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Bracketology: Championship Week, Friday Edition

What to watch for.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday was a big day in terms of shaping the bracket as some bubble teams moved closer to feeling safe and some may have played their way into the NIT. After some updating, the latest bracket projection is a bit different from yesterday. Let’s take a look at it and then dive into the action.

March 15th Projection

East Region (Washington, D.C.) South Region (Louisville)
East Region (Washington, D.C.) South Region (Louisville)
Columbia (Mar. 22/24) Columbus (Mar. 22/24)
1. Virginia (ACC) 1. Kentucky
16. Iona (MAAC) 16. N. Dakota St. (Summit) / F. Dickinson (NEC)
8. VCU 8. UCF
9. Seton Hall 9. Ole Miss
San Jose (Mar. 22/24) Jacksonville (Mar. 21/23)
5. Marquette 5. Virginia Tech
12. Minnesota / North Carolina State 12. Murray State (Ohio Valley)
4. Kansas State (Big 12) 4. Kansas
13. UC Irvine (Big West) 13. Old Dominion (Conference USA)
Des Moines (Mar. 21/23) Hartford (Mar. 21/23)
6. Villanova (Big East) 6. Auburn
11. Florida 11. St. John's
3. Michigan 3. Purdue
14. Northeastern (Colonial) 14. Harvard (Ivy)
Tulsa (Mar. 22/24) Columbus (Mar. 22/24)
7. Maryland 7. Iowa State
10. Syracuse 10. Saint Mary's
2. LSU 2. Duke
15. Colgate (Patriot) 15. Gardner-Webb (Big South)
West Region (Anaheim) Midwest Region (Kansas City)
Salt Lake City (Mar. 21/23) Columbia (Mar. 22/24)
1. Gonzaga 1. North Carolina
16. Prairie View (SWAC) / Norfolk St. (MEAC) 16. Bradley (Missouri Valley)
8. Utah State 8. Iowa
9. Washington (Pac-12) 9. Temple
San Jose (Mar. 22/24) Hartford (Mar. 21/23)
5. Nevada (Mountain West) 5. Buffalo (MAC)
12. Liberty (Atlantic Sun) 12. Alabama / TCU
4. Florida State 4. Wisconsin
13. New Mexico State (WAC) 13. Vermont (America East)
Salt Lake City (Mar. 21/23) Tulsa (Mar. 22/24)
6. Wofford (Southern) 6. Mississippi State
11. Arizona State 11. Ohio State
3. Texas Tech 3. Houston (AAC)
14. Montana (Big Sky) 14. Georgia State (Sun Belt)
Des Moines (Mar. 21/23) Jacksonville (Mar. 21/23)
7. Louisville 7. Cincinnati
10. Baylor 10. Oklahoma
2. Michigan State 2. Tennessee
15. Sam Houston State (Southland) 15. Northern Kentucky (Horizon)

Last Four Byes: Ohio State, St. John’s, Florida, Arizona State

Last Four In: Alabama, TCU, Minnesota, North Carolina State

First Four Out: Belmont, Indiana, Creighton, Clemson

Next Four Out: Nebraska, Xavier, Texas, Furman

Conference Breakdown

ACC - 8

Big Ten - 8

SEC - 8

Big 12 - 7

American - 4

Big East - 4

Mountain West - 2

Pac-12 - 2

West Coast - 2

One-bid leagues - 23


We’ll start with the SEC bubble teams, where Florida and Alabama moved closer to booking their spots in the field. Florida avoided disaster against Arkansas and now gets a shot at No. 1 LSU, while Alabama scored a huge victory over Ole Miss, giving the Tide a key win away from home, something they hadn’t had going into the SEC tournament. And with how some other teams fared, fans of the Gators and Tide should feel pretty good going into Sunday. They can just about lock themselves in if they win today.

As far as teams playing their way out, Indiana, Texas and Creighton all dropped the ball Thursday and all are now in big trouble, especially Texas, who now sits at 16-16. Like we discussed with Butler earlier in the week, it’s very difficult to see the committee taking a team with that record, even with Texas having so many good wins.

Creighton really couldn’t afford losing to Xavier and unfortunately, they fell to the Musketeers and now the Bluejays look like they’ll fall just short of the field. Same with Indiana, as they lose a big bubble game against Ohio State. That puts Indiana at just 17-15, a little better than Texas, but not by much. In the end, their mid-season self-destruction will likely end up being the reason Indiana plays in the NIT.

As a result, despite losing by 20 to Virginia, North Carolina State remains the last team in the field, beating out Belmont. North Carolina State still sits No. 32 in NET and if the committee is going to use this metric, chances are that ranking has to help the Wolfpack.

