Carolina
2 Gonzaga (WCC) 2 Michigan State
15 Long Beach State (Big West) 15 Montana (Big Sky)
Tuesday: To Lexington Tuesday: To Lexington
16 Niagara (MAAC) 11 Baylor
16 Norfolk State (MEAC) *11 Villanova
Wednesday: To Dayton Wednesday: To Kansas City
*16 High Point (Big South) *12 Arizona State
16 Southern (SWAC) 12 Virginia

Big East: 8 California Arizona State Bryant
Big Ten: 7 Mississippi Bucknell Charlotte
Big 12: 6 Iowa State High Point Florida Gulf Coast
Pac-12: 6 St. Mary's Mercer Kentucky
ACC: 5
LAST FOUR IN Northwestern State Lehigh
A-10: 4
Baylor Robert Morris UNC Asheville
MWC: 4 Virginia South Dakota State Stephen F. Austin
SEC: 3 Arizona State Villanova Western Illinois
WCC: 2 LAST FOUR OUT Minnesota 5 down to 6
1-Bid Conferences: 21 Temple Pittsburgh 6 up to 5

Maryland California 11 down to 12

Kentucky Baylor 12 up to 11

Indiana State Villanova 12 up to 11


St. John's


Boise State


Also considered (in order): BYU, Southern Miss., Alabama, Xavier, Stanford, Air Force, UMass

Atlantic 10

Bids Today: 4/On Friday: 5

Other Locks (1): Butler
The Bulldogs haven't exactly set the world on fire in their last three outings -- close road wins at George Washington and Fordham and a loss to Charlotte at Hinkle. So, they've been passed on the seed list by a few Big Six conference squads. After tonight's visit from Duquesne, Butler will enter a four-game stretch that could help them bounce back up to the Top 16 for good: Saint Louis at home, consecutive road contests with VCU and UMass, and a regular season finale with a Xavier team who topped the Bulldogs all the way back on Tip-Off Marathon day.

Safe for Now (1): VCU
Tonight, the league-leading Rams begin their quest to claim the A-10 regular season crown and rise up the seed list with a visit to the team that's a half-game behind them in the standings, Saint Louis. After that, it's a Saturday trip to Xavier, back-to-back home contests with Butler and crosstown rival Richmond, and a trip to Temple to close out the campaign.

Bubble In (2): Saint Louis, La Salle
These two meet to close their respective regular seasons on March 9th, but the Explorers, a game behind the Billikens and VCU in the loss column in the title race, have a moderately easier road to the A-10 crown -- and probable bracket safety. Sure, La Salle has to visit Temple on Thursday and closes with a trip to Chaifetz Arena, but it gets a moderately tricky trip to Rhode Island and home games with Duquesne and GW in between. The Billikens, on the other hand, have trips to Butler, GW and Xavier, along with a home contest with St. Joseph's left before that showdown, along with tonight's matchup with VCU.

In other words, there will be plenty of opportunities for these two to gain some more security or slip back toward the cut line. In particular, this week is massive for Saint Louis thanks to a pair of games with the A-10's newest members.

Bubble Out: Temple, Charlotte, UMass, Xavier
Temple has played in an incredible run of five one-point games in a row, going 3-2 in that span. The NCAA record book doesn't feature that particular statistic, but surely that has to be a record for Division I. Amazingly, projects Temple to play two more such contests this week -- at home against La Salle on Thursday and in Charlotte on Sunday -- and I fully expect the @Bananas Alert twitter account to be in action for both. If Temple was actually predictable, those two contests and a regular season finale against VCU would have the most bearing on the Owls' NCAA future, but given how they've occasionally played down to their competition, a visit from Rhode Island and trip to Fordham might doom Fran Dunphy's team to the NIT (barring an A-10 Tourney title) before VCU heads to Philly.

Yes, Temple plays three teams nicknamed the Rams in a row. Surely, that has to be a record.

Charlotte replaced Temple in Friday's bracket and promptly lost at Saint Louis on Saturday to fall back out. Even with a profile that compares favorably to bubble teams like California and Kentucky (2-3 vs. the RPI Top 50, 5-6 vs. the Top 100, one bad loss at No. 123 GW and a 7-5 record away from home), the 49ers face long odds to get back, as Sunday's game with Temple is their last regular season chance at a quality win. They simply won't have many more chances to make an impact until Brooklyn.

