Bracketology 2020: Selection Sunday is just four weeks away

NCAA Basketball: Memphis at Cincinnati

Tre Scott and Cincinnati are in the field after winning six of their last seven games. | Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a couple weeks since we looked at the lock and bubble picture. And while a few teams have sewn up bids in that time, the teams near the cut line continue to offer plenty of drama.

Internet? Check.

Cable? Check.

Plenty of game results to account for? Check.

At this time last week, I took an unexpected detour to a time with less technology — think the 1980s — but now I’m back in the 21st century and ready to update the bid picture. Once again, here’s a reminder of how the lock and bubble picture works.

  • For the 2020 NCAA tournament, 23 conferences are likely to earn a single bid, though there’s a shot at that number falling to 22 or even 21, as you’ll see later. For now, I’m sticking with 23.
  • As a result, 45 of the 68 places in the field are truly up for grabs — the 36 at-large spots and the nine that will go to the tournament winners of those nine likely multi-bid conferences.
  • In turn, those 45 spots will also largely disappear as teams move into the lock category. By the time Selection Weekend arrives, those of us in the bracketology-industrial complex will hopefully be left making educated guesses about a handful of spots.

Locks and protected seeds (16)

Two weeks ago, only the four No. 1 seeds, the Baylor Bears, Kansas Jayhawks, Gonzaga Bulldogs and San Diego State Aztecs, had locked bids up. Surprisingly, this quartet remains in place, just as they did in Tuesday’s bracket. However, the remainder of the “protected seed” group joins them today. As another reminder, that term means a team is protected against facing a potentially hostile environment in the First Round only.

Note: The first number following a team’s name is its NET ranking as of the morning of Feb. 13. Second, is the team’s overall record in games against Division I opposition only as of the morning of Feb. 14. The third is its record in both Quad 1 and 2 games, with the fourth indicating its record in Quad 1 games alone. Record information is courtesy WarrenNolan.com’s incredible database. Auto bid holders are denoted with an asterisk (*).

No. 1s: 1. Baylor* (3/22-1/13-1/8-0), 2. Kansas (4/20-3/16-3/10-3), 3. Gonzaga* (2/25-1/7-1/5-1), 4. San Diego State* (1/24-0/8-0/4-0)
No. 2s: 5. Duke (6/21-3/9-2/4-1), 6. Dayton* (5/22-2/8-2/2-2), 7. Maryland* (8/20-4/11-4/5-4), 8. Louisville* (10/21-4/7-4/4-3)
No. 3s: 9. Florida State (15/20-4/9-4/3-3), 10. Seton Hall* (16/18-6/13-6/8-4), 11. Auburn* (13/22-2/12-2/4-2), 12. West Virginia (10/18-6/8-6/5-5)
No. 4s: 13. Villanova (21/18-6/11-6/7-6), 14. Butler (12/19-6/13-6/8-5), 15. Kentucky (23/19-5/8-4/5-3), 16. Oregon* (25/19-6/10-6/7-4)

These 16 teams include 10 teams that have already won 20 (or more) games and three others which could reach that total over the weekend. The Oregon Ducks are a late addition to the Top 16, thanks to their comeback win over the Colorado Buffaloes on Thursday night.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Georgia Tech
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Louisville could have dropped from the two line after losing to Georgia Tech, but the Cardinals weren’t the only contender to lose this week.

The Louisville Cardinals remain on the two line despite Wednesday’s bad loss at Georgia Tech. That’s because Florida State fell at Duke on Monday and both Seton Hall and West Virginia dropped their Wednesday games.

