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Bracket Watch: Upset-Heavy Week Puts Plenty on the Move

Plus, answering your bracketology questions on Houston, Memphis, Loyola Chicago and more.

Welcome to Sports Illustrated’s weekly college hoops bracketology mailbag with Kevin Sweeney. Here, Kevin will provide an updated men’s field of 68 and answer questions submitted via Twitter and email about the bracket. Have a question you’d like answered in a future mailbag? Send it to @CBB_Central on Twitter or Kevin.Sweeney@si.com. Without further ado, let’s get to your questions, which have been lightly edited for grammar and clarity ...

What a week it has been in men’s college hoops! Since the AP poll was released Monday afternoon, six top-10 teams have already lost, leading to constant shakeups to the seed list. But the biggest change came Thursday night, when Michigan’s dominant win over Purdue vaulted the Wolverines from “Next Four Out” to “Last Four Byes” in one of the most important single-game performances of the year by any team. How has the rest of the field moved this week? Without further ado, here’s SI’s updated projected bracket (click here to view in bracket form).

WESTSOUTHMIDWESTEAST

No. 1 Gonzaga* vs. No. 16 New Orleans*/Southern*

No. 1 Auburn* vs. No. 16 Long Beach State*/UNC-W*

No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 16 Norfolk St.*

No. 1 Kansas* vs. No. 16 Colgate*

No. 8 TCU vs. No. 9 Boise State

No. 8 Murray State* vs. No. 9 Iowa

No. 8 Wyoming* vs. No. 9 Davidson*

No. 8 Xavier vs. No. 9 Wake Forest

No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Chattanooga*

No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 12 Iona*

No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 North Texas*

No. 5 USC vs. No. 12 Florida/Notre Dame

No. 4 Villanova vs. No. 13 Toledo*

No. 4 Texas vs. No. 13 New Mexico St.*

No. 4 Houston* vs. No. 13 Vermont*

No. 4 Texas Tech vs. No. 13 South Dakota St.

No. 6 Alabama vs. No. 11 Oregon

No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 UNC/San Francisco

No. 6 Arkansas vs. No. 11 Miami

No. 6 UConn vs. No. 11 Michigan

No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Wagner*

No. 3 Providence* vs. No. 14 Longwood*

No. 3 Illinois* vs. No. 14 Liberty*

No. 3 UCLA vs. No. 14 Northern Iowa*

No. 7 LSU vs. No. 10 Loyola Chicago

No. 7 Saint Mary's vs. No. 10 Indiana

No. 7 Iowa St. vs No. 10 Colorado St.

No. 7 Seton Hall vs. No. 10 Oklahoma

No. 2 Arizona* vs. No. 15 Cleveland State*

No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 15 Yale*

No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 15 Appalachian St.

No. 2 Duke* vs. No. 15 Montana St*

On the Bubble

Last Four Byes:

Loyola Chicago
Michigan
Oregon
Miami

Last Four In:

San Francisco
North Carolina
Florida
Notre Dame

First Four Out:

BYU
SMU
Creighton
San Diego State

Next Four Out:

Belmont
Mississippi State
Saint Louis
UAB

Bracket Talk

O.K., on to your questions:

Steve asks: How much weight do you expect the committee to put into Houston’s injuries? If they win out, including conference tourney, does that lock them into a No. 2 seed? Any realistic scenario of them getting a shot at a No. 1 seed?

Houston’s résumé, with top-five rankings in both the NET and KenPom but just a 1–3 record in Quad 1 games, is perhaps the most unique of any team in the sport. Despite the metrics, I would be very surprised after Wednesday’s road loss at SMU if Houston can climb onto the No. 1 line. The Cougars don’t really have any more opportunities to significantly move the needle from a résumé standpoint and get the type of wins to notably climb up the seed list. SMU could work its way into the NCAA tournament mix, but right now Houston only has one win over a tourney team (Oregon). That won’t be enough to get it a No. 1 seed.

As for the injuries, I doubt they will come into play much for Houston’s seeding. It would be one thing if Houston had beaten Alabama or Wisconsin with Marcus Sasser and then looked clearly worse without him, but in the Cougars’ case I don’t think it will matter much. With or without Sasser, Houston’s strength is its metrics and its weakness is its quality wins.

David asks: Does San Francisco’s at-large chances at this point now hinge on beating Gonzaga Feb. 24?

No, the Dons are in better shape than that. In fact, I think USF is in a better place than I thought in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s disastrous loss to Portland. The Portland loss is a Q4 game, but that’s the Dons’ only bad loss as of now, and San Francisco has wins over several other bubble teams in Davidson, UAB and BYU. The metrics look good, and San Francisco still has more opportunities to bolster its résumé in the coming weeks with road tests at Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s. The Dons probably need to win one and maybe both of those games to feel at all comfortable on Selection Sunday, but beating the Zags isn’t a prerequisite, yet.

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TalkingBlers asks: How worried should Loyola Chicago fans be about the Ramblers’ tournament chances after their loss at Bradley?

For now? Not that worried. Loyola’s still the best team in the Missouri Valley and should be considered the favorite in Arch Madness. And even if the Ramblers don’t get the auto-bid, their current spot on the seed list puts them seven spots clear of the cut line. The good news for Loyola is that, even with its relative struggles in conference play, all three defeats it has taken have been in Quad 2 games, so the résumé still looks clean with no bad losses.

For now, the margin of error is shrinking but not gone yet. Loyola just needs to avoid a bad loss in February, and adding one more Q2 win on the road at Northern Iowa on the final day of the regular season wouldn’t hurt.

Alex asks: Is there still a path to an eight-bid Big 12?

There is, but it’s a narrow one. And quite honestly, it relies as much on the two teams that likely aren’t dancing (Oklahoma State and Kansas State) as it does on the bubble teams. The Cowboys and Wildcats need to start losing, particularly to Iowa State, Oklahoma and West Virginia. Those three teams will almost assuredly have the quality of wins necessary to go dancing; the question is whether they’ll have the quantity. The Big 12 is almost too good for its own good right now—the ideal conference for bid maximization has a couple of teams at the bottom that you can beat up on and make sure your record doesn’t drop too close to .500.

For now, I’d say Iowa State is a safe bet to get in (even with a potentially historically bad conference record for an NCAA tournament team), Oklahoma is in good shape and West Virginia has a bit of work to do. But the path is there for all three to get there without doing anything outlandish.

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J.R. asks: If Memphis wins all but two remaining regular season games and makes it to AAC championship game, is it in at-large territory given injuries of top players in four losses?

First, addressing the injuries—I don’t necessarily expect the committee will give Memphis a pass for going games without certain key players. Quite frankly, almost every team has an “asterisk game” or two, whether because of injuries, COVID-19 or a combination of both. It’s going to be really hard to parse through which games deserve asterisks and which ones don’t.

As for the larger question of Memphis’s at-large hopes, I’m assuming this hypothetical scenario involves both losses being to Houston. If that’s the case, I have a hard time buying the Tigers as an at-large team. That said, I think they’d at least be in the conversation heading into conference tournament week if they avoid any more bad losses until then. The big issue so far this season for the Tigers has been consistency, and that’s something they’ll need to have a shot. To me, Memphis’s best path to the dance involves at least one win over Houston. But given how the rest of the bubble hasn’t exactly helped itself lately and that Memphis’s NET and KenPom rankings are actually pretty solid already compared to the bubble, I wouldn’t be surprised if it creeps into the conversation just by not taking a bad loss.

Full projected NCAA tournament bracket (as of Feb. 11):

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