Yes, the No. 353-ranked non-conference schedule looks bad, but it’s not like they only played bad teams. They went to Wisconsin and also won a home game over Auburn. They did go just 3-9 against quadrant one, but their 9-9 record against groups one and two is still better than most bubble teams. But at this point, don’t be surprised if the committee does give Belmont one of the final spots in the field.

For a moment, let’s also talk about Tennessee’s chances at a No. 1 seed. Despite being arguably one of the four best teams in the country, Gonzaga did admittedly make themselves vulnerable to losing a No. 1 seed to one of the big tournament winners. Virginia is a lock for a No. 1 seed and the winner of today’s Duke-UNC ACC semifinal will also get one. If Kentucky or Tennessee win the SEC tournament, they’ll also get a No. 1 seed. Michigan State might still in play as well, if they win the Big Ten tournament.

So as we wind down, we’ve got some conference semifinal action today and other conference quarterfinal action. Here’s today’s schedule.

Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals (in Brooklyn, NY)

No. 1 VCU vs. No. 8 Rhode Island, 12:00. NBCSN
No. 4 St. Bonaventure vs. No. 5 George Mason, 2:30, NBCSN
No. 2 Davidson vs. No. 10 St. Joseph’s, 6:00, NBCSN
No. 3 Dayton vs. No. 6 Saint Louis, 8:30, NBCSN

After two rounds of action, the top four seeds finally join the party in Brooklyn. VCU should be safely in the field, but they still should take care of business today to erase any doubt. Davidson and Dayton probably won’t get at-large bids but they have the talent to make a run and steal a bid.

ACC Semifinals (in Charlotte, NC)

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Florida State, 7:00, ESPN
No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Duke, 9:00. ESPN

All chalk in the ACC final four, including a huge battle between North Carolina and Duke. As we talked about earlier, the winner of this game likely secures a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The odds are likely pretty low that the ACC sees three teams with a No. 1 seed. A win for Virginia most likely locks them into the overall No. 1 seed.

American Athletic Quarterfinals (in Memphis, TN)

No. 1 Houston vs. No. 9 Connecticut, 12:00, ESPN2
No. 4 UCF vs. No. 5 Memphis, 2:00, ESPN2
No. 2 Cincinnati vs. No. 10 SMU, 7:00, ESPNU
No. 3 Temple vs. No. 6 Wichita State, 9:00, ESPNU

The AAC getting four teams in the field now looks like a pretty safe bet, though UCF and Temple would do well to avoid losses today to confirm that bet. And neither game is a given, as UCF is basically playing a road game against Memphis, while Temple is playing an improved Wichita State team.

Big 12 Semifinals (in Kansas City, MO)

No. 1 Kansas State vs. No. 5 Iowa State, 7:00, ESPN2
No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 10 West Virginia, 9:00, ESPN2

Kansas State may have officially sent TCU to the First Four in last night’s quarterfinals, while Kansas likely ensured Shaka Smart will not even sniff the big dance. Iowa State had an impressive win over Baylor, setting up what should be a really good first semifinal. And then you have the Cinderella of the Big 12, West Virginia. After a very disappointing regular season, the Mountaineers are now making noise in Kansas City, knocking off Oklahoma and Texas Tech in the process. Imagine if West Virginia actually wins the Big 12 tournament. But it’s a very tall task tonight against Kansas.

Big East Semifinals (in New York, NY)

No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 4 Xavier, 6:30, FS1
No. 2 Marquette vs. No. 3 Seton Hall, 9:00, FS1

The top three teams here are likely all safe for the dance, while St. John’s is still in but very much on the bubble after getting trounced by Marquette. Xavier probably needs to win the Big East tournament to get in.

Big Sky Semifinals (in Boise, ID)

No. 1 Montana vs. No. 4 Weber State, 7:30
No. 3 Eastern Washington vs. No. 7 Southern Utah, 10:00

Well, so much for touting Northern Colorado as a potential candidate in the Big Sky, as they were upset by Southern Utah in the quarterfinals. That means this is now Montana’s tournament to lose, as they went a combined 5-1 against the three other remaining teams.

Big Ten Quarterfinals (in Chicago, IL)

No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 8 Ohio State, 12:30, BTN
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Nebraska, 3:00, BTN
No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 7 Minnesota, 7:00, BTN
No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 6 Iowa, 9:30, BTN

Look at Nebraska making a run, including a stunning upset of Maryland in the second round. They’re at least back in consideration, but let’s not forget this team went 6-14 in conference play. That type of record getting an at-large bid would be unprecedented. Nonetheless, an impressive run for the Huskers, even with Tim Miles slipping on his way to the locker room.

