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Bracketology: Crunch time beckons for teams on the bubble

Selection Sunday is approaching at a rapid pace. The first weekend of March 2015 features plenty of late tests for power conference teams looking to make a strong late impression and the first few bids will be awarded to teams talented and lucky enough to survive elimination play.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

With the exception of East No. 2 seed Gonzaga, which plays in the West Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinals on Saturday night, the top eight teams in this field, the same group in place on Tuesday, fit in the former category. Their tests largely fall the category of "classic season-ending rivalry," as, for example, No. 1 overall Kentucky hosts Florida, a shell of the team that claimed that honor one season ago; West top seed Duke makes the short trip down Tobacco Road to face North Carolina; and South anchor Villanova hosts longtime Big East foe St. John's. East No. 1 Virginia's matchup is a definite exception, as the Cavaliers, who will still be without Justin Anderson, thanks to an appendectomy, travel to ACC newcomer Louisville, a team fighting for seeding both in Greensboro and in the NCAAs.

Different challenges entirely await the two No. 2 seeds in best position to move up. Arizona, currently second in the West, will host a Stanford team that's on the wrong side of the bubble and in dire need of a quality win. Ohio State's position is far sturdier than the Cardinal's, but a home win over Midwest No. 2 Wisconsin on Sunday would let the Buckeyes breathe considerably easier.

Oh, at least four actual bids will be awarded before Sunday afternoon is over. That means we will see the first names in all caps in my next update.

Before I take a quick look at the updated lock and bubble pictures, here are today's full bracket and rundown.

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

* = new team

Big Ten: 7 Oregon Central Michigan Sacramento State
Big 12: 7 Indiana Eastern Washington Toledo
ACC: 6 LSU Texas Tulsa
Big East: 6 Purdue


A 10: 3
Colorado State


Pac-12: 3 Texas A&M

AAC: 2 Texas


WCC: 2 Illinois

One-Bid Conferences: 21 Temple





Old Dominion



Also considered (in alphabetical order): Alabama, Green Bay, Kansas State, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Richmond, Wyoming

Taking a look at the bid picture, things have started to finally become clearer. Better late than never, after all.

Auto Bid Only

12 seeds
48. Wofford' 49. Iona* 50. Harvard*
13 seeds 54. Stephen F. Austin" 53. E. Washington* 52. Louisiana Tech* 51. Valparaiso*
14 seeds 55. Murray State* 56. Central Michigan* 57. UC Davis* 58. Georgia State*
15 seeds 62. New Mexico State* 61. N.C. Central* 60. William & Mary*
59. South Dakota St.*
16 seeds
63. Albany* 64. Texas Southern*

16 seeds
(First Four)
65. Charleston Sthn.* 66. Bucknell* 67. St. Francis-Bkn.* 68. North Florida*

Once again, I'll start this review by reminding you that 21 of the 68 spots in the bracket will be taken by the champions of conferences that will likely only send one team apiece to the field. Again, keep an eye on Wofford and Iona, who will have an outside shot at an at-large should they fall in the Southern Conference and Metro Atlantic Conference Tournaments, respectively.

Expect the names in this group to change quite a bit over the next week. In fact, Patriot League Tournament top seed Bucknell needed overtime to defeat Holy Cross in that event's quarterfinals just last night.

Locks and Protected Seeds (16)

*=automatic bid holder

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

The biggest change to the group of protected seeds since last Friday is that Wichita State replaces Northern Iowa, following the Shockers' win over the Panthers on Saturday afternoon. The two may very well meet again in the Missouri Valley Tournament final on Sunday afternoon, which might lead to another revision.

Keep an eye on Maryland, who could be in position to leap to the two line should the Terrapins make a decent run through the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago and Kansas exits the Big 12 Tournament early.

Other Locks (13)

5 seeds 17. North Carolina 18. West Virginia 19. Arkansas
20. Northern Iowa
6 seeds 24. SMU* 23. Butler 22. Georgetown 21. Providence
7 seeds 25. San Diego State* 26. St. John's 27. Iowa 28. Dayton
8 seeds

29. VCU

The total number of locks now stands at 29, so when you combine that number with the 21 auto bids also off the table, only 18 spots remain in play. This week, Providence, Georgetown, St. John's, Dayton, and Iowa pushed themselves toward safety. VCU, meanwhile, continue to costs itself seeding position, particularly after being blown out at Davidson last night. However, the work the Rams did early in the season cannot be forgotten. While Shaka Smart's team may eventually end up in a position where it has to wear road jerseys in the Round of 64, VCU will still reach one of those matchups.

In Good Shape (4)

8 seeds 32. Ohio State 31. Xavier 30. Michigan State
9 seeds 33. Oklahoma State

Four more teams are nearly locked up, reducing our number of available bids from 18 to 14.  While Ohio State hosts Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon, the other three teams in this group are in action on Saturday and I'll have more about those games at the end of this post.

