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Bracketology: The stretch run beckons

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Heading into the final weekend of the regular season and first weekend of Championship Week, much remains to be decided. Duke, Gonzaga, Indiana and Kansas hold their places on the top line, but each faces a significant challenge in the coming days.

Streeter Lecka

I'll have some quick bits on the state of the field of 68 after today's projection and rundown.

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

BIDS BY CONFERENCE LAST FOUR BYES ARRIVALS DEPARTURES
Big East: 8 Villanova None None
Big Ten: 7 St. Mary's

A-10: 5 Temple

ACC: 5 Iowa State

Big 12: 5
LAST FOUR IN

MWC: 5
La Salle

Pac-12: 5 Boise State

SEC: 3 Tennessee

MVC: 2 Virginia PROCEDURAL MOVES
WCC: 2 FIRST FOUR OUT Butler 6 down to 7
1-Bid Conferences: 21 Mississippi North Carolina 7 up to 6

Kentucky Memphis 7 down to 8

Southern Mississippi Illinois 8 up to 7

Iowa Colorado 9 down to 10

NEXT FOUR OUT Cincinnati 10 up to 9

Arizona State Middle Tennessee 11 down to 12

Providence Iowa State 12 up to 11

Alabama


Baylor

Also considered (in order): Xavier, Maryland, UMass, Arkansas

Note: All RPI info is courtesy Basketball State and is accurate as of Thursday, March 7, 2013. All TV info is courtesy Matt's College Sports on TV Website.

  • Miami‘s Wednesday night home loss to Georgia Tech -- its third to an opponent from outside the RPI Top 100 -- torpedoed its chances at a No. 1 seed. The Hurricanes' only remaining hope, a slim one at that thanks to those bad losses, will come if they can beat Duke for a second time in the ACC Tournament final next Sunday in Greensboro.
  • The Blue Devils, meanwhile, hold the No. 1 overall seed for now, thanks to Indiana‘s home loss to Ohio State on Tuesday night. Duke gets the nod over Gonzaga, despite the Bulldogs' superior overall record, thanks to a better RPI and Strength of Schedule ranking, along with an overwhelming number of wins against the RPI Top 25 (six, compared to the Zags' two).
  • As I mentioned in the intro, the four number one seeds all face challenging regular season finales this weekend. Saturday, Kansas visits a Baylor team in desperate need of a win heading into the Big 12 Tournament right before Duke heads up to Chapel Hill to take on peaking North Carolina. While the Blue Devils-Tar Heels showdown is going on, Gonzaga opens its shortened West Coast Conference Tournament run in the semifinals in Las Vegas. Then, on Sunday, Indiana heads to Michigan with the Big Ten title and first round byes in Chicago on the line.
  • Georgetown, a team that had been threatening to crack the top line, thanks to an 11-game win streak, stays on the No. 2 line after Wednesday's loss at Villanova. The Hoyas may be able to get back in the race if they can claim the Big East regular season crown by beating Syracuse in the pair's final Big East regular season meeting.
  • As for the Wildcats, the victory over the Hoyas, their fourth home win over an RPI Top 20 opponent makes their NCAA place more secure. Other teams that took positive steps toward the field in the past week include Iowa State (who took out Oklahoma State in Ames), La Salle (winners over George Washington), Temple (victorious over Fordham and boosted by a December win at Villanova) and Tennessee (who left Auburn with a win).
  • La Salle and Temple will both play roles in determining the A-10 title this weekend. The Explorers can claim the top seed in Brooklyn with a win over Saint Louis on Saturday and an Owl victory over VCU on Sunday. As for Wednesday's other big bubble winners, Tennessee can grab another huge home victory on Saturday, asMissouri visits, while Iowa State must be careful on a season-closing trip to West Virginia.
  • Boise State (loser at UNLV) and California (defeated at home by archrival Stanford) took a step back, but remain in the field of 68. It would be in the Broncos' best interest to defeat San Diego State at home on Saturday, though, as their place is far more tenuous than the 10th seeded Golden Bears' position.
  • Virginia is the last team in after a Thursday night loss to Florida State. The only thing keeping the Cavaliers' in at the moment is the weakness of the teams behind them. Sunday's home game with Maryland is an absolute must-win.
  • As for those squads on the outside looking in, Baylor's home game with Kansas isn't the only quality win opportunity. Kentucky gets one last shot at a regular season quality win as SEC champion Florida visits Rupp Arena, a game the Wildcats must have after Thursday's loss at Georgia. Elsewhere in the SEC, Mississippi will be challenged at LSU and Alabama looks to sweep that Bulldogs squad that just beat Kentucky and swept Tennessee themselves. The Big Ten's potential eighth entrant, Iowa, will look to keep the momentum gained with a win over Minnesota when Nebraska -- who beat the Hawkeyes in Lincoln -- visits Carver-Hawkeye. In the Pac-12, Arizona State can resuscitate its flagging hopes with a win at Arizona. Big East surprise Providence, meanwhile, can grab a late quality victory en route to Madison Square Garden, as the Friars visit Connecticut.
  • Two big pieces of personnel news that may affect the bracket broke on Thursday. First, Akron suspended point guard Alex Abreu after he was arrested for marijuana trafficking. That's a significant blow to a team that still has at-large hopes, given the bubble mess unfolding around them. On the medical side of things, Colorado forwardAndre Roberson may miss the Pac-12 Tournament with a case of mononucleosis. Of course, the Buffaloesrouted Oregon hours after the announcement was made.
  • On Saturday, two bids will be handed out with the Ohio Valley Conference final being the game of most interest to bubble teams. If Belmont wins its semifinal tonight against Nashville rival Tennessee State and falls in the championship game, an at-large may very well disappear from the board. The Bruins currently rank 20th in the RPI with a 6-2 record against the Top 100, though their only Top 50 win came against Sun Belt favorite Middle Tennessee, a team to watch early next week
  • Finally, Norfolk State, one of last season's victorious No. 15 seeds, completed a perfect MEAC campaign with a seven-point win over North Carolina A&T on Thursday night. Congratulations Spartans! On the other hand,Louisiana Tech, who likely needed to go unbeaten in the WAC to earn an at-large should it fall in the conference tournament in Las Vegas, fell at New Mexico State not long afterward.

