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Bracketology 2018: Welcome to crunch time for the bubble

Three days worth of action led to some major changes both at the top of the bracket and at the cut line, where Louisville and USC did the most to help their cases.

NCAA Basketball: Southern California at Colorado
USC easily swept through the Pac-12’s most difficult road swing and leapt into the projected field as a result.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

March is nearly here, which means changes to what’s already a relatively unstable bracket will become even more rapid and unpredictable in the coming days. This weekend, with its flurry of matchups with bubble importance, served as a nice preview. But the coming week, highlighted by the first wave of conference tournaments, including the Big Ten, and several tantalizing regular-season finales, should push the national picture into clearer focus.

While the top seed line of Virginia, Villanova, Xavier and Kansas remains constant from one week ago, the same cannot be said for the rest of the top 16, thanks both to the weekend’s action on the court and news off it. Pairs of teams from the ACC, North Carolina and Duke, and the Big Ten, Purdue and Michigan State, fill seed line No. 2.

This week could be a significant one for all four. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils meet in Durham on Saturday night, with UNC sitting ahead of Duke on the seed list following the latter’s loss at Virginia Tech on Monday night. Meanwhile, the Spartans and Boilermakers will both be aiming for a place in Sunday’s Big Ten final at Madison Square Garden. Even though I’ve been bearish on MSU’s chances for a No. 1 seed, thanks to an unusually weak non-conference schedule and unbalanced league slate, claiming both the conference regular season and tournament titles might just change that. As for Purdue, a three-game skid earlier this month might be too much to overcome, even with a Big Ten Tournament title.

SEC leader Auburn dropped down to line three, following a Saturday loss at Florida. There, Tigers rank ahead of Cincinnati; a second SEC team, Tennessee; and Texas Tech, which was unable to keep Kansas from clinching yet another Big 12 title Saturday, then lost at West Virginia on Monday.

Arizona, last seen among the threes on Friday, is now completely out of the top 16, thanks to the imperfect storm of Saturday’s loss at Oregon, Sean Miller’s absence from the team due to the FBI investigation into college basketball and Allonzo Trier’s ineligibility due to a failed drug test. The Wildcats now find themselves among the five seeds, with Ohio State, West Virginia, Wichita State and Gonzaga slotted on line four.

After today’s full bracket and rundown, I’ll take a look at some of the weekend’s most significant bubble results.

1. South (Left) and 2. East (Right)

Atlanta (Thu./Sat.) Boston (Fri./Sun.)
Atlanta (Thu./Sat.) Boston (Fri./Sun.)
Charlotte (Fri./Sun.) Pittsburgh (Thu./Sat.)
1. Virginia (ACC) 1. Villanova
16. Nicholls State/Ark.-Pine Bluff 16. UC Irvine/N.C. A&T
8. Houston ↓8. Missouri
↑9. Kansas State ↓9. Florida State
Boise (Thu./Sat.) Boise (Thu./Sat.)
↑5. Michigan ↑5. Kentucky
12. Middle Tennessee (C-USA) 12. Buffalo (MAC)
↑4. West Virginia ↑4. Ohio State
*13. UNC Greensboro (SoCon) 13. Vermont (AE)
Nashville (Fri./Sun.) Dallas (Thu./Sat.)
↑6. TCU ↑6. Florida
11. St. Bonaventure/Baylor ↓11. Providence
↓3. Auburn (SEC) ↓3. Texas Tech
14. Rider (MAAC) ↑14. Montana (Big Sky)
Nashville (Fri./Sun.) Charlotte (Fri./Sun.)
↓7. Creighton ↑7. Butler
10. N.C. State ↓10. Arizona State
2. Michigan State (Big Ten) ↑2. North Carolina
*15. Penn (Ivy) 15. Wagner (NEC)

