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Bracketology: The Homestretch Begins

Editor's Note: This bracket is cross-posted at SB Nation.

Even though we just completed our first football-free weekend of the year, less than one month remains until Selection Sunday. That means the chances for teams to state their cases for inclusion and improve their seeding are running out.  

Click here for this week's full bracket.

Here are links to this week's seed list and tracking spreadsheet.

On the top line, the same four teams -- Kansas, Villanova, Kentucky and Syracuse -- are still in place, for the fourth straight week. However, the Wildcats swapped places with the Orange, as 'Nova managed to grab a big road win at West Virginia and beat Providence this week, while Syracuse followed up a close, somewhat controversial win over UConn with a loss to Louisville. That win actually kept the Cardinals in the field, as it gives them a true marquee road win, something many other bubble teams lack, and it offset a bad loss to St. John's on Thursday night.

Before I get into some of this week's other storylines, here's a quick look at who is in and out this week.

Teams are listed in S-curve, or selection, order.

The Rundown

Top seeds: Kansas, Villanova, Kentucky, Syracuse
Last Four In: Marquette, Mississippi State, UAB, Louisville
First Four Out: Dayton, St. Mary's, Florida, San Diego State 
Next Four Out: South Florida, Virginia, Arizona State,

Conference Breakdown

Big East: 8
Syracuse (1), Villanova (1), Georgetown (2), West Virginia (3), Pittsburgh (6), Cincinnati (9), Marquette (11), Louisville (12)

ACC: 7
Duke (2), Wake Forest (5), Georgia Tech (7), Clemson (8), Maryland (9), Virginia Tech (9), Florida State (10) 

Big 12: 6
Kansas (1), Kansas State (3), Texas (4), Baylor (6), Texas A&M (7), Missouri (8), Oklahoma State (11) 

Atlantic 10: 5
Temple (4), Xavier (7), Richmond (8), Rhode Island (9), Charlotte (10)

Big Ten: 5
Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Michigan State (3), Ohio State (5), Illinois (8)

SEC: 5
Kentucky (1), Tennessee (5), Vanderbilt (6), Mississippi (10), Mississippi State (11)

Mountain West: 3
BYU (3), New Mexico (4), UNLV (6)

Conference USA: 2
UAB (11), UTEP (13)

One Bid Leagues: 23
America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Pacific-10, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern, Summit, Sun Belt, West Coast, Western Athletic

After the jump, I'll take a look at a few more of the main storylines for this bracket.

Movers And Shakers

The Top Four Lines: There was a bit more of a shuffle between lines 2 and 4 than there was last week. A few weeks ago, I helped explain to the guys over at Bucky's 5th Quarter what would have to happen for Wisconsin to play in Milwaukee during the first weekend of the Tournament. Well, despite a stunning home loss to Illinois Tuesday, the Badgers move up to the 2 line, replacing West Virginia, who drops down to a 3 after losing twice this week.

Thanks to that change and a procedural move to place Kentucky in New Orleans (taking the advice of a John Clay blog post on mock selection) sees Wisconsin playing in their own backyard. Duke, Georgetown (even after Sunday's loss at Rutgers) and Purdue are the other 2 seeds this time around.

While the Mountaineers fell, BYU moved up to the 3 line, replacing Texas, who continues to struggle (Saturday's 40-point home win over a terrible Nebraska team notwithstanding). The Cougars profile is really similar to Mountain West rivals New Mexico's, but BYU gets the edge because a loss at Utah State looks a little better than one at Oral Roberts does right now. Kansas State and Michigan State remain from a week ago.

The Lobos anchor the 4 line along with Gonzaga, who now owns a two-game lead over St. Mary's and Portland in the West Coast Conference race after they topped the Gaels Thursday (which started a St. Mary's skid, as they fell to the Pilots in OT Saturday, a defeat that knocked them out of the bracket). Texas now finds themselves here, as does Temple, who jumps back up after pounding Rhode Island on Saturday.

Tennessee falls down to line 5 after they suffered big road losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

Realignment In The Middle: If you would have told me just last week that Illinois would be the first Big Ten team to beat the Badgers in Madison over a calendar year, I would've said "You're nuts." But that stunning victory, along with last Saturday's home win over Michigan State, means the Fighting Illini's position is a bit more secure. However, the Illini couldn't keep their momentum, as they were pounded by Ohio State in Champaign on Sunday. They now sit as an 8 seed.

Virginia Tech also helped themselves out by grabbing a 20-point win at N.C. State and a home win over Virginia Saturday to complete a season sweep of the Cavaliers. The Hokies are 20-4 and project as a 9 this week. They have two great chances to make a statement this week, as Wake Forest visits Blacksburg Tuesday and a trip to Duke looms on Sunday.  

Two teams that didn't help themselves are Mississippi and UAB, as both are barely hanging on right now. The Rebels played once this week and lost at Mississippi State, giving the Bulldogs a sweep of the season series. The defeat was the third in four games for Andy Kennedy's squad. Meanwhile, the Blazers also only took to the court a single time, losing at Marshall to fall two games behind C-USA leader UTEP in the loss column. UAB's early season home wins over Butler and Cincinnati will only have so much shelf life if the conference losses continue to pile up.

