Bracketologist’s update 1:55 p.m. Eastern: Updated the references to LSU and Tennessee to correctly reflect the SEC’s final standings.
Let’s start today’s update with the four No. 1 seeds. The North Carolina Tar Heels swapped places with the Duke Blue Devils, the final top seed in Tuesday’s bracket and Friday’s bubble update, after sweeping the pair’s season series with a 79-70 victory in Chapel Hill. The now Tar Heels rank fourth overall behind the Virginia Cavaliers (victorious over the Louisville Cardinals), Gonzaga Bulldogs (who next take the floor Monday night in the WCC Tournament semifinals) and Kentucky Wildcats (relatively comfortable winners over the Florida Gators).
While Duke dropped to seed line No. 2, the Blue Devils aren’t out of the race yet. After last night’s game, head coach Mike Krzyzewski indicated that Zion Williamson should return for next week’s ACC Tournament. And guess what, the third-seeded Blue Devils could meet the second-seeded Tar Heels again in Friday night’s semifinals. But now Williamson isn’t the only injury worry for Duke, as the Blue Devils lost their main post presence, Marques Bolden, to an MCL sprain in last night’s second half. Krzyzewski stated that the timetable for his return is less clear.
The Michigan State Spartans, who defeated the Michigan Wolverines for a second time this season, 75-63, are now the second-ranked No. 2 seed, followed by the SEC champion LSU Tigers, then the Tennessee Volunteers (despite a loss at the Auburn Tigers), co-runners-up alongside Kentucky. The Tigers jumped up despite Friday’s news that the school was suspending head coach Will Wade indefinitely following his appearance on an FBI wiretap and Saturday’s decision to hold Javonte Smart, the player referenced in that recording, out of action. LSU ended up defeating the Vanderbilt Commodores, who finished 0-18 in SEC play, 80-59, on a surreal evening at the Maravich Center.
Michigan falls to the No. 3 line after its loss in East Lansing, and the Houston Cougars, Kansas Jayhawks and Purdue Boilermakers — Big Ten co-champions alongside Michigan State — follow the Wolverines. The Big 12’s co-champions, the Texas Tech Red Raiders and Kansas State Wildcats, reside on seed line No. 4, along with a pair of ACC teams, the Florida State Seminoles and Virginia Tech Hokies.
Now it’s time to look at the field as a whole, starting with the left side of the traditional bracket (East and Midwest), followed by the right (West and South). I’ve eliminated team nicknames from the projection, mostly to help speed things up over the final week of the season. As is my tradition, the names of actual auto bid winners appear in ALL CAPS. (You’ll have to ignore the teams represented by acronyms only, LSU and VCU, for now.)
Note: Auto bid holders in this section are noted by the conference names in parentheses. Arrows indicate movement up or down the seed list relative to Tuesday’s bracket. New entrants are marked with an asterisk.
1. East (Washington, D.C.)
Columbia, South Carolina (Fri./Sun.)
San José, California (Fri./Sun.)
Hartford, Connecticut (Thu./Sat.)
Jacksonville, Florida (Thu./Sat.)
4. Midwest (Kansas City, Missouri)
Salt Lake City, Utah (Thu./Sat.)
Tulsa, Oklahoma (Fri./Sun.)
Columbus, Ohio (Fri./Sun.)
2. West (Anaheim, California)
Salt Lake City (Thu./Sat.)
Des Moines, Iowa (Thu./Sat.)
3. South (Louisville, Kentucky)
San José (Fri./Sun.)
Des Moines (Thu./Sat.)
Bids by Conference: 9 Big Ten, 8 ACC, 8 Big 12, 7 SEC, 4 American, 4 Big East, 2 Mountain West, 2 Pac-12, 24 one-bid conferences
Saturday’s bubble wrap
The bubble picture continues to be as clear as mud. And you can see why after taking a look at Saturday’s key results.
- The 19-12 TCU Horned Frogs dominated the Texas Longhorns in Austin, with the 69-56 final score honestly flattering Shaka Smart’s team. While the Horned Frogs left the “Last Four In” group with the win, the Longhorns, now 16-15, replaced them. And Texas would be well advised to win at least one game at the Big 12 Tournament. For starters, the ‘Horns’ next loss will be their 16th, and the Selection Committee has never taken a team with that many defeats. Plus, a one-and-done performance in Kansas City would leave Texas at 16-16, which would virtually guarantee an NIT bid.
