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Bracketology 2016: Denzel Valentine has Michigan State back on top

Last Tuesday's top four seeds hold their places in today's projection, but several surprising results, particularly on the road, have created some tumult just below.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans picked up a pair of wins in the past week to hold on to the top overall seed by a narrow margin — and they got Denzel Valentine back from a knee injury to increase their long-term hopes. Meanwhile, the Big 12's best, the Kansas Jayhawks and Oklahoma Sooners, each grabbed 10-point wins on Saturday to remain just behind Sparty. The fourth overall seed, the North Carolina Tar Heels, pulled away from the Syracuse Orange, a bracket departure, late on Saturday night, but Roy Williams' squad's position became more secure thanks to the failings of a few teams below them in the bracket, as I'll explain after this week's full projection and rundown.

Arrows indicate rising or falling seeds. Asterisks indicate new entries.

(1) MIDWEST
Chicago (Fri/Sun)
(2) SOUTH
Louisville (Thu/Sat)
St. Louis (Fri/Sun) Des Moines (Thu/Sat)
1 Michigan State 1 Kansas (Big 12)
16 Bucknell/Texas Southern 16 High Point (Big South)
8 UCLA 8 George Washington
9 Texas Tech 9 California
Spokane (Fri/Sun) Spokane (Fri/Sun)
5 Dayton 5 Purdue
12 Albany (America East) *12 William & Mary (CAA)
↓4 Iowa State 4 Arizona
13 Houston (American) 13 Hawai'i (Big West)
Providence (Thu/Sat) Providence (Thu/Sat)
6 Butler 6 Texas
*11 Washington (Pac-12) 11 Little Rock (Sun Belt)
3 Virginia 3 Duke
*14 North Florida (A-Sun) 14 Princeton (Ivy)
Brooklyn (Fri/Sun) St. Louis (Fri/Sun)
7 South Carolina 7 USC
*10 Baylor *10 Valparaiso (Horizon)
2 Villanova (Big East) 2 Xavier
*15 Montana (Big Sky) 15 Cal State Bakersfield (WAC)
(4) EAST
Philadelphia (Fri/Sun)
(3) WEST
Anaheim (Thu/Sat)
Raleigh (Thu/Sat) Oklahoma City (Fri/Sun)
1 North Carolina (ACC) 1 Oklahoma
16 Hampton/Wagner 16 Tennessee Tech (OVC)
8 Connecticut 8 Michigan
9 Indiana 9 Monmouth
Denver (Thu/Sat) Denver (Thu/Sat)
5 West Virginia 5 Pittsburgh
*12 St. Bonaventure (A 10) *12 Boise State (MW)
4 Providence 4 Iowa
*13 Northern Illinois (MAC) *13 UAB (C-USA)
Des Moines (Thu/Sat) Oklahoma City (Fri/Sun)
6 Utah 6 Oregon
11 Saint Mary's/UT Arlington 11 Florida/Seton Hall
3 Kentucky 3 Texas A&M (SEC)
*14 Texas A&M-CC (Southland) *14 Omaha (Summit)
Raleigh (Thu/Sat) Brooklyn (Fri/Sun)
7 Louisville 7 Gonzaga (WCC)
*10 Wichita State (MVC) 10 Ohio State
2 Maryland (Big Ten) 2 Miami
15 Iona (MAAC) *15 ETSU (SoCon)
FIRST FOUR (Dayton)
Tuesday: To Raleigh Tuesday: To Des Moines
*16 Hampton (MEAC) 11 Saint Mary's
*16 Wagner (NEC) 11 UT Arlington
Wednesday: To St. Louis Wednesday: To Oklahoma City
16 Bucknell (Patriot) 11 Florida
*16 Texas Southern (SWAC) 12 Seton Hall

