Bracket Watch: It’s getting awfully crowded on the bubble

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

At long last, several bubble teams racked up much-needed big wins this week. Syracuse (which knocked off Duke) and Providence (which won at Creighton) both moved into my bracket. Miami (which rallied to beat Virginia) and Seton Hall (which beat Xavier) both made themselves more comfortable.

Nevertheless, pickings are so slim that nearly any power-conference team currently sitting above .500 still has a puncher’s chance at an at-large berth. As evidence, 15-13 Vanderbilt, 15-13 Tennessee, 14-13 Clemson, 15-13 Pittsburgh and 16-13 Ohio State all sit among my first eight teams out. Seriously.

Many fans will say they’d rather see a mid-major with a better record get an opportunity before those mediocre big boys. The problem is, very few fit the bill.

Wichita State (26-4), despite holding just one RPI Top 50 win, would be one exception given it’s ranked in the Top 15 of advanced metrics like KenPom. But Missouri Valley co-leader Illinois State (24-5) doesn’t have as convincing an argument due to two sub-100 losses and a KenPom ranking in the 50s.

All of this will change, of course, once conference tournaments begin and a few upset champs steal bids. Sitting in the “last four in” today is hardly a place of comfort. But the good news for those teams on the fence is that even one big victory down the stretch may be enough to push them over the top.

A reminder: Selection Sunday is March 12, and the tourney begins March 14. The Final Four is April 1-3 in Phoenix.

* — Denotes projected conference champion, automatic berth

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

BRACKET WATCH

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

LAST FOUR BYES: Arkansas, Michigan State, Seton Hall, Syracuse

LAST FOUR IN: Providence, Kansas State, Wake Forest, TCU

FIRST FOUR OUT: Cal, Illinois State, Vanderbilt, Tennessee

NEXT FOUR OUT: Clemson, Illinois, Pittsburgh, Ohio State

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