- The Temple Owls and Clemson Tigers earned a bit more cushion with their respective home wins over the UCF Knights and Syracuse Orange, but both still need to do some work next week.
- As for the NC State Wolfpack, their 73-47 rout of the Boston College Eagles didn’t do much to move the needle. Usually, teams can rely on a strong conference schedule to boost a weak non-conference slate. But the Wolfpack, owner of the nation’s worst non-conference schedule, didn’t get many favors from the ACC in that department, and as a result, their overall schedule ranks just 217th. In other words, Kevin Keatts’ squad has some work to do in Charlotte, starting with a potential bubble elimination game against Clemson on Wednesday.
- The Creighton Bluejays look to be the Big East team with the best shot of breaking through with a strong performance at Madison Square Garden, thanks to a home win over the DePaul Blue Demons. Meanwhile, the Georgetown Hoyas (over the fading Marquette Golden Eagles) and Xavier Musketeers (victorious over the St. John’s Red Storm for the second time in 10 days) could cause some headaches in New York.
- The Red Storm, along with Syracuse and Florida were among yesterday’s biggest bubble losers. The Alabama Crimson Tide joined this group with an 82-70 setback against the Arkansas Razorbacks, the Tide’s third straight loss. So did the Washington Huskies, the Pac-12 regular-season champions who seem intent on making #Pac1Bid happen. Mike Hopkins’ squad scored only 18 first-half points in a dispiriting home loss to the Oregon Ducks, who are now the fourth team out. At least the Arizona State Sun Devils managed to sweep the Arizona Wildcats for the first time in Bobby Hurley’s tenure in Tempe. That win gave ASU a little bit more margin for error in Las Vegas next week.
Conference tournament update
If you want to witness the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and nearly every other emotion in between, mid-major conference tournaments are as close as you’re going to get to experiencing ABC’s long-departed Wide World of Sports program here in 2019.
Three potential March headliners faded into NIT oblivion within a 26-hour span on Friday and Saturday. First, the Campbell Fighting Camels, featuring 3,000-point scorer Chris Clemons, lost their Big South Tournament semifinal at home as the No. 1 seed to the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs. Then, late on Saturday afternoon, the Bradley Braves eliminated last season’s Final Four surprise, the Loyola Chicago Ramblers, in the Arch Madness semifinals in St. Louis. A few hours after that, one of the biggest shocks you’ll ever witness in a conference tournament happened in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In the first Summit League Tournament quarterfinal, the eighth-seeded Western Illinois Leathernecks, 9-20 in the regular season, won a virtual road game to eliminate the top-seeded South Dakota State Jackrabbits, featuring yet another 3,000-point scorer in Mike Daum. The Jackrabbits were aiming for their fourth consecutive NCAA trip and had defeated the Leathernecks by 42 and 20 in their two regular season matchups, the second of which happened exactly one week earlier.
The one big mid-major star who is so far guaranteed to take the floor on either March 21st or 22nd is the Murray State Racers’ Ja Morant, who scored 36 in his team’s 77-65 OVC Tournament title game triumph over the top-seeded Belmont Bruins last night. That was the Racers’ second consecutive championship game win over the team that’s become their most significant rival.
But again, the Racers’ joy was accompanied by the bitterness the Bruins are surely now feeling, along with the anxious wait they’ll experience over the next week. Rick Byrd’s squad is my first team out as of this morning. While Belmont is 2-2 in Quad 1 games and 3-1 in Quad 2 matchups, the team’s profile lacks the marquee, name-brand win the Committee has recently wanted bubble teams to own. And while the Bruins are 12-3 in true road games, they also have a whopping 17 wins against teams ranked 200th or worse in the NET.
But considering how weird this season is and how mediocre Belmont’s bubble competition is, you can’t rule them out. Too many twists and turns and pothole remain on 2019’s version of the road to Selection Sunday.
I’ll have a fresh update Monday taking into account the final games of the regular season and Sunday’s three big conference championship games.