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Bracketology: A first look at who's locked in

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With just a month and two days until Selection Sunday, a shockingly small number of teams look to be safe bets for the field of 68. An exciting season for college basketball fans might turn into one giant headache for the Selection Committee.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Naturally, the top four seeds in today's bracket, the same quartet of Kentucky, Virginia, Duke, and Wisconsin that led off Tuesday's edition, are among the locks -- but they are among the few. I'll have more specifics after today's full bracket and rundown.

(1) MIDWEST
Cleveland (Thu/Sat)
(2) EAST
Syracuse (Fri/Sun)
Louisville (Thu/Sat) Charlotte (Fri/Sun)
1 Kentucky (SEC) 1 Virginia (ACC)
16 Colgate/St. Francis-Brooklyn 16 North Dakota State/Texas Southern
8 Cincinnati 8 88 Georgia
9 Colorado State 9 San Diego State (MW)
Seattle (Fri/Sun) Jacksonville (Thu/Sat)
5 Baylor 5 Butler
*12 Green Bay (Horizon) *122 Eastern Washington (Big Sky)
4 Northern Iowa (MVC) 4 Iowa State
13 Bowling Green (MAC) 13 Murray State (OVC)
Columbus (Fri/Sun) Portland (Thu/Sat)
6 West Virginia 6666 Arkansas
*11 St. John's/UCLA 11 Illinois
3 Louisville 3 Utah
14 N.C. Central (MEAC) 14 Stephen F. Austin (Southland)
Portland (Thu/Sat) Pittsburgh (Thu/Sat)
7 Georgetown 7 Indiana
10 Michigan State 10 Texas A&M
2 Arizona (Pac-12) 2 Villanova (Big East)
15 High Point (Big South) 15 Florida Gulf Coast (A-Sun)
(4) WEST
Los Angeles (Thu/Sat)
(3) SOUTH
Houston (Fri/Sun)
Omaha (Fri/Sun) Charlotte (Fri/Sun)
1 Wisconsin (Big Ten) 1 Duke
16 New Mexico State (WAC) 16 Albany (AE)
8 Texas 8 Dayton
9 Ole Miss 9 Iowa
Louisville (Thu/Sat) Pittsburgh (Thu/Sat)
5 VCU (A 10) 5 Wichita State
12 Boise State/Seton Hall 12 Iona (MAAC)
4 Oklahoma 4 Maryland
13 Wofford (SoCon) 13 William & Mary (CAA)
Jacksonville (Thu/Sat) Columbus (Fri/Sun)
6 Oklahoma State 6 Providence
*11 Temple 11 LSU
3 North Carolina 3 Notre Dame
14 Harvard (Ivy) 14 Louisiana Tech (C-USA)
Seattle (Fri/Sun) Omaha (Fri/Sun)
7 Ohio State 7 SMU (AAC)
10 Xavier 10 Stanford
2 Gonzaga (WCC) 2 Kansas (Big 12)
15 UL Monroe (Sun Belt) 15 UC Davis (Big West)
FIRST FOUR (Dayton)
Tuesday: To Louisville Tuesday: To Louisville
16 Colgate (Patriot) *12 Boise State
16 St. Francis-Brooklyn (NEC) 12 Seton Hall
Wednesday: To Charlotte Wednesday: To Columbus
16 North Dakota State (Summit) *11 St. John's
16 Texas Southern (SWAC) *11 UCLA

* = new team

BIDS BY CONFERENCE AVOIDING DAYTON ARRIVALS DEPARTURES
Big 12: 7 Xavier Boise State George Washington
Big East: 7 Temple Eastern Washington Miami
Big Ten: 7 Illinois Green Bay Old Dominion
ACC: 6 LSU St. John's Sacramento State
SEC: 6 LAST FOUR IN Temple Tulsa
American: 3
St. John's UCLA Valparaiso
MW: 3 UCLA

Pac-12: 3 Boise State

A 10: 2 Seton Hall

MVC: 2 FIRST FOUR OUT

One-Bid Conferences: 22 Oregon


Old Dominion


Tulsa


George Washington


NEXT FOUR OUT


Miami


Purdue


UMass


Davidson

Also considered (in alphabetical order): Alabama, BYU, California, Clemson, Connecticut, Davidson, Minnesota, Oregon State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Wyoming

For the next three weeks, my Friday updates will focus on how many bids are actually available to the teams crowding what looks like a rather soft bubble in mid-February. This requires math, so you can't say I didn't warn you.

