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Bracketology: With a month left, things are about to get wild

Okay, technically, a month and two days remain before Selection Sunday. But that just means there are 48 more hours for shuffling among the teams on the 2016 edition of the NCAA Tournament bubble, which only looks like it's composed of a cast of thousands.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, I nominated the Xavier Musketeers as the fourth No. 1 seed in my full projected bracket. Later that night, Chris Mack's team was comprehensively defeated by a Creighton Bluejays squad that was in dire need of a quality win for its own selection profile. So, while Xavier remains in the first group of teams I have for you on this Friday -- the locks/protected seeds -- the Kansas Jayhawks have replaced the Musketeers on the top line. In fact, the only reason Xavier is on the two line right now is the Oregon Ducks' blowout loss at the California Golden Bears on Thursday.

But that's not the only change among the four regional anchors. After falling to the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington Thursday night, the Iowa Hawkeyes also drop to line number two for the moment. Their replacement? The resurgent Virginia Cavaliers, who now boast a 9-2 record against the RPI Top 50 and a perfect 4-0 mark against the Top 25.

Locks and Protected Seeds

*=automatic bid holder

1 seeds 1. Oklahoma*
2. Villanova*
3. Kansas
4. Virginia
2 seeds 8. Xavier
7. Maryland*
6. North Carolina*
5. Iowa
3 seeds 9. Oregon* 10. West Virginia
11. Miami 12. Michigan State
4 seeds 16. Dayton* 15. Kentucky 14. Purdue 13. Iowa State

Note that the Kentucky Wildcats are back among the top 16 teams in the field, thanks to dominant home wins over the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs.

Other Locks

5 seeds 17. USC 18. Texas A&M 19. Texas
20. Duke
6 seeds 24. Indiana 23. Notre Dame 22. Arizona 21. Utah
7 seeds 25. Baylor


Keep an eye on the in-state rivals who are sitting in the middle of the five line the rest of the way. The Texas A&M Aggies, losers of three in a row and four of five, are tumbling from what looked to be a sure place among the protected seeds just two weeks ago. On the other hand, the Texas Longhorns, whom the Ags handily defeated in the Battle 4 Atlantis, just missed upsetting Oklahoma in Norman on Monday. That result snapped a four-game winning streak. If the Longhorns can go on another run like that in the loaded Big 12, they might end up on the three or four line before all is said and done.

And don't look now, but the Duke Blue Devils are considerably safer after rattling off three straight wins, even if only the last of the three (over the tournament-ineligible Louisville Cardinals) came over a quality opponent.

In Good Shape

7 seeds
26. South Carolina* 27. Providence 28. Michigan
8 seeds
31. Florida 30. Pittsburgh 29. Wichita State*

With victories over Texas A&M in College Station and the then-SEC leading LSU Tigers back in Columbia, no team in this group helped its own case more than the South Carolina Gamecocks. Heading into last Saturday's game at Reed Arena, Frank Martin's club was a bit of a question mark, not really having the quality wins to justify its RPI. That naturally changed on Saturday, and there was no letdown on Wednesday.

On the flip side, the Providence Friars are teetering. Much like A&M, they've dropped three straight and four of five. Unlike the Aggies, the Friars hadn't built themselves much of a cushion in the early stages of Big East play. I can't see Kris Dunn, Ben Bentil and company playing in the NIT, but they might end up with a far less favorable draw, or maybe even have to wear their black road unis when the First Round arrives on March 17 and 18.

So, most of the way through seed line No. 8, let's pause to consider how many spots are left.

68 total bids -- 24 auto bids from likely one-bid conferences = 44 bids up for grabs

44 -- 30 teams counted so far (note that the Wichita State Shockers are part of the group of 24 above) = 14 places left

Bubble IN

8 seeds 32. Monmouth*


9 seeds 33. California 34. Syracuse 35. Colorado 36. Valparaiso*
10 seeds 40. Temple* 39. Florida State 38. Butler 37. Gonzaga*

Thursday night was significant for this group -- not only did Cal top Oregon, but the Syracuse Orange hammered the Florida State Seminoles at the Carrier Dome. Plus, the Temple Owls put themselves into stronger at-large position by completing a season sweep of the Connecticut Huskies. Fran Dunphy's team has also defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats (home and away) and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (in Philadelphia), both fellow bubble teams, along with the SMU Mustangs.

The Butler Bulldogs picked up a key differentiating win one night earlier, when they defeated the Seton Hall Pirates in Newark.

And with three league leaders from likely one-bid conferences in this group (the Monmouth Hawks, Valparaiso Crusaders and, yes, Gonzaga Bulldogs), we are down to our last eight places. A whopping 26 teams are in play for them.

