The Kansas Jayhawks, Big 12 champs for the 12th consecutive year, remain the No. 1 overall seed in my projected bracket, anchoring the Midwest region. In a season as unpredictable as this one, it wouldn't be wise to say a squad has cemented a top seed with 13 days left, but the Jayhawks are close to a sure thing. The East region's top seed, the Villanova Wildcats, look like a good bet, too, though their fate may ultimately depend on whether they can complete the Big East regular season and tournament double.
Joining the Jayhawks and Wildcats on the one line are a pair of teams that aren't even leading their conferences at this late date. The third-place team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Virginia Cavaliers, and the Michigan State Spartans, part of a four-way tie for second in the Big Ten, complete today's quartet of No. 1 seeds. Yes, the Spartans, 8-1 in their last nine games might just be peaking at the right time, which is a worrisome trend for the rest of the field.
The two teams sitting ahead of the Cavaliers in the ACC race, the North Carolina Tar Heels and Miami Hurricanes, are currently projected two seeds, thanks to a 3-5 record against the RPI Top 50 (UNC) and three losses to teams from outside of the Top 100 (Miami). They're joined by the Oklahoma Sooners and Xavier Musketeers, who held spots on the top line of my Friday review of the lock and bubble picture. But after yet another troublesome weekend for ranked teams, highlighted by a Sooner loss at the hands of the same Texas Longhorn team Kansas demolished on Monday and the Seton Hall Pirates' home victory over the Musketeers, both dropped a line.
After a week that featured a dominant win over the Arizona State Sun Devils and a squeaker that seriously dented the Pac-12 title hopes of the Arizona Wildcats, the Utah Utes join the Oregon Ducks on the three line. While it's possible one of the two best teams in the West finds itself on the two line, particularly with a sweep of both Pac-12 titles, don't expect either the Ducks or Utes to nab a top seed at this point. The West Virginia Mountaineers and Maryland Terrapins complete the quartet of No. 3 seeds.
The team taking the biggest tumble this week is the Iowa Hawkeyes, who have slipped from line two to four, thanks to one win in their last five games. While Fran McCaffrey's team is still slotted in Des Moines, their presence there is no longer a slam dunk, not with a pair of difficult games. This is a visit from an Indiana Hoosiers squad that's clinched a share of the Big Ten regular season crown, thanks to the Hawkeyes' struggles and road game at a Michigan Wolverines outfit that needs a quality win. The Hoosiers join Iowa among the final group of protected seeds, along with Duke and the Iowa State Cyclones. Note that the Cyclones cannot play in Des Moines since they're the host school.
That's what's going on at the top of the bracket, but what of the bubble? I'll discuss that mess in a bit more detail after today's full bracket and rundown.
|(1) MIDWEST |
|Des Moines (Thu/Sat)||Brooklyn (Fri/Sun)|
|1||Kansas (Big 12)||1||Villanova (Big East)|
|Des Moines (Thu/Sat)||Spokane (Fri/Sun)|
|↑5||Texas A&M (SEC)||↓5||Kentucky|
|*12||Hofstra (CAA)||12||San Diego State (MW)|
|↓4||Iowa||↑4||Indiana (Big Ten)|
|↑13||Yale (Ivy)||↓13||Saint Mary's (WCC)|
|Denver (Thu/Sat)||Providence (Thu/Sat)|
|14||Fort Wayne (Summit)||↓14||Stony Brook (Am East)|
|Brooklyn (Fri/Sun)||Raleigh (Thu/Sut)|
|2||Miami||↓2||North Carolina (ACC)|
|*15||High Point (Big South)||15||Belmont (OVC)|
|(4) WEST |
|St. Louis (Fri/Sun)||Raleigh (Thu/Sat)|
|16||Weber State (Big Sky)||16||North Florida (A-Sun)|
|↓8||South Carolina||↑8||Texas Tech|
|9||Wichita State (MVC)||*9||Vanderbilt|
|Denver (Thu/Sat)||Oklahoma City (Fri/Sun)|
|↑12||Little Rock (Sun Belt)||12||Cincinnati/Oregon State|
|↓13||Chattanooga (SoCon)||13||Akron (MAC)|
|Spokane (Fri/Sun)||Providence (Thu/Sat)|
|↑11||Valparaiso (Horizon)||11||Monmouth (MAAC)|
|14||Hawai'i (Big West)||14||UAB (C-USA)|
|Oklahoma City (Fri/Sun)||St. Louis (Fri/Sun)|
|15||Stephen F. Austin (Southland)||15||New Mexico State (WAC)|
|FIRST FOUR (Dayton)|
|Tuesday: To Des Moines||Tuesday: To Providence|
|16||Texas Southern (SWAC)||*11||Butler|
|Wednesday: To Brooklyn||Wednesday: To Oklahoma City
|16||Hampton (MEAC)||12||Oregon State|
|BIDS BY CONFERENCE||AVOIDING DAYTON||ARRIVALS||DEPARTURES|
|ACC: 7||Connecticut (37)||Butler||Alabama|
|Big 12: 7||Providence (39)||High Point (Big South)||Tulsa|
|Big Ten: 7||Michigan (40)||Hofstra (CAA)||UNC Wilmington (CAA)|
|Pac-12: 7||VCU (41)||Vanderbilt||Winthrop (Big South)|
|Big East: 5||LAST FOUR IN|
|SEC: 5||Butler (42)|
|American: 3||Cincinnati (43)|
|Atlantic 10: 3||Oregon State (45)|
|One-Bid Conferences: 24||Florida (46)|
|LAST FOUR OUT|
|NEXT FOUR OUT|
Also considered (in order): Princeton, Washington, LSU. Creighton, Clemson
Seton Hall, like the Wisconsin Badgers and Texas Tech Red Raiders in recent weeks, made a big leap toward safety by blasting fading Providence and impressing against Xavier in consecutive games. The Pirates now sit in sole possession of third place in the Big East, which currently has five teams in this projection, thanks to the presence, for the moment, of Butler. The SEC also has five entrants, while the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 all provide seven.
