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Bracketology 2022: UCLA Rises to the Top Line; Kentucky Edging Closer

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Further down the bracket, while the SEC won its challenge series against the Big 12, the latter conference has a slight edge in bids as February begins.

The Top 16 seeds in February’s first bracket.
Graphic by Chris Dobbertean. Logos from SportsLogos.net.

Note: This story is best viewed on desktop.

✴️ = new bracket entrants
⬆️ and ⬇️ = bracket returnees’ seed movement

Acknowledgements: NET rankings are accurate as of Tuesday, February 1, 2022. Selection Sheet info is from WarrenNolan.com. Team logos are from Chris Creamer’s SportsLogos.net.

Conference Notes with Key Tuesday–Thursday Matchups

All game times are Eastern. All game info is subject to change due to the pandemic. Seed numbers in parentheses.

Big 12 (8 Teams)

Winner of the Weekend: Even though the Big 12 lost the SEC challenge this season 4-6, TCU ended up being one of Saturday’s biggest individual. The Horned Frogs (15-4, 4-3) followed up their 23-point home loss to Texas by first handling LSU, 77-68, then following that up with a 72-63 road win at Oklahoma—their first ever in Norman. Those results helped push Jamie Dixon’s team back into the field—and above the First Four places too.

Loser of the Weekend: Kansas, hammered by Kentucky on Saturday evening, might be your first instinct here. However, I’m going to select West Virginia (13-8, 2-6). The Mountaineers lost three times last week—to Oklahoma at home, then at Arkansas and Baylor—to extend their overall winless streak to six games. Next up, Texas Tech on Saturday in Morgantown. That’s not the most likely way to end a slump.

Tuesday: (2) Kansas at (6) Iowa State, 7 p.m. (ESPN) | (7) Texas at (4) Texas Tech, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)

Wednesday: Oklahoma State at Kansas State, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)

Tuesday’s schedule features a pair of power-packed matchups. While Kansas travels to Ames looking to repeat its January 11th home win over Iowa State, the real drama will be in Lubbock. Former Red Raider coach Chris Beard makes his first trip to Tech since taking the Longhorns’ job. He already received a “friendly” welcome back to campus on Monday night.

Big Ten (7)

Winner of the Weekend: Quietly, Indiana is improving its stock, thanks in no small part to handling the teams it should, unlike certain other conference rivals and bubble teams. On Saturday, the Hoosiers (16-5, 7-4) won at Maryland, 68-55, a nice follow-up to Wednesday’s 17-point home win over Penn State.

Loser of the Weekend: Speaking of the Nittany Lions, they helped push Iowa closer to the cut line on Monday night. The Hawkeyes (14-7, 4-6) dropped a double-OT decision in State College, 90-86, not the best follow-up to Thursday’s home loss to Purdue.

Tuesday: (4) Michigan State at Maryland, 7 p.m. (ESPN2) | Rutgers at Northwestern, 7 p.m. (BTN) | Nebraska at Michigan, 9 p.m. (BTN)

Wednesday: (3) Purdue at Minnesota, 7 p.m. (BTN) | (2) Wisconsin at (5) Illinois, 9 p.m. (BTN)

Thursday: (11) Iowa at (6) Ohio State, 8 p.m. (FS1)

On this Thursday night, Iowa has another chance to shore up its chances when it visits Ohio State, who were stunned by a Jaden Ivey three at Purdue on Sunday. The game of the week, however, is set for Champaign on Wednesday night, as the Big Ten’s two 8-2 teams meet. The stakes are a little higher for Illinois than Wisconsin; however, thanks to the Fighting Illini’s lack of Quad 1 wins.

Big East (7)

Winner of the Weekend: Providence (18-2, 8-1) now sits as the top No. 3 seed after extending its win streak to five by ending Marquette’s (15-7, 7-4) at seven, 65-63, on Sunday afternoon at the Dunk.

Loser of the Weekend: Creighton (12-7, 4-4) is another team that’s teetering a bit. The Bluejays followed up a bad 17-point loss at Butler by dropping a 74-64 home decision to Xavier. This week’s schedule doesn’t set up well for the Jays, as they face both UConn and Seton Hall on the road.

Tuesday: (11) Creighton at (5) UConn, 6:30 p.m. (FS1) | (7) Seton Hall at Georgetown, 8:30 p.m. (FS1) | (3) Providence at St. John’s, 9 p.m. (CBSSN)

Wednesday: Butler at (6) Xavier, 7 p.m. (CBSSN) | (4) Villanova at (5) Marquette, 10 p.m. (FS1)

Thursday: St. John’s at Georgetown (at McDonough Gym), 6 p.m. (FS1)

Villanova-Marquette is the key matchup of the midweek. The Wildcats head to Milwaukee looking to avenge the Golden Eagles’ stunning 57-54 win of January 19th. While Georgetown, winless in the Big East after seven games, gets to play two at home this week, note that the second game is set for on campus at McDonough, as it’s a rescheduled contest.

