Bracket Watch: Michigan State Cracks the Field on the Back of Big Wins

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Last Saturday three men's ranked teams lost to unranked foes. The chaos that a college hoops weekend wreaks on the bracket each week is enough to drive this bracketologist up a wall, but it wouldn’t be college basketball season without upsets. Where does the field stand as we enter the final weekend of February? Sports Illustrated dives into that with its final Bracket Watch before March. 

On the Bubble

Welcome to the field, Michigan State. If you had told me a week ago at this time that I’d have Michigan State in my field, I wouldn't have believed you. But the Spartans tallied three Quad 1 wins in a week, including two victories over top-10 teams. The metrics aren’t great, but it’s hard to keep out a team with five Q1 wins right now. MSU gets another opportunity Sunday at Maryland.

Another story line on the bubble is the Big East’s recent woes. Seton Hall and Xavier have faltered lately to inch close to the cut line, and UConn isn’t fully safe yet either. Xavier gets an opportunity to punch its ticket Saturday with a road win at Creighton, while UConn really needs to protect home court against a mediocre Marquette club.

Last Four Byes:

Seton Hall

Last Four In:

St. Bonaventure
Colorado State
Michigan State

First Four Out:

Ole Miss

Next Four Out:

Wichita State
Georgia Tech
Saint Louis

Michigan State's Gabe Brown

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

Gonzaga Region

No. 1 Gonzaga* vs. No. 16 Wagner*/NC A&T*
No. 8 Florida vs. No. 9 San Diego State
No. 5 Creighton vs. No. 12 Belmont*
No. 4 USC* vs. No. 13 UC Santa Barbara*
No. 6 Oklahoma State vs. No. 11 Drake
No. 3 Houston* vs. No. 14 James Madison*
No. 7 Missouri vs. No. 10 Louisville
No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 Eastern Washington*

For now, Houston stays as the top No. 3 seed in my projected field. But with recent losses by Ohio State, Iowa, Illinois and Alabama, combined with a blowout Cougars win over WKU that raised their NET to No. 4 nationally, Houston is getting awfully close to creeping back onto the No. 2 line. A road win to close the regular season against Memphis next week might help push the Cougars over the top.

I’m also intrigued by what the committee will do with San Diego State if it can complete a sweep of Boise State on Saturday. The Aztecs haven’t lost since Jan. 16 against Utah State, will likely finish in the top 20 of both the NET and KenPom, and have several good wins. Avoiding the 8/9 game (and the date with a No. 1 seed in the second round that comes with it) would be huge for SDSU’s hopes of being this year’s mid-major darling.

Baylor Region

No. 1 Baylor* vs. No. 16 South Dakota*/Prairie View A&M*
No. 8 Maryland vs. No. 9 LSU
No. 5 Texas Tech vs. No. 12 Western Kentucky*
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 Winthrop*
No. 6 Virginia vs. No. 11 Seton Hall
No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 14 Liberty*
No. 7 Loyola Chicago* vs. No. 10 UConn
No. 2 Illinois vs. No. 15 Siena*

The story line in this region is the continued tumble by Virginia all the way down to the No. 6 line. This may be further than most bracketologists have dropped the Cavs, but UVA’s home loss to NC State Wednesday is an ugly one from a résumé perspective. Virginia now has two Quad 3 losses, and its best win is a road victory against a Clemson team coming off a COVID-19 pause. Tony Bennett’s team desperately needs to right the ship Monday against Miami.

Meanwhile, watch out for No. 1 seed Baylor on Saturday when it heads to Allen Fieldhouse to play Kansas. The Bears looked quite rusty coming off pause Tuesday against Iowa State and will need a much better effort to beat a surging Kansas team. A loss would likely drop Baylor below Michigan on my seed list.

Michigan Region

No. 1 Michigan* vs. No. 16 Cleveland State*
No. 8 Virginia Tech vs. No. 9 Boise State*
No. 5 Arkansas vs. No. 12 Colorado State/Michigan State
No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 13 Colgate*
No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 11 VCU
No. 3 Florida State* vs. No. 14 Abilene Christian*
No. 7 Rutgers vs. No. 10 North Carolina
No. 2 Villanova* vs. No. 15 UMBC*

Arkansas continues to surge up the seed list after knocking off Alabama in Fayetteville on Wednesday. It will get another crack at a team in the projected field when it hosts LSU on Saturday. The Razorbacks are now 17–2 when Justin Smith suits up and have won eight of nine to put them in position to contend for their first top-four seed since Nolan Richardson was patrolling the sidelines.

Meanwhile, North Carolina dealt a self-inflicted wound by scheduling (and subsequently losing to) Marquette in a game that had virtually no upside and lots of downside. The Q3 loss won't wreck the Tar Heels, but it shrinks their margin for error. They could make everyone forget about that bad loss by knocking off Florida State Saturday. 

Ohio State Region

No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 16 Texas State*
No. 8 Clemson vs. No. 9 UCLA
No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 St. Bonaventure/Stanford
No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 13 Toledo*
No. 6 Purdue vs. No. 11 Xavier
No. 3 Texas vs. No. 14 Furman*
No. 7 BYU vs. No. 10 Oregon
No. 2 Alabama* vs. No. 15 Grand Canyon*

Ohio State stays as the final No. 1 seed despite back-to-back losses, mostly because no one else earned it. Iowa (Michigan) and Illinois (Michigan State) each lost games to teams OSU lost to in this brief skid, and Alabama missed a chance for a needle-moving win at Arkansas. A split in their final two regular-season games would position the Buckeyes well for that final No. 1 seed entering the Big Ten tournament.

Also worth monitoring is how the several Big 12 teams after Baylor jockey for position in seeding. Texas moves up to the No. 3 line after beating Kansas combined with Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas State, and both teams have the potential to move again this weekend after matchups against NCAA tournament teams.

Sweeney's full March Madness projection, as of Feb. 26: 

Bracket Watch Update Feb 26.