Bubble In

9 seeds
34. N.C. State 35. Ole Miss
36. Georgia
10 seeds

37. Cincinnati

Cincinnati hosts Memphis on Sunday, but a day earlier, the two SEC teams in this group play opponents they should defeat, while North Carolina State will be the last team Rakeem Christmas and Syracuse challenge in 2014-15.

Last Four Byes (Avoiding Dayton)

10 seeds 40. LSU 39. Indiana 38. Oregon
11 seeds 41.Boise State* 42. Davidson* 43. Purdue

LSU, picked up its fourth questionable SEC loss of the season on Wednesday night, at home to Tennessee. Dayton may beckon for the Bubble, I mean Bayou Bengals before all is said and done. The same may be said for an Indiana team that last earned a quality win on January 22nd, against Maryland.

On the other hand, Oregon moved closer to safety by surviving a trap game at archrival Oregon State on Wednesday. Davidson, here as the projected Atlantic 10 champ, boosted its case by routing VCU last night, and Boise State, the likely Mountain West top seed, had little trouble at woeful San Jose State in its midweek game. Both of those squads would be in as at-larges in the 11 range at the moment, hence their inclusion in a temporary expanded group.

Last Four In (First Four)

11 seeds

45. BYU 44. Colorado State
12 seeds
47. Texas 46. Texas A&M

Texas slips in as the last at-large today, though the Longhorns, whose worst loss came against Stanford, should have done more in 14 games against the Top 50, in which they went 3-11. An RPI ranking of 40 and strength of schedule ranking in the Top 10 would normally make the decision easy for the Selection Committee, but they will debate Rick Barnes's team intensely, I suspect.

Illinois, with wins over Baylor in Las Vegas, Michigan State in East Lansing, and Maryland at home and just one truly bad loss, at Nebraska, has a decent case for the final spot, but an RPI rank north of 60 hurts the Fighting Illini. The other teams Texas edges include Temple, who defeated Kansas and Cincinnati at home, but was swept by Tulsa and SMU and lost to UNLV and Saint Joseph'sMiami owner of one of the best bubble wins possible -- over Duke at Cameron -- along with victories over N.C. State and Illinois  in Coral Gables, but a home loser to Eastern Kentucky, Georgia Tech, and Green Bay; and Tulsa, who swept Temple and did little else.

First Four Out/Next Four Out

First 4 Out 69. Illinois 70. Temple
71. Miami
72. Tulsa

See above. Purdue, the very last team earning direct entry into the Round of 64 in this projection, faces the very first team out, Illinois, on Saturday afternoon in the bubble game of the weekend. Miami travels to an opponent it absolutely must defeat on Saturday, while Temple and Tulsa face trickier tasks as the weekend unfolds.

Next 4 Out 76. Stanford
75. Pittsburgh
74. Old Dominion
73. UCLA

Pittsburgh did itself no favors by losing to Miami at home on Wednesday night, while Old Dominion has quietly hung around by rattling off five wins in a row in Conference USA. UCLA closed its regular season by trouncing USC, and so must wait until the Pac-12 Tournament to further bolster its case. Stanford, on the other hand, won't need to wait that long, but winning in Tucson probably won't be enough after Thursday's loss at Arizona State.

Since we are coming down to the end, my updates will become a daily affair starting on Sunday. So, this list of games to watch covers Friday and Saturday only. I didn't include the majority of the elimination games on tap for the weekend, but you can find TV and bracket information on those at Conference Tournament Central.

SB Nation presents: Four mid-majors that will destroy your March brackets


Yale at Harvard, 8 p.m. (ASN)

The winner takes control of the Ivy League race and can clinch the Ancient Eight's automatic bid by winning Saturday against either Dartmouth (Bulldogs) or Brown (Crimson).


Syracuse at North Carolina State, 12 p.m. (CBS)
The Orange will look to drop the Wolfpack to .500 in the ACC race and shakier bubble status.

Michigan State at Indiana, 12 p.m. (ESPN)
After two consecutive losses, a home win over the Spartans would do wonders for the Hoosiers' hopes and Tom Crean's job status. Michigan State defeated Indiana by 20 in East Lansing on January 5th.

Pittsburgh at Florida State, 12 p.m. (ESPN2)
Since Wednesday night's home loss to Miami seriously dented the Panthers' already slim at-large hopes, a loss in Tallahassee would all but end them.

Butler at Providence, 12 p.m. (FS1)
A win for the Friars would complete a sweep of the Bulldogs and lock up the number two seed at MSG, since Providence also defeated Georgetown, hosting Seton Hall simultaneously (on Fox), twice.

Northwestern at Iowa, 12 p.m. (BTN)
The Hawkeyes have gained some breathing room since dropping a 66-61 overtime decision in Evanston on February 15th, winning five in a row.

Miami at Virginia Tech, 12 p.m. (ACC RSNs/ESPN3)
The worst thing the Hurricanes could possibly do after winning in Pittsburgh is lose in Blacksburg to a team they defeated by 24 at home on February 18th.

Florida at Kentucky, 2 p.m. (CBS)
The likely No. 1 overall seed looks to complete a 31-0 regular season.