SEC (7)

Winner of the Weekend: Kentucky got TyTy Washington back for its trip to Lawrence and dominated Kansas from the tip, eventually prevailing by 18, 80-62. The Wildcats (17-4, 6-2) still sit two games behind Auburn in the SEC race, but are now the second-ranked No. 2 seed in this projection.

Loser of the Weekend: Of the four SEC teams who sat the Big 12 Challenge out of necessity, only Texas A&M (15-6, 4-4) was considered an at-large threat. However, the Aggies’ hopes took a serious hit when they recorded their fourth straight defeat—a 74-63 home decision to South Carolina.

Tuesday: South Carolina at Mississippi State, 7 p.m. (ESPNU) | Texas A&M at (5) Tennessee, 7 p.m. (SECN) | (6) Alabama at (1) Auburn, 9 p.m. (ESPN) | Ole Miss at (4) LSU, 9 p.m. (SECN)

Wednesday: (12) Florida at Missouri, 3 p.m. 9 p.m. (SECN) | (9) Arkansas at Georgia, 7 p.m. (ESPNU) | Vanderbilt at (3) Kentucky, 7 p.m. (SECN)

This week’s headliner is the second edition of the basketball Iron Bowl for 2022 with Auburn aiming for a sweep after the first game back on January 11th, 81-77. Still, the rematch should be another good one, particularly with Alabama coming off an 87-78 home win over Baylor. Elsewhere, Texas A&M will look to get itself back in the hunt by winning at Tennessee, Mississippi State and Arkansas need to avoid potential slip-ups, while Florida will do the same in CoMo after somehow defeating Oklahoma State on Saturday to get back on the right side of the cut line.

Pac-12 (4)

Winner of the Weekend: UCLA (16-2, 8-1) followed up Thursday’s 24-point win over Cal by thrashing Stanford by 23, 66-43. The Bruins, the fourth No. 1 today, will put their six-game win streak on the line in a rapid rematch at Arizona (17-2, 7-1) on Thursday. That contest will be the first of four road contests in a row for Mick Cronin’s squad.

Loser of the Weekend: Colorado (13-8, 5-6) was swept out of the Evergreen State by Washington State, 70-43, on Sunday night. The Buffaloes haven’t won consecutive games since they went 2-0 against the Washington schools at home back on January 6th and 9th.

Tuesday: California at Stanford, 10 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

Thursday: (1) UCLA at (3) Arizona, 8 p.m. (ESPN) | Washington State at Stanford, 9 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks) | (12) Oregon at Colorado, 10 p.m. (FS1) | (7) USC at Arizona State, 11 p.m. (ESPN2)

Of course, Tad Boyle’s team can boost its stock by sweeping the last opponent it defeated, Oregon, on Thursday. That’s one of two key bubble matchups set for that evening, as Washington State, now 37th in the NET, visits Stanford. Still, most eyes will be on Tucson for the first place showdown between the Bruins and Wildcats.

MW (4)

Winner of the Weekend: Wyoming (17-3, 6-1) survived Air Force on Friday night, 63-61, then took down archrival Colorado State (16-3, 6-3), 84-78, in an overtime thriller in Laramie on Monday. The Cowboys would likely still be projected as out without the efforts of Hunter Maldonado, who scored 31 against the Falcons then hung 35 on the Rams.

Loser of the Weekend: Things aren’t quite so rosy for CSU, however, thanks to consecutive losses to UNLV (at Moby) and the aforementioned setback in Laramie. While the Rams get the midweek window off, they face a near must-win against San Diego State in Fort Collins on Friday.

Tuesday: Air Force at Utah State, 9 p.m. (MWN) | Fresno State at San José State, 11 p.m. (CBSSN)

Thursday: (8) Boise State at (11) Wyoming, 9 p.m. (MWN) | San José State at Utah State, 9 p.m. (MWN)

On Thursday night, Wyoming will look to reverse the narrow three-point loss it took in Boise last Tuesday when the Broncos visit the Arena-Auditorium. Elsewhere, Utah State (12-9, 3-5) has two home games to get back to .500 in the Mountain West and back into the fringe of the bubble picture. Fresno State, meanwhile, will look to avoid tripping up at SJSU.

ACC (3)

Winner of the Weekend: Miami (16-5, 8-2) remains tied with Duke at the top of the conference, thanks to its 73-62 road win at Georgia Tech. That’s something rival Florida State couldn’t accomplish on Wednesday.

Loser of the Weekend: Notre Dame is a tempting pick here after the Irish’s blowout home loss to Duke on Big Monday, so is Wake Forest, who dropped out of the field after losing at struggling Syracuse. However, Florida State (13-7, 6-4) gets the dishonor after its Wednesday loss in Atlanta with another to Virginia Tech in Tallahassee. Those two defeats have put the Seminoles back in bracket danger.

