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Bracket Watch: The Fourth No. 1 Seed Is Very Much Up for Grabs

Purdue, UCLA, Kentucky, Kansas and Arizona are all in the mix for the men's top line right now. Who gets the current nod?

Happy February! It’s the penultimate month of the college basketball season, which means bracket watching goes into second gear. Starting next week, Sports Illustrated will update its projected field twice a week, giving you a weekend recap of how the biggest games impacted the field on Tuesdays and answering your questions on Fridays for a bracketology mailbag that includes an updated bracket projection heading into the weekend.

Here’s how the men’s field of 68 looks after one day of February.

On the Bubble

Last Four Byes:

Wake Forest
North Carolina

Last Four In:

San Diego State
San Francisco

First Four Out:

West Virginia
Mississippi State

Next Four Out:

Notre Dame
Texas A&M

Welcome to the field, Creighton! The Bluejays made an 11th-hour jump in after Tuesday night’s huge road win at UConn. The metrics don’t love Creighton (No. 65 in NET, No. 58 in KenPom), but Greg McDermott’s club now has four Quadrant I wins. That should be enough to keep the Bluejays right in the mix for a bid until the very end, and assuming they finish .500 or better in the Big East I’d be surprised if they don’t go dancing.

San Francisco moves closer to the cut line after blowing a huge early lead against Saint Mary’s at home last week. The Dons pass the eye test, and are well liked by qualitative metrics. But after a pair of missed opportunities on their home court against BYU and Saint Mary’s in recent weeks, San Francisco needs to win some tough road games in February, or it will be sweating in March.

Meanwhile, watch out for VCU, whose résumé got a lot better in the last week with road wins at Davidson and Richmond. It’s not quite enough to move the Rams into the field, but they represent the A-10’s next-best chance at an at-large bid after Davidson.

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

West Region

No. 1 Gonzaga* vs. No. 16 New Orleans*/Florida A&M*
No. 8 Boise State* vs. No. 9 Davidson*
No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 12 San Francisco/Creighton
No. 4 Illinois vs. No. 13 Chattanooga*
No. 6 Marquette vs. No. 11 Wyoming*
No. 3 Houston* vs. No. 14 Princeton*
No. 7. USC vs. No. 10 Colorado State
No. 2 Kansas* vs. No. 15 Jacksonville State*

Alabama remains perhaps the hardest team to seed in the field. The Crimson Tide have played a grueling schedule and have wins over three of the four teams that played in the Final Four last season … all of whom are top-three seeds in this year’s field. But with bad defeats against Missouri and Georgia and a loss total that could wind up in the 11–13 range by mid-March, is the Tide’s realistic ceiling a No. 4 seed? The committee’s top 16 reveal later this month could shed some light on how they feel about Bama.

One big riser in this region: Boise State. The Broncos haven’t lost since Nov. 30 and have soared in predictive metrics after recent road wins at Utah State, San Diego State and Fresno State. A bad early loss to Cal State–Bakersfield at home might sting come Selection Sunday, but the Broncos are in great shape to dance even if they drop a few Mountain West games in February.

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South Region

No. 1 Auburn* vs. No. 16 Colgate*/Norfolk State*
No. 8 Miami* vs. No. 9 BYU
No. 5 Xavier vs. No. 12 North Texas*
No. 4 Texas Tech vs. No. 13 Toledo*
No. 6 Texas vs. No. 11 Wake Forest
No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Weber State*
No. 7 Saint Mary's vs. No. 10 Seton Hall
No. 2 UCLA* vs. No. 15 Longwood*

UCLA climbs two seed lines from last week’s projected bracket after a huge week that featured wins by 15 points or more over Arizona, Cal and Stanford. The Arizona victory gives the Bruins a signature win, and these blowouts did wonders for UCLA’s predictive metrics. Another win over Arizona this week (this time in Tucson) would elevate the Bruins into a legitimate conversation for a No. 1 seed.

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It’s also never too early to start worrying about how to place BYU, which can’t play on Sundays in March for religious reasons. That restricts the Cougars to the West and South regionals, which play their regional finals on Saturday rather than Sunday. If BYU stays in the No. 8– or No. 9–seed range, it will wind up in the South assuming Gonzaga stays as the No. 1 out West to avoid conference rivals potentially meeting in the second round.

Midwest Region

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Hawai’i*
No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 Loyola Chicago
No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 12 Florida
No. 4 Providence* vs. No. 13 Vermont*
No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 11 Iona*
No. 3 Duke vs. No. 14 Wagner*
No. 7 UConn vs. No. 10 Iowa
No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 Seattle*

Baylor stays as the No. 3 overall seed despite Saturday’s road loss at Alabama. That said, the loss does increase the gap a bit between Auburn and the Bears for the No. 2 overall seed, which would earn the Bears a “home” regional in San Antonio rather than likely heading to Chicago. Baylor gets a huge chance to make a statement with a road test at Kansas on Saturday; it’s the type of game that could move the needle toward earning that San Antonio regional.

Where do things stand for Rick Pitino and Iona’s at-large push? The Gaels have done a nice job navigating the land mines of MAAC play and currently sit 10–0 in conference play. Their win over Alabama hasn’t necessarily aged as well as originally hoped, but it’s still a quality, top-of-résumé win. And at 3–3 against Q1 + Q2, the Gaels have a body of work that proves they are legit. One or two MAAC losses might be enough to make things auto-bid or bust, but if the season ended today Iona would be above multiple at-large teams on the seed list.

East Region

No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 16 UNC Wilmington*
No. 8 Murray State* vs. No. 9 Arkansas
No. 5 LSU vs. No. 12 Oklahoma/San Diego State
No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 South Dakota State*
No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 North Carolina
No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 14 Oakland*
No. 7 TCU vs. No. 10 Oregon
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Appalachian State*

Purdue jumps to the No. 1 line for the first time this season. The fourth No. 1 is very much up for grabs at this point, and the Boilermakers have a narrow edge over Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA and Arizona for now. The Boilers have a fairly manageable (at least by Big Ten standards) February schedule, so the path is there for Matt Painter’s team to stack wins and solidify itself on the No. 1 line.

Meanwhile, Kentucky rises to the No. 2 line and No. 5 overall on the seed list after a dominant victory over Kansas that vaulted the Wildcats to No. 2 in KenPom. It may take getting a second crack at Auburn in the SEC tournament to get Kentucky up to the No. 1 line, but right now the Wildcats are playing like a team that you do not want to see in March.

Full projected bracket as of Feb. 2:

More College Basketball Coverage: 

• Mark Adams Comes Full Circle at Texas Tech
The Drive That Fuels Johnny Davis, Breakout Star
UCLA Is Embracing Its New Challenge

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