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Bracket Watch: All Eyes on the Bubble During Champ Week

It’s the last gasp for bubble teams and those trying to climb the seed list before Selection Sunday.

Welcome back to Sports Illustrated’s Bracket Watch! With less than a week to go until Selection Sunday, we’ll be constantly updating this page as things change during conference tournaments. With plenty of automatic bids to be handed out and teams on the bubble fighting for their seasons, expect regular updates to the men’s field of 68 and notes from SI Bracket expert Kevin Sweeney on the most important happenings related to the Big Dance.

Thursday’s autobids to be awarded:

  • None

Thursday’s bubble games to watch:

  • Indiana vs. Michigan (11:30 a.m. ET)
  • Boston College vs. Miami (2:30 p.m. ET)
  • UNLV vs. Wyoming (5:30 p.m. ET)
  • Oklahoma vs. Baylor (7 p.m. ET)
  • Virginia Tech vs. Notre Dame (7 p.m. ET)

The biggest bubble game of the day was the early tip between Michigan and Indiana. It was a must-win game for the Hoosiers, who entered the day as our first team out of the field, and IU charged back from 17 down to win and keep its season alive. Michigan should still dance, but dropping to the “Last Four In” at 17–14 is far from out of the question. And while Indiana doesn’t move into the field just yet, the Hoosiers could make a huge statement and likely punch a ticket with a win over Illinois on Friday. They also could move in with help from other bubble teams taking bad losses.

MORE: Michigan’s Roller-Coaster Year Continues in Howard’s Return

Miami needed overtime to take down a feisty Boston College team, but now can be considered safe. It’s possible the committee has a different read on the Hurricanes than I do, but they’ll finish well clear of my projected cut line. Florida’s loss to Texas A&M closes the door on the Gators to go dancing. Florida needed not only a win today, but also an upset over Auburn tomorrow. Plus, bubble teams breathed sighs of relief when upset bids for top conference tournament seeds Duke and Arizona came up just short, games that could have opened the door for bid-stealer situations.

On the Bubble

Last Four Byes:

Creighton
Miami
Wyoming
Notre Dame

Last Four In:

Wake Forest
VCU
Xavier
SMU

First Four Out:

Rutgers
Indiana
BYU
Dayton

Next Four Out:

Oklahoma
Florida
Virginia Tech
UAB

Wake Forest’s overtime loss at the ACC tournament Wednesday to Boston College could prove particularly damaging for the Demon Deacons’ NCAA tournament hopes. Wake’s 23–9 record may look appealing, but 18 of those 23 wins are against Quad 3 and Quad 4 competition. For now, it stays in the field, but the teams below it still have opportunities to improve their résumés while Wake sits at home.

The one thing slumping Xavier could ill afford was a Q3 loss to Butler to open the Big East tournament, but the Musketeers blew a late lead and now will be sweating on Selection Sunday. For now, the Musketeers drop only into the “Last Four In” as the second-to-last team in the field, but with bubble teams like Rutgers and Indiana in action in the coming days, it wouldn’t take much for Xavier to find itself on the wrong side of the bubble by the end of the week.

The first two teams out of our field are the Big Ten’s Rutgers and Indiana. A significant percentage of the projected brackets submitted to the Bracket Matrix have Rutgers in the field, but the Scarlet Knights’ historically bad quality metrics compared to the bubble and horrendous early-season loss to Lafayette have them out for me. Another Quad 1 win at the Big Ten tournament could sway me, though, as at some point the Knights’ good wins might be too good to leave out.

*Indicates team is projected to win its conference’s automatic bid
Bold indicates team has won its conference’s automatic bid

West Region

No. 1 Gonzaga* vs. No. 16 Nicholls State*/Alcorn State*
No. 8 Iowa State vs. No. 9 San Diego State
No. 5 Texas vs. No. 12 VCU/Xavier
No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 13 South Dakota State
No. 6 Iowa vs. No. 11 Wyoming
No. 3 Duke* vs. No. 14 Montana State*
No. 7 USC vs. No. 10 Davidson*
No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 Saint Peter’s*

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Duke’s weekend loss to North Carolina drops the Blue Devils to the No. 3 line entering Champ Week. As things stand Tuesday, they’re our top No. 3 seed and No. 9 overall on the seed list. The Blue Devils may need to win the ACC tournament to climb back onto the No. 2 line—though the team’s two elite neutral-court wins over Gonzaga and Kentucky should keep them in the conversation even if they don’t take home the trophy in Brooklyn this week.

