After the AP poll's top four all lost in the span of a week for the first time in eight years, Duke has risen to the top spot in both the media and coaches' rankings. But where does that leave the Blue Devils in terms of bracketology?
In last week's bracket, the Blue Devils found themselves on the top line, mostly because of Kansas State's emphatic win over Kansas the night before. This week, they return to the two line, even though they picked up a pair of victories. Why? Simply put, a week as messy as the last one required an even more careful examination of each team's profiles.
When you take a hard look at the wins the top seed contenders have picked up, Duke has some catching up to do. Ohio State, who still remains No. 1 overall in my projection owns three wins over teams that are likely in the field right now and four more against teams that are on the good side of the bubble (and it doesn't hurt that their losses came at two of the toughest places to play in America). Pittsburgh, second overall, is even better, as they own seven (plus one over Cincinnati), though home losses to Notre Dame and Tennessee hurt their case to replace the Buckeyes.
Kansas has a pair of wins over tournament locks or near locks, though victories over Arizona and Missouri, don't quite compare to the ones Ohio State and Pittsburgh own. Texas is even better off in the win department, with five high quality wins and a pair of decent ones, but disappointing losses to Nebraska and USC mean they're holding onto the final one seed for now.
Which brings me to Duke, who has just one victory over a team that's assured a place in the field, North Carolina. Even BYU, another two seed, has more, thanks to wins over Arizona and San Diego State. After that, the Blue Devils' next best wins have come against teams that find themselves on the 10 (Kansas State, Michigan State) and 11 (Boston College and Butler lines.
The ACC's issues this season are negatively impacting the Blue Devils' seed at the moment, but Wednesday's game against Temple, a rematch against the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, and perhaps a third game between the two in the ACC Tournament final in Greensboro means they'll have chances to jump back up, particularly since it's likely that the Big 12 won't have two top seeds when all is said and done.
So, if you're a Duke fan, don't panic. Besides, with the Blue Devils' likely first weekend destination, Charlotte, a Friday/Sunday site, it's preferable to play in a Friday regional semifinal in Newark than to fly across the country for a Thursday night game in Anaheim.
At the opposite end of the at-large pool, there's only one new entrant this week, despite a tumultuous Saturday that I branded "National Bubble Struggle Day." That's VCU, who is among three Virginia schools slated for the First Four in Dayton.
Last Four IN (First Round): VCU vs.Virginia Tech and Colorado State vs. Richmond
Once again, this week's bracket works out so that there's a game in each region and an auto bid and at-large game set for each First Round day. Plus, the two Tuesday winners will head to Washington, while the Wednesday victors are destined for Cleveland.
Next Four IN: (Second Round): Marquette, Minnesota, Butler, Boston College
Of this group, only the Butler Bulldogs are rising. The Golden Gophers are reeling without Al Nolen, as they've lost five of six; Boston College is alternating wins and losses right now; and Marquette is in need of a quality win (perhaps against Connecticut in Hartford on Thursday?).
First Eight OUT: Baylor, Memphis, Gonzaga, Alabama, Colorado, Penn State, Nebraska, Clemson
Of this group, Gonzaga and Alabama are perhaps in the best position to jump into the field. The Bulldogs have a crucial game Thursday night at St. Mary's that will help decide the West Coast Conference title. Negatively, a loss could cost the Zags a bye to the semifinals, as San Francisco owns the tiebreaker over them. The Crimson Tide should pick up their 19th win (and the outright SEC West title) against Auburn on Wednesday, but victory No. 20 may not follow immediately, as games at Mississippi and Florida and a home contest with Georgia close the regular season. However, a win or two in that stretch, particularly against the East teams, could push Alabama over the hump.
As for Nebraska, victors over Texas in Lincoln on Saturday, and Penn State, who topped Minnesota before falling at Wisconsin on Sunday, I have just one piece of advice: Win away from home if you want to dance. The Cornhuskers and Nittany Lions have combined for 32 wins this season, but just three have come away from their respective campuses.
Seeds in Parentheses
Big East: 11
Pittsburgh (1), Georgetown (2), Notre Dame (3), Louisville (3), Connecticut (4), Syracuse (4), Villanova (5), St. John's (5), West Virginia (6), Cincinnati (9), Marquette (11)
Big Ten: 6
Ohio State (1), Purdue (3), Wisconsin (4), Michigan State (10), Illinois (10), Minnesota (11)
Duke (2), North Carolina (4), Florida State (7), Boston College (11), Virginia Tech (12, 1st Rd.)