BIDS BY CONFERENCE AVOIDING DAYTON ARRIVALS DEPARTURES
Big 12: 7 Monmouth (35) Baylor Akron (MAC)
Big Ten: 7 California (36) Boise State (MW) Chattanooga (SoCon)
Pac-12: 7 Baylor (39) ETSU (SoCon) Green Bay (Horizon)
ACC: 6 Ohio State (40) Hampton (MEAC) Hofstra (CAA)
Big East: 5 LAST FOUR IN Montana (Big Sky) Idaho (Big Sky)
SEC: 4 Florida (42) North Florida (A-Sun) Jackson State (SWAC)
A 10: 3 Seton Hall (43) Northern Illinois (MAC) N.C. A&T (MEAC)
AAC: 2 Saint Mary's (44) Omaha (Summit) NJIT (A-Sun)
MAAC: 2 UT Arlington (45) St. Bonaventure (A 10) Notre Dame
Sun Belt: 2 FIRST FOUR OUT Texas A&M-CC (Slnd) Saint Joseph's
WCC: 2 Saint Joseph's Texas Southern (SWAC) San Diego State (MW)
One-Bid Conferences: 21 Chattanooga UAB (C-USA) Stephen F. Austin (Slnd)

Oregon State Valparaiso (Horizon) South Dakota St. (Summit)

Ole Miss Wagner (NEC) Southern Illinois (MVC)

NEXT FOUR OUT Washington (Pac-12) St. Francis, Pa. (NEC)

Cincinnati Wichita State (MVC) Syracuse

Creighton William & Mary (CAA) UTEP (C-USA)

Notre Dame


Syracuse

Also considered: Alabama, Arizona State, Clemson, Colorado, Davidson, Evansville, Georgetown, Georgia, Georgia Tech, LSU, Marquette, Memphis, Northern Iowa, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, San Diego State, Stanford, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, Vanderbilt, VCU, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

The Virginia Cavaliers, formerly on the two line, fell to the three line for this week after following their Monday road loss at archrival Virginia Tech Hokies, with another on Saturday, to the improved Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. The SEC favorite, the Kentucky Wildcats, saw their case hurt by a Tuesday night loss at the LSU Tigers. The Bayou Bengals failed to handle prosperity themselves, following their dominant win with a disappointing effort at a team several places above them on the bubble, the Florida Gators.

But it was the Arizona Wildcats, who were stunned at UCLA on Thursday, thanks to a Bryce Alford three in the dying seconds and USC on Saturday, after four overtimes, whose position took on the most damage since last Tuesday. That pair of defeats dropped the Wildcats to the final spot among the 16 protected seeds. Making matters worse, leading scorer Allonzo Trier will miss the next four to six weeks with a broken hand suffered in that epic contest at the Galen Center.

The Miami Hurricanes, new to the two line, and a pair of fresh three seeds — the Texas A&M Aggies and Duke Blue Devils — are the biggest movers at the top of the field of 68.

This bracket is slightly stronger than last week's in my estimation thanks to some increased strength in its middle. That's because some heavy hitters, including a pair of squads I profiled on Friday — the Valparaiso Crusaders and Wichita State Shockers — are in this field as automatic bids, as are the Boise State Broncos, the Mountain West's best at-large hope. On the other hand, the Chattanooga Mocs' Saturday loss to the Furman Paladins cost them the Southern Conference bid for the week. Plus, the Pac-12's Washington Huskies and Atlantic 10's St. Bonaventure Bonnies are surprise multi-bid conference leaders this week.

Over the next couple of weeks, keep an eye on the bubble, which will continue to expand as the middle tiers of conferences become more defined. Take the ACC and Big East, for example. Virginia's conquerors, the Hokies and Yellow Jackets, the Clemson Tigers (winners over Louisville on Sunday), Wake Forest Demon Deacons and even the struggling Florida State Seminoles, North Carolina State Wolfpack and Syracuse Orange are all capable of grabbing some quality wins in ACC play.

In the Big East, the Creighton Bluejays took down the Seton Hall Pirates on Saturday in Newark, while the Marquette Golden Eagles won at Providence last Tuesday, indications that both teams will have an impact on the conference race — Creighton currently sits a game behind leaders Villanova, along with the Georgetown Hoyas, a squad that did itself no favors in November and December.

But in the four months from opening night to Selection Sunday, teams can and do change. Power conference members are fortunate in that they receive plenty of opportunities to make up for the disappointments of weeks past ... and to move in the opposite direction for that matter. On Friday, I'll be back with a look at eight power conference squads that will give the Selection Committee the most to contemplate after the first half of the season.