Last Four Byes (Avoiding Dayton)

11 seeds 41. Saint Joseph's 42. Oregon State 43. Connecticut 44. Seton Hall

After their respective midweek losses referenced above, UConn falls here, while Seton Hall remains. However, the Saint Joseph's Hawks jump all the way up here after falling just on the wrong side of the cut line back on Tuesday. That's because they finally grabbed the quality win their profile lacked, on the road no less! Saint Joe's hammered the George Washington Colonials, who drop out of my projected field for the moment, on Wednesday night.

Last Four In (First Four)

12 seeds 48. Cincinnati 47. Alabama 46. LSU 45. VCU

Much like GW, the VCU Rams suffered a costly defeat -- their second in a row -- but to a lower-quality opponent, the Massachusetts Minutemen, currently sitting 162nd in the RPI table. Given the Rams' struggles in the early part of the season, they have little margin for error the rest of the way.

LSU remains in the field, barely, following its loss to South Carolina. The Tigers have a pair of Top 50 wins and now both of those squads are in this projection, as the Alabama Crimson Tide slide in thanks in part to their 63-62 win over Texas A&M on Wednesday night. The Tide now sit 36th in the RPI table with a 4-5 record against the Top 50. Their worst loss, at the 129th-ranked Auburn Tigers, isn't all that awful when compared to those of other bubble teams.

First Four Out/Next Four Out

First 4 Out 69. Geo. Washington 70. Wisconsin
71. Washington
72. Tulsa
Next 4 Out 76. Saint Mary's
75. Vanderbilt
74. St. Bonaventure
73. Texas Tech

Wednesday night resulted in plenty of change for this group. The Texas Tech Red Raiders boosted their hopes by topping the Iowa State Cyclones in Lubbock for the second season in a row and Tulsa grabbed a great road win at SMU. Both have ground to make up, mostly because of their non-conference schedules, but they are both alive in a topsy-turvy season.

This weekend, the Wisconsin Badgers can make a statement by winning on the Maryland Terrapins' home floor, while the Washington Huskies must make up for a Wednesday loss at the Utah Utes by putting on a better performance against the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder.

The team in this group that took the biggest tumble is the Saint Mary's Gaels, who dropped a home game to the Pepperdine Waves on Thursday. That defeat dropped the Gaels' RPI down to 74th with no Top 50 wins.

In The Hunt

77. Kansas State 78. Clemson 79. UCLA 80. Creighton
84. Georgetown 83. Ohio State 82. Ole Miss 81. Georgia
85. Marquette 86. Stanford

Wednesday was not so kind to the Kansas State Wildcats, who fell to the Baylor Bears in Manhattan. That result helped push K-State out of the RPI Top 50. Creighton's win over Xavier boosted its computer numbers slightly, but they'll need more quality victories to make up for a lackluster early part of the season, including a loss at the Loyola of Chicago Ramblers. The Jays' Big East rivals, Marquette, have a similar non-conference scheduling issue, and a sweep of Providence won't be enough to cover it up.

The UCLA Bruins head to the desert this weekend, with Friday's game at the Arizona Wildcats absolutely vital for their flagging hopes.

As for the Clemson Tigers, Monday night's home loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish might have been costly, considering what's ahead on the schedule. Five of the Tigers' final six games come against teams with no hope of earning an at-large, including a pair against the Boston College Eagles, still winless in ACC play. The exception is a March 1 game with surging Virginia, which thankfully for Clemson, will take place in Greenville.

Likely Auto Bid Only

12 seeds

49. Chattanooga* 50. San Diego St.*
13 seeds 54. Hawaii* 53. Yale* 52. Little Rock* 51. Akron*
14 seeds 55. South Dakota St.* 56. Stony Brook* 57. UNCW* 58. UAB*
15 seeds 62. New Mexico State* 61. Montana* 60. Stephen F. Austin*
59. Belmont*
16 seeds
(Direct)
63. UNC Asheville* 64. North Florida*


16 seeds
(First Four)
65. Bucknell* 66. Fair. Dickinson* 67. Hampton* 68. Texas Sthn.*

It's been a tough week for mid-major conference leaders. You might even want to call it "Designated WTF Loss" week. The troubles began on Wednesday, when the first-place Bucknell Bison dropped a Patriot League home game to the Lehigh Mountain Hawks by 15 points and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, the Summit leader, lost a thriller to the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks on the road. But the real carnage followed on Thursday.

If those results are a preview of what's to come when conference tournament play begins just after the calendar turns to March, look for some intriguing seedings on Selection Sunday. Or going back to Saturday, when the Illinois State Redbirds tagged runaway Missouri Valley leader Wichita State with its first conference loss (in controversial fashion), at-large bids could possibly disappear if teams like the Shockers (or Valparaiso or Monmouth) fall in the conference semis or final.

I'll be back with a full bracket projection after another stuffed weekend and Big Monday of college basketball action.