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Bracketology: The SEC shall rise again

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The second January edition of bracketology features a pair of new No. 1 seeds and a half-dozen teams from a conference that's largely been a basketball punchline for the past seven seasons.

Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Two of last week's four top seeds -- the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats and Virginia Cavaliers -- remain in place on this Tuesday. However, the Kansas Jayhawks, road losers at Iowa State on Saturday, fall all the way down to the three line, with the West Coast Conference-leading Gonzaga Bulldogs rising up to replace the Jayhawks. The Duke Blue Devils, who blew past the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday, trade places with the Villanova Wildcats, who were blasted at Georgetown on Monday night.

Don't expect Gonzaga to remain a No. 1, though. That's because the preseason Pac-12 favorite Arizona Wildcats reasserted themselves on Saturday, much like Duke did earlier in the day. The Wildcats showed that the visiting Utah Utes still have a ways to go before they can be considered the West's best in a 69-51 rout in Tucson. Arizona remains on the two line for another week, but Sean Miller's team looks ready to solidify a long-term place at the top.

After today's full projection and rundown, I'll take a look at some intriguing developments in the fun to observe, but largely inconsequential, race between the conferences.

(1) MIDWEST
Cleveland (Thu/Sat)
(2) EAST
Syracuse (Fri/Sun)
Louisville (Thu/Sat) Charlotte (Fri/Sun)
1 Kentucky (SEC) 1 Virginia (ACC)
16 Colgate/North Florida 16 Vermont (AE)
8 Michigan State 8 88 Alabama
9 N.C. State 9 Indiana
Jacksonville (Thu/Sat) Seattle (Fri/Sun)
5 Seton Hall 5 Georgetown
12 Eastern Washington (Big Sky) 122 Green Bay (Horizon)
4 Louisville 4 Wichita State (MVC)
13 Wofford (Southern) 13 Iona (MAAC)
Omaha (Fri/Sun) Portland (Thu/Sat)
6 Butler 666 Texas
11 LSU *11 Tennessee
3 Kansas 3 Utah
*14 Georgia State (Sun Belt) 14 Stephen F. Austin (Southland)
Pittsburgh (Thu/Sat) Omaha (Fri/Sun)
7 Stanford 7 Baylor
10 Old Dominion (C-USA) 10 Colorado State
2 Maryland 2 Wisconsin (Big Ten)
15 Hofstra (CAA) *15 South Dakota State (Summit)
(4) WEST
Los Angeles (Thu/Sat)
(3) SOUTH
Houston (Fri/Sun)
Seattle (Fri/Sun) Charlotte (Fri/Sun)
1 Gonzaga (WCC) 1 Duke
*16 Long Beach State (Big West) 16 St. Francis-Brooklyn/Texas Southern
8 Providence 8 Ohio State
*9 Dayton 9 San Diego State (MW)
Jacksonville (Thu/Sat) Columbus (Fri/Sun)
5 Northern Iowa 5 West Virginia
12 Oklahoma State 12 Georgia/St. John's
4 North Carolina 4 VCU (A 10)
13 Harvard (Ivy) *13 Buffalo (MAC)
Louisville (Thu/Sat) Columbus (Fri/Sun)
6 Oklahoma 6 Cincinnati (American)
11 George Washington/Syracuse 11 Miami
3 Notre Dame 3 Iowa State (Big 12)
14 N.C. Central (MEAC) 14 Murray State (OVC)
Portland (Thu/Sat) Pittsburgh (Thu/Sat)
7 Iowa 7 Arkansas
10 Xavier 10 Illinois
2 Arizona (Pac-12) 2 Villanova (Big East)
15 New Mexico State (WAC) 15 Coastal Carolina (Big South)
FIRST FOUR (Dayton)
Tuesday: To Louisville Tuesday: To Louisville
*16 Colgate (Patriot) 11 George Washington
*16 North Florida (A-Sun) 11 Syracuse
Wednesday: To Charlotte Wednesday: To Columbus
16 St. Francis-Brooklyn (NEC) *12 Georgia
16 Texas Southern (SWAC) 12 St. John's

* = new team

BIDS BY CONFERENCE AVOIDING DAYTON ARRIVALS DEPARTURES
ACC: 8 Oklahoma State Buffalo Bowling Green
Big 12: 7 Miami Colgate Connecticut
Big East: 7 Tennessee Dayton Lafayette
Big Ten: 7 Colorado State Georgia North Dakota State
SEC: 6 LAST FOUR IN Georgia State Sam Houston State
A 10: 3
Georgia Long Beach State Temple
Pac-12: 3 George Washington North Florida UC Santa Barbara
MW: 2 Syracuse South Dakota State UL Lafayette
MVC: 2 St. John's Stephen F. Austin USC Upstate
One-bid conferences: 23 FIRST FOUR OUT Tennessee Wyoming

Tulsa


Washington


Kansas State


St. Mary's


NEXT FOUR OUT


Wyoming


Temple


Connecticut


SMU

Also considered (in alphabetical order): Boise State, Colorado, Davidson, DePaul, Florida, Loyola-Chicago, New Mexico, Ole Miss, Oregon, Oregon State, Rhode Island, South Carolina, TCU, Texas A&M, UCLA, UTEP, Valparaiso, Vanderbilt

Even though the selection committee says it evaluates teams individually and not as members of particular conferences, comparing the fortunes of the nation's 32 Division I leagues is seemingly part of every bracketology post you see on the Internet. For the most part, this week's conference distribution is roughly the same as last Wednesday's -- the ACC still has eight teams in, barely (I'm looking at you, Syracuse), while the Big 12, Big East and Big Ten again provide seven -- though St. John's is hanging on, much like the Orange team they defeated in the Carrier Dome back in December. The Atlantic 10's total rises to three, with the inclusion of the Dayton Flyers, matching the Pac-12, while the Mountain West lost the Wyoming Cowboys to drop down to two, the same number provided by the Missouri Valley.