Departures: Florida looks to be headed to the NIT for the third straight season, as they lost at South Carolina and at home against Xavier -- looking bad in both -- to fall to 17-8.

Dayton probably would have stayed in had Louisville not grabbed a very big win Sunday afternoon. Even though the Flyers smashed Charlotte Wednesday, Saturday's OT loss at St. Louis sent them to 6-4 in the A-10. The November win over Georgia Tech is only OK at this point, thanks to the Yellow Jackets inconsistency. Beyond that, the Flyers profile is lacking, especially away from UD Arena.

St. Mary's is in a similar boat after they suffered two key conference losses this week. The Gaels three best wins at this point, at Utah State, against Northeastern in Hawaii and over San Diego State at home, are all over teams that aren't assured of places in the field. They don't even get the benefit of a BracketBuster this year.

And we also bid farewell to South Florida, who falls out just as quickly as they appeared. The Bulls followed up last Sunday's loss at Notre Dame with one in Milwaukee against Marquette Saturday. 

Arrivals: After that victory, their fifth straight, the Golden Eagles sit at 7-5 in the Big East, which helps them move into the field.

Cincinnati is back, as they won their only game this week, 60-48 over fading UConn. They stand at 6-6 in the conference, with tough games at USF and against Marquette at home coming up this week. 

Mississippi State sneaks in, thanks to their sweep of their in-state rivals. They could quickly be right back out (or in the case of an upset, in better position), as they host Kentucky on Tuesday. 

Similarly, Oklahoma State jumps in after they defeated Oklahoma in a Bedlam game plagued by injury, illness and suspension Saturday.

However, the bubble picture this season is filled with an unusually high number of underwhelming teams. That means it's time for me to make my annual plea to teams who haven't really secured their place yet.

If you want to get into the Tournament, please start winning games. Give the Committee a reason to include you, not reasons to make them ask for mass quantities of ibuprofen when they're stuck in a hotel conference room for a long weekend in four weeks' time.

Thank you.

Auto Bids:  Of course, the only way to actually guarantee a place in the field is to claim one of the 31 automatic bids awarded to conference champions.

However, several teams who looked to be in control of their conference races, while possessing an outside chance at earning an at-large, had rough weekends.

Friday night saw Cornell and Siena drop their first games in their respective conferences, the Ivy League and Metro Atlantic, losses that could have ended their already slim at-large hopes. The Big Red recovered by beating Princeton Saturday, though they needed OT to do that. Things won't get any easier for Cornell, as they have six games left, but only two at home.

Meanwhile, the Saints have a big BracketBuster game Saturday at Butler to help their floundering cause. The Bulldogs had a far better week than Siena or Cornell, as the regular season Horizon League champions moved to 16-0 in the league with road wins over Youngstown State and Cleveland State.

Two other conference unbeatends, Morgan State in the MEAC and Murray State in the OVC, face one more conference game apiece before they clash in a BracketBuster of their own in Kentucky Saturday afternoon.

On the other hand, Northern Iowa suffered a double whammy this weekend. First, they dropped their second Valley game of the year, at Bradley, then the Panthers lost star center Jordan Eglseder for three games, as he's been suspended after he was arrested for driving while intoxicated. That means it's going to be so much more difficult for the Panthers to handle Old Dominion, featuring center Gerald Lee, on Friday night in Cedar Falls.

The Monarchs hold the Colonial's automatic bid this week, as they pounded George Mason in Norfolk, while Northeastern fell at William & Mary by one. The two squads are tied for the league lead, one game ahead of the Patriots and two up on the Tribe and Drexel, but ODU holds the spot thanks to a better overall record.

However, the CAA race has nothing on the contests in the Sun Belt and MAC. No team in the Sun Belt has fewer than four conference losses, and two games in the loss column separate first from seventh. Middle Tennessee holds this week's auto bid, as they lead Arkansas State by a half-game. While, defending champion Western Kentucky sits just two games back, they were swept by the Blue Raiders. However, the Hilltoppers can grab an advantage over the Red Wolves by sweeping them on Saturday. WKU beat A-State in Bowling Green Thursday. 

The Mid-American is just a little less nuts, as only six teams are within two games of the lead. Kent State entered the weekend as the only two-loss team, then they lost by 15 at Buffalo. That means Akron, who joins the Golden Flashes at 9-3, jumps back into the bracket after their overtime win Sunday against Ohio. The Zips have a better overall record. Typical of a one-bid league, this race won't be settled until the conference tournament in Cleveland.

Games To Watch

To help you plan your viewing week, here are seven days worth of games to check out. Seeds in this bracket are in parentheses, with bubble teams represented by a B.

TV information from Matt Sarz' College Sports on TV site.