4. West (Left) and 3. Midwest (Right)

Los Angeles (Thu./Sat.) Omaha (Fri./Sun.)
Los Angeles (Thu./Sat.) Omaha (Fri./Sun.)
Wichita (Thu./Sat.) Detroit (Fri./Sun.)
1. Kansas (Big 12) 1. Xavier (Big East)
16. FGCU (ASUN) *16. UNC Asheville (Big South)
↓8. Alabama 8. Oklahoma
9. Nevada (MW) 9. Virginia Tech
San Diego (Fri./Sun.) San Diego (Fri./Sun.)
↓5. Arizona (Pac-12) ↓5. Clemson
12. New Mexico State (WAC) 12. Loyola (Ill.) (MVC)
4. Gonzaga (WCC) 4. Wichita State
13. South Dakota State (Summit) 13. Louisiana (Sun Belt)
Wichita (Thu./Sat.) Dallas (Thu./Sat.)
6. Texas A&M ↓6. Rhode Island (A 10)
11. Louisville/Texas *11. USC
3. Cincinnati (American) ↑3. Tennessee
14. College of Charleston (CAA) *14. Murray State (OVC)
Pittsburgh (Thu./Sat.) Detroit (Fri./Sun.)
7. Seton Hall ↑7. Miami (Fla.)
↓10. Saint Mary's 10. Arkansas
2. Duke ↑2. Purdue
*15. Northern Kentucky (Horizon) 15. Bucknell (Patriot)

First Four

SOUTH (Automatic) EAST (Automatic) WEST (At-Large) SOUTH (At-Large)
SOUTH (Automatic) EAST (Automatic) WEST (At-Large) SOUTH (At-Large)
To Charlotte (Wed.) To Pittsburgh (Tue.) To Wichita (Tue.) To Nashville (Wed.)
16. Nicholls State (Southland) *16. UC Irvine (Big West) *11. Louisville 11. St. Bonaventure
*16. Ark.-Pine Bluff (SWAC) 16. N.C. A&T (MEAC) 11. Texas 11. Baylor
KEY: * = new to bracket ↑ = seed rising ↓ = seed falling

Rundown

LAST EIGHT IN FIRST EIGHT OUT ARRIVALS DEPARTURES
LAST EIGHT IN FIRST EIGHT OUT ARRIVALS DEPARTURES
Saint Mary's Marquette Arkansas-Pine Bluff Belmont
Arizona State Syracuse Louisville ETSU
Providence Utah Murray State Harvard
USC Nebraska Northern Kentucky Southern
St. Bonaventure (Dayton) UCLA Penn Syracuse
Baylor (Dayton) Mississippi State UC Irvine UC Santa Barbara
Louisville (Dayton) Washington UNC Asheville UCLA
Texas (Dayton) LSU UNC Greensboro Winthrop
USC Wright State

Also considered (in order): Oregon, Georgia, Temple, Notre Dame, Western Kentucky, Boise State, Colorado, Penn State, Oklahoma State, UCF

Bids by Conference

Conference Bids Teams (in Seed List Order)
Conference Bids Teams (in Seed List Order)
ACC 9 Virginia (auto bid), North Carolina, Duke, Clemson, Miami (Fla.), Florida State, Virginia Tech, N.C. State, Louisville (First Four)
Big 12 8 Kansas (auto bid), Texas Tech, West Virginia, TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor (First Four), Texas (First Four)
SEC 8 Auburn (auto bid), Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida Texas A&M, Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas
Big East 6 Villanova, Xavier (auto bid), Seton Hall, Creighton, Butler, Providence
Big Ten 4 Purdue, Michigan State (auto bid), Ohio State, Michigan
American 3 Cincinnati (auto bid), Wichita State, Houston
Pac-12 3 Arizona (auto bid), Arizona State, USC
A 10 2 Rhode Island (auto bid), St. Bonaventure (First Four)
WCC 2 Gonzaga (auto bid), Saint Mary's

While Virginia Tech’s Monday night home win over Duke solidified the Hokies’ case, a Saturday loss to Louisville served both as a missed opportunity and boon to the Cardinals’ own hopes — David Padgett’s team is the ninth ACC team in the field today. But can the Cards stick around? A massive home game against Virginia looms on Thursday. Louisville’s final regular season opponent, N.C. State, also picked up a vital win over the weekend, clobbering Florida State by 20 on Sunday. Syracuse wasn’t so fortunate, however, as a 60-44 defeat at Duke pushed the Orange out of this projection.

ACC Midweek Games to Watch

Miami at North Carolina, Tuesday 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Pitt at Notre Dame, Wednesday 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Florida State at Clemson, Wednesday 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
Syracuse at Boston College, Wednesday 9 p.m. (ACC RSNs/ESPN3)
Virginia at Louisville, Thursday 8 p.m. (ACC Network/ESPN3)
N.C. State at Georgia Tech, Thursday 8 p.m. (ACC Network/ESPN3)

In the Big 12, Oklahoma ended its six-game skid by knocking off fellow bubble team Kansas State. Baylor, however, dropped its second straight, following a Tuesday home loss to West Virginia with one at TCU. The Bears remain in the field, barely, along with Texas, who managed a one-point home win over Oklahoma State on Saturday before losing at Kansas, as expected, last night.