The team that jumped the Blue Devils is Villanova, which earns the last No. 2 seed heading into the Big East tournament. The Wildcats’ seven Q1 wins were a big factor in the move, though it remains a very tight race for the final two No. 2 seeds. Villanova will almost certainly earn a No. 2 if it can win the Big East tournament—if not, it will likely be up to what happens to the other teams also competing for that spot. 

South Region

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Bryant/Norfolk State*
No. 8 Michigan State vs. No. 9 North Carolina
No. 5 UConn vs. No. 12 Chattanooga
No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 13 Vermont*
No. 6 Colorado State vs. No. 11 Notre Dame
No. 3 Illinois* vs. No. 14 Longwood
No. 7 Boise State* vs. No. 10 Memphis
No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 15 Jacksonville State 

One team to watch on Selection Sunday is Colorado State, which quietly has a remarkably impressive résumé. The Rams are 5–2 vs. Q1 and 12–3 overall vs. the top two quadrants. Results-based metrics like the KPI (No. 16) and strength of record (No. 27) love the Rams, and a nonconference win over Saint Mary’s is huge. CSU is currently on SI’s No. 6 line, but a No. 5 seed isn't out of the question.

North Carolina’s huge road win at Duke ended all debate about the Heels’ bubble status. It’s now a question of when UNC will hear its name called, not if it will be dancing. Carolina already had strong metrics but was lacking a signature win. Now, its résumé stands out clearly above other bubble teams. Even a loss in the ACC tournament quarterfinals wouldn’t be enough to knock the Heels down much, and a deep run in the tournament could see them earn the chance to wear home colors in the first round of the dance. 

Kentucky’s Sahvir Wheeler (2) and Oscar Tshiebwe head to the bench

Midwest Region

No. 1 Arizona* vs. No. 16 Wright State
No. 8 TCU vs. No. 9 Marquette
No. 5 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 12 Wake Forest/SMU
No. 4 Providence* vs. No. 13 Toledo*
No. 6 Houston* vs. No. 11 Miami
No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 14 Princeton*
No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Loyola Chicago
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Colgate*

It could be a big week for Kentucky, which has the most to gain among teams on the top two seed lines. A No. 1 seed is still on the table for the Wildcats if they can win the SEC tournament. Kentucky is just 1–3 against the other three elite teams in the SEC this season, but adding two more wins against that group would likely vault it onto the No. 1 line when factored in with the Wildcats’ impressive quality metrics.

Now that it’s locked in its bid by winning the MVC tournament, Loyola Chicago will be in prime position to make a run in the Big Dance thanks to its seeding. The Ramblers are likely looking at a No. 10 seed thanks to strong quality metrics and a great neutral-court win over San Francisco. They could potentially climb to the No. 9 line depending on results around them. 

East Region

No. 1 Auburn* vs. No. 16 Long Beach State*
No. 8 Seton Hall vs. No. 9 San Francisco
No. 5 LSU vs. No. 12 North Texas*
No. 4 Texas Tech vs. No. 13 New Mexico State*
No. 6 Alabama vs. No. 11 Creighton
No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Georgia State
No. 7 Murray State vs. No. 10 Michigan
No. 2 Kansas* vs. No. 15 Delaware

Auburn is the most vulnerable No. 1 seed heading into conference tournament week. With eight Quad 1 wins and no losses outside Q1, the Tigers have a résumé worthy of a top spot right now. But should they slip up in the SEC tournament, the door will be open for others to swipe it. The top contenders: Kansas, should it win the Big 12, or Kentucky, if it can knock off Auburn to win the SEC title.

Michigan isn’t quite a lock, but the Wolverines took a huge step toward getting into the field with their win over Ohio State in Columbus over the weekend. A win over Indiana in the Big Ten tournament Thursday would cement the Wolverines’ place in the field, but even a loss likely wouldn’t knock them out unless the bubble shrinks due to a bid-stealer scenario. 

SI’s updated bracket (as of 11 a.m., March 10):

More College Basketball Coverage:

• SI’s 2021–22 Men’s All-Americans
Predicting the Men’s Conference Tournaments
Coach K’s Sendoff Strengthens UNC–Duke Rivalry