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Bracketology 2021: The Revenge of the Bluebloods

Just when you thought it was safe to write them off ... one is back in the field, another is getting closer to the right side of the cut line, and the group’s top performer has jumped into the top 16.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Miami-Florida
A 77-75 loss at Miami started a three-game losing streak for Duke, which ended at NC State on February 13th. That started the Blue Devils on a four-game win streak that’s put them just inside the projected field as of now.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

In this unusual 2020-21 season, this past Saturday was a throwback, as college basketball’s struggling powers put it all together as a quartet for the first time in a long time. Of course, the term “struggling” is relative when discussing Kansas, as the Jayhawks’ 67-61 victory over Texas Tech was their fifth in a row and completed a season sweep of the Red Raiders. As a result, KU (17-7) replaced the Red Raiders on this projection’s four line.

And while Kentucky’s shocking 70-55 victory at Tennessee was its third straight, the Wildcats are still well under .500, at 8-13. That means they’ll likely need to win four games in as many games at the SEC Tournament in Nashville to earn a bid. Yes, it’s a big ask, but considering how John Calipari’s team seems to finally be getting its act together, and the program’s traditional dominance of the event, UK earning the SEC’s auto bid isn’t a possibility you can easily write off.

And that brings us to Duke. While Jalen Johnson’s departure from the Blue Devils program has sucked up most of the oxygen in the national discourse over the past week, his former teammates managed to defeat Virginia on Saturday and Syracuse on Monday night to extend their win streak to four. At 11-8 overall, Duke still has work to do to lock down a place in the field of 68, but the weekend sweep has them in today’s First Four. Upcoming games against Louisville (at Cameron Indoor) and at Georgia Tech and archrival North Carolina will give the Blue Devils the opportunity to better their position.

The Big Ten Continues to Be Where the Action Is Nationally

Michigan State, meanwhile, rallied to defeat Indiana 78-71 in Bloomington on Saturday afternoon. That snapped a two-game skid for the Spartans, who sit at 81st in the NET and still have a lot of work to do to get closer to the field. For starters, MSU is 5-9 in a loaded Big Ten, and only one of those victories, a home blowout over Rutgers, came over a team in the field. So, Tom Izzo’s squad has left some opportunities on the table.

However, a truly hectic finish to the Big Ten schedule will provide several more chances for the Spartans, starting tonight against Illinois (7 p.m., FS1) at the Breslin Center. After that showdown, Michigan State still has three games left against the conference’s two No. 1 seeds, Michigan and Ohio State, with both teams visiting East Lansing, and contests against Maryland and Indiana, a pair of teams who find themselves just on the right side of the cut line today.

The Big Ten’s packed final two weeks, which started with an absolute classic win for Michigan at Ohio State on Sunday, will go a long way to determining who sits on the top seed line on Selection Sunday. The Wolverines, Buckeyes, and Fighting Illini hold the third, fourth, and fifth spots overall in the bracket, with Iowa, who has won four straight to shake off what appeared to be its typical February swoon, now the final No. 2 seed. But the Hawkeyes visit both Michigan and Ohio State this week, and Illinois gets to take the same road trip next week.

So, much is left to be decided before everyone travels to Indianapolis for the rearranged Big Ten Tournament.

After today’s full bracket and rundown, I’ll look ahead to Tuesday’s schedule. That’s right, with things coming to a boil, daily TV posts re-start on Wednesday (at least for non-bracket projection days).