St. John's at Villanova, 2 p.m. (FOX)
The Wildcats will attempt to stay in the top seed hunt after an unimpressive win at Creighton on Tuesday, while the Red Storm will aim for a fifth straight win (and eighth in nine) and absolute safety.

LSU at Arkansas, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
It would be the most LSU basketball thing ever for the Tigers to defeat the Hogs, who have already locked up the two seed in Nashville, three days after incomprehensibly losing to Tennessee in Baton Rouge.

Connecticut at Temple, 2 p.m. (ESPN2)
The Owls closed 2014 and opened their American campaign with a 57-53 overtime win in Hartford. They'd be strongly advised to complete a sweep on Saturday.

Oklahoma State at West Virginia, 2 p.m. (ESPNEWS)
A Wednesday night win over TCU ended the Cowboys' four-game skid, but Morgantown is an unlikely place to build a winning streak heading to Kansas City next week. WVU defeated the Cowboys by 10 in Stillwater on February 21st.

Xavier at Creighton, 2 p.m. (FSN)
The Bluejays defeated the Musketeers by seven in Cincinnati on February 4th. If they can complete the sweep, they'll doom Xavier to a losing conference record and a bit of bubble worry.

Alabama at Texas A&M, 2 p.m. (SEC on FSN/ESPN3)
With the Aggies barely hanging on, a loss to a mediocre Crimson Tide would be playing with fire.

Saint Joseph's at Rhode Island, 2 p.m. (OSN)
A win over the Hawks would lock up a quarterfinal bye for the Rams, which they'll need if they want to win the Atlantic 10's auto bid, URI's only real path to the field at this point.

Stanford at Arizona, 4 p.m. (CBS)
Even a victory over the Wildcats, a team the Cardinal fell to by seven on January 22nd, in Tucson may not be enough to resuscitate Stanford's at-large hopes.

Kansas at Oklahoma, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
This one looked to be an immense Big 12 contest, but then the Sooners blew a 20-point lead in Ames on Monday and the Jayhawks miraculously overhauled West Virginia on Tuesday night.

Kansas State at Texas, 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
The Longhorns took care of Baylor on Tuesday to stay alive, but a home loss to a tricky Wildcat team would undo that good work.

Dayton at La Salle, 4 p.m. (CBSSN)
The Flyers hit the road in an attempt to lock up a share of the Atlantic 10 regular season crown. Dayton defeated the Explorers by 11 on January 14th.

Georgia at Auburn, 4 p.m. (SEC Network)
The Tigers have won four SEC games this season, but can complete a sweep of the Bulldogs, which would not be a good look for Mark Fox's team, which was also swept by South Carolina.

Illinois at Purdue, 4:30 p.m. (BTN)
On Wednesday night, the Boilermakers lost at Michigan State and the Fighting Illini took care of Nebraska, setting up a pivotal showdown in West Lafayette. Purdue is looking to earn a season split, having lost by a 66-57 count in Champaign on January 21st.

George Mason at VCU, 5:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
The Rams should be able to beat the Patriots, who are second from the bottom of the Atlantic 10 table, right?

Brown at Harvard, 6 p.m. (CBSSN)
If the Crimson defeat Yale on Friday night, they will be the first team in the field with a win. If they lose, they have to hope Dartmouth beats the Elis to force a one-game playoff.

Virginia at Louisville, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN)
While the Cavaliers will be the top seed in Greensboro, the Cardinals need a win to avoid a Wednesday game.

OVC Championship, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Depending on what happens in the Ivy League, this winner could be the first team officially in the field of 68. Murray State, who completed a perfect OVC regular season and won the regular-season crown by five games, is the heavy favorite.

Davidson at Duquesne, 7 p.m. (ASN)
The Wildcats, picked last in the Atlantic 10 in the preseason, can claim at least a share of the conference crown with a win in Pittsburgh.

Sam Houston State at Stephen F. Austin, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
The Lumberjacks can claim the top seed in Katy with a home win over the second-place Bearkats, who fell to SFA by 11 in Huntsville on January 24th.

Fresno State at Boise State, 8 p.m. (ESPN3)
The Broncos will claim the top seed in the Mountain West's festivities in Vegas with a win over the Bulldogs, who happened to defeat Boise by six on Valentine's Day.

Duke and North Carolina, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Depending on the result of Virginia-Louisville, a quarterfinal bye could be in play for the Tar Heels, who dropped a 92-90 decision after OT in a thriller in Durham on February 18th.

Vanderbilt at Ole Miss, 9 p.m. (SEC Network)
Facing the Commodores in Oxford, the Rebels should be able to lock up a quarterfinal bye in Nashville.

Colorado State at Utah State, 9 p.m. (ROOT Sports)
Having been swept by Wyoming, a win in Logan is vital for the Rams' hopes of earning the three seed in the Mountain West Tournament.

Nevada at San Diego State, 10 p.m. (CBSSN)
The Aztecs will be hoping Boise State falls before tipping off at Viejas against the Wolf Pack. That result would be the only way SDSU can claim the top seed in Las Vegas.

Again, my next update will come on Sunday, also known as the day when the fun really begins.