Hard to believe as it may be, January is winding down. With that means a renewed focus on the projected NCAA tournament field as time dwindles until Selection Sunday in March. This weekend marks a key opportunity for several teams: the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, which sets up marquee matchups between two of the sport’s best conferences. Plus, we’ve had plenty of movement lately, including No. 1 Houston dropping a game to Temple over the weekend. Here’s a look at where the tournament field stands as of today, as well as some notes on how key upcoming games could shape things come March.

On the Bubble

Last Four Byes:


Last Four In:

West Virginia
Ohio State
Arizona State

First Four Out:

Penn State
Oklahoma State
Texas A&M

Next Four Out:


Big Ten teams are beginning to clump together on the bubble, and they’ll all likely have similar résumés by March: lots of opportunities and a solid number of wins against the first two quadrants, but a high volume of total losses and few truly elite wins. In most cases, the magic number will be 10 conference wins: Get to .500 in league play, and you can expect to go dancing. Northwestern is off to a strong start, now 5–3 in Big Ten play after a road win at Nebraska on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Ohio State has some catching up to do after falling to 3–6 in league play after Tuesday’s loss to Illinois. Gaudy predictive metrics keep the Buckeyes in for now, but they’ll need to stop the bleeding soon.

One fascinating team rising rapidly is Texas A&M, last season’s most controversial tournament snub. The Aggies dug themselves quite a hole in nonconference play with losses to Murray State and Wofford and no needle-moving wins but are now 6–1 in SEC play after winning on the road Wednesday at Auburn. That wasn’t quite enough to put them in the field, but there’s now a real path to the Dance despite those dreadful early results.

* = indicates team is projected to win its conference’s automatic bid


No. 1 Purdue* vs. No. 16 Howard/St. Francis (PA)*
No. 8 NC State vs. No. 9 Boise State
No. 5 Rutgers vs. No. 12 Liberty*
No. 4 UConn vs. No. 13 Marshall*
No. 6 Providence vs. No. 11 Wisconsin
No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 14 Colgate*
No. 7 San Diego State* vs. No. 10 Northwestern
No. 2 UCLA* vs. No. 15 Eastern Washington*

Purdue holds the No. 1 overall seed after another 2–0 week as the Boilermakers continue to get separation from the rest of the Big Ten. Purdue has a two-game lead in the standings heading into a Thursday road test at Michigan followed by a home game against Michigan State. And the Big Ten’s makeup is perfect for the Boilers’ No. 1 seed hopes: a lot of teams good enough to pad their Quadrant 1 win tally, but not enough true top-tier teams to hand them lots of losses. They’re in great shape to hold on the top line.

UConn’s tailspin continues, as the Huskies are now 5–6 in the Big East after losing at home to Xavier. UConn still sits in the top 10 of KenPom and has some elite wins over Alabama and Iowa State on neutral floors, but Dan Hurley’s team really needs to right the ship to avoid dropping out of a protected top-four seed. 


No. 1 Alabama* vs. No. 16 Southern U/Nicholls State*
No. 8 Creighton vs. No. 9 Clemson*
No. 5 Virginia vs. No. 12 Kent State*
No. 4 TCU vs. No. 13 Oral Roberts*
No. 6 Miami vs. No. 11 Memphis
No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 14 Samford*
No. 7 Indiana vs. No. 10 Kentucky
No. 2 Texas vs. No. 15 Siena*

Texas sits on the No. 2 line in our latest update, and the Longhorns have an under-the-radar case for a No. 1 seed: six Q1 wins, no bad losses and top-10 metrics. A brutal stretch of schedule looms starting Saturday at Tennessee, but that also provides Rodney Terry’s team a chance to really build its case for the top line.

One résumé I’m tracking here is Creighton, which has really turned it on since getting Ryan Kalkbrenner back from a December illness. The Bluejays are now No. 12 in KenPom after blowing out St. John’s on Wednesday but still have eight losses after an early six-game losing streak. The quality wins are lacking at this point, but Creighton could have serious upward mobility on the seed list with a strong February in Big East play.


No. 1 Houston* vs.  No. 16 SIUE*
No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 9 New Mexico
No. 5 Illinois vs. No. 12 College of Charleston*
No. 4 Xavier* vs. No. 13 Southern Illinois*
No. 6 Duke vs. No. 11 West Virginia/Nevada
No. 3 Marquette vs.  No. 14 Seattle U*
No. 7 North Carolina vs. No. 10 Maryland
No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 15 Vermont*

Houston did the one thing it couldn’t do if it desired a low-stress push for a No. 1 seed: lose a Q3 home game. The Cougars got picked off Saturday by Temple, making the path to the top line a bit more tricky. Winning out should be more than enough to carry Houston to a No. 1 seed, but more losses (particularly of the Q3 and Q4 variety) would be extremely damaging.

New Mexico and Nevada played one of the more entertaining (and controversial) games of the season on Monday, when the Wolf Pack won in 2OT after a flagrant foul call on New Mexico’s Morris Udeze in the game’s final 20 seconds. That win propelled Nevada into the field as the Mountain West’s fourth bid, with the Pack currently pegged for a spot in the First Four. The key to the Mountain West getting four bids a season ago was the top four teams’ domination of the rest of the league, which seems less likely in a more wide-open league this year. So far, teams have done a decent job of avoiding bad losses, but that can change in a hurry. 


No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 16 UNC Asheville*
No. 8 FAU* vs. No. 9 Iowa
No. 5 Saint Mary's vs. No. 12 VCU*
No. 4 Kansas State* vs. No. 13 UC Santa Barbara*
No. 6 Auburn vs. No. 11 Ohio State/Arizona State
No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 14 Princeton*
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Missouri
No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 Milwaukee*

Baylor has risen from a No. 5 seed to a No. 3 since our last update, buoyed by a pair of Q1 wins at Oklahoma and at home against Kansas. The Big 12 provides so many résumé-building opportunities that climbing the seed list can be done in a hurry, and the Bears’ five straight conference wins did just that. Arkansas and Texas are the next two tests on Baylor’s schedule.

Saint Mary’s is the classic example of a team whose résumé doesn’t match its predictive metrics. The Gaels are all the way up at No. 6 in the NET, but own just one Q1 win and two Q3 losses. It’s hard to imagine them climbing too much higher without sweeping Gonzaga, but it’s also tricky to seed them much lower than this if they stay this high in the rankings.

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