The Bracket

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

Rundown

IN (6): Drake, Duke, St. Bonaventure (A 10), South Dakota (Summit), UMBC (America East), UTRGV (WAC)
OUT: UConn, Grand Canyon (WAC), Minnesota, St. John’s, South Dakota State (Summit), Vermont (America East)

Last Four Byes: Seton Hall, San Diego State, Xavier, Indiana
Last Four IN: Duke, Stanford, VCU, Drake
First Four OUT: UConn, Colorado State, Minnesota, Richmond
Next Four OUT: St. John’s, Saint Louis, Michigan State, Western Kentucky

Bids by Conference

*: auto bid holder

One-bid conferences: 20

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

Losses by UConn (understandable, since the Huskies visited Villanova), St. John’s (less understandable, because “DePaul at home” is still not a phrase you should ever hear uttered about your team and a defeat), and Minnesota (still winless on the road and now replicating that type of performance at home) created opportunities for some of the mid-majors near the cut line to jump in for today. That means Drake returns as an at-large, St. Bonaventure enters as the new Atlantic 10 leader, and VCU remains in, despite losing at George Mason and losing sophomore star Bones Hyland for the foreseeable future due to a foot sprain. That’s a situation that bears observation, as the Atlantic 10 Tournament starts one week from Wednesday.

Stanford also remains in the field despite splitting its trip to Washington. The Cardinal benefit from a Selection Committee decision to count the semi-home games they played in Santa Cruz as neutral-site games, which boost their Quad 1 and 2 win totals. Of course, Stanford is back at Maples now, and the Oregon schools visit this week, starting with the Ducks on Thursday night.

Tuesday TV Preview

Games are presented in relative order of importance. All times are Eastern. All times and broadcast information is CoVID-dependent. For a more complete schedule, including games without tournament/at-large impact, visit MattSarzSports.com’s daily schedule.

Early evening window

Illinois at Michigan State, 7 p.m. (FS1)
Saint Louis at VCU, 6 p.m. (CBSSN)
Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m. (ACC RSNs/ACCNX)
Florida at Auburn, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
LSU at Georgia, 7 p.m. (SECN)
West Virginia at TCU, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Notre Dame at Louisville, 7 p.m. (ACCN)
UMass at Richmond, 6 p.m. (NBCS Washington/ESPN+ ($))

Michigan State can supercharge its NET ranking by defeating Illinois, who really needs to not take either the Spartans or Thursday’s opponent, Nebraska, lightly with the three big games to come starting on Saturday. In the Atlantic 10, Bones Hyland-less VCU faces an immediate test when Saint Louis visits, as the Billikens are also hovering right around the cut line. On the other side of the Virginia capital, the pair’s in-league bubble rival, Richmond, hosts UMass, the team that currently has the fewest losses in the conference. In the ACC, Virginia Tech will attempt to keep Georgia Tech from resuscitating its at-large hopes, while Louisville can’t slip up against Notre Dame at home. SEC seven seeds Florida and LSU both face potentially tricky road games. In the Big 12, West Virginia plays the second of three road games in six days. After winning at Texas, the Mountaineers get what should be a breather in Fort Worth. Baylor looms on Thursday (maybe).

Late evening window

Kansas at Texas, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
St. John’s at Villanova, 8 p.m. (CBSSN)
UConn at Georgetown, 9 p.m. (FS1)
Ole Miss at Missouri, 9 p.m. (SECN)
Iowa State at Baylor, 8 p.m. (ESPN+ ($))
Oklahoma at Kansas State, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)

Speaking of the Bears, they return to the court for the first time in three weeks, welcoming a poor Iowa State team to Waco. That’s not the game of the night in the Big 12, however, as Kansas heads to Austin looking to extend its win streak to six, while the Longhorns must rebound from their Saturday collapse against WVU. As for Oklahoma, currently a three seed, a loss at K-State would only damage their lofty position.

The two Big East teams who fell out of the field today, St. John’s and UConn, both hit the road, with the Red Storm aiming to complete a sweep of Villanova that would seriously improve their stock. In the SEC, Missouri, back on the four line, thanks to a strong set of quality wins, hosts an Ole Miss team that slipped down the bubble after Saturday’s home Egg Bowl loss to Mississippi State.

New bracket and bubble update on Friday. TV previews coming on Wednesday and Thursday.