(B) Connecticut at (1) Villanova, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
South Carolina State at (15) Morgan State, 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
(B) Virginia at (9) Maryland, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN360)
(1) Kansas at (7) Texas A&M, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
(16) Jackson State at Texas Southern, 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

(3) Michigan State at Indiana, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
(5) Wake Forest at (9) Virginia Tech, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
(9) Cincinnati at (B) USF, 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Drexel at (B) VCU, 7 p.m. ET (CSN New England/Comcast Network)
(B) William & Mary at George Mason, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN Plus/Full Court)
(B) San Diego State at TCU, 8 p.m. ET (the mtn.)
(B) Texas Tech at (6) Baylor, 8 p.m. ET (FS Southwest/Full Court)
Creighton at (8) Northern Iowa, 8 p.m. ET (FS Midwest/CSN Chicago)
(1) Kentucky at (11) Mississippi State, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
(B) North Carolina at (7) Georgia Tech, 9 p.m. ET (Raycom/Full Court)

(2) Purdue at (3) Ohio State, 6:30 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
(2) Duke at (B) Miami, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
(B) Notre Dame at (12) Louisville, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
(10) Florida State at (B) Virginia, 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
(3) West Virginia at Providence, 7 p.m. ET (Big East Network/Full Court)
(B) Seton Hall at St. John's, 7:30 p.m. ET (Big East Network/Full Court)
(3) BYU at Colorado State, 8 p.m. ET (the mtn.)
(11) Oklahoma State at Iowa State, 8 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network/Full Court)
Penn State at (B) Northwestern, 8:30 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
(4) Texas at (8) Missouri, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
(9) Maryland at N.C. State, 9 p.m. ET (NESN/Sun Sports/FS South/CSN Washington+)
(B) South Carolina at Arkansas, 9 p.m. ET (SEC on CSS/Full Court)
(9) Rhode Island at (B) St. Louis, 9 p.m. ET (Cox Sports New England)
(B) Louisiana Tech at (12) Utah State, 11 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Auburn at (B) Florida, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
(1) Syracuse at (2) Georgetown, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
(6) Vanderbilt at (10) Mississippi, 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
La Salle at (12) Dayton, 7 p.m. ET (CBS College Sports)
(2) Wisconsin at (B) Minnesota, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
(6) Pittsburgh at (11) Marquette, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Morehead State at Eastern Illinois, 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
(10) California at Oregon State, 10:30 p.m. ET (FSN/Comcast SportsNet)
USC at (B) Washington, 10:30 p.m. ET (Prime Ticket/FS Northwest/FCS Pacific)
(B) St. Mary's at San Diego, 11 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

(12) Old Dominion at (8) Northern Iowa, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
East Tennessee State at Campbell, 7 p.m. ET (CSS/Full Court)
(B) William & Mary at Iona, 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

(13) Siena at (5) Butler, 11 a.m. ET (ESPN2)
(B) Florida at (10) Mississippi or (B) North Carolina at Boston College, 12 p.m. ET (CBS)
(B) Seton Hall at (3) West Virginia, 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
(15) Morgan State at (13) Murray State, 12 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
St. John's at (B) USF, 12 p.m. ET (Big East Network/Full Court)
(B) Louisiana Tech at (B) Northeastern, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
(6) Baylor at (11) Oklahoma State, 1:30 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network/Full Court)
(5) Tennessee at (B) South Carolina, 1:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network/Full Court)
(4) Texas at (B) Texas Tech, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)
(12) Louisville at DePaul , 2 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
(7) Georgia Tech at (9) Maryland or (5) Wake Forest at N.C. State, 2 p.m. ET (Raycom/Full Court)
(7) Xavier at (10) Charlotte, 2 p.m. ET (FS Ohio/CSN Washington/CSS)
(7) Illinois at (2) Purdue, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Akron at (B) VCU, 4 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
(13) UTEP at (B) Tulsa, 4 p.m. ET (CBS College Sports)
(B) Virginia at (8) Clemson, 4 p.m. ET (NESN/Sun Sports/FS South/CSN Washington)
(B) Connecticut at Rutgers, 4 p.m. ET (Big East Network/Full Court)
(1) Kentucky at (6) Vanderbilt, 6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Colorado State at (6) UNLV, 6 p.m. ET (CBS College Sports)
(10) California at Oregon, 6 p.m. ET (CSN California/CSN Northwest/OSN)
(14) College of Charleston at George Mason, 8 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
UCLA at (B) Washington, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Utah at (B) San Diego State, 9 p.m. ET (the mtn.)
(B) Wichita State at (12) Utah State, 11:59 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

(5) Ohio State at (3) Michigan State or (1) Villanova at (6) Pittsburgh, 12 p.m. ET (CBS)
(B) Dayton at Duquesne, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
(16) Lehigh at Lafayette, 1 p.m. ET (CBS College Sports)
(B) Northwestern at (2) Wisconsin, 2 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
(11) Marquette at (9) Cincinnati, 2 p.m. ET (Big East Network/Full Court)
(B) Arizona State at Arizona, 5:30 p.m. ET (FSN/Comcast SportsNet)
(9) Virginia Tech at (2) Duke, 7:45 p.m. ET (FSN/Comcast SportsNet)

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? E-mail me at bloggingthebracket at gmail dot com or follow me on Twitter