Bracket Watch: UCLA and Oregon still have a shot at a No. 1 seed

The most interesting conference tournament game in the country Friday will not tip off until it’s nearly midnight on the East Coast. That’s when No. 3 UCLA (29-3) and No. 7 Arizona (28-4) meet in the second Pac-12 tournament semifinal.

A steadily growing contingent of West Coasters is becoming increasingly indignant that the Bruins aren’t yet showing up as a No. 1 seed on bracket projections like this one. I heard from a few in the wake of Kansas’ stunning loss to TCU on Thursday who feel UCLA should replace the Jayhawks.

The problem for not just UCLA but Oregon and Arizona is that this year’s Pac-12 offered few opportunities to bolster their resumes outside of playing each other. The Bruins, even after beating USC on Thursday, have six RPI Top 50 wins. By comparison, projected No. 1 seeds Villanova and North Carolina each have 10, while Kansas has eight.

Even worse, Oregon (28-4) and Arizona boast just four Top 50 wins apiece. The Wildcats aren’t even in the conversation for a top seed; in fact, they’re actually my first No. 4 seed right now, with a Jan. 21 win at Pauley representing its only Top 25 victory all year.

But if either the Ducks or Bruins win their next two, they will certainly have a case to unseat Gonzaga (6-0 vs. Top 50) as the No. 1 seed in the West. And Arizona could still wind up as high as a No. 2 seed by beating the Bruins and Ducks.

Football fans know well the hashtag #Pac12AfterDark. This week, that describes what may well be the nation’s most compelling semifinals and finals.

* — Denotes projected conference champion, automatic berth. Teams in bold have secured an automatic berth.

This edition’s bracket is East vs. West and Midwest vs. South in the national semifinals, based on the order of my No. 1 seeds.

BRACKET WATCH

EAST REGION (NEW YORK)
Seed Team Location
1 Villanova* at Buffalo
16 New Orleans*
8 Dayton*
9 Oklahoma State
4 Florida at Orlando
13 Vermont*
5 Virginia
12 UNC Wilmington
6 Minnesota at Indianapolis
11 Providence/Kansas State
3 Louisville
14 Winthrop
7 Creighton at Tulsa
10 VCU
2 Baylor
15 Iona
WEST REGION (San Jose)
Seed Team Location
1 Gonzaga at Salt Lake City
16 South Dakota State/Mount Saint Mary’s
8 Seton Hall
9 Northwestern
4 West Virginia* at Buffalo
13 East Tennessee State
5 SMU*
12 USC/Illinois State
6 Maryland at Greenville, SC
11 Middle Tennessee*
3 Duke
14 Cal State Bakersfield*
7 Miami at Sacramento
10 Wichita State
2 Oregon*
15 Jacksonville State
MIDWEST REGION (KANSAS CITY)
Seed Team Location
1 Kansas at Tulsa
16 North Dakota*/Texas Southern*
8 Marquette
9 South Carolina
4 Arizona at Salt Lake City
13 Princeton*
5 Cincinnati
12 Nevada*
6 Wisconsin at Orlando
11 Vanderbilt
3 Florida State
14 Akron*
7 Iowa State at Indianapolis
10 Michigan State
2 Kentucky*
15 UC Irvine*
SOUTH REGION (MEMPHIS)
Seed Team Location
1 North Carolina* at Greenville, SC
16 NC Central*
8 Michigan
9 Xavier
4 Purdue* at Milwaukee
13 Bucknell
5 Notre Dame
12 UT Arlington*
6 Saint Mary’s at Milwaukee
11 Wake Forest
3 Butler
14 Florida Gulf Coast
7 Virginia Tech at Sacramento
10 Arkansas
2 UCLA
15 Northern Kentucky

LAST FOUR BYES: VCU, Michigan State, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt

LAST FOUR IN: Providence, Kansas State, USC, Illinois State

FIRST FOUR OUT: Rhode Island, Syracuse, Iowa, Indiana

NEXT FOUR OUT: Illinois, Cal, TCU, Ole Miss

MULTIPLE BID CONFERENCES: ACC (9), Big Ten (7), Big East (7), Big 12 (6), SEC (5), Pac-12 (4), A-10 (2), American (2), MVC (2), WCC (2)