If you're already wondering which conference tournaments will affect the bubble picture the most, the SEC and this bracket's three-team conferences, the American Athletic and Atlantic 10, look to be in the lead. With the SMU Mustangs, the only ranked team in the American, ineligible for the postseason, the 10-team bracket in Orlando will be filled with potential landmines for the four conference teams with legitimate at-large hopes. While the Connecticut Huskies are still rather safe despite Sunday's home loss to the Houston Cougars, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane's chances dropped thanks to a loss at Memphis Tigers. Despite its pedigree, Josh Pastner's team, which has already lost to conference lightweights East Carolina, Tulane and South Florida, currently ranks outside of the RPI Top 150. In other words, Tulsa picked the worst time possible to pick up its worst setback of the season.
The Temple Owls share the conference lead with SMU, but they're not guaranteed an at-large due to some non-conference struggles and conference road losses to both Memphis and East Carolina. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bearcats beefed up their early season schedule and got little in return except for wins over fellow bubble teams George Washington and VCU and a pair of heartbreaking missed opportunities against the Butler Bulldogs and Iowa State.
So, you combine the four bid threats with Houston -- who will only go to the NCAAs with an auto bid due to a weak strength of schedule -- Memphis and the four teams at the bottom of the league threatening to deliver the dreaded late bad loss, and you're left with a possible bubble bloodbath in the tweeted words of my SB Nation colleague Russ Steinberg.
In the Atlantic 10, George Washington and VCU are joined by the St. Bonaventure Bonnies on the bubble. The Saint Joseph's Hawks are rather safe at this point, while only the Dayton Flyers' seeding has been threatened by a 3-3 swoon in which the wins came by a total of seven points. Still, the Davidson Wildcats and Rhode Island Rams could possibly go on a run in Brooklyn to complicate matters, and even the conference's worst teams -- the La Salle Explorers and George Mason Patriots -- have knocked off bid contenders this season. With teams from outside the top four being a consistent fixture in the Atlantic 10 semifinals, the league's bubble teams must be wary of the draw.
As for the SEC, this week saw a significant shift in its bid picture, with the Vanderbilt Commodores moving to a position of strength by completing a season sweep of the Florida Gators in Gainesville on Tuesday and defeating Kentucky in Nashville on Saturday afternoon. Kevin Stallings' team is finally playing to the potential many had forecast back in November, which is bad news for the top No. 4 seed that will find itself in Vandy's pod in two weeks.
The Gators, meanwhile, have dropped three in a row and haven't won consecutive games since blasting West Virginia and sneaking past Arkansas, both at the O'Connell Center, as January turned to February. Florida's lack of success against quality opposition (7-11 against the Top 100 with only two Top 50 wins) and away from home (5-9 in games not played in Gainesville) mean they'll need to pick up some wins in Nashville to earn a bid, even with a win over Kentucky tonight.
It's a similar story for the Alabama Crimson Tide, as victories over Arkansas and Georgia Bulldogs won't do much to move the needle this week, and the LSU Tigers. Even though the Bayou Bengals defeated Florida on Saturday and visit Rupp Arena on Saturday, an SEC Tournament crown is the only way they'll make the field. There are simply too many stinkers among their 12 losses.
With fewer than two weeks to go until Selection Sunday, the first conference tournament games of the season tip-off tonight. That means it's time for a reminder of the teams fans of bubble teams need to root for this week. Five of the eight teams I identified as mid-major at-large threats back in January still have a chance. However, thanks to the Gonzaga Bulldogs' struggles, the West Coast Conference Tournament looks like a race for a single bid for ether the Bulldogs and Saint Mary's Gaels (or maybe even the BYU Cougars). Otherwise, the Wichita State Shockers (Missouri Valley, final on Sunday), Monmouth Hawks (Metro Atlantic, final on Monday), Chattanooga Mocs (Southern Conference, final on Monday) and Valparaiso Crusaders (Horizon League, final next Tuesday) are the teams bubble fans need to cheer for to keep the maximum number of at-large bids available.
On Friday, I'll take yet another look at the lock and bubble picture right before the final weekend of the regular season for Division I's power conferences.
* * *
From 80 Feet: Josh Henderson of Vanderbilt hits ridiculous buzzer-beater