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Bracket Watch: Ohio State Moves Up to No. 1 Seed

For the first time since Bracket Watch debuted in 2021, we have a change on our projected field's top line.

The first weekend in February may be reserved for the Super Bowl, but college basketball marches on with a big weekend slate that features rivalry showdowns, conference battles and lots of star power. How does the men's 2021 NCAA tournament field look heading into Super Bowl weekend? Sports Illustrated dives into that and which teams have the most to gain this weekend in our latest Bracket Watch.

On the Bubble:

The big bubble news in the past week was Saint Louis, which took a second bad loss of the season on the road at La Salle to knock it down significantly into our First Four Out. The Atlantic 10 now has three of the first five teams out of the field and no at-large teams. Saturday’s home game for the Billikens against St. Bonaventure is a massive opportunity for Saint Louis to get back on the right side of the bubble. Meanwhile, Maryland continues to tight-rope near .500 for the season, but its win over Purdue gives the Terps some breathing room. Can they find a way to win on the road Friday night in Happy Valley against Penn State?

Last Four Byes:


Last Four In:

North Carolina
Colorado State
Utah State

First Four Out:

Saint Louis
Georgia Tech

Next Four Out:

Western Kentucky
St. John's

Ohio State basketball

Gonzaga Region:

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Prairie View A&M/NC A&T
No. 8 Boise State vs. No. 9 Xavier
No. 5 Texas Tech vs. No. 12 Toledo
No. 4 Missouri vs. No. 13 Winthrop
No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 11 LSU
No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Siena
No. 7 Louisville vs. No. 10 Loyola Chicago
No. 2 Texas vs. No. 15 UC Irvine

Missouri moved up a seed line by winning while others around it lost, despite its victory over Kentucky not always being pretty. The Tigers host SEC leaders Alabama Saturday in one of the highest-profile games of the weekend. A win there could move up Mizzou to the No. 3 line despite its lackluster metrics thanks to several quality wins.

Staying in the SEC, LSU gets some unexpected time off this weekend after Saturday’s game against Florida was called off due to COVID-19 issues in the Gators program. LSU has lost four of five and needs to turn the tide, so perhaps some practice time to fix a defense that ranks among the worst in high-major basketball could be a blessing in disguise. 

Baylor Region:

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 LIU Brooklyn/Montana State
No. 8 Rutgers vs. No. 9 BYU
No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 Colorado State/Stanford
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 13 Belmont
No. 6 Purdue vs. No. 11 Arkansas
No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 Navy
No. 7 Florida vs. No. 10 Clemson
No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 Grand Canyon

I kept Iowa on the No. 2 line for now despite their recent struggles because of its strong metrics and clean résumé. However, the Hawkeyes desperately need a bounce-back win Sunday when they head to Bloomington to take on Indiana. A loss there would bring questions of whether this is yet another late-season swoon under Fran McCaffery and could cause a significant drop on the seed list.

Meanwhile, BYU gets the opportunity of the season Monday when it hosts Gonzaga in Provo. The Cougars will almost certainly be double-digit underdogs, but Gonzaga has gotten off to slow starts in a few games lately and BYU is likely the best team left on its schedule until March.

Michigan Region:

No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 16 South Dakota
No. 8 Drake vs. No. 9 UConn
No. 5 UCLA vs. No. 12 UAB
No. 4 West Virginia vs. No. 13 Abilene Christian
No. 6 Virginia Tech vs. No. 11 Oregon
No. 3 Illinois vs. No. 14 Vermont
No. 7 Minnesota vs. No. 10 Seton Hall
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 15 Northeastern

It’s remarkable to say this, but undefeated Drake can’t afford to rest on its laurels or get caught looking ahead to next weekend’s series with Loyola Chicago. The Bulldogs’ incredible NET ranking (No. 10 as of Friday morning) gives them a bit of leeway, but with no true quality wins to their name, a loss to Valparaiso this weekend could be incredibly damaging. 

Closer to the bubble, it’s officially danger time for Oregon after losing at home to Washington State Thursday. The Ducks have had a very disjointed season due to injuries and COVID-19 pauses, but they now own a pair of Quad 3 losses and their best win is on a neutral court against Seton Hall. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt for now, but they desperately need to rattle off some wins.

Ohio State Region:

No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 16 Louisiana
No. 8 USC vs. No. 9 San Diego State
No. 5 Kansas vs. No. 12 North Carolina/Utah State
No. 4 Houston vs. No. 13 Liberty
No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 Maryland
No. 3 Virginia vs. No. 14 UNC Greensboro
No. 7 Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 St. Bonaventure
No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 Cleveland State 

Houston’s bid for a No. 2 or even No. 1 seed come March was reliant on keeping a squeaky-clean résumé without bad losses, thanks to the relative weakness of the AAC. That’s why Wednesday’s loss at East Carolina was so damaging—the Cougars won’t have tons of opportunities to make the committee forget about it. For now, they sit as an incredibly dangerous No. 4 seed who could start creeping back up as others around them lose.

Meanwhile, it’s rare to talk about Duke–UNC for the bubble, but that’s where we are right now. The Tar Heels get a Quad 1 win opportunity on the road at Cameron Indoor on Saturday. And while Duke isn’t in our projected field, winning on the road might be enough to move UNC out of the First Four.

Sweeney's full March Madness projection, as of Feb. 5:

Feb. 5 NCAA tournament projection