Four weeks from Friday is the start of the first round of the NCAA men’s tournament. That means bubble teams are officially on the clock to start moving the needle. Every update of Illustrated Sports’s Bracket Watch sees some teams go in and out of the field, a trend that should continue through Selection Sunday. Which teams will find a seat when the music stops and this set of musical chairs of months ends in March? Here’s our latest projected field.
In the bubble:
First, we welcome Wichita State to the bubble after a huge win over No. 6 Houston on Thursday night. The Shockers’ resume had been one with no big wins or bad losses… until now. They are currently still on the outside looking in, but will have two more chances to move the needle next week against fellow SMU. In terms of action to watch this weekend, UConn could lock themselves onto the field with a road win at Villanova with James Bouknight back in the fold, while Minnesota could help the committee forget about the Gophers’ woes on the road. If it takes down Illinois in Minneapolis. on Saturday.
Last four byes:
Last four in:
First four out:
State of colorado
Next four out:
de San Juan
* Indicates the team is expected to win your conference auto bid
No. 1 Gonzaga * vs. No. 16 Wagner * / NC A & T *
No. 8 Clemson vs. No. 9 Xavier
No. 5 Kansas vs. No. 12 Belmont *
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 13 UC Santa Barbara *
No. 6 Arkansas vs. No. 11 Saint Louis
No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 Liberty *
No. 7 Loyola Chicago * vs. No. 10 Seton Hall
No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 Siena *
After manhandling rival Saint Mary’s Thursday night, it seems almost guaranteed that Gonzaga will enter the NCAA tournament undefeated. The Bulldogs have only three games left in the regular season, and they have a 99% or better chance of winning each, according to KenPom. Add in the fact that Gonzaga is exploring opt out of the WCC tournament, and it seems highly likely that the Zags will be the first team since 2014-15 Kentucky to complete a flawless regular season.
Meanwhile, Kansas has quietly climbed back up the seeded list during an easier stretch of the schedule, but it will be tested on Saturday against a very good team from Texas Tech. A fifth straight win could bring the Jayhawks back into the conversation. for a number 4 spot, or better.
No. 1 Baylor * vs. No. 16 South Dakota * / Prairie View A & M *
No. 8 Florida vs. No. 9 State of San Diego
No. 5 Creighton vs. No. 12 Western Kentucky *
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 Winthrop *
No. 6 Missouri vs. No. 11 Maryland
No. 3 Houston * vs. No. 14 UNC Greensboro *
No. 7 Colorado vs. No. 10 VCU *
No. 2 Illinois vs. No. 15 Grand Canyon *
It’s hard to see Houston land a No. 1 or No. 2 seed after the Cougars lost on the road at Wichita State. The unfortunate reality for them is that they have not had a difficult enough schedule to be able to cover their three losses to teams that are not currently on the projected field. So even though the metrics buy into Kelvin Sampson’s team, I guess the committee won’t reward them.
Closer to the bubble, one team that has been talked about a lot in recent weeks is Maryland. After sweeping back-to-back games against Nebraska, the Terps are in the best position they’ve been in all year to dance. With good metrics, big wins and now a record clearly above .500, Maryland is probably two wins away from scoring its ticket. A road win at Rutgers Sunday would allow him to level up the seeded list.
No. 1 Michigan * vs. No. 16 State of Texas *
No. 8 BYU vs. No. 9 LSU
No. 5 USC * vs. No. 12 Minnesota / Ole Miss
No. 4 Texas vs. No. 13 Wright State *
No. 6 Rutgers vs. No. 11 UConn
No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 14 Abilene Christian *
No. 7 Virginia Tech vs. No. 10 Indiana
No. 2 Villanova * vs. No. 15 James Madison *
Michigan hasn’t missed a beat since returning from its COVID-19 hiatus, looking dominant once again with a 71-64 cruise control victory over Rutgers that wasn’t as close as the score would indicate. The big test comes Sunday against fellow No. 1 seed Ohio State in Columbus. A win there could lead the Wolverines into the conversation for second overall, especially if Baylor falters after returning from a long COVID-19 shutdown.
Meanwhile, the next few days will be huge for a USC team that still has a lot to prove. Next week features home games against Arizona and Oregon, as well as a road trip to Colorado. Win those three games and the Trojans have a chance to rise significantly before the calendar changes to March.
Ohio State Region:
No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 16 Eastern Washington *
No. 8 Louisville vs. No. 9 Boise State *
No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 North Carolina / Drake
No. 4 Texas Tech vs. No. 13 Toledo *
No. 6 Purdue vs. No. 11 UCLA
No. 3 Virginia * vs. No. 14 Colgate *
No. 7 State of Oklahoma vs. No. 10 Oregon
No. 2 Alabama * vs. No. 15 Vermont *
Boise State has stayed relatively comfortably above the cutoff line in recent weeks, but its difficult final stretch in the Mountain West game would always determine whether it would win an overall offer. The Broncos opened that stretch with a huge home win over Utah State on Wednesday, and completing the sweep against the Aggies on Friday night would bring them a little closer to blocking status. A road win next week at San Diego State would also suffice.
Meanwhile, North Carolina has a chance for its first win over an NCAA tournament team all season Saturday when it hosts a Louisville team that could be short-staffed due to a COVID-19 problem. The good news for the Tar Heels is that their schedule tightens down the stretch, giving them more chances to win and fewer chances to suffer a bad loss.
Full screening of Sweeney’s March Madness, starting February 19:
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.