Here's a look at the TV schedule for Friday and Saturday's most important matchups.

Friday

Key Conference Tournament Games
Missouri Valley Quarterfinals: 1 p.m. ET (Drake vs. Creighton) and 3:30 p.m. ET (FS Midwest/CSN Chicago/FCS Central/ESPN3); 7 p.m. ET (Missouri State vs. Wichita State) (FS Midwest/ESPN3); 9:30 p.m. ET (FS Midwest/FCS Pacific/ESPN3)
Atlantic Sun Semifinals: 6 and 8:30 p.m. ET (CSS/CST)
Ohio Valley Semifinals: 7 p.m. ET (Tennessee State vs. Belmont) (ESPNU) and 9:30 p.m. ET (Eastern Kentucky vs. Murray State) (ESPN3)
West Coast Quarterfinals: 9 and 11:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Other Game of Bracket Importance
Kent State at Akron, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Saturday

Conference Championships
Atlantic Sun: 12 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Ohio Valley: 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Showcase Games
Florida at Kentucky, 12 p.m. ET (CBS)
Syracuse at Georgetown, 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
La Salle at Saint Louis, 1:30 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Network)
Kansas State at Oklahoma State, 1:30 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network Regional/ESPN3)
Nebraska at Iowa, 2:15 p.m. ET (BTN)
San Diego State at Boise State, 3:30 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Network)
Notre Dame at Louisville, 4 p.m. ET (CBS)
Missouri at Tennessee, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Arizona State at Arizona, 4 p.m. ET (FSN)
Kansas at Baylor, 6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Xavier at Butler, 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
Louisiana Tech at Denver, 7 p.m. ET (ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain)
Duke at North Carolina, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Other Conference Tournament Action
CAA Quarterfinals: 12, 2:30, 5 and 7:30 p.m. ET (Comcast Sports Group outlets)
America East Quarterfinals: 12, 2:30, 6 and 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Southern Quarterfinals: 12, 2:30, 6 and 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
MAAC Quarterfinals: 2:30, 5, 7:30 and 10 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Summit Quarterfinals: 7 and 9:30 p.m. ET (MidCo SN/FCS Atlantic)
Sun Belt Quarterfinals: 7:30 and 10 p.m. ET (CSS/CST/ESPN3)
NEC Semifinals: 12 and 2:30 p.m. ET (MSG2/FCS Central/ESPN3)
Big South Semifinals: 12 and 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Patriot League Semifinals: 2 and 4:30 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
MVC Semifinals: 2:30 p.m. ET (FS Midwest/CSN Chicago/FCS Central/ESPN3) and 5 p.m. ET (FS Midwest/CSN Chicago/FCS Pacific/ESPN3)
Horizon Semifinals: 6 p.m. ET (ESPN3) and 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
WCC Semifinals: 9 p.m. ET (Gonzaga) and 11:30 p.m. ET (St. Mary's) (ESPN2)

Other Games of Bracket Importance
Mississippi at LSU, 1:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network Regional/ESPN3)
Iowa State at West Virginia, 1:30 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network Regional/ESPN3)
UCLA at Washington, 2 p.m. ET (CBS)
N.C. State at Florida State, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Marquette at St. John's, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
UMass at Rhode Island, 2 p.m. ET (Cox Sports-Rhode Island)
Georgia at Alabama, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network Regional/ESPN3)
USF at Cincinnati, 4 p.m. ET (Big East Network/ESPN3)
Oregon State at Colorado, 4:30 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
Oklahoma at TCU, 5 p.m. ET (Sooner Sports/FS Southwest)
New Mexico at Air Force, 6 p.m. ET (Altitude 2)
Fresno State at UNLV, 6 p.m. ET (Time Warner Cable Sportsnet)
Long Beach State at Pacific, 7 p.m. ET (FS West/FCS Pacific)
Nevada at Colorado State, 8:30 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)

My next update, which will include the first two automatic qualifiers of the 2013 Tournament, will come on Sunday morning. From then on to Selection Sunday, I'll have a new bracket each morning, along with one final entry just before the big unveiling.