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Bubble Watch: NCAA Tournament Bid Picture Cloudy Heading Into March

CHAMPAIGN IL - FEBRUARY 13: Illinois Fighting Illini fans cheer during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Assembly Hall on February 13 2011 in Champaign Illinois. Purdue defeated Illinois 81-70. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CHAMPAIGN IL - FEBRUARY 13: Illinois Fighting Illini fans cheer during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Assembly Hall on February 13 2011 in Champaign Illinois. Purdue defeated Illinois 81-70. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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One week has passed since our last Bubble Watch piece, yet the national picture for the Men's 2011 NCAA Tournament field is even more muddled than it was seven days ago. That's something that reflects in the number of teams who find themselves in good position for a bid three weeks and two days from Selection Sunday. (Hint: It's not quite as many as last time.)

As usual, I have the high-level view of the tournament field here and a more detailed review over at Blogging the Bracket. We'll start things off here with a quick look at how many of the 37 at-large bids are locked up on this Friday morning.

19 Locks + 10 Looking Good = 29 teams in good shape.
8 of these 29 hold their conference's auto bid at the moment, so 21 at-larges are accounted for.
37 Total At-Large Bids - 21 = 16 Available Bids

Over at the Blogging the Bracket version of Bubble Watch, I've profiled the 40 teams who have the best chance at filling these remaining slots. Six of them hold their respective conference's auto bids right now.

The number of Locks is the same as last week, as Arizona, winners of seven in a row after their victory over Washington State Thursday night, has jumped up to replace a West Virginia that's slipped to the "In Good Shape" group, which lost Illinois and Minnesota. Those two have fallen onto the bubble after recent Big Ten struggles, and in the case of the Golden Gophers, the injury to point guard Al Nolen. On the other hand, St. John's has jumped up from the heart of the bubble, thanks to their recent three-game winning streak, with two of those victories coming on the road.

The top 19 teams in the protected seed group (per the NCAA's Principles and Procedures document) are the Locks for this week. The top four seed lines are almost exactly the same as they were in my Tuesday projection, though there are slight changes to the order of the teams on lines three and four.

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

Here are the first weekend site assignments for the top four seeds and how they're distributed among the regions. Notice that three of the four regions feature an interesting dynamic, a traditional one seed at the top of the bracket and a fresh face at the bottom.

1 seed
Ohio State*
4 seed North Carolina
3 seed Florida*
2 seed
Notre Dame
San Diego State*

Texas A&M joins the following nine schools in the Looking Good group. The Aggies have a difficult path to returning to Lock status, thanks to three difficult road games in their last five, starting Saturday at Oklahoma State.

Atlantic 10 leader Xavier is another team close to locking up a bid, as is Temple, who finds themselves right behind the Musketeers in the league. However, both can't afford a late bad loss in a weak A-10. The Owls received a bit of bad news before Thursday's win over Richmond, as they found out they'd be without forward Micheal Eric, the team's No. 2 rebounder, thanks to a patella fracture

6 line 24. Vanderbilt 23. Temple
22. Xavier* 21. Missouri
7 line 25. St. John's 26. West Virginia
27. Washington
28. Tennessee
8 line

29. UNLV

The actual Bubble is a little more crowded, thanks to the arrival of the Fighting Illini and Golden Gophers. Florida State should have risen up to the Looking Good group, but Chris Singleton's foot injury puts the Seminoles' long-term prognosis in doubt. That means UCLA is the team most likely to make the jump up, provided they can sweep a trip to the Bay Area this weekend.

8 line 32. George Mason* 31. Florida State
30. UCLA
9 line 33. Illinois 34. Old Dominion 35. Utah State* 36. Cincinnati
10 line 40. Kansas State 39. Marquette 38. Virginia Tech 37. St. Mary's*

Two auto-bid holders, Wichita State and Memphis, are on line 11 at the moment, though the Shockers may be able to boost their seeding and at-large chances with a win over VCU in their BracketBuster on Friday night. The Tigers are the lone Conference USA representative this week, as previous league leader UTEP lost at Southern Mississippi on Wednesday evening. The most likely path for C-USA to earn two bids is for the Tigers to keep winning and claim the regular season crown with some other team, most likely the host Miners, claiming the tournament crown.

UTEP's fall out of the field opened up one more at-large bid, which is held by Baylor, the very last team in today. Again, half of last year's Final Four, Butler and Michigan State, joins the Bears in the First Four, as does Richmond, whose suffered its second heavy loss of the season to an A-10 favorite Thursday night, when they fell to Temple by 20.

Auto Bids
In This Section
41. Wichita State*
42. Memphis*

Direct Entry
(Next Four In)
43. Georgia 44. Minnesota 45. Colorado State 46. Boston College
First Four
(Last Four In)
46. Richmond
47. Butler 48. Michigan State
49. Baylor
First Four Out 69. Gonzaga 70. VCU 71. Colorado
72. Penn State

Thanks to the Horizon League and Conference USA races turning into basketball versions of demolition derby, the under consideration group is a few teams larger than it was last week.

