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NCAA Bubble Watch: No New Faces In Tournament Field, But Still Plenty Of Changes

SB Nation's resident bracketologist takes one last look at the NCAA at-large pool for January. While things look good for an increasing number of teams, Michigan State isn't one of them.

Even though it's been a tumultuous week of college basketball, there are no new at-large entrants in this bracket math edition of Bubble Watch compared to Tuesday's Bracketology, but there has been quite a bit of shuffling.

Let's start by taking a look at the 20 teams who are in the best shape as February approaches, as there are some significant changes just below the top line.

Safe And Protected

Once again, these teams are protected from facing a "home-crowd disadvantage" in the new Second Round (formerly known as the First Round), as mentioned in the NCAA's Principles and Procedures Document.

The top four remain the same, but there are now a pair of Mountain West teams on the second line. You likely expected BYU to be there after their Wednesday night win over San Diego St, but the Aztecs jump up thanks to a pair of bad losses in the Big East. Syracuse slips down to the three line after they lost for the third straight time, while Villanova also drops, thanks to a defeat at Providence (in the same building where St. Mary's ended their 2009-10 season in the Second Round of the NCAAs).

Purdue drops to the four line after No. 1 overall Ohio St. hammered them on Tuesday night, and they'll face significant competition as they attempt to remain there, both from within their conference (Illinois) and outside (Florida, Georgetown, and Vanderbilt).

Here's how the top 20 line up, with each team's first weekend site in parentheses.

Note: Teams with an asterisk currently own their conference's automatic bid.

1 line 1. Ohio State*
2. Duke*
3. Kansas
4. Pittsburgh*
2 line 8. San Diego St.
7. Texas*
6. BYU*
5. Connecticut
3 line 9. Villanova
10. Notre Dame
11. Texas A&M
12. Syracuse
4 line 16. Purdue
15. Washington*
14. Missouri
13. Kentucky
5 line 17. Florida 18. Wisconsin 19. Georgetown 20.Vanderbilt


Now here's how the top 16 break down between the four regions. Keep in mind that the top three teams from each conference must be placed in separate regions. Otherwise, the selection committee attempts to keep the protected seeds as close to their natural region as is possible.

(New Orleans)

(San Antonio)

1 seed
Ohio State*
4 seed Kentucky
3 seed Villanova
Texas A&M
Notre Dame
2 seed
San Diego St.


While that is an impressive quartet of regionals, I have the feeling the second weekend this year is going to be intense no matter how the top 16 shake out, thanks to the competitiveness and wackiness of this season.

Getting Closer

The teams on lines six and seven are all but locks right now. The teams in the most danger in this group are Minnesota Golden Gophers, thanks to Al Nolen's broken foot. and West Virginia Mountaineers, down to eight scholarship players after the dismissal of  Dan Jennings and suspension of Casey Mitchell. I suspect the Gophers and Mountaineers will be in the field barring a complete collapse, but seeding could be an issue with a spell of inconsistency.

6 line 24. North Carolina 23. Illinois 22. Louisville 21. Minnesota
7 line 25. Florida State 26. West Virginia 27. Xavier* 28. Temple


Work To Do

As we move down to line eight, we start to see the teams with more serious issues, either consistency or scheduling-related.

Michigan State drops down here after Thursday night's loss to Michigan, their first home defeat against the Wolverines since 1997. The Spartans currently sit at 12-8 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten. Sure, two winnable contests are up next (Indiana and at Iowa), but everyone thought a home game against the Wolverines was a slam dunk. Plus, Tom Izzo's backcourt is now thinner with the dismissal of Korie Lucious.

Otherwise, the stories are very much the same here. Arizona, Cincinnati, and  St. Mary's don't have much out of conference; Tennessee is impossible to figure out. Boston College and Georgia have hit patches of inconsistency in conference play. St. John's seems to be losing momentum, something Kansas State looks to be recovering. Of this group, UNLV seems best placed to rise up to lock status at the moment.

8 line 32. Cincinnati 31. Michigan State 30. Tennessee 29. UNLV
9 line 33. St. Mary's* 34. Georgia 35. Arizona 36. Boston College
10 line 40. Missouri State* 39. Memphis* 38. Kansas State 37. St. John's


Living On The Edge

The last eight teams should look fairly familiar, as most of them have been on the bubble for the month of January.

Virginia Tech should feel a little less safe after Tuesday's 15-point loss at Georgia Tech, while Marquette Golden Eagles and Oklahoma State both drop into the First Four after consecutive conference losses. Gonzaga has now dropped three straight West Coast Conference games, but they stay in for the moment, as the very last team in after Thursday's loss to St. Mary's. But with Penn State and Washington State each getting a chance to grab a marquee win over the weekend, it's possible the Bulldogs drop out on Tuesday. On the other hand, Richmond sees its stock rise after a victory at Dayton, and they could jump further if they hand Xavier its first Atlantic 10 loss on Saturday.

As for the First Four Out, they're all looking for another chance to prove they belong. South Carolina and Washington State were both idle at midweek, while Colorado fell at home to Southwest top seed Kansas and Penn State didn't get much of a bump from topping Iowa at home.

I've left auto bids in this group (Cleveland State, Utah State, and the VCU) out for clarity, which leads to some missing numbers.

Direct Entry (Next Four In) 42. Virginia Tech
44. Richmond 45. Old Dominion
46. Butler
First Four (Last Four In) 47. Marquette 49. UCLA
50. Oklahoma State
First Four Out 52. Penn State 53. Washington State
54. South Carolina
55. Colorado


With the bubble as volatile as it is, the "Next Eight Out" still have a decent chance if they can grab some wins. Here's  how they rank on my S-curve, with the auto bids (in this case, College of Charleston, Harvard, and Oakland) stripped out.

58. Colorado State
59. Baylor 60. Wichita State
61. Maryland
66. UAB 65. UCF 63. USC 62. Duquesne


February will be underway when I post my next bracket here at SB Nation on Tuesday. Until then, visit Blogging the Bracket (and follow me on Twitter) for more analysis and TV picks..