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Bracketology: Providence, Florida and Iowa are fading as the NCAA Tournament nears

With just a little more than two weeks left until Selection Sunday, the pressure is starting to become obvious. In Chris Dobbertean's Friday look at the lock and bubble picture, the focus today is on teams whose March futures look a little cloudier than they did a few weeks ago.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Let's jump right in with a look at the top 16 as it stands with just 16 days until Selection Sunday.

Locks and protected seeds (16)

*=automatic bid holder

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

The Kansas Jayhawks, the No. 1 overall seed in my Tuesday projection, remain there, thanks in no small part to the Villanova Wildcats' Wednesday night loss to the Xavier Musketeers. As a result of that win, Chris Mack's squad, 8-1 against the RPI Top 50 and 12-3 against the Top 100, jumps the North Carolina Tar Heels, 4-4 and 13-4 against those groups, for the final spot on the top line.

The Iowa Hawkeyes, however, are in a free fall, as they looked just as tired in losing to the rising Wisconsin Badgers on Wednesday night as they did in a four-point loss at Penn State a week earlier. There's still time, and more importantly, games for Iowa to recover, especially since the Indiana Hoosiers visit on Tuesday night, but spending the first weekend in Des Moines is no longer a certainty.

Other locks (8)

5 seeds 17. Indiana* 18. Purdue 19. Notre Dame
20. Texas A&M
6 seeds 24. Texas 23. Baylor 22. Arizona 21. Dayton

Of course, the Hoosiers, who lead the second tier of locks, are knocking on the door, eager for a protected seed. That target is in sight with games at Iowa and back in Bloomington against the Maryland Terrapins left for Yogi Ferrell and company.

Most of the teams in this group, with perhaps the exception of the 10-loss Texas Longhorns, might be able to crash the Top 16 with strong showings in their respective conference tournaments.

In good shape (8)

7 seeds 25. California 26. South Carolina 27. Colorado 28. Connecticut
8 seeds 32. Wisconsin 31. Texas Tech 30. Saint Joseph's* 29. USC

Wisconsin and the Texas Tech Red Raiders have used dominant February performances to move themselves off the bubble. The Colorado Buffaloes' win over the Arizona Wildcats on Wednesday night also gave them a bit more breathing room, though their position is still a bit dicey thanks to a 5-7 record in games away from Boulder. It's a similar story for the Buffs' Pac-12 rivals the California Golden Bears, 3-7 in road and neutral site games this season. However, Cal has built an 11-7 record against the RPI Top 100, while Colorado is merely 8-9 against that same group.

Before we look at the bubble itself, let's take stock of where we are in terms of available bids. Keep in mind that with 24 of the 68 bids available going to conferences likely to send just one team to the NCAA Tournament, only 44 places are truly in play. We've accounted for 32 of those to this point, meaning 12 remain. On this Friday, I consider 34 teams to be in contention for those spots (though seven of them are included as auto bid holders for right now).

Bubble IN (3)

9 seeds 33. Michigan 34. Florida 35. Seton Hall

With the Michigan Wolverines completing a regular season free of bad losses, thanks to Wednesday's home win over the Northwestern Wildcats, the team in the most danger out of this trio is the Florida Gators. The Vanderbilt Commodores swept UF on Tuesday night -- the second straight loss for Mike White's squad. If that run becomes three after Saturday's visit to an LSU Tigers team that must win the SEC Tournament to dance, the Gators could be in real trouble. Then consider that a home game against the Kentucky Wildcats would follow on Tuesday.

Last four byes (avoiding Dayton) (4+1 auto bids)

9 seeds


36. Oregon State
10 seeds 40. Syracuse 39. Tulsa 38. Pittsburgh 37. Wichita State*

By completing a sweep of the Syracuse Orange on Saturday, the Pittsburgh Panthers earned themselves a crucial potential pair of tiebreaking results. However, on Wednesday night, Jamie Dixon's team allowed the Louisville Cardinals to run all over them over the final three minutes of their game at the Petersen Events Center. That cost Pitt, a lousy 1-6 in games against the RPI Top 50, a vital victory. They'll get another chance against the Duke Blue Devils on Sunday, but don't be surprised to see the Panthers shipped off to Dayton if they can't pick up another quality win between now and March 13.

The Tulsa Golden Hurricane have improved their seeding by defeating both the Cincinnati Bearcats and Temple Owls at home, but a pair of games against teams completely out of the postseason picture (the Memphis Tigers and USF Bulls) loom as potential traps.

One of the teams the Golden Hurricane lost to in the earlier stages of the season, the Oregon State Beavers, picked up a crucial, but controversial win over the fading Washington Huskies on Wednesday evening. The Beavers are now 6-6 against the top 50 and 9-10 against the top 100, with a potential pothole lurking on Sunday, a Washington State Cougars squad that's 1-15 in the Pac-12.

