SportsPulse: It’s championship week and we are in the home stretch. Here are the teams that need to finish strong to get their name called on Sunday.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the latest NCAA tournament projections through games played on March 12.
The difference from February to March is significant.
Saint Mary’s lost to Gonzaga by 48 points just a month ago. On Tuesday the Gaels shocked the top-seeded ‘Zags in the West Coast Conference tournament to claim the league’s automatic bid and affect the outlook of the bracket.
The upset loss doesn’t move Gonzaga out of a No. 1 seed — yet. But it certainly leaves the door open for a No. 2 seed like Kentucky, Tennessee or Michigan State to steal a top seed that the ‘Zags seemed destined to secure.
Tuesday’s loss moved North Carolina behind Virginia as the second-best No. 1 seed and kept Gonzaga slightly ahead of Duke.
The Bulldogs (30-3, 16-0) are still leading the rankings in the NET, the NCAA’s new metric in place of the RPI this year. But Gonzaga only has four Quadrant 1 (top-30 home, top-75 away) victories on its profile compared to Kentucky’s 10 and Michigan State’s 11.
A lack of marquee wins could hurt the ‘Zags if top-seed candidates from power conferences build up their résumés in their respective league tournaments.
If Kentucky or Tennessee claim the SEC tourney title or Duke looks like its old self with Zion Williamson back, that loss to Saint Mary’s could end up significantly hurting Gonzaga.
Near the bubble line, Saint Mary’s qualifies as a bid thief by claiming the WCC title when it had no chance of making the NCAAs as an at-large. Instead of 10 spots for 16 bubble teams now there’s only nine.
The teams in the “last four in” and “first four out” can thank Saint Mary’s if they get snubbed on Selection Sunday.
► No. 1 seeds: Virginia, Gonzaga, North Carolina, Duke
► Last four in: Ohio State, Belmont, Creighton, Georgetown
► First Four out: Florida, Alabama, UNC-Greensboro, Indiana
• Others considered for at-large bid (in no particular order): Texas, Clemson, Furman, North Carolina State, Lipscomb
• On life support: South Carolina, Memphis, Dayton, Providence, Davidson, Xavier, Butler
Multi-bid conferences: Big Ten (8), ACC (7), Big 12 (7), SEC (6), Big East (6), American (4), Mountain West (2), Ohio Valley (2), Pac-12 (2) West Coast (2).
Leaders or highest RPI from projected one-bid conferences — (23 total): VCU (Atlantic 10), Vermont (America East), Liberty (Atlantic Sun), Montana (Big Sky), Gardner-Webb (Big South) UC Irvine (Big West), Northeastern (CAA), Old Dominion (Conference USA), Northern Kentucky (Horizon), Yale (Ivy), Iona (MAAC), Buffalo (MAC), Norfolk State (MEAC), Bradley (MVC), Fairleigh Dickinson (Northeast), Colgate (Patriot), Wofford (Southern), Sam Houston State (Southland), Prairie View A&M (SWAC), Wofford (Southern), North Dakota State (Summit), Georgia State (Sun Belt), New Mexico State (WAC), Saint Mary’s(WCC).
- Transition schools ineligible to participate: Cal Baptist, North Alabama.
Note: Mostly all statistical data is used from WarrenNolan.com. The NCAA’s new NET rankings are also considered; that was rolled out at the beginning of 2018-19.
About our bracketologist: Shelby Mast has been projecting the field since 2005 on his website, Bracket W.A.G. He joined USA TODAY in 2014. In his sixth season as our national bracketologist, Mast has finished as one of the top three bracketologists in the past five March Madnesses. He’s also predicted for The Indianapolis Star, collegeinsider.com and is an inaugural member of the Super 10 Selection Committee. Follow him on Twitter @BracketWag.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.