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Bracketology 2021: Put a bunch of familiar names on milk cartons ...

... because they’re missing from this bracket. Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State, and North Carolina are all absent today.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Auburn
Kentucky’s Saturday loss at Auburn dropped them to 3-2 in the SEC, but only 4-8 overall. That is not the record of an NCAA Tournament team, even in a pandemic-affected season.
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

While the top of today’s bracket is similar to Friday’s, with Villanova and Michigan flipping the third and four spots on the No. 1 seed line, things are starting to percolate below. For starters, there are 11 new teams present in the field, including some surprises. But in a year in which schedules have been limited, the eye test might have more of an influence on the selection and seeding process. And that’s something that’s evident in how some teams are rapidly rising up the seed list.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Alabama
Alabama is rolling in SEC play, a run that’s seriously improving their seeding prospects.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
  • Alabama, 11-3 overall but 6-0 in the SEC, has jumped up to a three seed following emphatic wins over Kentucky and Arkansas in the last week.
  • Florida State is knocking on the door of a protected seed, just as they’re knocking on the door of the rankings. The Seminoles are 8-2, 4-1 in the ACC following a home win over North Carolina and an impressive Big Monday road win at Louisville.
  • Virginia, a 10 seed on Friday, jumped up to a six, following Saturday’s 35-point road win at Clemson—a margin that flatters the Tigers. The Cavaliers remain the ACC’s lone undefeated team in conference play.
  • Then there’s Texas Tech, who only re-entered the bracket on Friday. They’re a seven seed, despite a Saturday home loss to Baylor.
NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at North Carolina
North Carolina celebrated a home win over Syracuse one week ago, but the Tar Heels followed that with a loss at Florida State on Saturday afternoon.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Closer to the cut line, three new at-large squads enter the field, with the inclusion of both Maryland (7-6, 2-5 Big Ten) and Marquette (8-6, 4-4 Big East) potentially raising a few more eyebrows than Utah State’s (10-3, 8-0 MW). However, in a season where quality win opportunities, particularly ones away from home, are more precious than ever, the Terrapins and Golden Eagles have delivered. Maryland has road wins over a pair of teams safely in the field, Illinois and Wisconsin, while Marquette won at Creighton and has a home win over their in-state rivals from Madison.

Compare that to North Carolina, who dropped out of the field after Saturday’s loss at Florida State. The Tar Heels, 8-5 and 3-3 in the ACC, do not own a win over a team currently in the field. That drops them behind CoVID-paused Michigan State in the pecking order, since the Spartans have at least managed to beat Rutgers. Still, both UNC and MSU join Duke and Kentucky on the wrong side of the bubble. However, given how quickly things can change in this most unusual season, three of these four traditional powers could find themselves back in the field in a few days. The exception, of course, is a Kentucky team that will need to win four straight just to get back to .500.

After today’s full bracket and round-up, I’ll preview the TV lineup for the next three days and nights.

The Bracket

As I anticipated one week ago, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee will largely base this season’s bracket on the seed list, since geographic considerations will be non-existent with the tournament set to take place in Indiana only.

Stars (✴️) indicate new entrants, while arrows (⬆️ ⬇️) indicate movement up and down the seed list.

Rundown

IN (11): Bryant (NEC), Jacksonville (ASUN), Marquette, Maryland, St. Bonaventure (A 10), South Dakota (Summit), Southern (SWAC), Texas State (Sun Belt), UMBC (AE), Utah State, Utah Valley (WAC)
OUT: Arkansas-Pine Bluff (SWAC), Coastal Carolina (Sun Belt), Grand Canyon (WAC), Liberty (ASUN), LIU (NEC), North Carolina, North Dakota State (Summit), San Diego State, Stanford, Stony Brook (AE), VCU

Last Four Byes: Oklahoma, Wichita State, Richmond, Pittsburgh
Last Four IN: Florida, Maryland, Indiana, Marquette
First Four OUT: Stanford, VCU, San Diego State, Michigan State
Next Four OUT: North Carolina, Colorado State, Arkansas, Tulsa

Bids by Conference

*: auto bid holder

One-bid conferences: 21

Big Ten (10): 1. Michigan*, 2. Iowa, 3. Wisconsin, 4. Ohio State, 5. Minnesota, 6. Illinois, 8. Purdue, 10. Rutgers, 11. Maryland (First Four), 11. Indiana (First Four)
Big 12 (7): 1. Baylor*, 2. Texas, 4. Kansas, 6. West Virginia, 6. Oklahoma State, 7. Texas Tech, 10. Oklahoma
ACC (6): 4. Virginia Tech, 5. Clemson, 5. Florida State, 6. Virginia*, 8. Louisville, 8. Florida State, 11. Pittsburgh (First Four)
Big East (6): 1. Villanova*, 3. Creighton, 7. UConn, 9. Xavier, 9. Seton Hall, 11. Marquette (First Four)
SEC (5): 2. Tennessee, 3. Alabama*, 4. Missouri, 9. LSU, 10. Florida
Pac-12 (4): 3. Colorado, 5. UCLA*, 7. USC, 8. Oregon
Atlantic 10 (3): 7. Saint Louis, 11. Richmond, 12. St. Bonaventure*
American (2): 2. Houston*, 10. Wichita State
Mountain West (2): 8. Boise State*, 10. Utah State,
West Coast (2): 1. Gonzaga*, 9. BYU

Midweek Lineup

Games are presented in relative order of importance. All times are Eastern. All times and broadcast information is CoVID-dependent. I’ll try to keep this section updated, but if I don’t, check out MattSarzSports.com’s weekly and daily schedules.