It's a different story for Xavier, even if they lost at Dayton by 11 on Saturday, as it gets five contenders in a row after Wednesday's trip to Rhode Island. VCU, Conference USA leader Memphis, UMass and Saint Louis all visit Cincinnati before Xavier heads to Indianapolis in an attempt to sweep Butler on March 9th. Still, the Musketeers may need to win all five games to crash the field, thanks to some bad early losses.

After suffering a blowout at VCU home heartbreak against Temple, UMass has just two quality win chances left, a trip to Xavier and visit from Butler. The Minutemen cannot afford to fall at St. Bonaventure or in Amherst against Dayton before those two games pop up on the calendar. Wins at La Salle and over Providence in Puerto Rico probably aren't going to cut it.

Five A-10 Games To Watch
VCU at Saint Louis, Tuesday 9 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
La Salle at Temple, Thursday 7 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
Saint Louis at Butler, Friday 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
VCU at Xavier, Saturday 2 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
Temple at Charlotte, Sunday 4 p.m. ET (no TV)


Bids Today: 5/On Friday: 5

Protected Seeds (2): East No. 1 Miami, West No. 1 Duke
Honestly, both of these teams are lucky not to be on line two right now. If the Hurricanes had lost at Clemson on Sunday evening, they would have dropped, as it would be highly unlikely for a team with two losses to teams outside of the Top 100 to be given a top nod. As for the Blue Devils, their overall profile continues to boost them while their on-court performance is not exactly impressive. Each squad has three games, including one against a Virginia team looking for a marquee win, before March 2nd's rematch at Cameron Indoor.

Safe for Now (1): N.C. State
The Wolfpack continue to live dangerously, as they needed overtime to dispatch Virginia Tech in Raleigh Saturday afternoon. State cannot be caught looking ahead to Saturday's trip to suddenly resurgent UNC when Florida State visits tonight. A 5-6 record against the Top 100 and bad loss to Wake Forest leaves N.C. State closer to the middle of the bracket than the top four seed many predicted in November.

Bubble In (2): North Carolina, Virginia
Might the Tar Heels, who easily handled bubble rival Virginia on Saturday, be rounding into form at just the right time?While the win over the Cavaliers was huge for Carolina's hopes, the fact that the Heels were competitive in Durham on Wednesday might be even more of a long-term boost. Provided UNC gets past Georgia Tech in Atlanta tonight, another chance at a quality win will await with N.C. State's Saturday visit. After that, only the Tar Heels' final two games, at Maryland and the rematch with Duke, can provide a profile boost before Greensboro.

Saturday's setback in Chapel Hill certainly wasn't fatal to the Cavaliers' hopes, but it didn't exactly help matters either. Tonight, Virginia heads to Miami for its only regular season shot at the Hurricanes. After that, the Cavaliers get two more quality win chances, both at home. The first is Duke's visit to close February; the other a potential elimination game against Maryland to wrap up the ACC campaign.

Bubble Out: Maryland
As for the Terps, Saturday's two-point win over Duke helps. However, a home loss to Virginia, a sweep at the hands of Florida State and a truly atrocious non-conference schedule don't. Things could get tricky for Maryland in the coming weeks, as they face four teams they should handle in a row, starting tonight at Boston College, but three of those matchups are on the road. The Terrapins will need to sweep that quartet. Otherwise, the final two games of the regular season, UNC at home and at Virginia, may just be for NIT positioning.

Five ACC Games To Watch
Virginia at Miami, Tuesday 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Clemson at Maryland, Saturday 12 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
N.C. State at North Carolina, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Georgia Tech at Virginia, Sunday 2 p.m. ET (ACC Network Regional/ESPN3)
Boston College at Duke, Sunday 2 p.m. ET (ACC Network Regional/ESPN3)

Big 12

Bids Today: 6/On Friday: 6

Protected Seeds (1): East No. 3 Kansas, Midwest No. 4 Kansas State
Other Locks (1): Oklahoma State
This trio has separated itself from the rest of the Big 12, with each sitting on three league losses; however, it's the Cowboys who are surprisingly in the driver's seat for the regular season crown by virtue of their February 2nd win in Lawrence. Travis Ford's squad can complete the season sweep tomorrow night in Stillwater. Conversely, the Wildcats, who hold the auto bid today by virtue of having played one more conference game, can claim their second win of 2013 over the Cowboys on March 9th at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