Big West Semifinals (in Anaheim, CA)

No. 1 UC Irvine vs. No. 5 Long Beach State, 9:30, ESPN3
No. 2 UC Santa Barbara vs. No. 3 Cal State Fullerton, 12:00am, ESPN3

Like Montana in the Big Sky, UC Irvine is the strong favorite in the Big West. They were the only team to win comfortably in the quarterfinals, even if UC Riverside was a pretty bad team.

Conference USA Semifinals (in Frisco, TX)

No. 1 Old Dominion vs. No. 5 UAB, 1:30, CBSSN
No. 2 Western Kentucky vs. No. 3 Southern Miss, 4:00, CBSSN

The dual-court games are over in the C-USA, but this still has the makings for an exciting finish. This tournament is pretty wide open. The second semifinal should be a really fun one.

MAC Semifinals (in Cleveland, OH)

No. 1 Buffalo vs. No. 5 Central Michigan, 6:30, CBSSN
No. 3 Bowling Green vs. No. 7 Northern Illinois, 9:00

Buffalo is still going strong and is in good shape to reach the MAC final and still in play for a protected seed in the NCAAs. But thanks to an upset of Toledo in the quarters, the other semifinal features the two teams that have knocked off the Bulls during the regular season. That should give the winner of the second semifinal some confidence going into the final. This is another tournament where bubble teams are really hoping the favorite pulls through.

MEAC Semifinals (in Norfolk, VA)

No. 1 Norfolk State vs. No. 4 Howard, 6:00
No. 2 North Carolina A&T vs. No. 3 North Carolina Central, 8:00

After four days of action, the MEAC has reached their semifinal round. The feeling here is a meeting of the top two teams in the final.

Mountain West Semifinals (in Las Vegas, NV)

No. 1 Nevada vs. No. 4 San Diego State, 9:00, CBSSN
No. 2 Utah State vs. No. 3 Fresno State, 11:30, CBSSN

Utah State got past New Mexico in the quarterfinals and that should make the Aggies feel comfortable about getting a bit. San Diego State is a sneaky semifinal opponent for Nevada and very well could steal a bid for a second year in a row.

Pac-12 Semifinals (in Las Vegas, NV)

No. 1 Washington vs. No. 5 Colorado, 9:00, PACN
No. 2 Arizona State vs. No. 6 Oregon, 11:30, PACN

Washington and Arizona State avoided disaster on Thursday and if they both win today, the Pac-12 will probably avoid the embarrassment of being a one-bid Power 6 league. But Oregon is a dangerous opponent and could really play spoiler. For as bad as the league has been, there is no shortage of storylines in Vegas.

SEC Quarterfinals (in Nashville, TN)

No. 1 LSU vs. No. 8 Florida, 1:00, ESPN
No. 4 South Carolina vs. No. 5 Auburn, 3:30, ESPN
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 10 Alabama, 7:00, SECN
No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 6 Mississippi State, 9:30, SECN

As mentioned earlier, Florida and Alabama should feel good after their wins yesterday, but they can really help themselves against LSU and Kentucky, respectively. Kentucky and Tennessee (and possibly, but perhaps unlikely LSU) are battling for a spot on the top line. A lot to keep an eye on in Nashville.

Southland Semifinals (in Katy, TX)

No. 1 San Houston State vs. No. 4 New Orleans, 6:00, ESPN+
No. 2 Abilene Christian vs. No. 3 Southeastern Louisiana, 8:30, ESPN+

The Southland will finally introduce their top two teams to the party and they will likely meet each other in the final. But all four of these teams won at least 12 games during conference play, so it’s certainly not a lock. New Orleans and SELA will give these teams all they can handle.

SWAC Semifinals (in Birmingham, AL)

No. 1 Prairie View A&M vs. No. 4 Grambling, 3:30, ESPN3
No. 2 Texas Southern vs. No. 6 Alabama State, 9:30, ESPN3

After some time off to travel after playing on campus sites, the SWAC’s final four converge at Bill Harris Arena in Birmingham. The top two seeds are favored, though Grambling could give Prairie View fits.

Sun Belt Quarterfinals (in New Orleans, LA)

No. 4 Texas State vs. No. 8 South Alabama, 6:00, ESPN+
No. 3 Georgia Southern vs. No. 7 Louisiana-Monroe, 8:30, ESPN+

South Alabama and Louisiana-Monroe are doing well for themselves, winning two games to reach this point of the stepladder. Georgia State and Texas-Arlington await in the semifinals.

WAC Semifinals (in Las Vegas, NV)

No. 1 New Mexico State vs. No. 4 Texas-Rio Grande Valley, 9:00, ESPN+
No. 2 Utah Valley vs. No. 3 Grand Canyon, 11:30, ESPN+

Utah Valley and Grand Canyon are fighting to see who gets the likely shot at dethroning the Aggies, who only lost one game in conference play, to California Baptist. The Aggies likely won’t have too much trouble with UTRGV.