Tuesday

Early evening

Purdue at Ohio State, 6:30 p.m. (BTN)
Tennessee at Florida, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Maryland at Michigan, 7 p.m. (FS1)
South Carolina at Missouri, 7 p.m. (SECN)
USC at Oregon State, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Miami (Fla.) at Syracuse, 7 p.m. (ACCN)
Kansas State at Oklahoma, 6:30 p.m. (Sooner Sports RSNs)
Winthrop at Presbyterian, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)

While the 6:30 BTN tip in Columbus pits two teams currently safe against each other, every other matchup in this list features at least one team fighting for a bid. Florida, hosting Tennessee, and Maryland, visiting Michigan, are the teams with the most to gain out of this group.

In the Big South showcase, Winthrop looks to remain perfect both overall and in conference play, as the Eagles begin a back-to-back set at Presbyterian, 2-5 in D1 contests this season.

Late evening

Seton Hall at Villanova, 9 p.m. (FS1)
Alabama at LSU, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Duke at Pittsburgh, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Colorado State at Utah State, 9 p.m. (CBSSN)
Penn State at Illinois, 8:30 p.m. (BTN)
Ole Miss at Mississippi State, 9 p.m. (SECN)

There are four potentially huge games in this window. For starters, top seed Villanova takes the floor for the first time since December 19th when Seton Hall visits the Pavilion. Alabama can move to 7-0 in SEC play with a win at LSU. Duke can get itself right into bid position with a win over improved Pitt. In Logan, Utah State, 8-0 in the Mountain West following last week’s home sweep of San Diego State, welcomes 7-1 Colorado State for a pair.

Wednesday

Early evening

Saint Louis at UMass, 6 p.m. (NESN/FS Midwest/ESPN+ ($))
Clemson at Georgia Tech, 7 p.m. (ACC RSNs)
Boston College at Virginia Tech, 5 p.m. (ACCN)
Kentucky at Georgia, 7 p.m. (SECN)
Wake Forest at North Carolina, 7 p.m. (ACCN)
Winthrop at Presbyterian, 5 p.m. (ESPN+ ($))
Texas A&M at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
George Washington at Dayton, 7 p.m. (ESPN+ ($))

In a week full of resumptions from CoVID pauses, Saint Louis joins Villanova in ending an extended break that began back on December 23rd. However, unlike the Wildcats, the Billikens have yet to play a conference game. Georgia Tech is another squad getting back to the court in this window, at home against a Clemson team that was flat out embarrassed by Virginia on Saturday night.

Kentucky cannot afford a loss at Georgia, while Winthrop plays its second game in as many nights against Presbyterian. In Nashville, Texas A&M-Vandy might just be one of the last matchups this season in which both coaches will wear suits.

Late evening

Xavier at UConn, 8:30 p.m. (CBSSN
Tulsa at Houston, 8 p.m. (ESPN+ ($))
Texas Tech at TCU, 8 p.m. (ESPN+ ($))
Providence at Creighton, 9 p.m. (FS1)
Arkansas at Auburn, 9 p.m. (SECN)
Northwestern at Wisconsin, 9 p.m. (BTN)
Colorado at Washington, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
Cincinnati at Temple, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Abilene Christian at Sam Houston State, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN+ ($))
Fresno State at Boise State, 11 p.m. (FS1)

In the Big East, both UConn and Creighton will look to rebound from bad losses last time out, though each hosts a tricky opponent this evening. Tulsa can complete a season sweep of Houston, while Arkansas could use a strong road performance at Auburn. Northwestern is sliding down the bubble, and an unexpected win at Wisconsin would do the Wildcats a world of good. In the Pac-12, Colorado will look to keep on rolling against a terrible Washington team. Two of the top three teams in the Southland meet in Huntsville, Texas, while Boise State will look to keep its Mountain West record perfect when it opens a two-game set against Fresno State.

Thursday

Afternoon and early evening

USC at Stanford, 5 p.m. (FS1)
Wichita State at Memphis, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Rutgers at Penn State, 7 p.m. (BTN)
Saint Mary’s at Loyola Marymount, 8 p.m. (Stadium)
Eastern Illinois at Belmont, 8 p.m. (ESPN+ ($))

Wichita State-Memphis is an important contest In both the American and bubble races. Stanford (hosting USC) and Saint Mary’s (winless in the WCC and visiting LMU) are running out of time to get back on track, while Rutgers cannot afford a slip-up at Penn State. In the OVC, Belmont can move to 15-1 overall and 9-0 in conference play by knocking off EIU.

Late evening

Indiana at Iowa, 9 p.m. (FS1)
Colorado State at Utah State, 11 p.m. (FS1)
Arizona at Arizona State, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
UCLA at California, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
Portland at BYU, 9 p.m. (CBSSN)
Utah at Washington State, 10 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

With Arizona postseason-ineligible and ASU struggling, Indiana’s trip to high-flying Iowa and the second CSU-USU matchup of the week are the two standouts in this window. Note that UCLA can move to 8-0 in the Pac-12 with a win at Cal.

On Friday, we’ll see what further changes are in store for the bracket.