Top four seeds by region

South: 1/1. Baylor* (St. Louis 1), 2/7. Maryland* (Greensboro 2), 3/11. Auburn* (Tampa 2), 4/14. Butler (Omaha 2) – Total of Top 4 Seeds = 33

East: 1/4. San Diego State* (Sacramento 1), 2/5. Duke (Greensboro 1), 3/10. Seton Hall* (Albany 1), 4/15. Kentucky (Sacramento 2) – Total of Top 4 Seeds = 34

Midwest: 1/2. Kansas (Omaha 1), 2/6. Dayton* (Cleveland 1), 3/9. Florida State (Tampa 1), 4/16. Oregon (Spokane 2) – Total of Top 4 Seeds = 33

West: 1/3. Gonzaga* (Spokane 1), 2/8. Louisville* (St. Louis 2), 3/12. West Virginia (Cleveland 2), 4/13. Villanova (Albany 2) – Total of Top 4 Seeds = 36

I could have placed the Butler Bulldogs as the No. 4 seed in the Midwest, which would have set them up to play the Regional round in their hometown. Additionally, Oregon could have been placed in its natural region, the West. However, those choices created too much of an imbalance between the four regions that required adjustment.

Other locks (3)

NCAA Basketball: Creighton at Seton Hall
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Creighton’s thrilling 87-82 win at Seton Hall helped push the Bluejays to lock status in today’s countdown.

No. 5s: 17. Creighton (19/18-6/11-6/7-6), 18. Penn State (18/19-5/12-5/7-3), 19. Colorado (14/19-6/10-6/5-3)

There are three further locks today, a trio of power conference teams that are nearing the 20-win mark. This is an important distinction for squads to come.

At this point, 19 of our 45 free bids are gone, leaving us with 26.

Nearing safety (9)

No. 5s: 20. Michigan State (11/17-8/10-8/4-7)
No. 6s: 21. Iowa (26/17-8/10-7/5-6), 22. Marquette (20/17-7/11-7/5-6), 23. LSU (28/18-6/9-5/3-4), 24. Ohio State (22/16-8/8-8/4-6)
No. 7s: 25. Arizona (9/17-7/8-6/2-5), 26. Illinois (36/15-8/7-7/4-6), 27. BYU (24/19-7/6-7/2-5), 28. Wisconsin (32/14-10/8-9/7-7)

This group of teams is moving closer to lock status, but haven’t quite sealed the deal yet. While the Michigan State Spartans snapped a three-game skid by holding off the Illinois Fighting Illini in Champaign Tuesday night, they still have some tricky games left, including two against the Maryland Terrapins, the current Big Ten leader. As for the Illini, they’ve dropped three straight, while the Iowa Hawkeyes’ Thursday road loss at Indiana cost them their spot as a No. 4 seed. Iowa has now dropped three of its last five.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at California
D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports
Arizona took care of business in defeating Cal by 16 on Thursday, but the Wildcats will need to defeat stronger opponents to move up the seed list.

The Marquette Golden Eagles’ 72-71 loss at Villanova on Wednesday prevented them from moving closer to lock status, while a Tuesday win over Missouri didn’t move the needle for an LSU Tigers squad that had lost its prior two games. The Ohio State Buckeyes, on the other hand, have improved their standing by winning four of their last five. Out west, the Arizona Wildcats could use a few more quality victories to shore up their status, while the BYU Cougars need to keep their five-game winning streak going for another week, as Gonzaga visits Provo on Feb. 21.

Then there are the Wisconsin Badgers, the first 10-loss team to appear in today’s projection. They simply can’t let that total get too much bigger over the next month. That will be easier said than done in the 2019-20 Big Ten.

With nine more spots off the board, just 17 places remain.

Bubble in (11)

No. 8s: 29. Michigan (30/15-9/8-9/5-8), 30. Houston* (27/20-5/9-5/2-3), 31. Texas Tech (17/16-8/6-8/3-7), 32. Oklahoma (45/16-8/8-8/3-6)
No. 9s: 33. Saint Mary’s (37/19-6/7-4/2-3), 34. Purdue (31/14-11/7-10/4-8), 35. Xavier (43/16-9/8-9/2-8), 36. Florida (38/15-9/5-9/3-6)
No. 10s: 37. Rutgers (33/16-8/6-7/2-6), 38. Northern Iowa* (34/20-3/4-1/1-1), 39. Wichita State (50/18-6/8-6/2-3)

Of this group, the Michigan Wolverines and Oklahoma Sooners, both of which have won two straight, and Texas Tech Red Raiders, triumphant in their last three, look to be in the best position. As for the fourth No. 8 seed, the Houston Cougars, there are too many potentially tricky games left on their remaining American Athletic schedule to declare them a lock — despite the fact they’ve already recorded 20 victories. It’s a similar story for the Saint Mary’s Gaels, whose 30-point home loss to Gonzaga will leave a mark on their profile, particularly since they still need to visit Spokane to close out the regular season.