In terms of the seeding picture, Kansas has the best profile by far, thanks to 12 Top 100 wins (eight against the Top 50), but that dreadful loss at TCU weighs down the Jayhawks' position. K-State has five Top 50 wins, highlighted by a win in Kansas City over current No. 1 seed Florida. Oklahoma State also has a shot at a protected seed, as it also has five Top 50 wins, but a bad loss at Virginia Tech back in December doesn't help the Cowboys' case. Continuing to take care of business in the Big 12 will change that, though.

Safe for Now (1): Oklahoma
The Sooners, still boasting a position in the RPI Top 20 and nine Top 100 wins, could have taken a big step toward the field of 68 by completing a Bedlam sweep on Saturday in Stillwater, but archrival Oklahoma State pipped them in overtime. However, things look bright for Oklahoma's prospects, as four of their final six are winnable, starting on Wednesday at Texas Tech. The other two contests are home games against the very two teams that sit below them in the Big 12 pecking order, starting with Baylor's visit to Norman on Saturday.

Bubble In (2): Iowa State, Baylor
The Cyclones, who visit Waco on Wednesday, have a better record than the Bears against quality opposition (2-5 against the Top 50, with both wins coming against teams in the Top 25 -- Oklahoma and Kansas State, compared to 2-7). However, they also have two worse losses in terms of RPI positioning and timing -- at Texas (in Myck Kabongo's return) and Texas Tech. Like Baylor, they play four NCAA contenders in the finishing stretch, with next Monday's visit from Kansas looking like an intriguing upset opportunity, considering how Iowa State came tantalizingly close to stunning the Jayhawks at Phog Allen in the conference opener.

The Bears are still hanging on, thanks to two Top 50 wins, including one over Kentucky (with Nerlens Noel) and two virtual tiebreaking wins over teams just on the outside of the field, St. John's and BYU. Sure, early home losses to Northwestern and Charleston don't help, but four games against contenders, starting with this week's Iowa State/Oklahoma swing, provide the Bears with chances to better their relatively weak position.

Five Big 12 Games To Watch
Kansas at Oklahoma State, Wednesday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Iowa State at Baylor, Wednesday 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
TCU at Kansas, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network/ESPN3)
Baylor at Oklahoma, Saturday 5 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Kansas at Iowa State, Monday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Big East

Bids Today: 8/On Friday: 7

Protected Seeds (4): Midwest No. 2 Syracuse, West No. 3 Louisville, South No. 4 Georgetown, East No. 4 Marquette
Other Locks (2): Pittsburgh, Cincinnati
The Orange, Hoyas and Golden Eagles are locked in a three-way tie at the top of the conference, but provided all three take care of business in their midweek games, the title picture should be a bit clearer by the time next Tuesday's projection comes out. That's because Syracuse hosts Georgetown on Saturday afternoon and visits Marquette on Big Monday.

Don't discount Louisville's chances in the race, as it is in the midst of stretch of three winnable games, a run that ends with a March 2nd trip to the Carrier Dome. With the amount of quality wins available between now and the moment the the Big East Tournament trophy is handed out on Selection Eve, it would not be wise to rule out any of the top four in the protected seed race. Cincinnati may have a bit more work to do to reach the top four lines though, thanks to recent inconsistency (3-4 in its last seven), and the same can be said for a Pitt team that struggled to score late in Monday night's home loss to Notre Dame.

Safe for Now (1): Notre Dame
The Irish should probably be a lock at this point, particularly after they survived an early offensive drought to win at the Petersen Events Center last night. However, Saturday's surprising (and resounding) loss at Providence means they're not quite there yet, especially when you consider their closing stretch -- Cincinnati, at Marquette, St. John's, at Louisville.

Bubble In (1): Villanova
In the past three days, the Wildcats picked up a third quality win at Connecticut, their first road win over a Top 50 foe (or Top 100, for that matter) and a necessary victory over Rutgers. Two of the three biggest games left for Nova -- Saturday against Marquette and the March 6th regular season finale against Georgetown -- come at home. The third is a March 3rd trip to Pitt. Villanova would be well served to win two of those three and not drop next Monday's trip to Seton Hall.

