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Bracket Watch: Bubble Teams Making Critical Final Push for Tournament

Here we go! It’s officially Championship Week, and as we count down to Selection Sunday, Sports Illustrated will keep you updated on all the latest movement around the bracket throughout the week. Stay tuned as more teams punch their tickets, bid-stealers wreak havoc on the bubble and bubble teams make their final plea to the selection committee.

Thursday's games to watch:

Michigan State vs. Maryland, Big Ten second round: I think both teams should get in regardless of what happens here, but Maryland in particular could use a win to avoid finishing just one over .500 in Division I games. Never give the committee a reason to keep you out. The winner is officially off the bubble and in the field. 

Syracuse vs. Virginia, ACC quarterfinal: The Orange jumped 10 spots in the NET Thursday morning after Wednesday’s blowout win over NC State. A win against Virginia would be enough to jump several teams and move into the field.

Oklahoma State vs. West Virginia, Big 12 quarterfinal: A rematch from Saturday’s matchup in Morgantown, the winner can lock up being at least a No. 3 seed with the potential to creep up further if there's chaos above it.

St. John’s vs. Seton Hall, Big East quarterfinal: This is essentially a “loser leaves town” game. The loser has no shot at making the NCAA tournament. The winner likely has to win one more game for strong consideration.

Mountain West quarterfinals: Every higher-seeded team except for San Diego State needs to win on Thursday. A loss for any of Colorado State, Boise State or Utah State would likely knock them out of contention.

On the Bubble

Last Four Byes:

Michigan State
Colorado State

Last Four In:

Boise State
Wichita State
Saint Louis

First Four Out:

Utah State
Seton Hall
Ole Miss

Next Four Out:

St. John's

Saint Louis fans were the biggest Virginia fans in the world Thursday afternoon, and the roar from Billiken nation must have been deafening when the Cavs snuck past Syracuse. The Orange are still under consideration, but I project they’ll come up just short when all is said and done. That leaves Saint Louis in the field … for now.

Seton Hall kept its bubble hopes alive by beating St. John’s in an overtime Big East quarterfinal thriller. The win isn’t quite enough to push the Pirates into the field, but it keeps them fighting for another day. One factor that could hurt: Villanova getting upset by Georgetown takes away a quality win opportunity tomorrow for Seton Hall. On the other hand, it provides an easier path to the title game, one win away from an autobid.

Duke is also virtually eliminated from NCAA tournament contention after being knocked out of the ACC tournament due to a positive COVID-19 test. Regardless of whether or not they’d be healthy enough to play next week, the Blue Devils are now out of chances to improve a résumé that is severely lacking. It’s very likely that Duke’s season is over.

After Thursday’s action, we’ll likely be down to about eight teams competing for the final four spots in the field—though that number can be a moving target. 

Seton Hall basketball

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*Indicates team has secured its conference's automatic bid

Gonzaga Region

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary's*/NC A&T
No. 8 Florida vs. No. 9 UConn
No. 5 Creighton vs. No. 12 Drake/Wichita State
No. 4 Villanova vs. No. 13 Toledo
No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 Colorado State
No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 14 UNC Greensboro*
No. 7 Loyola Chicago* vs. No. 10 St. Bonaventure
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Drexel*

Gonzaga trailed late against a feisty BYU club in the WCC championship Tuesday night, but a late surge led by Jalen Suggs allowed the Bulldogs to complete an undefeated regular season. With that, Gonzaga is now a lock for the No. 1 overall seed in this year’s field. No matter what happens between now and Selection Sunday, the Zags will be the first school to hear its name called. 

Ohio State’s slide continued over the weekend with a loss to Illinois, the Buckeyes’ fourth in a row. They stay on the No. 2 line for now, but two wins in the Big Ten tournament might be necessary to lock in that spot. OSU’s seven Quad 1 wins are tied for third nationally, and combined with a No. 9 NET ranking, the team is positioned well.

From a bracketing perspective, the No. 5/No. 12 matchup would be juicy for the mid-major fans out there. Former MVC squad Creighton matched up with the winner of a battle between former MVC member Wichita State and current MVC club Drake. It would feel like Arch Madness in Indianapolis. 

Baylor Region

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Oral Roberts*
No. 8 Virginia Tech vs. No. 9 LSU
No. 5 USC vs. No. 12 UC Santa Barbara
No. 4 Texas vs. No. 13 Western Kentucky
No. 6 Missouri vs. No. 11 VCU
No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 14 Abilene Christian
No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 10 UCLA
No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 Cleveland State

West Virginia had been charging hard for a No. 2 seed, but its hopes of sneaking past Ohio State or another team on the fringes took a hit when the Mountaineers lost to Oklahoma State this weekend. The path to a top-two seed is still feasible, but now may require WVU to beat Baylor or have others around the country give it help.

One team I’m curious to figure out what the committee will do with is Missouri. The Tigers are one of nine teams in college basketball with seven Quad 1 wins, but their No. 44 NET is closer to that of a bubble team’s than a top-five seed. A strong showing in in Nashville this week would bolster the Tigers’ case to move up the seed list. 

Michigan Region

No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 16 Appalachian State*
No. 8 Oregon vs. No. 9 Rutgers
No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 Winthrop*
No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 13 Colgate
No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 11 Michigan State
No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 14 Morehead State*
No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Georgia Tech
No. 2 Houston vs. No. 15 Grand Canyon*

Michigan stays our No. 3 overall seed for now despite the loss to Michigan State. However, the margin between the Wolverines and Illinois is shrinking and could vanish depending on results at the Big Ten tournament. A head-to-head matchup in the championship game would be the easiest way to settle the debate, but it’s far from a lock both teams will get that far.

One storyline also worth watching, particularly as more and more No. 1 seeds get knocked out of mid-major conference tournaments, is how mid-majors move up the seed list. Using the example of Morehead State, when the Eagles punched their ticket on Saturday night they were probably looking at a No. 15 seed. Losses around them have already moved them up to a No. 14, and it’s possible enough upsets could happen that Morehead State will move up to a No. 13. That move can be the difference between having a chance to pull an upset and not.

Illinois Region

No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 16 Hartford/Prairie View A&M
No. 8 BYU vs. No. 9 North Carolina
No. 5 Virginia vs. No. 12 Boise State/Saint Louis
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 13 Liberty*
No. 6 Texas Tech vs. No. 11 Louisville
No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 14 Southern Utah
No. 7 San Diego State vs. No. 10 Maryland
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 15 Iona

Oklahoma State’s meteoric rise continues, as the Cowboys won on the road at West Virginia without Cade Cunningham to continue to add impressive wins to their résumé. Like with Missouri, the NET and KenPom aren’t big believers in OSU, but its body of work is difficult to ignore. My hunch is those metrics will cap Oklahoma State at a No. 3 seed no matter what it does at the Big 12 tournament.

Finally, we’ll be watching the ACC tournament this week for a number of reasons, but a primary one will be tracking whether Virginia can jump Florida State on the seed list. UVA has better metrics, but FSU has better wins and a head-to-head victory over the Cavs. If either team wins the ACC tournament, it will likely claim the top ACC spot. 

Sweeney's full March Madness projection, as of March 11:

NCAA tournament Bracket Watch March 11

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