The Northern Iowa Panthers can move closer to both the Missouri Valley regular-season title and an at-large, should they need it, with a road win at Loyola Chicago on Saturday.

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Ohio State
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Rutgers has dropped three of its last four — all away from Piscataway — and those results have the Scarlet Knights trending in the wrong direction.

The Purdue Boilermakers and Rutgers Scarlet Knights are both playing enigmatically in mid-February. Matt Painter’s squad’s home dominance was rudely ended by Penn State on Tuesday, while the Scarlet Knights have yet to defeat a Big Ten team that’s not named “Nebraska” on the road. In the Big East, the Xavier Musketeers’ three-game win streak ended at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Wednesday evening, keeping Travis Steele’s squad from further consolidating its position. Meanwhile, both the Florida Gators and Wichita State Shockers took care of business in their midweek road trip, results that earned both a little bit of breathing room from the First Four spots they found themselves in on Tuesday.

That’s 11 more places gone, which means only six should remain. However, since both San Diego State and Northern Iowa represent likely single-bid leagues, there are still eight at-large places to account for.

The cut line

No. 10s (Last Four Byes): 40. Rhode Island (35/18-6/6-5/1-4)
No. 11s (Last Four Byes): 41. Virginia (55/16-7/6-6/2-23), 42. Indiana (64/16-8/6-8/4-6), 43. USC (48/18-7/9-6/3-6)

Of the four teams destined for Dayton on Tuesday, Indiana recorded the biggest midweek victory, as Thursday’s 89-77 win over Iowa was the Hoosiers’ fourth over a Quad 1 opponent. Otherwise, the Rhode Island Rams’ loss at Atlantic 10 leader Dayton only cost them seeding, while both the Virginia Cavaliers (over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish after overtime) and USC Trojans (over a fading Washington Huskies squad) narrowly pulled out games they couldn’t afford to drop.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Stanford
Cody Glenn-USA TODAY Sports
Remy Martin and Arizona State won their second straight bubble showdown on Thursday night, following Saturday’s home win over USC with a road triumph over Stanford.

Last Four IN (No. 11s – First Four): 44. Arizona State (54/16-8/8-8/4-6), 45. Cincinnati (47/16-8/8-5/2-5)
Last Four IN (No. 12s – First Four): 46. Arkansas (44/16-8/4-8/2-5), 47. ETSU (41/19-4/4-3/2-2)

Had the Cincinnati Bearcats not lost by a point in overtime to the UConn Huskies on Sunday, they probably would have made it into Tuesday’s bracket. Thursday night’s late rally and overtime win over the Memphis Tigers did the trick, as it was the sixth win in their last seven tips. The Arizona State Sun Devils, Tuesday’s last team in, were another huge Thursday winner, as their 74-69 road win over the Stanford Cardinal both boosted their position and knocked their Pac-12 rivals out of the field for now.

The Arkansas Razorbacks are trending in the wrong direction, having lost three straight, with consecutive games against Mississippi State and Florida likely to tell us whether Eric Musselman’s squad is NCAA or NIT bound.

Last, but certainly not least, the East Tennessee State Buccaneers enter the field, meaning that there are two Southern Conference teams in the field for now. Provided both win their Saturday games, the Bucs will host the Furman Paladins Wednesday night with first-place on the line.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Syracuse
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
NC State could make a major move in the at-large picture in the next eight days, thanks to home games against two of the ACC’s best.

