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NCAA tournament bracket projection: Who could seal a bid and who could steal one - The Washington Post

Ohio State and Andre Wesson, shown at left last month against Thomas Kithier, will get another shot at Michigan State. (Al Goldis/Associated Press)

By Patrick Stevens

March 15 at 10:53 AM

We’re just two days from Selection Sunday. The 68-team field for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament be unveiled on CBS starting at 6 p.m. Eastern time March 17. Read on for the key games to watch Friday as well as our latest projected March Madness bracket.

VCU vs. Rhode Island (Atlantic 10 quarterfinal, noon, NBC Sports Network): It’s Rams vs. Rams to open up an A-10 quadruple-header in Brooklyn. VCU (25-6) has won 12 in a row and pummeled Rhode Island by 34 last month in Richmond.

Bracket impact: VCU will be in the field, one way or another. No one else in the A-10 is getting an at-large. Thus, the power-conference mediocrities on the bubble will be rooting hard for the (VCU) Rams over the next three days.

Michigan State vs. Ohio State (Big Ten quarterfinal, 12:30, BTN): Ohio State helped itself nicely with a victory over Indiana on Thursday. If there’s any doubt left about the Buckeyes, it would be erased by an upset of the top seed in the Big Ten tournament.

Bracket impact: Michigan State is still in the hunt for a No. 1 seed, though it probably needs some help to get to the top line. Ohio State (19-13) has a better case for an at-large now than when it arrived in Chicago and could sleep easy with another victory.

Buffalo vs. Central Michigan (Mid-American semifinal, 6:30, CBS Sports Network): Buffalo crushed Akron in the quarterfinals and will look to move a step closer to an automatic bid against a Chippewas team it beat by 14 at home on Feb. 9.

Bracket impact: As with VCU, teams at the edge of the field are rooting for the top-seeded Bulls (29-3), who would gobble up an at-large berth if they lose. A Buffalo win maintains the status quo.

Villanova vs. Xavier (Big East semifinal, 6:30, Fox Sports 1): Villanova has made it to the final of the Big East tournament the last four years. A fifth trip in a row to Saturday night at the Garden should finish Xavier’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Bracket impact: Villanova will have a chance to bolster its seeding a bit, but the real impact here centers on whether Xavier (18-14) lingers for another day as a possible bid snatcher.

Kentucky vs. Alabama (SEC quarterfinal, 7, SEC Network): Kentucky finally gets underway in its conference tournament and faces an Alabama bunch that snapped a three-game slide with a defeat of Mississippi on Thursday. The Crimson Tide (18-14) beat Kentucky on Jan. 5 for its most noteworthy victory.

Bracket impact: Kentucky is in the hunt for a No. 1 seed, while Alabama is trying make a push for an at-large. Beating the Wildcats a second time would surely get the committee’s attention.

Washington vs. Colorado (Pac-12 semifinal, 9, Pac-12 Network) and Nevada vs. San Diego State (Mountain West semifinal, 9, CBS Sports Network): Might as well pair these together. Top seeds of western conferences tip off at about the same time with plenty of borderline tournament teams around the country rooting hard for them.

Bracket impact: Minimal if both Washington (25-7) and Nevada (29-3) win. If either loses, it guarantees their respective leagues will produce multiple tournament bids and will create a chance for three bids from either or both.

Temple vs. Wichita State (American quarterfinal, 9:30, ESPNU): With three AAC teams safely in the field, Temple is the one other program in the league with at-large hopes. The Owls (23-8), though, can’t trip up against the resurgent Shockers (18-13), who have won 10 of 12.

Bracket impact: The Owls are a threat to bump someone out of the field with a couple victories, but this game won’t help them a ton even if they win.

Arizona State vs. Oregon (Pac-12 semifinal, 11:30, ESPN): Arizona State (22-9) has won five of six and could well lock up a spot on the right side of things with one more victory. Two more, though, definitely does the trick.

Bracket impact: Nobody in the Pac-12 seemed to want to make life easy this season, but the Sun Devils have a chance to do just that by winning their semifinal. If it’s combined with a Washington win earlier in the night, it clears out any bid snatchers in the Pac-12.

Utah State vs. Fresno State (Mountain West semifinal, 11:30, CBS Sports Network): Second-seeded Utah State (26-6) had little margin for error for the last two months. The Aggies have won 15 of their last 16, but can’t yet feel safe.

Bracket impact: It would be tough to bump Utah State from the field if it lost a Mountain West final to Nevada. Friday would be a big step for the Aggies.

[Forget the shoes: Zion Williamson is amazing in near-perfect return]

Field notes

Last four included: Indiana, Arizona State, TCU, Clemson

First four on the outside: Temple, Texas, Alabama, Creighton

Next four on the outside: Belmont, Oregon, Xavier, Nebraska

Moving in: Arizona State, Clemson

Moving out: Creighton, Texas

Conference call: ACC (9), Big Ten (9), Big 12 (7), SEC (7), Big East (4), American Athletic (3), Mountain West (2), Pac-12 (2), West Coast (2)

Bracket projection

East Region vs. West, South vs. Midwest

East Region

Columbus, Ohio

(1) ACC/Virginia vs. winner of (16) METRO ATLANTIC/Iona vs. NORTHEAST/Fairleigh Dickinson

(8) PAC-12/Washington vs. (9) Florida

San Jose

(5) MOUNTAIN WEST/Nevada vs. (12) Clemson-Indiana winner

(4) BIG 12/Kansas State vs. (13) BIG WEST/UC Irvine

Hartford, Conn.

