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Bracketology 2020: Relief for bubble teams with 5 days before the NCAA tournament

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East Tennessee State and Gonzaga both took care of business, while Saint Mary’s almost assuredly locked up a bid.

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NCAA Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-Gonzaga vs San Francisco
Gonzaga held off San Francisco in Monday’s first WCC semifinal to end the possibility of the conference earning four NCAA Tournament bids.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

While fans of bubble teams shared some anxious moments, particularly late in the WCC tournament’s first semifinal, they didn’t hear any loud pops as Monday night’s action unfolded.

First, the East Tennessee State Buccaneers did what the Northern Iowa Panthers could not do over the weekend — they took their fate out of the Selection Committee’s hands. The Bucs earned their first NCAA tournament trip since 2017 by handling the defending-champion Wofford Terriers in the Southern Conference tournament final, 72-58. By adding the tourney title to their regular-season crown, Steve Forbes’ club earned a bump up to seed line No. 10 from an 11 in Monday morning’s bracket.

ETSU was the only team to officially collect its March Madness ticket Monday evening, but the two WCC semifinals in Las Vegas also affected the bubble picture. In the first game of the night, the San Francisco Dons had a real chance to knock off the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs — a result that would have kept the dream of a four-bid WCC alive for another night. And while Todd Golden’s squad played the Zags close for the second time this season, it didn’t have enough in the end, falling 81-77.

So three bids it will be for the West Coast, and the outcome of the second semifinal all but assured that total, as the Saint Mary’s Gaels topped the BYU Cougars, 51-50, thanks to a Jordan Ford jumper in the final seconds. That result both boosted the Gaels’ NET ranking into the top 30 and improved their record in Quadrant 1 games to 3-4, with all of those wins being against teams safely in the field.

After today’s full bracket and rundown, I’ll take a look at what’s to come on Tuesday, a night that will see five teams officially take their places in the field of 68.

Arrows indicate seed line movement, which is relative to Monday’s bracket. Asterisks (*) indicate new entries. Teams in all caps (except for those that go by their initials) have clinched auto bids (six so far).

1. South Region (Houston)

Omaha, Nebraska (Fri./Sun.)

1. Kansas (Big 12) vs. 16. Robert Morris (NEC)/NC Central (MEAC)
8. Saint Mary’s vs. 9. USC

Sacramento, California (Fri./Sun.)

5. Ohio State vs. 12. LIBERTY (ASUN)
4. Oregon (Pac-12) vs. 13. New Mexico State (WAC)

Albany, New York (Thu./Sat.)

6. Michigan vs. 11. UTAH STATE (MW)
3. Maryland vs. 14. Colgate (Patriot)

Tampa, Florida (Thu./Sat.)

7. LSU vs. 10. Marquette
2. Florida State (ACC) vs. 15. North Dakota State (Summit)

2. West Region (Los Angeles)

Spokane, Washington (Thu./Sat.)

1. Gonzaga (WCC) vs. 16. Siena (MAAC)/Prairie View A&M (SWAC)
8. Arizona vs. 9. Florida

Spokane (Thu./Sat.)

5. Auburn vs. 12. Stephen F. Austin (Southland)
4. Wisconsin (Big Ten) vs. 13. BELMONT (OVC)

Greensboro, North Carolina (Fri./Sun.)

6. Iowa vs. ↓11. Texas Tech
3. Duke vs. 14. BRADLEY (MVC)

St. Louis, Missouri (Thu./Sat.)

7. Illinois vs. 10. Oklahoma
2. Creighton (Big East) vs. 15. UC Irvine (Big West)

3. Midwest Region (Indianapolis)

St. Louis (Thu./Sat.)

1. Baylor vs. 16. Little Rock (Sun Belt)
8. Houston vs. 9. Arizona State

Tampa (Thu./Sat.)

5. BYU vs. 12. Yale (Ivy)
4. Seton Hall vs. 13. Akron (MAC)

Greensboro (Fri./Sun.)

6. Virginia vs. 11. Stanford/Xavier
3. Michigan State vs. 14. North Texas (C-USA)

Cleveland (Fri./Sun.)

7. West Virginia vs. 10. Rutgers
2. Dayton (A 10) vs. *15. Northern Kentucky (Horizon)

4. East Region (New York)

Sacramento (Fri./Sun.)

1. San Diego State vs. 16. WINTHROP (Big South)
8. Colorado vs. 9. Indiana

Omaha (Fri./Sun.)

5. Butler vs. 12. Cincinnati (American)
4. Louisville vs. 13. Vermont (Amer. East)

Albany (Thu./Sat.)

6. Penn State vs. 11. Richmond/Texas
3. Villanova vs. 14. Hofstra (CAA)

Cleveland, Ohio (Fri./Sun.)

7. Providence vs. ↑10. EAST TENNESSEE STATE (SoCon)
2. Kentucky (SEC) vs. 15. Eastern Washington (Big Sky)

Rundown

Bids by conference: 10 Big Ten, 7 Big East, 6 Big 12, 5 Pac-12, 4 ACC, 4 SEC, 3 WCC, 2 AAC, 2 A 10, 2 MW, 22 one-bid conferences

Last four byes: Oklahoma, Rutgers, Marquette, Texas Tech
Last four in: Stanford, Xavier, Richmond, Texas
First four out: UCLA, Wichita State, NC State, Northern Iowa
Next four out: Mississippi State, UConn, Saint Louis, Tulsa

Lowest-ranked NET at-large: Texas (69)
Highest-ranked NET exclusion: Purdue (33, 16-15 overall)

New today (1/68): Northern Kentucky
Leaving today: Wright State

While the first power-conference tournament of the season, the ACC tournament, tips off in Greensboro this afternoon, neither one of that event’s first-round contests will have any bracket impact. However, Tuesday night’s slate will see the number of automatic bid holders jump from six to 11.

Three spots are up for grabs in the 7 p.m. ET time slot.

  • In the Horizon League, the Northern Kentucky Norse will look for their second NCAA bid in a row and second in three years. The Horizon’s No. 2 seed will face the No. 4, as the UIC Flames routed the top-seeded Wright State Raiders in Monday’s first semifinal. The Flames last danced in 2004. That game is on ESPN.
  • On ESPN, the Northeast Conference’s two Pittsburgh-area schools the Robert Morris Colonials and St. Francis Red Flash meet on the Colonials’ home floor. The two best tournament-eligible teams in the NEC (sorry, Merrimack) split their regular-season meetings, with each home team victorious. Robert Morris last reached the field in 2015, while St. Francis hasn’t qualified since 1991.
  • CBSSN has the CAA tournament championship, which is a rematch of last season’s. The top-seeded Hofstra Pride, looking for its first bid since Jay Wright coached them to 2001’s America East title, will look to avenge 2019’s title defeat to the Northeastern Huskies.

While there are two title games at 9 p.m. ET, only one features a pair of team’s playing for their tournament lives.

  • That’s on ESPN2, where the defending champion and top-seeded North Dakota State Bison meet in-state rival North Dakota Fighting Hawks. They last made the field in 2017, as a Big Sky member.
  • ESPN, meanwhile, has the WCC final between Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. I suppose the Gaels could be left out with a loss, but that seems highly unlikely given the shape of this season’s bubble. So, really the Bulldogs are playing for a No. 1 seed and the Gaels to get out of an 8 vs. 9 game.

Wednesday’s bracket should be the last with relatively minor updates until Selection Sunday afternoon arrives. In the meantime, you can check out my TV viewing guides and full conference tournament coverage over at Blogging the Bracket and and listen to my bracketology interviews on the College Basketball Coast to Coast podcast.