First Four OUT: 69. VCU (42/17-7/3-6/1-4), 70. Stanford (29/16-8/4-7/2-5), 71. Utah State (46/18-7/4-5/2-4), 72. Minnesota (40/12-11/6-11/4-10)
Next Four OUT: 73. NC State (56/16-8/7-6/3-2), 74. Alabama (39/13-11/5-10/1-6), 75. Mississippi State (49/15-9/4-7/1-6), 76. Richmond (51/18-6/3-4/2-4)

While Stanford’s loss to Arizona State was understandable, the VCU Rams’ 72-67 home loss to a George Mason team that headed to the Siegel Center with a 2-8 Atlantic 10 record was inexcusable, particularly for a team that owns only three Quad 1/2 wins. But Mike Rhoades’ squad will have a chance to pad that total in the coming days, as they travel to arch-rival Richmond for a true bubble showdown on Saturday and host Dayton on Tuesday.

The Utah State Aggies moved closer to the field and the No. 2 seed in the Mountain West tournament by winning at Colorado State Rams on Tuesday, while the Minnesota Golden Gophers have had the week to prepare for huge home games against Iowa and Indiana.

Among the Next Four Out, keep an eye on the NC State Wolfpack. On Tuesday, they knocked off the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome to win their second straight away from Raleigh. They’ll play a third such game Sunday at Boston College. After that, though, Kevin Keatts’ squad gets both Duke and Florida State at home. Conversely, the Alabama Crimson Tide are moving the wrong way, as they’ve dropped four of their last five, while their SEC rivals Mississippi State lost further position, thanks to a 25-point road loss to in-state rival Ole Miss.

Also Considered: 77. Georgetown (53/14-10/8-10/4-9), 78. Memphis (59/17-7/6-5/1-3), 79. St. John’s (67/14-11/5-10/3-8), 80. Oregon State (69/15-9/5-6/4-3), 81. UNCG (60/18-6/3-4/2-2), 82. Providence (62/13-12/7-8/4-8), 83. Tennessee (63/14-10/6-9/2-6), 84. Texas (70/14-10/3-10/2-8), 85. DePaul (66/12-11/4-10/4-7), 86. Syracuse (68/14-10/4-9/2-4), 87. Utah (72/14-10/7-8/3-7), 88. Notre Dame (52/15-9/3-8/1-5), 89. South Carolina (65/15-9/5-7/3-5), 90. Liberty (57/21-3/1-1/0-1), 91. SMU (73/17-6/2-5/1-2), 92. UConn (75/13-11/3-9/0-6)

With midweek losses, Memphis, Providence, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Utah are trending in the wrong direction. On the flip side, the Oregon State Beavers’ emphatic home victory over the Utes boosted their prospects, particularly with Colorado visiting Corvallis on Saturday. The Tennessee Volunteers also improved their chances by routing Arkansas on Tuesday. Six of the Vols’ last seven games will feature teams under consideration.

(Likely) One-Bid Conference Reps

No. 12s: 48. Yale*, 49. Furman*, 50. Vermont*
No. 13s: 51. Stephen F. Austin*, 52. North Texas*, 53. UC Irvine*, 54. Colgate*
No. 14s: 55. New Mexico State*, 56. Wright State*, 57. Bowling Green*, 58. Hofstra*
No. 15s: 59. Winthrop*, 60. South Dakota State*, 61. Little Rock*, 62. Austin Peay*
No. 16s (First Round): 63. Montana*, 64. North Florida*
No. 16s (First Four): 65. Prairie View A&M*, 66. Rider*, 67. Robert Morris*, 68. NC Central*

With one month and two days left until Selection Sunday, just five teams can finish their conference seasons win a perfect record. Just one of those teams, the New Mexico State Aggies, finds itself among this group. Note that out of this quintet, only Gonzaga will see its conference tournament end before Selection Weekend.

I’ll have another full bracket projection on Tuesday. In the meantime, I’ll have some TV previews up at Blogging The Bracket and I’ll talk more bracketology on the weekend edition of the College Basketball Coast to Coast podcast.

Read more at SB Nation.

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