(3) Purdue vs. (14) CONFERENCE USA/Old Dominion

(6) Marquette vs. (11) WEST COAST/Saint Mary’s

Jacksonville, Fla.

(7) Louisville vs. (10) Minnesota

(2) Tennessee vs. (15) SOUTHLAND/Sam Houston State

With respect to Duke at full strength, Virginia’s overall profile is enough to justify the No. 1 overall seed if it advances to the ACC title game -- and perhaps even if it doesn’t. … Kansas State remains a possibility to climb to the No. 3 line, but that’s probably going to require a Big 12 tournament title. …

Marquette recovered nicely from its four-game skid to close out the regular season by blasting St. John’s in the Big East quarterfinals. … There shouldn’t have been any doubt about whether Minnesota would be in the field. But if there was, it’s gone after the Golden Gophers dispatched Penn State in overtime.

West Region

Salt Lake City

(1) Gonzaga vs. winner of (16) MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC/Norfolk State vs. SUMMIT/North Dakota State

(8) ATLANTIC 10/VCU vs. (9) Central Florida

San Jose

(5) Virginia Tech vs. (12) Utah State

(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) COLONIAL/Northeastern


(3) Texas Tech vs. (14) IVY/Yale

(6) Auburn vs. (11) Ohio State

Columbia, S.C.

(7) Maryland vs. (10) Oklahoma

(2) Duke vs. (15) PATRIOT/Colgate

Virginia Tech as a No. 5 seed looks exactly right. The Hokies don’t have the profile of the top 16 teams in this projection, but it’s clear few other teams come close to matching their body of work. … Utah State is out of Dayton territory, but the Aggies aren’t guaranteed of remaining in such a favorable position through the weekend. …

Duke’s third matchup with North Carolina may or may not be a No. 1 seed eliminator. One thing the Blue Devils did eliminate Thursday was any questions about freshman forward Zion Williamson’s availability for the NCAA tournament. A 29-point showing while shooting 13 of 13 for the field against Syracuse will do that. … Texas Tech probably isn’t going to land on the No. 2 line after losing in the Big 12 quarterfinals to West Virginia.

South Region

Columbus, Ohio

(1) Kentucky vs. (16) SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC/Prairie View A&M

(8) Seton Hall vs. (9) Baylor

Hartford, Conn.

(5) MID-AMERICAN/Buffalo vs. (12) Arizona State-TCU winner

(4) Florida State vs. (13) AMERICA EAST/Vermont


(3) AMERICAN ATHLETIC/Houston vs. (14) HORIZON/Northern Kentucky

(6) Iowa State vs. (11) St. John’s

Des Moines

(7) Mississippi vs. (10) Syracuse

(2) Michigan vs. (15) BIG SKY/Montana

Florida State did its part to ensure it didn’t get bumped beyond the No. 4 line, edging Virginia Tech in overtime of the ACC quarterfinals. A victory over Virginia in the ACC semifinals could prod the Seminoles up a line. … Super-streaky Seton Hall has followed a three-game skid with a three-game winning streak, the latest a drubbing of Georgetown. Good news for the Pirates: They can’t lose three in a row again this season. …

All things considered, Syracuse actually had a decent showing in the ACC tournament without Tyus Battle, playing well in the second half of a defeat of Pittsburgh and then hanging around with Duke well into the second half. The Orange might have a surprise multi-weekend run in them again. … Mississippi is vulnerable to getting dropped into an 8-9 game after its SEC tournament loss to Alabama.

Midwest Region

Columbia, S.C.

(1) North Carolina vs. (16) BIG SOUTH/Gardner-Webb

(8) Iowa vs. (9) SOUTHERN/Wofford

Salt Lake City

(5) Mississippi State vs. (12) ATLANTIC SUN/Liberty

(4) Kansas vs. (13) WESTERN ATHLETIC/New Mexico State

Jacksonville, Fla.

(3) SEC/LSU vs. (14) SUN BELT/Georgia State

(6) BIG EAST/Villanova vs. (11) OHIO VALLEY/Murray State

Des Moines

(7) Cincinnati vs. (10) N.C. State

(2) BIG TEN/Michigan State vs. (15) MISSOURI VALLEY/Bradley

North Carolina looks like a team with few obvious vulnerabilities. That’s not to say the Tar Heels cannot be defeated, but they’re a consistently smooth and explosive team. Roy Williams’ team is in a good place, regardless of how the next game or two in Charlotte go. … Iowa halted its freefall with a drubbing of Illinois in its Big Ten tournament opener. …

Beating Providence doesn’t mean as much as it has in recent years, but Villanova moved up a line nonetheless. … Georgia State is the top seed in the Sun Belt, one of a handful of leagues that forces its regular-season champ to play only two games to earn an automatic bid. The Panthers don’t open conference tournament play until Saturday.

Read more:

Conference tournament scores and schedules: ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC

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