Bubble Out: St. John's
The Red Storm dropped two difficult road games in a row, with Steve Lavin absent from the bench due to the death of his father. This week, St. John's gets two of its remaining three home contests, against USF and Pitt. (The third is a visit from Marquette to close the Big East season.) Road trips to resurgent Providence and dangerous Notre Dame fall in between. In short, the Red Storm still has three quality win chances and plenty of hope for a bid.

Five Big East Games To Watch
Georgetown at Syracuse, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (CBS)
Marquette at Villanova, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Pittsburgh at St. John's, Sunday 12 p.m. ET (Big East Network/ESPN3)
Cincinnati at Notre Dame, Sunday 2 p.m. ET (CBS)
Syracuse at Marquette, Monday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Big Ten

Bids Today: 7/On Friday: 7

Protected Seeds (5): Midwest No. 1 Indiana, South No. 2 Michigan State, East No. 2 Michigan, West No. 4 Wisconsin
Other Locks (1): Ohio State, Minnesota
Tonight, Indiana and Michigan State, both 11-2 in Big Ten play, meet at the Breslin Center to determine pole position in the conference race and perhaps even the top spot in the Midwest Region. Note that Michigan will eventually get its say, as it hosts both the Spartans and Hoosiers over the final two weekends of the regular season. It's very possible that the Hoosiers, Spartans and Wolverines all finish 2-2 against each other, with all of the wins coming at home.

Wisconsin, fresh off hammering Ohio State in Madison on Sunday, jumps the Buckeyes for a spot on the No. 4 line. The Badgers now boast six Top 50 wins, while the Buckeyes are 2-7 against the same level of competition. In terms of the league picture, Wisconsin is a dark horse, even at 9-4, as the only contender the Badgers face in their last five games is Michigan State in East Lansing. Ohio State, three games back at 8-5, has only one game against a team outside of this bracket in its last five outings. The first of those games comes Wednesday against Minnesota, which will be looking to avoid a third straight road loss. After their trip to Columbus, the Golden Gophers will get nearly a week off before welcoming Indiana to Williams Arena -- their final regular season game against a bid contender.

Bubble In (1): Illinois
The Illini won their fourth straight on Sunday, when they avenged a home loss to Northwestern by smacking the Wildcats down in Evanston. At 6-7, a .500 or better Big Ten mark is in sight, but it won't be an easy task, thanks to Illinois' three remaining road games -- Michigan, bid-hungry Iowa, and Ohio State.

Bubble Out: Iowa
Sunday's blowout win over Minnesota isn't enough to get the Hawkeyes in, but it gives them life. With a home-and-home with Nebraska and visit from Purdue left, Iowa should get to nine Big Ten wins. However, the Selection Committee knows that all conference records aren't created equal, and two league wins over NCAA contenders (Minnesota and Wisconsin, both at home) in those nine victories may not be enough. So, the Hawkeyes would be well served to be competitive at Indiana and beat Illinois at Carver-Hawkeye in their finishing stretch.

Five Big Ten Games To Watch
Indiana at Michigan State, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Minnesota at Ohio State, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (BTN)
Wisconsin at Northwestern, Wednesday 9 p.m. ET (BTN)
Illinois at Michigan, Sunday 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Michigan State at Ohio State, Sunday 4 p.m. ET (CBS)

Missouri Valley

Bids Today: 2/On Friday: 2

Safe for Now (1): Wichita State, Creighton
On Sunday night, when most were watching halftime of the NBA All-Star Game, Illinois State's Jackie Carmichael karate kicked Wichita State's Tekele Cotton in the process of grabbing a rebound with 41 seconds left and the Redbirds up seven. What was eventually ruled a Flagrant 1 foul sparked a late 8-0 Shocker run, giving Wichita State a win that leaves it a game up on Creighton in the Missouri Valley race. The Shockers will be hard pressed to stay in first alone, as they visit Indiana State, the same team they lost to by 13 at home ,on Tuesday, before closing with a home game against tricky Evansville and a trip to Omaha. Plus, there's the little matter of a home BracketBuster game against Detroit on Saturday.