Big 12 Midweek Games to Watch

Oklahoma at Baylor, Tuesday 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Kansas State at TCU, Tuesday 9 p.m. (ESPNU)

The Big East had seven teams in Friday’s bubble check-in, but thanks to Marquette‘s 70-62 setback at DePaul, the conference is back to a half-dozen bids. At least Creighton took advantage of Villanova’s visit to shore up its credentials.

Big East Midweek Games to Watch

DePaul at Creighton, Tuesday 9 p.m. (FS1)
Providence at Xavier, Wednesday 6:30 p.m. (FS1)
Villanova at Seton Hall, Wednesday 8:30 p.m. (FS1)
Butler at St. John’s, Wednesday 9 p.m. (CBSSN)

After taking care of business against Penn State on Sunday, Nebraska has everything to play for starting on Friday in Midtown Manhattan. However, the Cornhuskers might want to spend Thursday cheering for a Michigan win over either Iowa or Illinois to set up the optimal tournament path for RPI purposes. At this point, the only way the Big Ten gets a fifth bid is through a late Husker push or a surprise winner on Sunday afternoon.

Big Ten Tournament Games to Watch

Illinois/Iowa winner vs. Michigan, Thursday 2:30 p.m. (BTN)
Northwestern vs. Penn State, Thursday 6:30 p.m. (BTN)

Then there’s the Pac-12, which crept closer to three-bid status after its plethora of bubble matchups. At the moment, USC is team no. 3, as the Trojans looked impressive in sweeping their Rocky Mountain road trip, taking both games by double-digit margins. Andy Enfield’s team closes with UCLA at home on Saturday, and the Bruins will need the road win badly, as they were swept out of Salt Lake City, Boulder and this projection. Arizona State, meanwhile, moved further from safety, thanks to a pair of losses in Oregon. The Sun Devils will need to sweep their trip to the Bay Area to finish 9-9 in league play! Washington remains on the outside looking in as the Huskies could only split that very journey this weekend, while Utah‘s Saturday loss to USC was a disappointing performance at precisely the wrong time. The Utes host Colorado on Saturday — not quite an elimination game, but close to it.

Pac-12 Midweek Games to Watch

Oregon at Washington State, Thursday 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
California at Arizona State, Thursday 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
Stanford at Arizona, Thursday 10 p.m. (FS1)
Oregon State at Washington, Thursday 11 p.m. (ESPN2)

Florida (over Auburn in Gainesville) and Arkansas (at Alabama) were the two big SEC bubble winners over the weekend. The Gators visit Tuscaloosa tonight in what could be one of the more fascinating matchups of the week. Missouri (at Kentucky, which has suddenly won three straight) joins Bama and LSU (who fell at Georgia) as teams who saw their stock take a hit, though Mizzou and the Tide remain relatively safely in the field. Georgia, their canine cousins from Mississippi State (who needed OT to escape South Carolina at home) and Texas A&M (who held off a late Vanderbilt rally) all won games they couldn’t really afford to lose, though only the Aggies find themselves in this bracket as a result. Mississippi State and Georgia both have chances to pick up significant home wins over the next two days, however.

SEC Midweek Games to Watch

Florida at Alabama, Tuesday 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Missouri at Vanderbilt, Tuesday 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Tennessee at Mississippi State, Tuesday 7 p.m. (SEC Network)
Auburn at Arkansas, Tuesday 9 p.m. (SEC Network)
LSU at South Carolina, Wednesday 6:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Ole Miss at Kentucky, Wednesday 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Texas A&M at Georgia, Wednesday 8:30 p.m. (SEC Network)

St. Bonaventure took out VCU by five on Saturday night to extend its winning streak to 10 with Davidson visiting Olean tonight (9 p.m., CBSSN). Meanwhile, the other non-Power 7 at-large, Saint Mary’s, opens WCC Tournament play on Saturday evening. And given the Gaels’ lack of quality wins, they would be well served to cut down the nets in Las Vegas. Yes, the Championship Fortnight began on Monday, as the Atlantic Sun halved its field, with fourth-seeded NJIT the only home team failing to move on to the semifinals. Be sure to bookmark Conference Tournament Central for updated scores, brackets and TV info for the next two weeks. I’ve even added a daily chronological schedule at the top of the page for easy reference.

I’ll be back on Friday with a fresh look at the lock and bubble picture as we head into the final weekend of the regular season.