By Kyle Beery
Friday was another wild day in the great NCAA Tournament precursor that is Champ Week. Three top seeds — Purdue (Big Ten), North Carolina (ACC) and Dayton (A-10) — all went down to provide some shakeups to the projected field of 68.
13 teams have already clinched bids to the Big Dance. There will be 13 more tickets punched on Saturday, and the remaining six auto-bids will be decided on Sunday.
This is the projected field as it stands before the last two days of conference tournament action.
(NOTE: CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS HAVE THEIR CONFERENCE IN PARENTHESIS. TEAMS THAT HAVE ALREADY WON CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS ARE LISTED IN ALL CAPS.)
EAST REGIONAL — New York City — Friday, March 24 & Sunday, March 26
- Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed. This is unlikely to change, even if the Wildcats lose the Big East title game against Creighton Saturday night. The other projected 1-seeds do not currently have better resumes, and they have no games remaining to make their case, thus the Wildcats will begin their quest for a repeat-championship as the highest overall seed.
- Duke beat North Carolina in the ACC semifinals on Friday to move up a seed line. A win over Notre Dame in the championship game Saturday would secure a 2-seed for the Blue Devils, but they could be in jeopardy of dropping back down a line if they lose that game.
- UCLA was in contention for a 2-seed until it lost to Arizona in the Pac-12 semis on Saturday. Florida was in contention for a 3-seed, but the Gators were upset by Vanderbilt in the SEC quarterfinals and are now in jeopardy of further dropping to a 5-seed.
- Michigan continues its inspiring Big Ten Tournament run. The Wolverines’ plane skidded off the runway Thursday on their way to Washington, D.C. and they have won two games since then to reach the Big Ten semis. If Michigan can beat Minnesota, they will likely jump to at least a 7-seed.
- Wake Forest and Kansas State are both left to sweat things out until Selection Sunday. Kansas State almost played itself off the bubble on Friday, but lost 51-50 against West Virginia in the Big 12 semifinals. Both teams have strong cases to be one of the last four teams, but both teams also have some bad losses that could really hurt their cause.
SOUTH REGIONAL — Memphis — Friday, March 24 & Sunday, March 26
- Despite losing to Duke on Friday, UNC holds onto the final 1-seed. In this iteration of the bracket, the Tar Heels are the No. 4 overall seed, placed in the South and would face the winner of the East Regional in the Final Four. The Heels have 17 wins against the RPI top 100, best in the country. Despite a few bad losses, they have a solid five wins against the RPI top 25.
- Purdue’s loss in the Big Ten quarterfinals all but assures us that the Big Ten’s highest-seeded team will be no higher than a No. 4 seed. The Boilermakers still have an outside shot at getting that 4-seed, but the loss to Michigan most likely means they’ll be a 5-seed. It would be the first time since 2004 that the Big Ten didn’t have a team seeded higher than No. 5.
- Northwestern advanced to the Big Ten semifinals to rise a seed line. The Wildcats are going dancing for the first time in program history, and they continue to move up the bracket. Beating Wisconsin Saturday could move them up to a 6-seed, depending on what else happens around the country.
- Xavier and Marquette are both still on the bubble, but the Big East is looking like a seven-bid league.
WEST REGIONAL — San Jose — Thursday, March 23 & Saturday, March 25
- Losses by Kansas and North Carolina opened the door for Gonzaga, who is the No. 2 overall seed in this version of the projected field. With 12 RPI top 100 wins and just one loss on the season, the Bulldogs have done enough to earn this spot.
- Oregon takes on Arizona in the Pac-12 title game Saturday. The Ducks could have a chance at moving up to the 1-line, but the more likely scenario is that the winner of this game will get the No. 5 overall seed and end up as a 2-seed in the West.
- Michigan State lost to Minnesota on Friday, but the Spartans are still safely in the field. A win could have possibly bumped them up to a 9-seed, but they are likely going to end up as a 10-seed, regardless of what happens the rest of the weekend.
MIDWEST REGIONAL — Kansas City — Thursday, March 23 & Saturday, March 25
- The Jayhawks look like they’ll hold onto a 1-seed — third overall — despite losing to TCU in the Big 12 quarterfinals. Oregon has the potential to steal a 1-seed if it wins the Pac-12 title game over Arizona, but the Jayhawks, Heels and Bulldogs all likely have the edge over the Ducks.
- Arizona probably doesn’t have a shot at a spot on the top line, but that doesn’t mean they’re not playing for anything. The Wildcats can wrap up a 2-seed with a win and avoid dropping to the 3-line.
- USC and Rhode Island are the last two teams in the field. They are both right on the edge, but both have the slight upper-hand over the likes of Syracuse and California. Rhode Island is really the only bubble team with anything left to play for. Unfortunately for them, Dayton’s loss on Friday means that the Rams don’t have an opportunity for as good of a quality win, facing Davidson in the A-10 quarterfinals.
Last five at-large byes (avoiding Dayton): Marquette, Providence, Vanderbilt, VCU, Xavier
Last four in (First Four in Dayton): USC, Rhode Island, Kansas State, Wake Forest
First five out: Syracuse, California, Illinois State, Iowa, Alabama
Marquette, Providence, Vanderbilt, VCU and Xavier have all probably secured spots in the field. A VCU loss to Richmond on Saturday would be a blow to the Rams’ chances, but they would still probably have enough to cling to, with an 8-5 record against the RPI Top 100.
USC is currently the last team in the field. Like the rest of the bubble teams, they will be rooting for Davidson to beat Rhode Island, but they don’t want Davidson — or any other outliers, for that matter — to win their conference championship and steal a bid.
Alabama is an interesting team, having advanced to the SEC semifinals with an RPI-top 50 win over South Carolina. The Crimson Tide would probably have to win the SEC’s auto-bid to make the NCAA Tournament, but they have at least played their way into the conversation.
Syracuse will probably end up on the outside looking in. The Orange’s 8-9 record against the RPI top 100 isn’t really the problem — that’s not a bad mark. It’s the five losses outside the top 100 that are dragging them down, including very ugly showings against Boston College, St. John’s and Connecticut.
NCAA IS A TRADEMARK OF THE NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION. THE IMAGE USED IN THIS POST IS COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.