Remember, there are 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament field: 32 automatic qualifiers and 36 at-large selections.

However, those totals don't truly reflect the picture. That's because 10 conferences are expected to send more than one team to the field and that total rises to 11 if Gonzaga fails to win the West Coast Conference Tournament. So really, of the 32 automatic bids, just 21 are truly off the board.

So, adding those 11 auto bids to the 36 at-larges means that there are really 47 bids up for grabs. (That total might change late in Championship Week, but go with me for the moment.) With that in mind, let's check in on how many of those are already locked up.

Locks and Protected Seeds (16)

1 seeds 1. Kentucky*
2. Virginia*
3. Duke
4. Wisconsin*
2 seeds 8. Arizona*
7. Villanova*
6. Kansas*
5. Gonzaga*
3 seeds 9. Louisville 10. North Carolina
11. Utah 12. Notre Dame
4 seeds 16. Northern Iowa* 15. Maryland 14. Iowa State 13. Oklahoma

Remember, the top 16 teams in the field, the "protected" seeds, are not paired against teams that could have a potential home court-like advantage in the Round of 64. All of these teams are virtually assured of selection at this point. The team I would be most concerned about is Northern Iowa, but their absence would require an unlikely losing streak in Missouri Valley play.

The real race here is to see who ends up on the top line, with Gonzaga and Kansas looking like strong contenders to move up to an anchor position before all is said and done.

Other Locks (3)

5 seeds 17. Butler 18. Baylor 19. Wichita State

Each member of this trio is in prime position to move up to the four line, thanks to the opportunities remaining on their respective schedules (with the Northern Iowa-Wichita State race in the Valley being particularly intriguing). In fact, depending on what happens this weekend, you could see any one of these three on line four on Tuesday.

At this point, of our 47 available spots, 19 are accounted for, leaving 28 up for grabs.

Good Shape (10)

5 seeds
20. VCU*
6 seeds 24. West Virginia
23. Arkansas
22. Providence 21. Oklahoma State
7 seeds 25. Georgetown 26. Indiana 27. SMU* 28. Ohio State
8 seeds


29. Texas

These 10 teams generally sit in strong position in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and Strength of Schedule (SOS) tables and have avoided bad losses. Still, there's still a chance that a slip-up could send them tumbling toward the cut line. Of this group, VCU and West Virginia should be among the locks. However, the Rams have struggled without Briante Weber, lost for the season with a knee injury, and Treveon Graham, out with an ankle injury, and the Mountaineers face what is arguably the most difficult closing stretch of any team in the country. With those circumstances in mind, I'm holding back both for the moment.

Our total is shrinking. With those 10 teams added, the number of available spots falls from 28 to 18.

Moving Off The Bubble (3)

8 seeds 32. Cincinnati
31. Georgia 30. Dayton

These three teams have generally won the games they needed to and avoided potholes on the road to the Tournament, Cincinnati's loss to East Carolina being a significant exception. If they keep that up, they'll be locked up in no time.

That's three more teams, meaning there are a whopping 15 spots left for bubble teams to contest.

Bubble In (7)

9 seeds 33. Ole Miss 34. San Diego State* 35. Iowa
36. Colorado State
10 seeds
39. Texas A&M 38. Michigan State
37. Stanford

Teams in this group have just not been able to get out of their own way at one point or, well, several. Ole Miss lost its season opener to Charleston Southern, which acts as a weight on its RPI, though recent performances are making that one-point loss at the (opening night) buzzer a distant memory. Michigan State did nothing of note in the non-conference, other than lose to Texas Southern at home, and the Spartans two best wins came all the way back in January. Iowa and Stanford have been inconsistent and San Diego State has had trouble scoring in a down Mountain West.

