The top four teams in the final Tuesday bracket of February are the same as one week ago, in the same order. The Kansas Jayhawks edge the top team in both the RPI and KenPom rankings, the Villanova Wildcats, for the top overall seed by virtue of their overwhelming advantage in wins against the RPI Top 25. KU is 6-3 in such games, while Nova is just 2-2, though they'll get a chance to add a third win (or loss) when they visit the Xavier Musketeers on Wednesday night.
The Jayhawks' Big 12 rivals, the Oklahoma Sooners, remain third, even though their chances for claiming a regular season crown are almost non-existent, while the North Carolina Tar Heels complete the top line. UNC responded to a midweek lost to the Duke Blue Devils by steamrolling the visiting Miami Hurricanes on Saturday.
For a time, it looked like the Virginia Cavaliers would take advantage of a free weekend and Carolina-Duke result to move up, until they lost a close one to those same Hurricanes on Big Monday. So, both Miami and Virginia join the Musketeers out of the Big East and the Iowa Hawkeyes on line two instead.
A pair of Big Ten squads are on line three, the Maryland Terrapins and Michigan State Spartans, along with the Pac-12 co-leading Oregon Ducks and the West Virginia Mountaineers, who completed a season sweep of the Iowa State Cyclones on Monday evening.
But the biggest changes at the top of this bracket come on the four line, with the Purdue Boilermakers and Dayton Flyers departing and the Utah Utes and Duke replacing them, joining Iowa State and a Kentucky Wildcats team that's just hanging on following a Saturday loss at Texas A&M.
In my opinion, the Utes are a team to watch the rest of the way, particularly on Saturday, when they take on an Arizona Wildcats squad that shares the Pac-12 lead with Oregon, a game up on Larry Krystkowiak's charges. While the Wildcats will have a strong claim to a place among the Top 16 with a win in Salt Lake City (and at Colorado on Wednesday), the Utes' non-conference schedule that features wins over Duke and rising Texas Tech and Temple, a loss at Wichita State (corrected from earlier), and slightly stronger Pac-12 slate might put them in line for a No. 3 seed with a Pac-12 regular season or tournament title.
But the race for protected seeds is nothing like the one near the cut line with a little less than three weeks to go. I'll discuss that more after today's full bracket and rundown.
|(1) MIDWEST |
|Des Moines (Thu/Sat)||Brooklyn (Fri/Sun)|
|1||Kansas (Big 12)||1||Villanova (Big East)|
|Denver (Thu/Sat)||Denver (Thu/Sat)|
|↑5||Indiana (Big Ten)||5||Notre Dame|
|↓12||Valparaiso (Horizon)||*12||Saint Mary's (WCC)|
|13||Akron (MAC)||13||Stony Brook (Am East)|
|St. Louis (Fri/Sun)||Providence (Thu/Sat)|
|3||Michigan State||3||West Virginia|
|*14||IPFW (Summit)||14||UAB (C-USA)|
|St. Louis (Fri/Sun)||Raleigh (Thu/Sat)|
|15||New Mexico State (WAC)||*15||Belmont (OVC)|
|(4) WEST |
|Raleigh (Thu/Sat)||Oklahoma City (Fri/Sun)|
|1||North Carolina (ACC)||1||Oklahoma|
|16||North Florida (A-Sun)||*16||Weber State (Big Sky)|
|*9||Texas Tech||↑9||Wichita State (MVC)|
|Oklahoma City (Fri/Sun)||Spokane (Fri/Sun)|
|12||Chattanooga (SoCon)||12||San Diego State (MW)|
|4||Iowa State||4||Kentucky (SEC)|
|↑13||UNC Wilmington (CAA)||13||Little Rock (Sun Belt)|
|Spokane (Fri/Sun)||Providence (Thu/Sat)|
|↓11||Monmouth (MAAC)||11||Alabama/Oregon State|
|14||Hawai'i (Big West)||14||Yale (Ivy)|
|Des Moines (Thu/Sat)||Brooklyn (Fri/Sun)|
|↑10||Temple (American)||*10||VCU (A 10)|
|15||Stephen F. Austin (Southland)||*15||Winthrop (Big South)|
|FIRST FOUR (Dayton)|
|Tuesday: To Des Moines||Tuesday: To Providence|
|16||Texas Southern (SWAC)||11||Alabama|
|*16||Wagner (NEC)||11||Oregon State|
|Wednesday: To Brooklyn||Wednesday: To St. Louis
|16||Bucknell (Patriot)||↓11||Seton Hall|
|BIDS BY CONFERENCE||AVOIDING DAYTON||ARRIVALS||DEPARTURES|
|ACC: 7||Michigan (36)||Belmont (OVC)||Butler|
|Big 12: 7||Syracuse (38)||IPFW (Summit)||Florida State|
|Big Ten: 7||Wisconsin (39)||Saint Mary's (WCC)||Gonzaga (WCC)|
|Pac-12: 7||Cincinnati (41)||Texas Tech||LSU|
|SEC: 5||LAST FOUR IN||Tulsa||Montana (Big Sky)|
|Big East: 4||Seton Hall (42)||VCU||South Dakota St. (Summit)|
|American: 4||Tulsa (43)||Weber State (Big Sky)||Tennessee Tech (OVC)|
|A 10: 3||Alabama (45)||Winthrop (Big South)||UNC Asheville (Big South)|
|One-Bid Conferences: 24||Oregon State (46)|
|LAST FOUR OUT|
|NEXT FOUR OUT|
Also considered (in order): Georgia Tech, UCLA, LSU, Princeton, Creighton, Ole Miss, Clemson, Georgia, Marquette
The weekend didn't go all that well for the majority of teams sitting on the 2016 version of the NCAA Tournament bubble. But there were exceptions, five notable ones to be precise.
