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Bracketology 2021: As January wraps up, the at-large picture isn’t getting any clearer

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Okay, maybe that statement doesn’t apply to the No. 1 seed line, but with most of college basketball’s brand names struggling and everyone’s schedule challenges, this season is poised to continue twisting and turning.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Maryland
Wisconsin’s win at Maryland was the midweek game that played the single biggest role in developing today’s projection.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The top eight teams from Tuesday’s bracket remain in place heading into the final weekend of January, with the first change in today’s field coming on seed line No. 3, where Wisconsin replaced Tennessee, thanks to the Badgers 61-55 victory at Maryland on Wednesday night. That setback dropped the Terps to .500 and out of the field, alongside Pittsburgh, who fell to North Carolina by 10 at home on Tuesday evening.

NCAA Basketball: San Diego State at Air Force
San Diego State has won three straight since dropping a pair at Utah State.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego State and Richmond replace the Terrapins and Panthers in the field, with Utah State (a team that swept its series with the Aztecs) and Loyola Chicago (25th in the NET, but a 75-73 loser to the Spiders in Indianapolis on December 18th) just missing the cut. My decision to take SDSU over USU may seem counterintuitive because of the head-to-head results, but the Aztecs’ superior schedule strength (bolstered by non-conference wins over UCLA and Saint Mary’s) gives them the edge over the Aggies for the moment. Utah State’s best non-conference win, by comparison, came against Northern Iowa in the Dakota Crossover Classic on Black Friday.

Hopefully, the Selection Committee’s bracket preview show, scheduled for two weeks from tomorrow, will provide more clarity on what bracketology factors they’re valuing the most in this most unique season.

After today’s bracket and rundown, I have your weekend (and Monday) TV preview.

The Bracket

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

Rundown

IN (3): ETSU (SoCon), Richmond, San Diego State
OUT: Maryland, Pittsburgh, Wofford (SoCon)

Last Four Byes: Oregon, North Carolina, Indiana, Stanford
Last Four IN: Colorado State, Seton Hall, San Diego State, Richmond
First Four OUT: Utah State, Loyola Chicago, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
Next Four OUT: Providence, VCU, Maryland, Wichita State

Bids by Conference

*: auto bid holder

One-bid conferences: 22

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

Weekend 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.

Friday

Iowa at Illinois, 9 p.m. (FS1)
Boise State at Colorado State, 11 p.m. (FS1)
Saint Louis at Richmond, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Xavier at Butler, 6:30 p.m. (FS1)

FS1 will likely be your college hoops destination tonight, at least outside of the early evening window, where Saint Louis’ trip to Richmond is slightly more compelling than Xavier-Butler, when you consider the loss the Billikens took to Dayton in their first post-pause game on Friday. As for those later contests, Iowa first travels to Champaign sitting in sole possession of second place in the Big Ten, while Illinois sits just behind, currently tied with Wisconsin in the loss column (with three each). With the Hawkeyes on the two line and the Fighting Illini in play for a protected seed (even though that term is meaningless in 2021), much is at stake in this one. Then, there’s the rematch of Colorado State’s dominant 78-56 victory over Boise State in Fort Collins. While the Broncos are still a game up in the loss column on both the Rams and Utah State, that advantage will disappear with a second straight defeat. If CSU shoots as well as on Wednesday night, Boise will have its work cut out for it.

Saturday

Early afternoon

Alabama at Oklahoma, 12 p.m. (ESPN2)
Clemson at Duke, 12 p.m. (ESPN)
Providence at Georgetown, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Tulsa at East Carolina, 12 p.m. (ESPN+ ($))
Texas A&M at Kansas State, 12 p.m. (ESPNU)
La Salle at VCU, 1 p.m. (NBCSN)

It’s the final Saturday in January, which means it's time for the entirety of the Big 12 and 10 of the SEC’s 14 members to square off for their challenge series. Of the two games in the early window, only Alabama-Oklahoma has NCAA Tournament implications, as the Crimson Tide are currently rolling through league play and the Sooners are coming off an impressive win at Texas. Otherwise, Clemson ended its three-game tumble by winning a rock fight against Louisville on Wednesday, but can the Tigers build on that performance at Duke? The Blue Devils took down Georgia Tech on Tuesday. In the Big East, Providence-Georgetown got bumped from FS1 to CBS, even though the Friars are four wins up on the Hoyas in the conference race (thanks in part to Georgetown’s CoVID pauses).

Mid-afternoon

Florida at West Virginia, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Texas Tech at LSU, 2 p.m. (ESPN2)
Villanova at Seton Hall, 3 p.m. (Fox)
TCU at Missouri, 2 p.m. (ESPNU)
Wisconsin at Penn State, 3 p.m. (BTN)

Things pick up considerably after 2 Eastern, with two SEC/Big 12 contests that pit at-large contenders against each other, along with Missouri’s home game with TCU, with the Tigers looking to rebound from Tuesday’s loss at Auburn. Elsewhere, Seton Hall hosts Villanova after collapsing against visiting Creighton on Wednesday evening. Obviously, the Pirates could really use this one, particularly after their 76-74 loss to the Wildcats back on January 19th. In the Big Ten, Wisconsin heads to Penn State, where the Badgers should expect a battle, as the Nittany Lions’ record doesn’t reflect their level of competitiveness in league play so far.