In other words, danger still lurks for this group.

Last Four At-Larges (Avoiding Dayton)

10 seeds 40. Xavier


11 seeds 41. Temple 42. Illinois 43. LSU

Collectively, this quartet rates this high only because of the failings of others. Temple wasn't even in Tuesday's projection, but a big home win over Cincinnati, the Owls' second over a Top 50 opponent (with the other being a not insignificant one over Kansas), pushed them in. Illinois late rally over Michigan last night not only kept the Fighting Illini in, but helped contribute slightly to a seeding bump, though others' results were more of a factor. LSU has three horrible SEC losses, but quality wins at West Virginia and Ole Miss. Xavier also has a trio of bad losses, but also owns a sweep of Georgetown and a win over Providence.

But with the chasing pack having rather similar profiles, the margin for error will always be thin for those near the cut line.

Last Four In (First Four)

11 seeds

45. UCLA 44. St. John's
12 seeds
47. Seton Hall 46. Boise State

Why yes, I did bracket a "Steve Lavin Showdown" for Dayton between two of the four new at-larges in this projection. However, given that both UCLA and St. John's are barely in the field and each faces a fellow bubble team on Saturday, don't expect a repeat on Tuesday. Of this group, Boise State, which travels to Fresno State, has the best chance to remain in the next projection. In fact, Seton Hall is only in today's because of Old Dominion's loss at Texas-San Antonio on Thursday night.

First Four Out/Next Four Out

First 4 Out 69. Oregon 70. Old Dominion
71. Tulsa
72. Geo. Washington

Next 4 Out 76. Davidson
75. UMass
74. Purdue
73. Miami

For most of these eight, a lack of quality non-conference wins might end up costing them a spot on Selection Sunday, though both Oregon and Miami are cheering the Illinois resurgence, as both defeated the Illini. For Old Dominion, Davidson, and George Washington, horrid conference losses are a more significant and immediate worry, particularly for the Monarchs, a team that knocked off VCU and LSU early in the season.

In The Hunt

77. BYU 78. Minnesota 79. Connecticut 80. Tennessee
84. Pittsburgh 83. Oregon State 82. N.C. State 81. Rhode Island

Time is running out for these eight teams, and a few others (Wyoming, California, Alabama), and I'll talk a bit more about their chances if events warrant. In the case of Connecticut and Minnesota, that could be as early as next week.

Potential At-Large (3)

12 seeds 48. Green Bay* 49. E. Washington* 50. Iona*

These three one-bid conference leaders will likely be discussed as potential at-large teams by the Selection Committee, since all three rank in the RPI top 70. While Iona does not have a win over a team under consideration, Eastern Washington defeated Indiana in Bloomington in November and Green Bay defeated Miami in Coral Gables.

Auto Bid Only (18)

13 seeds 54. Bowling Green 53. William & Mary* 52. Murray State* 51. Wofford*
14 seeds 55. Harvard* 56. Louisiana Tech* 57. Stephen F. Austin* 58. N.C. Central*
15 seeds 62. FGCU* 61. UL Monroe* 60. High Point
59. UC Davis*
16 seeds
(Direct)
63.Albany* 64. New Mexico State*


16 seeds
(First Four)
65. North Dakota St.* 66. Texas Southern* 67. St. Francis-Bkn.*
68. Colgate*

While three of the 21 probable auto bid-only conference leaders have a slim shot at an at-large, the other 18 do not. Other than the teams near the cut line, these are the names that will change the most in the bracket between now and Selection Sunday.

As always, here's a closing look at some games to watch between now and my next bracket update.

Green Bay at Valparaiso, Friday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Cleveland State at Detroit, Friday 8 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
The Phoenix, Crusaders, and Vikings are all tied at the top of the Horizon League standings, though only Green Bay has a compelling at-large case. Valpo lost a 51-50 decision at the Resch Center back on January 23rd, while a Cleveland State win in the Motor City is no given. CSU only defeated the Titans by four at home, also on January 23rd.

Ohio State at Michigan State, Saturday 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
As explained above, the Spartans could really use another quality win and so could the Buckeyes, to be honest.