The American Athletic Conference, home of the 2014 national champion Connecticut Huskies, was not so lucky. It's currently a one-bid league after the Huskies dropped out following a second consecutive road loss. UConn followed up a Tuesday night loss at current league leader Tulsa with a Saturday trouncing at the hands of Stanford. The Temple Owls also tumbled out of this projection, since a home win over Kansas isn't enough to gloss over three consecutive questionable losses. Projected conference champ, and relatively safe at-large Cincinnati is the only American team in this particular field of 68, with actual leader Tulsa -- a team whose best non-conference victim was Big East struggler Creighton -- remaining out for now.

That brings us to a bona fide nice surprise on the national landscape: an SEC hardwood resurgence.

Over the past few seasons, the Twitter hashtag #SECBasketballFever, the brainchild of SB Nation's own @valleyshook, has come to exemplify the general hoops malaise of a conference that has earned just 16 at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament since 2009.

As someone who specializes in self-sabotage, I can certainly identify with the behaviors of SEC basketball teams in the recent past. Whenever the gold ring of an NCAA at-large bid appears to be in an SEC squad's grasp, you could figure something silly -- be it a ridiculous string of turnovers, ill-fated offensive set, poorly timed technical or lengthy scoring drought -- would manifest itself, turning the reward into a mirage.

That might be changing in 2015, now that six -- yes SIX -- SEC teams find themselves in this projection, and 2014 Final Four squad Florida is not one of them (a fact that makes my orange-and-blue heart quite sad). Obviously, Kentucky, No. 1 overall in this bracket, leads the way, and the Wildcats must be considered the only lock at this point of the season. But Arkansas, Alabama, LSU, Tennessee and Georgia join John Calipari's squad, at various levels of security. While inconsistency may cost one or more of these teams a place on Selection Sunday -- and I'm thinking specifically of the Razorbacks and Bayou Bengals when considering that scenario -- quality win opportunities are all of a sudden present for teams that could yet make their way in, a group populated by Florida, Ole MissTexas A&M, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

In short, this season's SEC schedule will include many games with legitimate bubble implications, instead of the ironic ones of recent seasons.

Speaking of games to watch, here this week's list of contests to track before the next edition of SB Nation Bracketology.

Kansas State at Iowa State, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

While the Wildcats are leading the current Big 12 standings, they are not part of today's bracket thanks to some bad non-conference losses. A win in Ames, the site of four games in a row against teams in this projection, would go a long way toward changing that.

Iowa at Wisconsin, Tuesday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

With Traevon Jackson (foot) out for the foreseeable future, the Badgers' preseason status as Big Ten favorites and No. 1 seed contenders is in doubt. The winner joins Maryland at the top of the conference standings, a half-game up on Indiana.

Alabama at Arkansas, Thursday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Both teams are looking to snap disappointing two-game SEC skids and solidify their respective at-large places.

North Carolina State at Miami, Thursday 8 p.m. ET (ACC Network Regional/ESPN3)
Victories over Duke alone will probably not be enough to keep these two in the field long-term, so a potentially tiebreaking win is on the line in Coral Gables.

Maryland at Indiana, Thursday 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
If you had the Terps and Hoosiers playing for a share of the Big Ten lead on Jan. 22, you need to permanently move to Las Vegas.

St. Mary's at Gonzaga, Thursday 11 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

With BYU's struggles, the Gaels look to be the Bulldogs' main threat in the WCC for 2015. A win in Spokane would boost St. Mary's at-large hopes.

Valparaiso at Green Bay, Friday 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

The winner of this one becomes the Horizon League favorite (though Cleveland State will also have a say), and a definite team to consider when filling out your bracket in mid-March, possibly as a 12-over-5 upset.

Kentucky at South Carolina, Saturday 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Wildcats managed to lose to a worse Gamecock team last season. Of course, Kentucky wasn't quite as powerful in 2014 as it is today.

Oklahoma State at Kansas State, Saturday 12 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

This one is not only important for the Wildcats, but also for a Cowboy team that's firmly on the bubble.

Kansas at Texas, Saturday 2 p.m. ET (CBS)

The Longhorns attempt to make the case that they should be considered a threat for the Big 12 crown alongside the Jayhawks, Iowa State and Oklahoma ... and well, Kansas State, Baylor and West Virginia too. (The Big 12 is wild, folks!)

Miami at Syracuse, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Another ACC bubble game, with the Orange probably a little more desperate for the win at this point.

Duke at St. John's, Sunday 2 p.m. ET (Fox)
Mike Krzyzewski aims for 1,000 career victories against a Red Storm team that could use another marquee win to balance out a slow Big East start.

Washington at Utah, Sunday 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
If they pick up an unexpected road win in Salt Lake City, the Huskies can jump back into the bid picture, following some unimpressive early Pac-12 results.

Syracuse at North Carolina, Monday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

It would be oddly fitting if this Syracuse team managed to both lose at Clemson and win in Chapel Hill in the same season.

Texas at Iowa State, Monday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Yet another crucial game in the chase for the Big 12 regular season crown, especially considering the other obstacles the Longhorns and Cyclones will face before next Monday night arrives.