By Kyle Beery
While there hasn’t been a ton of movement at the top of the bracket, this week — as Champ Week always does — has delivered a lot of movement from the middle of the bracket on down. Thanks to upsets, buzzer beaters and some downright battles, we’ve seen quite the week in college basketball.
Thursday alone delivered multiple buzzer beaters and wild finishes:
A lot is yet to be determined over the weekend. Some teams can probably grab an at-large bid with a win Friday, while others will be knocked out of contention with a loss. The bubble has been complete insanity this year, and Middle Tennessee’s loss in the C-USA quarterfinals on Thursday makes things a lot more intense for everyone else on the bubble. Will the committee favor the strong (ish) mid-major, or the middle-of-the-pack power conference team? Only time will tell.
This projected bracket is based off of what has happened so far this season, not what might happen. Bracket principles were followed closely in constructing the bracket. My projected winners of conference tournaments are automatically the 1-seeds, even if I feel someone else is going to win the tournament. AUTO-BIDS ARE LISTED IN ALL CAPS. Teams that have already secured bids are listed in bold.
In this version of the bracket, the winner of the South Regional will meet the winner of the West in the Final Four, while the winners of the East and Midwest Regionals will face off in San Antonio.
SOUTH REGIONAL — Atlanta — Thursday, March 22 & Saturday, March 24
- Virginia has the No. 1 overall seed locked up. There’s no doubt about it.
- Cincinnati is by no means safe as a No. 2-seed. They have a fairly tough test with SMU on Friday; a loss there — or in the semifinals, for that matter — would likely knock the Bearcats down a line.
- Auburn returns to action after a six-day layoff. We’ll see how they respond to that when the Tigers face rival Alabama, fresh off a buzzer-beating win and still fighting for their at-large hopes.
- Butler and Kansas State both got nice wins in dramatic fashion Thursday to shore up any doubts about falling off the bubble by Sunday, if there were any. Both locks.
- UCLA inched closer to safety with a win over Stanford. A win over Arizona would punch the Bruins’ ticket, but a loss wouldn’t definitively knock them out.
EAST REGIONAL — Boston — Friday, March 23 & Sunday, March 25
- A win over Butler on Friday should wrap up a spot on the top line for the Wildcats, even if they were to lose the Big East championship game. A loss, and they may fall to a No. 2-seed, depending on what Duke and Kansas do. The Blue Devils are the only team I can see stealing a 1-seed in the next two days, and they can only do it by marching through the ACC and scoring consecutive wins over UNC and Virginia — that would do the trick.
- Michigan is teetering between the 3-4 line while it sits idle following last week’s run to a Big Ten Championship. Wolverines fans should be rooting against Tennessee, Auburn, Texas Tech and Arizona this weekend for their best shot at a No. 3-seed.
- Old Dominion slides into the field after MTSU’s loss on Thursday. The Monarchs are the highest remaining seed in the C-USA Tournament.
- Oklahoma is really in danger of missing out on the tournament altogether. The Sooners’ second-half collapse has been brutal to watch. Trae Young has gone from bonafide superstar to struggling freshman trying to play hero ball. After a loss to Oklahoma State, all the Sooners can do is hope and pray that wins over Kansas, Texas Tech and at Wichita State are enough to outweigh the disastrous end to their season.
- Missouri got Michael Porter, Jr. back on Thursday. He looked decent for someone who hadn’t played in a competitive basketball game in more than three months. But going 5-for-17 from the field with 12 points was less than stellar as the Tigers fell to Georgia, who is slowly creeping back into bubble discussion. Mizzou will be in, but the MPJ Hype Train is slowing down a bit.
MIDWEST REGIONAL — Omaha — Friday, March 23 & Sunday, March 25
- Kansas exorcised its Oklahoma State demons and advanced to the Big 12 semifinals. The Jayhawks move ahead of Xavier for the No. 3 overall seed, thanks to an impressive 18-6 mark against quadrants 1+2.
- Carolina beat Miami on Thursday to set up a rubber match with Duke. And all is right with the world.
- Michigan State has slim — and I mean slim — hopes of earning a No. 2-seed and/or playing in Detroit. To do the former, the Spartans will need Cincinnati and Auburn to lose Friday, and hope they’ve done enough to be ahead of both of them come Sunday. In order to get a coveted placement at Little Caesars Arena, they’ll need to be ahead of at least three of the following teams on the seed line: Xavier, Cincinnati, Purdue and Michigan. So again, the Spartans will want Cincinnati to lose Friday to have any last ditch hopes of playing close to home. Even then, it’s a stretch to conceive either of these things happening, even with the right amount of chaos.
- USC seems to have moved to total safety. A loss to Oregon Friday may relegate the Trojans back to the First Four, but I don’t see them dropping completely out of the field anymore.
WEST REGIONAL — Los Angeles — Thursday, March 22 & Saturday, March 24
- Xavier has a shot to wrap up a No. 1-seed if it beats Providence and North Carolina beats Duke. If both of those results go the other way, they’re looking at a No. 2-seed. The Friars won’t be an easy out, as they beat the Musketeers in Providence in January and gave them a tough game in Cincinnati two weeks ago.
- Purdue is probably destined to be a 2-seed. Unless Auburn or Tennessee wins the SEC title in very convincing fashion.
- Gonzaga has historically been under-seeded. The 30-win Zags (for the third time in four years) should be among the top four seeds, but the Selection Committee may knock them for playing in the WCC yet again. I don’t care what league you’re in, 20 straight NCAA Tournament appearances is remarkable.
- Last chance. Get to know Mike Daum and South Dakota State.
Last four byes (avoiding Dayton)
- UCLA – The Bruins can put to rest any bubble concerns with a win Friday. A loss shouldn’t be a dagger, but it would mean a nervous weekend for UCLA.
- Louisville – Everything is out of their hands now. The Cardinals missed two shots to beat UVA in the last week, but they’ll have to sweat it out and hope three Q1 wins (all on the road) will hold up against the rest of the bubble.
- Saint Mary’s – Back to the mid-major vs. power conference debate. Sure, the Gaels don’t have an eye-popping resume in terms of quadrant wins. But they are 28th in KenPom and do have a nice win over Gonzaga. I don’t necessarily feel the Gaels should get in after losing to BYU, but I feel the Selection Committee will wind up putting them in.
- USC – Again, the Trojans are probably in, even with a loss to Oregon. An appearance in the Pac-12 title game will lock things up, though.
Last four in (First Four @ Dayton March 13-14)
- Arizona State – Losing to Colorado was devastating. A team that was once No. 3 in the AP poll may miss the dance.
- Texas – Losing to Texas Tech wasn’t the final straw, but the Longhorns are awfully close to falling out now.
- Oklahoma – The Sooners have wins over Kansas, Texas Tech and Wichita State, with no horrible losses on the docket, but 18-13 is tough to put in the field. OU will be an interesting case.
- Alabama – A win over Auburn sends the Tide dancing for the first time since 2012.
First four out
- Oregon – A win over USC could send the Ducks dancing. Their best bet would be to win the Pac 12 championship.
- Oklahoma State – The Cowboys own five wins over Q1 teams. That may be enough to get in, but like their in-state rivals, sitting just five games above .500 hurts their chances.
- Syracuse – Two Q3 losses may outweigh three Q1 wins.
- Mississippi State – Getting to the SEC championship game may get the job done.