St. John's at Xavier, Saturday 12:30 p.m. ET (Fox)
The first of two meetings in the span of 10 days for these Big East bubble teams.

Baylor at Kansas, Saturday 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
The Jayhawks topped the Bears by a single point on January 7th in Waco, so this could be another thriller between a pair of teams on the top four lines.

Virginia Commonwealth at George Washington, Saturday 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
With the Rams skidding without two star players and the Colonials fresh off a bad loss to Duquesne, this one has a different significance than expected after VCU smashed GW by 24 in Richmond on January 27th.

Oregon at UCLA, Saturday 3 p.m. ET (Fox)
The winner will be in prime position for Tuesday's projection. Note that the Ducks routed the Bruins in Eugene back on January 24th.

North Carolina State at Louisville, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Wolfpack missed a golden opportunity to get back in the bid picture when they lost to Virginia on Wednesday night, but upsetting the Cardinals on the road would certainly help make up for that setback.

West Virginia at Iowa State, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
The Mountaineers backloaded closing Big 12 slate begins on Saturday in Ames, where they'll attempt to avenge a two-point January 10th loss in Morgantown

Seton Hall at Providence, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (FSN)
Speaking of difficult late-season schedules, the fading Pirates, winners of just two of their last eight, close with five of their final six against bid contenders. That includes a pair of games with the Friars.

LSU at Tennessee, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
The Tigers travel to Knoxville four days after some late game struggles cost them a win over No. 1 Kentucky. The two squads will meet again in Baton Rouge on March 4th, and the home-and-home will go a long way to determining if either one of these squads actually makes the field of 68.

Duke at Syracuse, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Even though the Orange won't be in the postseason, they'll have their say in the race for seeding in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments, thanks to a pair of late season games with the Blue Devils, and contests with Louisville, Notre Dame, and Virginia.

Villanova at Butler, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
The Wildcats closed 2014 out with a 12-point win over the Bulldogs in Philadelphia, but Butler is in position to grab a share of the Big East lead with a reversal of that result.

Florida at Texas A&M, Saturday 6:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
On Wednesday, the Aggies dropped the first, and probably most important, contest of a crucial three-game homestand to Georgia. Tonight, they'll look to rebound against a Gator squad that will be without sharpshooter Michael Frazier II and is coming off a heartbreaking home loss to Ole Miss.

Oklahoma at Kansas State, Saturday 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Do you think the Sooners will want to send the Wildcats to a sixth straight loss, especially considering K-State dropped them after overtime in Norman back in early January?

Colorado State at San Diego State, Saturday 8 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
The Rams might find it difficult to replicate their 79-73 home win from January 24th at Viejas Arena. A potential Mountain West final preview, though Boise State Broncos might have something to say about that.

Connecticut at SMU, Saturday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
At the moment, it seems like the Huskies are well out of the field and the Mustangs are pretty safe; however, this is the first of a late-season home-and-home for the preseason American co-favorites.

Arkansas at Ole Miss, Saturday 9 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
The Rebels, who handed the Razorbacks their only home loss of the season (by 14!), look to complete what would be a very impressive and beneficial season sweep a little more than 48 hours after they accomplished the feat against Florida.

Illinois at Wisconsin, Sunday 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
An unexpected win in Madison would do wonders for the Fighting Illini's already improving hopes.

Nebraska at Purdue, Sunday 5:15 p.m. ET (BTN)

Minnesota at Indiana, Sunday 7:30 p.m. ET (BTN)
The Boilermakers will look to keep up their excellent home form against the struggling Cornhuskers, while the Golden Gophers can move into the picture if they can manage to grab an unexpected win in Bloomington.

Pittsburgh at Virginia, Monday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Neutrals are likely to be happy that this is the only regular season meeting between two squads known for being a bit deliberate. Panther fans are likely disappointed they only get one chance to grab a needed quality win against the Cavaliers.

Kansas at West Virginia, Monday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Mountaineers return to Morgantown, but that doesn't mean they will escape their finishing gauntlet.

What changes will the weekend bring? Return Tuesday to find out.