As for the Bluejays, they barely snapped a three-game losing streak on Saturday, as they struggled to leave Evansville's Ford Center with a win. The Jays' BracketBuster encounter on Saturday is the showcase one, as they visit St. Mary's, with the Gaels in desperate need of a quality win after they couldn't grab one against Gonzaga on Thursday night. Before heading West, Creighton hosts Southern Illinois on Tuesday. When the Jays return, they close with a tough trip to Bradley and that grudge match with Wichita State.

On the bright side for Creighton, at least its earlier wins over Wisconsin and Cal improve in stature on an almost daily basis.

Bubble Out: Indiana State
The Sycamores are now two games out of first, thanks to consecutive bad losses to Missouri State and Bradley. Beating Wichita State on Tuesday is job No. 1 for a team that now owns six losses against teams ranked 101st or worse in the RPI, but avoiding defeat in the three games that follow -- Iona in BracketBusters, Drake and a final road trip to Evansville -- is equally as important. Win three Valley contests in a row and get some help from Creighton, and a league crown is still possible. Not that a No. 1 seed may mean much at Arch Madness.

Five Valley Games To Watch
Wichita State at Indiana State, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Southern Illinois at Creighton, Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET (Cox-Nebraska/WSIU/ESPN3)
BracketBusters: Iona at Indiana State, Saturday 11 a.m. ET (ESPNU)
BracketBusters: Detroit at Wichita State, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
BracketBusters: Creighton at St. Mary's, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Mountain West

Bids Today: 4/On Friday: 4

Protected Seeds (1): South No. 3 New Mexico
Other Locks (3): Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV
New Mexico dealt Boise State's bubble hopes a serious blow on Saturday night at The Pit and now gets a week to prepare for Colorado State's visit -- a matchup that may very well decide the Mountain West regular season crown. Both are three games up on San Diego State and UNLV in the standings. However, the Rams don't have the luxury of extended prep time, as they head to Vegas midweek to take on the Runnin' Rebels, who just completed a season sweep of the Aztecs.

In terms of seeding, the Lobos have a leg up on the other contenders, thanks to a 14-4 record against the Top 100. The Rams, for comparison's sake, are 9-3, with three Top 50 wins (New Mexico has six of those). That's good enough to lock Colorado State up at this point, but the Rams probably won't get much higher than the six or seven seed line, thanks to a relatively lackluster non-conference slate. CSU's best win out of the Mountain West came at Washington, No. 86 in the RPI, and a surprising loss at UIC back in December (when the Flames looked like a surprise Horizon favorite and at-large candidate) weighs the Rams' profile down.

UNLV and San Diego State both have four Top 50 wins, but the Rebels get a slight seeding edge thanks to both the season sweep and a superior record against the Top 100 (9-6 vs. 6-7).

Bubble Out: Boise State, Air Force, Wyoming
On Saturday night in Albuquerque, the Broncos again failed to close out New Mexico, leaving them at 4-6 in the Mountain West and quickly running out of opportunities to get back into the picture. Making matters worse for Boise State, that big early win at Creighton isn't looking so great, thanks to the Bluejays' recent struggles. Provided the Broncos take care of business in their next three (Air Force, at Fresno State, Nevada), their closing trio of games -- Colorado State and San Diego State at home with a trip to UNLV sandwiched between -- might just give them a chance to break through.

The Falcons, on the other hand, couldn't take full advantage of a week where they welcomed UNLV and Colorado State to Clune Arena, as they hammered the Rebels and lost a close one to the Rams. Completing a season sweep of Boise State is vital to the hopes of a team that has no noteworthy non-Mountain West results on its profile. (Seriously, the Falcons' best non-league win came against No. 210 Arkansas-Pine Bluff.) Air Force closes with a trip to San Diego State and home game with New Mexico, but failure to take care of business before then means those contests will only help the Falcons with the NIT Committee.

Wyoming took care of Nevada and Fresno State last week to get back to 4-7 in the conference, and thanks to this schedule -- at SDSU, UNLV, at Air Force, at New Mexico, Colorado State -- the Cowboys still have a glimmer of hope. To make it back into the picture, they'll have to recapture the spirit that pushed them to a 13-0 start, which isn't likely given Luke Martinez's continued absence and the difficult road games on the remaining slate. Trips to Viejas, Clune and The Pit are a completely different matter than visits to UC Santa Barbara, Illinois State and SMU -- the three squads the Pokes defeated on the road during their unbeaten start.

