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Bracket Watch: The Dash to the Big Dance Is Here

Can Wisconsin get a No. 1 seed? Answering your bracketology questions and updating our men’s field of 68 ahead of a critical week.

The next time SI updates its projected men’s NCAA tournament bracket, automatic bids will have been dished out. The first conference champion will be crowned Saturday night from the Ohio Valley, beginning an eight-day mad dash to earn the 32 auto-bids to the Big Dance. We’re officially in crunch time, so let’s break down where the field of 68 stands with just nine days to go until Selection Sunday. 

WESTSOUTHMIDWESTEAST

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 New Orleans/Alcorn St

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Norfolk St/Bryant

No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 16 Long Beach St

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 16 Cleveland St 

No. 8 Iowa State vs. No. 9 Marquette

No. 8 Seton Hall vs. No. 9 Davidson

No. 8 Michigan St vs. No. 9 Creighton

No. 8 Murray St vs. No. 9 San Diego St

No. 5 Texas vs. No. 12 UNC/Wyoming

No. 5 UConn vs. No. 12 South Dakota St

No. 5 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 12 Loyola Chicago/VCU

No. 5 Houston vs. No. 12 Chattanooga

No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 13 Towson

No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 13 Vermont

No. 4 Providence vs. No. 13 Iona

No. 4 Illinois vs. No. 13 Northern Iowa

No. 6 USC vs. No. 11 Xavier

No. 6 Colorado St vs. No. 11 Memphis

No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Notre Dame

No. 6 Alabama vs. No. 11 North Texas

No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Toledo

No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 14 Seattle

No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 14 Princeton

No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 14 Jacksonville St

No. 7 TCU vs. No. 10 Michigan

No. 7 LSU vs. No. 10 Miami

No. 7 Boise St vs. No. 10 Wake Forest

No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 10 San Francisco

No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 15 Texas St

No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Longwood

No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Montana St

No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 15 Colgate

On the Bubble

Last Four Byes:

Michigan
Xavier
Memphis
Notre Dame

Last Four In:

North Carolina
Wyoming
Loyola Chicago
VCU

First Four Out:

BYU
SMU
Rutgers
Indiana

Next Four Out:

Florida
Virginia Tech
Oklahoma
Oregon

Bracket Talk

Henry asks: Does Wisconsin have a legitimate shot at a No. 1 seed?

The Badgers have already clinched a share of the Big Ten regular-season title and can win it outright with a victory over Nebraska. They have nine Quad 1 wins, seven Q2 wins and played the No. 12 strength of schedule in the sport.

And despite all that, they have no real chance at a No. 1 seed, even if they win the Big Ten tournament.

Wisconsin’s quality metrics just aren’t good enough for it to be a serious contender for a No. 1 seed. It’s No. 24 in BPI, No. 24 in KenPom and No. 20 in Sagarin. The NET also has the Badgers at No. 20. Those numbers just don’t add up to a No. 1 seed. If the Badgers were to win the Big Ten tournament, there’s a chance they’ll wind up in the conversation for a No. 1. But right now, I just can’t see it. A No. 2 is likely the ceiling, and even that may be unlikely.

Lukas asks: The race for the last No. 2 seed feels like a bunch of teams in the mix for me. Who do you think actually lands that spot: Villanova, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Wisconsin, Purdue, etc.?

Lukas and I have the same conundrum finding the final No. 2 seed. Kansas, Kentucky and Duke are all in excellent shape to land on the No. 2 line, but there are at least five teams with some kind of case for that last spot.

Right now, my last No. 2 goes to Tennessee. The Vols have an impressive résumé—elite wins vs. Arizona, Auburn and Kentucky, strong metrics, a top-10 strength of schedule and no bad losses. It’s a mostly unimpeachable team sheet. The numbers have changed some since, but Lukas actually did a blind résumé comparison between Tennessee and Purdue earlier this week and it made a very interesting case for the Vols.

That said, so much of this may come down to conference tournaments. All of these teams will have real opportunities to boost themselves in their final audition before the selection committee. My answer today very well may be different by Selection Sunday.

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Loyola Chicago's Lucas Williamson

Lucas Williamson (right) and Loyola are squarely on the bubble.

TalkinBlers asks: Why do people have teams like UNC, Michigan, Memphis and Indiana over Loyola Chicago when they have worse records and worse NET and KenPom rankings?

It’s hard to do these comparisons across multiple teams because each team listed has a different case for being in and a different case for being out.

So I’ll instead take this question as a chance to gauge the Ramblers’ at-large hopes heading into the MVC tournament. Without question, the best aspect of Loyola’s résumé is its quality metrics. The Ramblers are No. 30 in KenPom, No. 28 in BPI and No. 45 in Sagarin. And the NET, which tends to closely mirror KenPom, has Loyola at No. 29. Those numbers are better than most bubble teams, and if the Ramblers are left out of the field they’ll likely have the best KenPom rating among teams who don’t make the cut.

The issues for Loyola lie in its résumé metrics and lack of great wins. A KPI at No. 61 and a strength of record at No. 57 isn’t overly compelling, and the Ramblers are really relying on their neutral-court win over San Francisco in January to carry their résumé after high-major wins over DePaul, Vanderbilt and Arizona State haven’t aged as well as hoped. It’s those areas that hold the Ramblers back compared to most high-major bubble teams. The good news for Loyola is that it could add multiple Q2 wins at the MVC tournament this weekend even without winning the tournament, which could give those numbers a boost.

Dave asks: Why is North Texas not getting any attention for an at-large? Only team in nation undefeated in true road games and 16–1 in C-USA with a top-20 defense, per KenPom.

One of the main reasons is that, for the better part of the season, North Texas has been penciled in as the C-USA’s automatic bid and thus not in the bubble conversation. That said, with the C-USA tournament coming up next weekend, it’s worth looking at the Mean Green’s Big Dance case should they fail to lock in the auto-bid.

Dave does a good job outlining the pros in favor of North Texas—undefeated on the road, dominant in a good conference and well-regarded by KenPom. But there are some holes in the résumé. Quality metrics other than KenPom don’t like UNT nearly as much (No. 73 in Sagarin and No. 59 in BPI). Plus, the Mean Green have just one Q1 win and six combined Q1 + Q2 wins, which is low compared to other bubble teams (even ones from the mid-major world).

As of Friday, every team but UAB in C-USA would be a Q3 or Q4 loss for North Texas on a neutral court. Adding a second bad loss to its résumé would put North Texas squarely on the fence for tournament selection. It has a chance to get in without it, but the easier path remains winning the conference tournament and getting the auto-bid.

Jacob asks: Best way to fill out a bracket: round by round or region by region?

The most important question of the mailbag! The only answer is round by round. Getting a little time after each round’s picks to reset your mind and not get too enamored with an individual team is valuable. You want to make sure you’re picking based on individual matchups. 

SI’s full projected field of 68 (as of March 4):

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