Note that I've included the Wichita State Shockers here even though they'll likely have to get to the Missouri Valley Tournament final a week from Sunday to qualify as an at-large.

Last four in (first four) (4+2 auto bids)

11 seeds 41. Providence 42. Cincinnati 43. Monmouth* 44. Temple*
11 seeds

46. Alabama 45. Butler

Similarly, I've placed Temple and the Monmouth Hawks in between the Last "Four" In, though the MAAC leaders might have a slight advantage on the current American Athletic frontrunner thanks to their stronger performance out of conference.

The Butler Bulldogs return to the projected field for the moment, thanks to sitting idle while others were failing. As for the last team in right now, the Alabama Crimson Tide, a win at Kentucky would have been nice to pick up on Tuesday, but there's no shame in losing at Rupp. However, Avery Johnson's squad could find itself in trouble if it loses any of its final three -- Auburn and Arkansas in Tuscaloosa and Georgia on the road.

The Providence Friars (2015-16 season theme song Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'") are now 7-8 in the Big East after Thursday night's loss at the Seton Hall Pirates, who completed a season sweep. Making matters worse, Ed Cooley's team has won just two games, both over the Georgetown Hoyas, in their last eight outings. If this keeps up, a win at Villanova and neutral-site triumph over Arizona might not be enough to keep the Friars in.

First four out/next four out

First four out 69. Vanderbilt 70. Geo. Washington
71. VCU
72. St. Bonaventure
Next four out 76. Washington
75. Princeton
74. Georgia Tech
73. Gonzaga

Even though Vanderbilt just swept Florida and defeated Alabama in their lone head-to-head encounter this season, it sits just outside of this bracket thanks to disappointing performances early in November and December. Vandy simply doesn't have non-conference results that compare to Alabama's wins over Wichita State and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on a neutral floor. On the flip side, the Commodores host Kentucky on Saturday and visit Texas A&M one week later, so they certainly can pick up two more quality wins before playing in their own backyard during the SEC Tournament.

With three Atlantic 10 teams following Vanderbilt in the pecking order, the final week and a half of the regular season and the conference tournament in Brooklyn will have a significant impact on the national bubble picture. The VCU Rams' Wednesday night loss to a George Mason Patriots squad that had just won three prior conference games (and who the Rams handled in Richmond by 24) was particularly costly, dropping Will Wade's squad's RPI down to 60th. But road trips to the similarly bubble-bound George Washington Colonials and the safe but struggling Dayton Flyers mean there's still hope for one of the Atlantic 10's flagship programs.

Provided the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets keep the Boston College Eagles winless in the ACC on Saturday, a Tuesday road trip to Louisville and home finale against Pitt give Brian Gregory's team a pair of chances to move into contention, completely unexpectedly.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs' regular season finale at the BYU Cougars on Saturday is vital for a squad that's currently 2-7 against the RPI Top 100. The Cougars currently rank 75th, a mere five places below the Zags.

And yes, I did include the Princeton Tigers here, even if their RPI of 40 is largely driven by road losses at Miami and Saint Joseph's and a defeat at the hands of Maryland in Baltimore. The Tigers' most likely path remains either a Yale Bulldogs' stumble or a victory over them in a one-game playoff.

In the hunt

77. Florida State 78. BYU 79. Ohio State 80. UCLA
84. Clemson 83. Creighton 82. LSU 81.Ole Miss

It's fairly safe to say that each of these eight teams needs to win their respective conference tournaments to make the field.

Likely auto bid only

12 seeds 47. Valparaiso* 48. Saint Mary's* 49. Chattanooga* 50. San Diego St.*
13 seeds 54. UNC Wilmington* 53. Stony Brook* 52. Akron* 51. Little Rock*
14 seeds 55. Yale* 56. IPFW* 57. Hawai'i* 58. UAB*
15 seeds 62. Winthrop* 61. New Mexico State* 60. Stephen F. Austin*
59. Belmont*
16 seeds
(Direct)
63. Weber State* 64. North Florida*


16 seeds
(First four)
65. Hampton* 66. Bucknell* 67. Wagner* 68. Texas Sthn.*

With Yale's loss at Princeton on Friday, only one Division I team can possibly finish with a perfect conference record, the Southland's Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. Brad Underwood's team, aiming for its third straight NCAA bid, has four games left, with the final three on the road. Plus, the Lumberjacks are three games up on the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders with just four to play, so they could possibly clinch the outright regular season title between now and Tuesday's bracket.

Strap in for the next portion of our journey to Selection Sunday. The Championship Fortnight starts on Tuesday, not long after I release my next bracket.