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Bracket Watch: Where the Field Stands Less Than One Month Before Selection Sunday

As competition grows on the bubble, who is rising or falling after the weekend's results?

As promised, the NCAA’s men's selection committee's top 16 reveal Saturday was informative in getting a sense of where it stands as we approach Selection Sunday. There were no major surprises—all four one seeds were the ones Sports Illustrated had penciled in before the reveal, and no team came out of nowhere with a far higher seed than anticipated. Still, the top 16 gives us an understanding of the committee’s thinking at one moment in time and allows us to reset our rankings slightly at the top to adjust. Here’s how the field looks as we pass the halfway point in February.

On the Bubble:

UCLA’s rapid fall onto the bubble from being safely in the field just a few weeks ago has as much to do with metrics as losses. Two lackluster performances by the Bruins this weekend in the state of Washington moved them down into the high 40s of the NET, and UCLA has just one win against a likely NCAA tournament team. Meanwhile, Drake stays in the field after finding a way to split its weekend series with Loyola Chicago. It wasn’t pretty for the Bulldogs in Game 1, but Darian DeVries’s team played excellent basketball Sunday and rallied late to get its first Quadrant 1 victory of the year.

UCLA guard Tyger Campbell dribbles

After looking like a lock, UCLA finds itself on the bubble after its recent play

On the wrong side of things currently but trending up is Ole Miss, which earned a road win at South Carolina for its fourth consecutive victory. Wednesday’s matchup with LSU looms large. Wins over Tennessee and Missouri should be looked upon very positively by the committee.

MORE: Why a Maryland Team 5–9 in the Big Ten Is Firmly on the Bubble

Last Four Byes:

Boise State
Saint Louis

Last Four In:

North Carolina

First Four Out:

Ole Miss
Colorado State
St. Bonaventure

Next Four Out:

St. John's

*Indicates the team is projected to win its conference's automatic bid

Gonzaga Region:

No. 1 Gonzaga* vs. No. 16 South Dakota*/NC A&T*
No. 8 Clemson vs. No. 9 Xavier
No. 5 USC vs. No. 12 Belmont*
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 13 UC Santa Barbara*
No. 6 Rutgers vs. No. 11 Saint Louis
No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 UNC Greensboro*
No. 7 Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 Indiana
No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 Siena*

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Villanova was the No. 6 team in the committee’s mock top 16, but I moved it down two spots after a blowout loss at Creighton. The Bluejays torched a Wildcat defense that has been a persistent issue this season, and Villanova fell outside the top 10 of both the NET and KenPom. That was nearly enough to knock it off the No. 2 line, but the committee likes conference championships and clean résumés, both of which Villanova is on pace to have.

Also representing the Big East in this region is Xavier, a hard team to peg right now. The Musketeers started 8–0 and won by 20 points over an excellent Oklahoma team, but have played just twice in the last month due to COVID-19 issues. A losing skid while they look to cram games in before the Big East tournament could push them closer to the cut line. 

Baylor Region:

No. 1 Baylor* vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary's*/Prairie View A&M*
No. 8 Florida vs. No. 9 San Diego State
No. 5 Kansas* vs. No. 12 UConn/Maryland
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 Winthrop*
No. 6 Missouri vs. No. 11 North Carolina/Drake
No. 3 Iowa vs. No. 14 Liberty*
No. 7 Virginia Tech vs. No. 10 Boise State
No. 2 Illinois vs. No. 15 Grand Canyon*

As was discussed during the top 16 release, bracketing principles could give Baylor (or Gonzaga) a slightly tougher No. 2 seed than expected. Illinois is my No. 5 overall seed, but gets paired with the No. 2 overall seed in Baylor because the Illini can’t be the No. 2 seed in a region with a No. 1 seed from the Big Ten. This could also come into play with Iowa should the Hawkeyes finish strong.

Two of the three Mountain West teams in our field land in this region. The league is in a unique position right now where arguably its worst-positioned team in terms of at-large selection (Utah State) is the league’s current automatic qualifier because the Aggies are in first place in the Mountain West. How the conference title race shakes out in the MWC could have trickle-down effects for the bubble. 

Michigan Region:

No. 1 Michigan* vs. No. 16 Texas State*
No. 8 BYU vs. No. 9 Minnesota
No. 5 Creighton* vs. No. 12 Western Kentucky*
No. 4 Texas vs. No. 13 Wright State*
No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 11 VCU*
No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 14 Abilene Christian*
No. 7 Arkansas vs. No. 10 Oregon
No. 2 Houston* vs. No. 15 James Madison*

Michigan came out of its COVID-19 pause a bit slow but finished strong, using an impressive second half to rally past Wisconsin. The committee didn’t ding Michigan for its three-week absence from competition, seeding it as the No. 3 overall team. A road win in Madison should only bolster the Wolverines’ résumé. Now, the question is how many games they will fit in after having several postponed during their pause … and whether cramming in games could lead to some extra losses and harm them come Selection Sunday.

We also welcome a pair of new autobids in this region, with VCU and Western Kentucky taking over the top spots in their respective conferences. Both the Rams and the Hilltoppers were in consideration on the bubble before, but they could take it out of the committee’s hands by winning their conference tournaments. 

Ohio State Region:

No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 16 UMBC*
No. 8 Louisville vs. No. 9 LSU
No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 Utah State
No. 4 Texas Tech vs. No. 13 Toledo*
No. 6 Purdue vs. No. 11 UCLA
No. 3 Virginia vs. No. 14 Colgate*
No. 7 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 10 Seton Hall
No. 2 Alabama* vs. No. 15 Eastern Washington*

Ohio State was the No. 1 seed most in question by bracketologists prior to the top 16 reveal, but the Buckeyes came in on the No. 1 line and should be clearly ahead of Illinois—particularly given OSU has a head-to-head road win against the Illini. Meanwhile, Loyola Chicago stays far from the potential cut line and looks to be an NCAA tournament lock thanks to top-10 rankings in both the NET and KenPom, combined with a Quad 1 victory over Drake this weekend. 

Fellow NET darling Colgate joins the field, and while the Raiders are seemingly far from the bubble due to a lack of quality wins, a No. 11 NET ranking makes them one of the weirdest teams to seed in the country. I’m currently assuming they’ll be seeded similarly to any other Patriot League champion and the NET ranking will be mostly ignored.

Sweeney's full March Madness projection, as of Feb. 16:

Feb. 16 NCAA tournament bracket