Five Mountain West Games To Watch
Wyoming at San Diego State, Tuesday 10 p.m. ET (Time Warner Cable Sportsnet)
Colorado State at UNLV, Wednesday 10 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
New Mexico at Colorado State, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Network)
Nevada at San Diego State, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Network)
UNLV at Wyoming, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET (Time Warner Cable Sportsnet)


Bids Today: 6/On Friday: 5

Protected Seeds (1): Midwest No. 3 Arizona
Other Locks (1): Oregon
The Wildcats slide down to a three seed today after an unconvincing Rocky Mountain road trip that saw them lose to Colorado and struggle to beat Utah. Still, Arizona has a chance to move back up to at least the two line in the coming weeks. The No. 1 spot out West is a different story, as they'll need to overhaul Oregon for the regular season crown and likely cut the nets down in Las Vegas next month to earn that honor

The Ducks, a game up on Arizona in the standings, seem to be figuring things out without Dominic Artis, as they've won three straight after dropping three in row. The Ducks get their next three, games against the Bay Area schools and Oregon State, in Eugene, which should help keep them afloat if their point guard doesn't return anytime soon.

Safe for Now (2): Colorado, UCLA
The Buffaloes also had a mixed week, following a huge win over Arizona -- one that probably doesn't erase the sour taste of the January 3rd loss in Tucson -- with an overtime loss to Arizona State. The Buffaloes are close to safe now, though winning Saturday would have all but locked up a bid. Yet, like UCLA, this week they will be looking avoid a sweep at the hands of their struggling travel partner -- Colorado hosts Utah on Thursday night. A difficult trip to the competitive Bay Area schools and final pair of home games against the Oregon schools will follow.

The Bruins split this week's trip, helping Cal's tournament hopes and hampering Stanford's in the process. On tap for this week, a trip to USC, who will be looking for a season sweep and the opportunity to play spoiler. UCLA would definitely have work to do in its final homestand against the Arizona schools and final trip up to the Evergreen State if an 0-2 mark against the Trojans enters the equation.

Bubble In (2): California, Arizona State
The Golden Bears got a crucial sweep this weekend, topping UCLA to pick up its third Top 50 win (against five losses) and coming back to defeat USC when a loss would have quite possibly knocked them back to the wrong side of the cut line. In fact, that win featured a controversial incident where head coach Mike Montgomery shoved guard Allen Crabbe during a timeout, just as it appeared the Trojans were going to run the Bears out of the gym. Up next for Cal, another quality win opportunity, this time at Oregon.

The Sun Devils are barely back in, thanks to last week's road split. Saturday's overtime win at Colorado outweighs Wednesday's loss at Utah. However, Arizona State has to take care of business against the Washington schools this week. A split against the Cougars and Huskies (who are looking for a season sweep on Saturday) might send the Devils back down to the NIT. ASU's 6-5 record against the Top 100, including a pair of wins against Colorado, is helpful, but two losses to teams outside the RPI Top 150 aren't.

Bubble Out: Stanford
The Cardinal, 1-8 against the Top 50, have blown too many chances recently, as they went 1-3 against the Arizona and L.A. schools in the past two weeks. Making matters worse, two of Stanford's three biggest remaining games, Saturday's encounter with against Oregon and the March 6th regular season finale against Cal, are on the road. Colorado visits Maples Pavilion on February 27th. That may be the Cardinal's last shot.

Five Pac-12 Games To Watch
Washington at Arizona, Wednesday 11 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
California at Oregon, Thursday 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Stanford at Oregon, Saturday 8 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
Washington at Arizona State, Saturday 11 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
UCLA at USC, Sunday 3:30 p.m. ET (FSN)


Bids Today: 3/On Friday: 4

Protected Seeds (1): South No. 1 Florida
The Gators have returned to their offensively- and defensively-efficient selves, which means they've passed Duke on the seed list. This week's slate presents Florida with one of its three significant remaining road challenges, a trip to Missouri, and the chance to show the world that February 5th's loss at Arkansas was a fluke on Saturday.

