In this morning’s full bracket projection, the Mountain West’s No. 1 seed, the Nevada Wolf Pack, were slotted as a No. 7 seed nationally heading into their semifinal against the San Diego State Aztecs. On Saturday, the pair closed their regular seasons at the Aztecs’ Viejas Arena, with the home team earning a split of the season series with an impressive, and close, 79-74 victory.
Tonight, San Diego State turned it up way past 11 in the first half, taking a 55-25 lead into the locker room. And the Aztecs kept it going in the final 20 minutes, prevailing 90-73. And that means the Mountain West will almost assuredly be a two-bid league. While Nevada will no longer be a seven seed in tomorrow morning’s full projection, they’ll still be in the field, as will a second team, the highest remaining seed playing for the auto bid tomorrow (either the fifth-seeded Aztecs or No. 3 seed New Mexico, who meet seventh-seeded Utah State in the nightcap in Las Vegas).
And that means one of this morning’s at-large squads has to drop out, and with that, here’s an updated look at the cut line, after yet another examination at the teams involved. Yes, it’s a bit different than what I projected before play tipped off this afternoon.
Last Four Byes: Texas, N.C, State, UCLA, Alabama
With their win over SEC Tournament top seed Auburn, Collin Sexton and the Crimson Tide earned a bit of breathing room, even if a defeat in tomorrow’s semifinal against Kentucky would be Bama’s 15th, which would tie last season’s Vanderbilt squad for the most losses ever for an at-large.
Providence escaped this group for good by defeating Big East Tournament top seed Xavier in an overtime thriller in New York. Had UCLA won its OT Pac-12 Tournament semifinal over Arizona, they would have done the same.
Last Four In: USC, Oklahoma, Arizona State, Syracuse
Yes, the Sun Devils are back, because I figure the Selection Committee may reward them for the non-conference wins that have that so many of their competitors do not. And wouldn’t an Oklahoma-ASU First Four game hit the spot? Syracuse also makes a large jump from the “Next Four Out” group this morning, which tells you how narrow the differences are among the 12 or so teams fighting for the final four spots in the field. Why the Orange? Because they picked up their best victories — at Miami and Louisville and over Clemson at the Carrier Dome — in the final month of the season. That’s a radically different approach than the one taken by most of their competition — which again might provide a nice contrast in the First Four.
Of these four teams, the only one still playing, USC, has the most on the line. The Trojans might very well drop out altogether if they fail to beat Oregon in the second Pac-12 semifinal. I just don’t know that a profile that has Middle Tennessee and New Mexico State as its two best wins is going to be enough.
First Four Out: Middle Tennessee, Saint Mary’s, Louisville, Baylor
Both mid-major bubble teams fall out, though I would not be surprised if one or both reached the field. I just doubt that Saint Mary’s win over Gonzaga and Middle Tennessee’s wins over Murray State and Western Kentucky will hold up. Baylor also dropped out because even with a win over Kansas, I think 14 losses will be too many, especially with their poor record away from home and the missed opportunities inherent in their 4-12 Group 1 record.
Next Five Out: Marquette, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Nebraska
With a win over USC, the Ducks will move slightly up the pecking order, but they really need the auto bid.
Before I start work on tomorrow morning’s full projection, a word of warning for fans of bubble teams. Keep an eye on tomorrow’s Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals (CBSSN, 1 and approx. 3:30 p.m., CBSSN). While the top two seeds, the Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure, survived quarterfinal tests today, the semifinals will provide stiff challenges. The Rams face the Saint Joseph’s team that throttled them by 30 on February 27th in the first game of the day, while the Bonnies take on a Davidson squad that defeated them by 10 in North Carolina and took them to triple OT, also on February 27th.
In other words, the potential of a surprise Atlantic 10 team stealing a bid at the last possible moment is very real.