- Texas Tech did what so many bubble teams failed to do on -- taking care of inferior opposition -- as the Red Raiders won at Oklahoma State. There was no letdown following three straight wins over ranked foes.
- The Pittsburgh Panthers, sliding down the seed list thanks to three straight losses and a double-OT win over a bad Wake Forest squad, boosted their case by completing a season sweep of the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome, simultaneously dinging the host's chances.
- The Cincinnati Bearcats completed a season sweep of the Connecticut Huskies to give themselves a bit of breathing room, particularly coming off a loss to another American Athletic bubble squad, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. While Frank Haith's team took down UCF on Sunday, that win only prevented it from picking up the dreaded "bad loss."
- On Sunday, the American-leading Temple Owls survived their trip to Houston to keep their at-large hopes alive. Had the Owls lost, they would still be in this projection as a conference leader, but a questionable at-large pick.
- Earlier in the day, the George Washington Colonials blew the doors off visiting La Salle, who handed fellow Atlantic 10 bid contender St. Bonaventure a potentially devastating loss on Wednesday.
- The Seton Hall Pirates, meanwhile, avoided absolute disaster by defeating the St. John's Red Storm by a single point, ending a game that neither team appeared to want to win.
Still, the number of teams who damaged their hopes over the weekend far outnumbered those who picked up quality wins.
- The Alabama Crimson Tide followed up consecutive road wins over LSU and Florida with a home loss to the Mississippi State Bulldogs, a squad that's likely to play on the first day of the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
- Those Bayou Bengals fell victim to a Tennessee Volunteers squad that was without its best player, Kevin Punter. The Vols won going away in Knoxville anyway, handing LSU its 11th loss of the season and knocking its RPI to 85th, well below the ranking of the lowest team selected, the 1999 New Mexico Lobos, who sat in 74th place.
- The ACC's hopes for more than seven bids are all but over, barring someone unexpected claiming the conference's auto bid. The conference's eighth and ninth hopes, the Clemson Tigers and Florida State Seminoles, both suffered devastating losses on Saturday to the North Carolina State Wolfpack and Virginia Tech Hokies, respectively. The Seminoles have now dropped four in a row, with three rough ones to close out the regular season -- at Duke, followed by Notre Dame and Syracuse back in Tallahassee.
- Likewise, the Pac-12's total looks like it will be lower than anticipated just a few weeks ago. The Washington Huskies ended a four-game losing streak by winning at a Stanford Cardinal team that's also fallen out of the picture, but the damage might already be done. Likewise, the Oregon State Beavers could have really used an unlikely win at Oregon on Saturday, though they remain in the field for now. Even Colorado saw its position damaged by getting swept out of Los Angeles, with a Saturday loss to the struggling UCLA Bruins particularly harmful.
Weekend struggles extended to possible mid-major at-large squads. On Friday, the Monmouth Hawks lost at home to the Iona Gaels in their first game without senior forward Deon Jones, who's out with an injured hand. Two days later, they needed overtime to defeat St. Peter's. But the biggest news of the weekend came out of the West Coast Conference, which looks increasingly like a one-bid league. The Gonzaga Bulldogs, hunting for their 18th consecutive NCAA bid, might need to win three games in Las Vegas to get it, thanks to a season sweep at the hands of a Saint Mary's Gaels squad that has a marginal at-large chance of its own. At least the Valparaiso Crusaders and Wichita State managed to clinch their respective conferences' regular season titles with ease to keep their chances alive heading into the Championship Fortnight.
Considering the roller coaster ride this season has been so far, expect many more twists and turns between now and Selection Sunday. I'll be back on Friday to document the latest ones.
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