Congratulations to our first official dancers: Murray State (OVC), Radford (Big South), Loyola Chicago (MVC), Lipscomb (A-Sun), and Michigan (Big Ten). March has quickly gotten mad with championship-clinching buzzer-beaters and decades-long NCAA Tournament droughts coming to an end.
Before we get into the bracket, here are some quick reminders. The bracket holds 32 automatic bids for conference champions (noted with italics), and the remaining 36 are at-large selections.
For our purposes, teams are evaluated by how they have performed to this point in the season without projecting how they will during this final week. For conference tournaments that have not yet concluded, the highest remaining seed has been entered as the champion. Automatic qualifiers are in italics.
Now, here’s the full field of 68 through results of March 4 with analysis on the bracket and the bubble below:
Last four in: Saint Bonaventure, USC, Baylor, Marquette
Whispering distance: UCLA, Louisville, Syracuse, Utah
Talking distance: Oklahoma State, Washington
Shouting distance: Notre Dame, Penn State, Nebraska, Mississippi State, LSU, Oregon
** Michigan’s run to the Big Ten title took away the conference’s last hopes for a No. 1 seed, but it could mean the conference gets three No. 3 seeds between Purdue, Michigan, and Michigan State. That’s where we’re are right now, although Michigan and Michigan State are still in danger of slipping to No. 4s depending on how teams below them do during championship week.
** Cincinnati (2 seed, West) is back in the mix for a top two seed. The Bearcats were a No. 2 seed in the 16-team reveal last month, although many disagreed with that because they had racked up several okay wins without any truly great wins. That changed Sunday when Cincinnati won at Wichita State. The Bearcats now own a marquee road win, a No. 7 RPI ranking, a winning record against Quadrant 1, and no losses outside Quadrant 1. An American Tournament title would guarantee a No. 2 seed for this squad.
** Over the weekend, Marquette (last team in) returned to the field after beating Creighton for the second time. But if the Golden Eagles lose their Big East Tournament opener to DePaul, they won’t be dancing. UCLA (first team out) is right on the doorstep after a strong road win over USC.
** The Pac-12 should be hoping for chalk at its conference tournament. USC (No. 11 seed, South) could still fall out of the field with a loss to Washington or Oregon State in the quarterfinals. Utah (fourth team in) needs at least two wins to stand a chance. UCLA will need to at least beat Cal or Stanford in the quarterfinals, and maybe even reach the championship game. The conference should root for Arizona State (No. 10 seed, Midwest) to pull any upsets, as the Sun Devils have some wiggle room but could fall out of the field with a first round loss to Arizona.
If everything goes perfectly, the Pac-12 could still get five teams into the field. In a doomsday scenario, the Pac-12 is a one-bid league.
** Two more bids will be punched Monday night. The MAAC final features No. 4 seed Iona vs. No. 6 seed Fairfield at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, followed by the SoCon final between No. 1 seed UNC Greensboro and No. 2 seed Furman.
Bids by conference:
ACC — 8
Big 12 — 8
SEC — 8
Big East — 7
Big Ten — 4
AAC — 3
Pac-12 — 3
A10 — 2
WCC — 2