Safe for Now (1): Missouri
On Saturday, it was the Tigers' turn to see how difficult it is to win in Fayetteville, though the Razorback's victory was nowhere near as convincing as their performance against Florida. The next five days will go a long way toward determining both Missouri's seed and the rest of the SEC bid picture. After tonight's visit from the league leaders from Gainesville, Mizzou heads to Kentucky, where the Wildcats need a quality win to save their season, on Saturday.

Bubble In (1): Mississippi
The Rebels needed overtime to beat Georgia Saturday night, snapping a two-game losing streak. Ole Miss is 2-4 in its last six with no quality win opportunities left on the schedule. In other words, a bad loss in the Rebels' final six could doom a team that's 1-4 against the Top 50 to yet another NIT season.

Bubble Out: Kentucky, Alabama
The Wildcats' first game without Nerlens Noel didn't exactly go well. Saturday's 30-point loss at Tennessee provided the worst possible first impression for the remainder of Kentucky's roster, which is what the Committee will be evaluating from this point forward. So, the Cats will need to improve rapidly to beat Missouri and Florida at home, and not lose any of their other four games, to sneak back in. Note that Kentucky visits Arkansas, who has a bit of a homecourt advantage, and resurgent Georgia in their last six.

Alabama, 9-3 in the SEC, has an excellent chance to rack up an impressive conference record. However, thanks to the lack of quality in the league, that won't mean much unless the Crimson Tide can beat Florida and Ole Miss on the road in early March. Plus, four bad losses (three at home) continue to weigh down the Tide's computer numbers.

Five SEC Games To Watch
Florida at Missouri, Tuesday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Mississippi at South Carolina, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (CSS/ESPN3)
Alabama at LSU, Saturday 1:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network Regional/ESPN3)
Arkansas at Florida, Saturday 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Missouri at Kentucky, Saturday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)


At-Large Bids Today: 1/At-Large Bids On Friday: 1

Protected Seeds (1): West No. 2 Gonzaga
The Bulldogs have won eight in a row, and a one-point loss at Butler is their only blemish since a somewhat inexplicable home loss to Illinois back on December 8th. With a February 28th trip to BYU the lone road trip in Gonzaga's last four games, the Bulldogs should remain in the top seed conversation, particularly with the three Big Ten contenders all facing each other late in the regular season.

Bubble In (1 + 1 auto bid): Memphis (C-USA leader), St. Mary's
The Tigers, with a Top 25 place in the RPI, 6-3 record against the Top 100 and no bad losses (for now) are nearly a lock, though three tough road trips (Xavier, UCF and UTEP) follow this week's homestand against Houston and Southern Miss.

The Gaels, among the last teams in even after last Thursday's loss to Gonzaga, can take a big step toward safety by sweeping this week's visits from BYU and Creighton, who visits for BracketBusters.

As for five other decently-positioned one-bid league leaders, Belmont (OVC), Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt), Louisiana Tech (WAC), Akron (MAC) and South Dakota State (Summit), expect them all to be on the Selection Committee's considered list, but don't expect them to get an invite outside of an auto bid. Belmont, in particular, saw its chances slide on Thursday with a loss at Tennessee State.

Bubble Out: Southern Mississippi, BYU, Stephen F. Austin
Southern Miss. heads to Memphis on Saturday for its final regular season shot at a Top 50 win, but even victory at FedEx Forum probably won't be enough for the Golden Eagles, who will need to win the C-USA Tournament to dance.

BYU has a pair of chances at Top 50 wins in the next two weeks: Thursday's game in Moraga and a visit from Gonzaga one week later. First, the Cougars face a tricky game against local rivals Utah State, which could very well be a trap game for Dave Rose's squad, tonight.

Stephen F. Austin, tied for the Southland lead with Northwestern State, but out of the bracket thanks to the Demons' January 26th head-to-head win, owns a victory at Oklahoma and very little else. The Lumberjacks have played 20 games against Division I opposition, and only three of those squads are in the Top 100. The Sooners were SFA's only victim in those three contests.

Five Other Games To Watch
BYU at St. Mary's, Thursday 11 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
BracketBusters: Stephen F. Austin at Long Beach State, Friday 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Southern Mississippi at Memphis, Saturday 1 p.m. ET (FSN/FCS Atlantic)
BracketBusters: Creighton at St. Mary's, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
BracketBusters: Ohio at Belmont, Saturday 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Expect even more changes in Friday's projection. That's just the way seasons go in the age of the 68-team field.