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Bracket Watch: SI’s Projected Field One Month Out From Selection Sunday

There's precious few weeks left for teams to make their case for the men's NCAA tournament—or for a top seed in the dance.

We’re less than a month away from Selection Sunday! That may be hard to believe, but it’s officially crunch time for teams on the bubble. So who helped themselves and who made their path harder after a busy weekend in the college hoops world? Here’s Sports Illustrated’s latest look at the projected men’s field of 68 as we get closer to March.

On the Bubble

Last Four Byes:

San Francisco
Miami
North Carolina
Michigan

Last Four In:

Notre Dame
Creighton
BYU
Memphis

First Four Out:

SMU
Oregon
San Diego State
Rutgers

Next Four Out:

Belmont
Florida
West Virginia
Saint Louis

Welcome to the field, Memphis.

It’s amazing how quickly things can change with the current state of the bubble, and Memphis winning on the road against a top-five team in the NET completely changes the complexion of its bubble hopes. It’s the type of résumé-topping win that elevates you from the fringes of the bubble into the field. The Tigers have a 4–2 record in Quad 1 games, and that’s enough to outweigh their two Q3 losses. A huge week with road games at Cincinnati and SMU is upcoming; win those two and the Tigers’ place in the field will feel more comfortable. The margin for error is still slim, especially in a weak AAC.

Lester Quinones celebrates the win over Houston

Lester Quinones celebrates Memphis's weekend win over Houston.

The biggest loser of Saturday’s loaded slate was Oregon, as the Ducks got blasted at home by a bad Cal team. Oregon now has three Q3 losses, a NET and KenPom rank in the 60s, and a combined .500 record in Q1 and Q2 games. As of today, it’s out of the field. 

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

West Region

No. 1 Gonzaga* vs. No. 16 New Orleans*/Texas Southern*
No. 8 Boise State vs. No. 9 Murray State*
No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 12 BYU/Memphis
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 New Mexico State*
No. 6 LSU vs. No. 11 Miami
No. 3 Providence* vs. No. 14 Yale*
No. 7. Arkansas vs. No. 10 San Francisco
No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 15 Longwood*

Providence has risen to our top No. 3 seed in the field for now, mostly because while everyone else around them loses, the Friars keep winning. They earned no style points in an overtime win over DePaul at home on Saturday, but at this point, Providence is never going to be the team with great metrics. We’ll learn a lot about the Friars this week, both from an on-court perspective when they host Villanova Tuesday and from a bracket standpoint when the committee releases its current top 16 on Saturday.

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I dropped Murray State a seed line after doing a full bracket “scrub” this week and comparing the Racers’ résumé to previous at-large mid-majors, but I think they are inching closer to being locks. If Murray State wins out in the regular season, it will enter the OVC tournament 28–2 with five combined Q1 and Q2 wins. One loss wouldn’t be enough to derail that. Quite frankly, as long as the Racers avoid a second Q3 or Q4 loss in the regular season, I think they’re dancing regardless of what happens during their conference tournament. 

South Region

No. 1 Auburn* vs. No. 16 UNC-Wilmington*/Norfolk State*
No. 8 Iowa State vs. No. 9 Colorado State
No. 5 Texas vs. No. 12 North Texas*
No. 4 Houston* vs. No. 13 Vermont*
No. 6 Marquette vs. No. 11 Davidson
No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 14 Wagner*
No. 7 Seton Hall vs. No. 10 Oklahoma
No. 2 Duke* vs. No. 15 Texas State*

Houston is yet another team I’ll be looking at closely ahead of the committee’s top 16 release Saturday. Essentially, the Cougars are the anti-Providence—predictive metrics are convinced they are elite, but Houston’s record in high-level games suggests otherwise. If the Cougars are ahead of Providence in the mock reveal this weekend, bracketologists like me will have some adjusting to do because it will be obvious that predictive metrics are being weighed even more heavily than I thought.

And keeping with our theme of mid-majors trying to lock in their bids early, Colorado State is inching closer to not having to sweat a loss in the Mountain West tournament. A huge road win for the Rams on Sunday at Boise State bumps CSU to the No. 9 line. Even a 3–2 finish (as long as it wins at New Mexico on Thursday) probably leaves Colorado State comfortably in the field heading into conference tournament week. CSU’s combined 9–2 record in Q1 and Q2 games is incredibly impressive. 

Midwest Region

No. 1 Kentucky* vs. No. 16 Long Beach State*
No. 8 Wyoming vs. No. 9 TCU
No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 12 Creighton/Notre Dame
No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 13 Toledo*
No. 6 UConn vs. No. 11 Michigan
No. 3 Illinois* vs. No. 14 Liberty*
No. 7 Saint Mary's vs. No. 10 Wake Forest
No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 15 Cleveland State*

Starting Tuesday, Kentucky embarks on a four-game stretch that may define whether the Wildcats get a No. 1 seed or not. In the next two weeks, UK plays at Tennessee and Arkansas as well as at home against Alabama and LSU. These four games give John Calipari’s team a chance to narrow the Quad 1 win gap between the Wildcats and Kansas, as well as other No. 1 seed contenders. A sweep of that stretch would make the Wildcats’ case for a No. 1 even stronger, and even 3–1 might do the trick.

Michigan stays in our “last four byes” despite a home loss to Ohio State on Saturday. For now, last week’s dominant win over Purdue is enough for me to keep the Wolverines in the field with some breathing room. But their place among the 68 feels particularly irrelevant right now considering the schedule still in front of them—of Michigan’s final seven Big Ten games, six are Q1 games. Michigan will either prove its worth or prove it belongs in the NIT. 

East Region

No. 1 Arizona* vs. No. 16 Colgate*
No. 8 Iowa vs. No. 9 Loyola Chicago
No. 5 USC vs. No. 12 Chattanooga*
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Iona*
No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 North Carolina
No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 14 South Dakota State*
No. 7 Xavier vs. No. 10 Indiana
No. 2 Kansas* vs. No. 15 Montana State*

After more consideration, I moved Arizona onto the No. 1 line over Kansas after Zona’s complete demolition of Washington. The résumé lacks some of the high-end wins other top-seed contenders have, but the metrics are great and the Wildcats pass every eye test imaginable with the way they have demolished Pac-12 foes lately. They likely have the smallest margin for error down the stretch given they play the weakest competition, but as of today, the Wildcats should be on the No. 1 line.

How far can Indiana’s win over Purdue in January carry it? With a 2–4 record since, the Hoosiers seem intent on finding out. IU should get in with a 3–3 finish in Big Ten play, but would probably be safer to steal one and go 4–2 down the stretch. Going 2–4 would likely send Indiana to the NIT without a nice run in the Big Ten tournament.

Full NCAA tournament projection as of Feb. 14:

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