73. Missouri State 74. Southern Mississippi 75. Duquesne 76. Washington State
80. Harvard 79. Alabama 78. Valparaiso
77. Cleveland State
81.Oklahoma State 82. New Mexico 83. Maryland 84. UAB

87. UTEP
86. Michigan 85. Clemson

For detailed profiles of these 15 teams, and all of the others who are trying to lock a bid up, check out my complete Bubble Watch post over at Blogging the Bracket.

As promised in Tuesday's Bracketology, here's a list of games to watch between tonight and the release of my next projection on Tuesday morning. Note that Saturday will be particularly busy for teams on the bubble and those looking to improve their seeding.

Teams current seedings are in parentheses with those represented by a "B" on the bubble.

Friday, February 18, 2011
(B) VCU at (11) Wichita State, ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET)
(3) Connecticut at (5) Louisville, ESPN (8 p.m. ET)

Saturday, February 19, 2011
(1) Pittsburgh at (7) St. John's, ESPN (12 p.m. ET)
(B) Duquesne at Dayton, Atlantic 10 Network/WHIO/CSS/CSN Washington/Comcast Network (12 p.m. ET)
(2) Notre Dame at (7) West Virginia or (10) Georgia at (7) Tennessee, CBS Regional (1 p.m. ET)
(10) Virginia Tech at Virginia or (8) Florida State at Wake Forest, ACC Network Regional/ESPN3/Full Court (1 p.m. ET)
(6) Missouri at Iowa State, Big 12 Network Regional/ESPN3/Full Court (1:30 p.m. ET)
(B) Colorado at (2) Kansas, ESPN (2 p.m. ET)
(B) Washington State at Arizona State, FS Arizona/FSN Northwest/FCS Pacific (2 p.m. ET)
(2) San Diego State at Air Force, The Mtn. (2 p.m. ET)
(12) Butler at Illinois-Chicago, Horizon League Network/ESPN3/Full Court (2 p.m. ET)
(11) Boston College at (4) North Carolina, ESPN (4 p.m. ET)
Rutgers at (4) Syracuse, Big East Network/ESPN3/Full Court (4 p.m. ET)
Oklahoma at (10) Kansas State, Big 12 Network Regional/ESPN3/Full Court (4 p.m. ET)
(6) Vanderbilt at Auburn or South Carolina at (5) Kentucky, SEC Network Regional/ESPN3/Full Court (4 p.m. ET)
(B) Michigan at Iowa, Big Ten Network (4:30 p.m. ET)
(2) BYU at TCU, The Mtn. (4:30 p.m. ET)
(B) Missouri State at (B) Valparaiso, ESPN2 (5 p.m. ET)
(7) Washington at (5) Arizona, ESPN (6 p.m. ET)
UCF at (B) UAB, CSS (6 p.m. ET)
(8) George Mason at Northern Iowa, ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET)
(9) Cincinnati at Providence, ESPNU (7 p.m. ET)
Arkansas at (B) Alabama, SEC on FSN/ESPN3/Full Court (7 p.m. ET)
(8) UNLV at (12) Colorado State, The Mtn. (7 p.m. ET)
(3) Georgetown at USF, Big East Network/ESPN3/Full Court (7 p.m. ET)
Texas Tech at (12) Baylor, FS Southwest/FS Houston/ESPN3/Full Court (8 p.m. ET)
San Francisco at (B) Gonzaga, FSN Northwest (8 p.m. ET)
(9) Illinois at (12) Michigan State, ESPN (9 p.m. ET)
(9) Utah State at (10) St. Mary's, ESPN2 (9 p.m. ET)
(5) Texas A&M at (B) Oklahoma State, ESPNU (9 p.m. ET)
Houston at (B) UTEP, CBS College Sports (9 p.m. ET)
Seton Hall at (10) Marquette, Big East Network/ESPN3/Full Court (9 p.m. ET)
Utah at (B) New Mexico, The Mtn. (9:30 p.m. ET)

Sunday, February 20, 2011
(1) Ohio State at (4) Purdue, CBS (1 p.m. ET)
(3) Florida at LSU, ESPN (1 p.m. ET)
(13) Cleveland State at (9) Old Dominion, ESPN2 (1 p.m. ET)
(B) Clemson at Miami, ESPNU (3:30 p.m. ET)
N.C. State at (B) Maryland, FSN/Comcast SportsNet (5:30 p.m. ET)
(B) Penn State at (3) Wisconsin, Big Ten Network (6 p.m. ET)
(7) UCLA at California, FSN/Comcast SportsNet (10 p.m. ET)

Monday, February 21, 2011
(4) Syracuse at (4) Villanova, ESPN (7 p.m. ET)
(B) Oklahoma State at (2) Kansas, ESPN (9 p.m. ET)

Be sure to visit Blogging the Bracket for more on these games, via my daily TV preview posts. I've also started posting an updated S-curve, based on the previous night's action, on the blog on most mornings. For immediate word about those posts, you can follow me on Twitter, where I also happen random and interesting thoughts as games unfold.