Late afternoon

Auburn at Baylor, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Arkansas at Oklahoma State, 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
Florida State at Georgia Tech, 4 p.m. (ACCN)
UCF at Wichita State, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)
Rhode Island at Dayton, 4 p.m. (CBSSN)

Auburn-Baylor might be the best offering the Big 12/SEC series has available this season, and that’s true even if the Tigers are ineligible for the postseason. Arkansas-Oklahoma State is a nice regional rivalry that has at-large implications for both. Florida State will look to avoid a slip up against a Georgia Tech team that could use a quality win after its Duke loss on Tuesday. Meanwhile, both Wichita State and Dayton will have to take care of business at home to benefit their at-large chances.

Early evening

Virginia at Virginia Tech, 6 p.m. (ACCN)
Kansas at Tennessee, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Oregon State at UCLA, 7 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)
Iowa State at Mississippi State, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
Ole Miss at Georgia, 6 p.m. (SECN)
Pacific at BYU, 6 p.m. (CBSSN)

With Kansas struggling a bit, the Jayhawks’ trip to Knoxville ranks below the ACC Network’s all-Virginia offering. The Hokies, 6-2 in ACC play, can knock 7-0 Virginia into a first-place tie with FSU, provided the Seminoles win in Atlanta immediately beforehand. In the Pac-12, UCLA hosts Oregon State after having a visit from Oregon postponed due to the Ducks’ CoVID issues. Mississippi State cannot afford a home loss to struggling Iowa State in the secondary Big 12/SEC contest in this window, while Ole Miss and Georgia meet in one of Saturday’s two scheduled all-SEC matchups. Both need to start winning games to earn legitimate at-large consideration. In the WCC, BYU hosts Pacific, a game added late to make up for a postponed visit from San Francisco. The Cougars took a bad loss at Pepperdine on Wednesday afternoon.

Mid-evening

Minnesota at Purdue, 7:30 p.m. (BTN)
Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, 8 p.m. (ACCN)
Creighton at DePaul, 8 p.m. (CBSSN)
Gonzaga at Pepperdine, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
South Carolina at Vanderbilt, 8:30 p.m. (SECN)

Texas’ trip to Kentucky was canceled due to CoVID issues in the Wildcat program. That means the Big Ten takes center stage in primetime, with Minnesota traveling to Purdue in a matchup of two teams who are surprisingly in the hunt for a spot on seed line no. 4. Elsewhere, Pittsburgh hosts a bad Notre Dame team, with the Panthers reeling from a home loss to UNC; Creighton will look to do better than escape from DePaul with a narrow win; Gonzaga would like to avoid the upset bug at Pepperdine; and South Carolina will try to build on Wednesday’s blowout win over Georgia at Memorial Gym.

Late evening

Utah at Colorado, 9:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)
Stanford at Arizona State, 10 p.m. (ESPN2)
Wyoming at San Diego State, 10 p.m. (CBSSN)

Colorado can complete a season sweep of its travel partner when Utah visits Boulder, while Stanford travels to Tempe having picked up a big win in Tucson on Thursday. As for San Diego State, the Aztecs can sweep their series with Wyoming tonight, following an 87-57 romp 48-hours ago.

Sunday

Michigan State at Ohio State, 1 p.m. (CBS)
SMU at Houston, 1 p.m. (ESPN)
Loyola Chicago at Missouri State, 3 p.m. (CBSSN)
Illinois State at Drake, 3 p.m. (MC-22/ESPN3)
Sam Houston State at Stephen F. Austin, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)
NC State at Syracuse, 6 p.m. (ACCN)
Rutgers at Northwestern, 7:30 p.m. (BTN)
Washington State at Washington, 8 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

Michigan State, 67-37 loser at Rutgers on Thursday, continues its three-game road swing at Ohio State, who sits as a three seed in today’s bracket. SMU heads to Houston having split a home-and-home with Memphis this week. It’s also an important week in the Missouri Valley, as Loyola and Missouri State, the conference’s second and third-best teams look to keep pace with Drake, who hosts struggling Illinois State for two. In the Southland, traditional heavyweight SFA will look to knock its future WAC rival, SHSU, from the ranks of the conference undefeateds. NC State, Syracuse, Rutgers, and Washington State are all also in action, where they’ll put their varied at-large chances on the line.

Monday

Oklahoma at Texas Tech, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Georgia Tech at Louisville, 2 p.m. (ACCN)
Illinois State at Drake, 7 p.m. (MC-22/ESPN3)
Duke at Miami, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
UCF at Memphis, 8 p.m. (ESPN+ ($))

Big Monday is a little but smaller this week, as both Duke and Miami are going through some struggles this season. That means the night’s Big 12 matchup is the evening’s marquee matchup. Note the interesting ACC Network matinee, however, as Georgia Tech travels to Louisville looking for an unexpected win.

See you all on Tuesday with my next projection.