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(Paul Sancya/AP)
(Paul Sancya/AP)

March Madness Bracketology: Conference Play is Heating Up

The race for the NCAA tournament heats up as the calendar turns to February, and that is no different this season as teams begin to battle for a conference championship, high seeding, or to be on the right side of the bubble. The field of 68 is most certainly hard to project at this juncture, with numerous teams on the bubble making their case for a tournament bid. Below is my projected field, along with some of the biggest headlines surrounding the sport.

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The race for a 1 seed is heating up

UConn and Purdue are separating themselves from the rest of the pack, leaving the likes of Houston, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arizona to fight for the final two slots on the 1 line. Right now, Houston and UNC have the edge over the two, but are both a tough loss away from potentially slipping down to the 2 line. Tennessee and Houston have the benefit of playing in strong conferences and having numerous Quad 1 opportunities, while UNC and Arizona find themselves in weak conferences with any loss being a great damage to their resume.

Mid-Major basketball has never been better

The mid-major ranks have put on a show this year, as the Mountain West is projected to get more teams into the tournament than the Pac-12 or ACC. San Diego State, New Mexico, Colorado State, and Utah State have all put together a strong season and can beat anyone (or lose to anyone) on a given night in conference play. Additionally, Dayton has gotten as close to their remarkable 2020 season as they may probably get, led by All-American candidate DaRon Holmes II. Programs like Indiana State and Grand Canyon pose a threat to higher seeds as well.

State of the Bubble

The bubble is a total mess at this juncture. You could ask a fan of the game what their thoughts on the bubble are, and it would probably be vastly different from what I have. Teams like Butler, Nebraska, and Virginia have done enough as of recently to be firmly in as of now, but a bad loss or two could change that. Memphis has completely fallen out of any consideration after being ranked in the AP top 10 less than a month ago. Gonzaga and Colorado are hanging on by a thread, with their result-based metrics being the difference between being left out as of right now. Washington State is also an interesting team, who just keeps winning, but the Pac-12’s lack of quality opponents has made it difficult to propel them into the field. Be on the lookout for those First 4 Out and Next 4 Out teams, because a big win against a top 10-15 team could propel them in.

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