Tuesday: Boston College at Virginia, 6 p.m. (ACCN) | North Carolina at Louisville, 8 p.m. (ACCN)

Wednesday: Pittsburgh at Wake Forest, 7 p.m. (ESPN2) | (11) Florida State at Clemson, 7 p.m. (ACCN) | Notre Dame at (8) Miami, 7 p.m. (ACC RSNs/ACCNX) | Syracuse at NC State, 9 p.m. (ESPN2) | Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, 9 p.m. (ACCN)

FSU will look to snap its losing streak at Clemson on Wednesday, which ranks among the most important contests of the ACC’s midweek slate. North Carolina (15-6, 7-3) dropped out of today’s projection despite extending its win streak to three on Saturday. The Tar Heels will travel to Louisville tonight, with the Cardinals looking to further improve upon their surprising performance in losing by nine to Duke on Saturday. Speaking of the Blue Devils, they visit Chapel Hill on Saturday. Otherwise, Wake will look to rebound against Pitt, while Notre Dame travels to Miami looking to do what it failed to do on Monday—knock off an ACC co-leader.

WCC (3)

Winner of the Weekend: Saint Mary’s (17-4, 5-1) has established itself as the second-best team in the WCC at the moment, thanks to a five-game win streak that the Gaels extended by handling Pepperdine, 81-57, on Saturday.

Loser of the Weekend: While San Francisco (17-5, 4-3) got pushed out of this projection by Drake’s win over Loyola Chicago, the Dons managed to follow Thursday’s collapse against Saint Mary’s by edging Santa Clara, 88-85. That’s more than can be said for BYU (17-6, 5-3), who went 0-2 last weekend. The Cougars dropped a 77-76 decision at Santa Clara on Thursday, then lost at Pacific on Saturday, 76-73. That was the Tigers’ first WCC win of the season. (They then lost to Santa Clara on Monday.)

Thursday: (1) Gonzaga at San Diego, 9 p.m. (ESPN2) | San Francisco at (10) BYU, 10 p.m. (CBSSN) | (8) Saint Mary’s at Portland, 11 p.m. (Root Sports/WCCN)

Suddenly, San Francisco’s road contest in Provo has added importance. Note that BYU won the pair’s first meeting—a typically tense 71-69 contest played back on January 15th. Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, meanwhile, hit the road with the Bulldogs having the slightly more difficult task.

Elsewhere

Winner of the Weekend: Although VCU isn’t in the projected field yet, the Rams (13-6, 6-2 A 10) took another small step toward selection by edging crosstown foe Richmond, 64-62, on Saturday. Mike Rhoades’ club is the fifth team out. It could improve that position by defeating Dayton, the current seventh team out, on Wednesday at the Siegel Center.

Loser of the Weekend: The Missouri Valley is temporarily a two-bid conference, thanks to Loyola’s (16-4, 7-2 MVC) 77-68 loss at Drake (16-6, 7-2). The Ramblers have now dropped two of their last four and will need to be careful the rest of the way with power conference teams starting to rise up the bubble.

Tuesday: (9) Davidson at St. Bonaventure, 7 p.m. (CBSSN) | Ball State at Ohio, 7 p.m. (ESPN3) | (13) Toledo at Eastern Michigan, 7 p.m. (ESPN3) | Richmond at Duquesne, 7 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | Tulsa at Wichita State, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)

Wednesday: (16) Longwood at UNC Asheville, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | NJIT at (13) Vermont, 7 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | Saint Louis at George Mason, 7 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | Army West Point at Loyola (Md.), 7 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | Bucknell at (16) Colgate, 7 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | Navy at Lehigh, 7 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | (13) Drake at Indiana State, 7 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | Illinois State at (9) Loyola Chicago, 8 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | (12) Chattanooga at Samford, 8 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | Tulane at (3) Houston, 8 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | Dayton at VCU, 9 p.m. (CBSSN) | Missouri State at Southern Illinois, 9 p.m. (Bally Midwest/NBCS Chicago/ESPN+ ($))

Thursday: Liberty at Bellarmine, 1:30 p.m. 7 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | Eastern Michigan at Ohio, 2 p.m. 7 p.m. (ESPN3) | Wagner at Central Connecticut State, 7 p.m. (NEC Front Row) | Memphis at Cincinnati, 7 p.m. (ESPN2) | Wichita State at SMU, 7 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | Louisiana Tech at Florida Atlantic, 7 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | Towson at Hofstra, 7 p.m. (SNY/FloHoops ($)), 7 p.m. | (15) UNCW at Elon, 7 p.m. (FloHoops ($)) | (12) Murray State at Austin Peay, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) UTEP at (12) North Texas, 8 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | North Florida at (14) Jacksonville State, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | Belmont at Tennessee State, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | (16) New Orleans at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | Cal Baptist at New Mexico State, 9 p.m. (Aggie Vision/Bally Arizona+/ESPN+ ($)); (14) Seattle at Grand Canyon, 9 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | Montana at (15) Weber State, 9 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | UC Irvine at UC Santa Barbara, 10 p.m. (ESPN+ ($)) | (16) Hawai’i at UC Riverside, 11 p.m. (ESPNU)

At the moment, 16 teams remain perfect in conference play. Iona, North Carolina Central, and South Dakota State are idle in the midweek window, while I’ve already touched on Auburn, Boise State, and Gonzaga above. The remaining 10, bolded above, are all in action between Tuesday and Thursday, with seven of them hitting the road. In other words, look for the number of conference undefeateds to drop when Friday’s bracket arrives.