Big 12: 5
Kansas (1), Texas (1), Texas A&M (6), Missouri (6), Kansas State (10)
Florida (3), Kentucky (5), Vanderbilt (7), Tennessee (8), Georgia (9)
Mountain West: 4
BYU (2), San Diego State (2), UNLV (9), Colorado State (12, 1st Rd.)
Atlantic 10: 3
Xavier (6), Temple (7), Richmond (12, 1st Rd.)
George Mason (7), Old Dominion (9), VCU (12, 1st Rd.)
Arizona (5), UCLA (8), Washington (8)
Butler (11), Cleveland State (12)
One Bid Leagues: 21
America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Conference USA, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern (1st Rd.), Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland (1st Rd.), Southwestern (1st Rd.), Summit, Sun Belt (1st Rd.), West Coast, WAC
The only significant changes among the conferences this week are that Conference USA is down to one team, as Southern Mississippi is in to replace UTEP (who lost to the Golden Eagles last Wednesday and Central Florida on Monday) and Memphis (losers at Rice on Saturday night), and VCU's arrival makes the Colonial a three-bid league for now.
Here are your games to watch between now and Friday morning's Bubble Watch update, when I'll provide a full list for another packed weekend. For more specifics, please visit Blogging The Bracket for my nightly viewing picks, and follow me on Twitter.
Note: Seed numbers from this projection are in parentheses. Teams with a (B) in front of their names are currently out of my projection, but under consideration.
Tuesday, February 22
(10) Illinois at (1) Ohio State, ESPN (7 p.m. ET)
(12) Virginia Tech at Wake Forest, ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET)
Iowa State at (1) Texas, Big 12 Network/ESPN3/Full Court (8 p.m. ET)
(8) Tennessee at (7) Vanderbilt, ESPN (9 p.m. ET)
(3) Louisville at Rutgers, ESPNU (9 p.m. ET)
(10) Michigan State at (11) Minnesota, Big Ten Network (9 p.m. ET)
Wednesday, February 23
(4) Wisconsin at (B) Michigan, Big Ten Network (6:30 p.m. ET)
(7) Temple at (2) Duke, ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET)
DePaul at (5) St. John's, Big East Network Regional/ESPN3/Full Court (7 p.m. ET)
(3) Notre Dame at Providence, Big East Network Regional/ESPN3/Full Court (7 p.m. ET)
Oklahoma at (6) Texas A&M, FS Houston/FS Southwest/ESPN3/Full Court (7:30 p.m. ET)
(B) Colorado at Texas Tech, TT Sports Network/ESPN3/Full Court (7:30 p.m. ET)
(12) Colorado State at (2) BYU, The Mtn. (8 p.m. ET)
(5) Kentucky at Arkansas, SEC Network Regional/ESPN3/Full Court (8 p.m. ET)
Auburn at (B) Alabama, SEC Network Regional/ESPN3/Full Court (8 p.m. ET)
(3) Purdue at Indiana, Big Ten Network (8:30 p.m. ET)
(B) Baylor at (6) Missouri, ESPN2 (9 p.m. ET)
(10) Kansas State at (B) Nebraska, ESPNU (9 p.m. ET)
(9) UNLV at (B) New Mexico, CBS College Sports (9 p.m. ET)
(9) Cincinnati at (2) Georgetown, Big East Network/ESPN3/Full Court (9 p.m. ET)
(7) Florida State at (B) Maryland, ACC Network Regional or ESPN3/Full Court (9 p.m. ET)
(4) North Carolina at N.C. State, ACC Network Regional or ESPN3/Full Court (9 p.m. ET)
Thursday, February 24
(9) Georgia at (3) Florida, ESPN (7 p.m. ET)
(11) Marquette at (4) Connecticut, ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET)
(9) Old Dominion at James Madison, ESPNU (7 p.m. ET)
Northeastern at (7) George Mason, Comcast SportsNet Regional (7 p.m. ET)
Milwaukee at (12) Cleveland State, Horizon League Network/TWC Sports 32 (7 p.m. ET)
(6) West Virginia at (1) Pittsburgh, ESPN (9 p.m. ET)
(B) Penn State at Northwestern, ESPN2 (9 p.m. ET)
Morehead State at (16) Murray State, ESPNU (9 p.m. ET)
(5) Arizona at USC, KWBA/FCS Pacific (10:30 p.m. ET)
(B) Gonzaga at (10) St. Mary's, ESPN2 (11 p.m. ET)
Arizona State at (8) UCLA, FSN/Comcast SportsNet (11 p.m. ET)