Bracketology: UCLA keeps winning, but the Bruins still have work to do to make the bracket

The latest Bracketology NCAA Tournament bracket projection is out, and as is typical this time of year, the action is more at the bottom than at the top.

For the first time in quite a while this season, Rutgers has fallen out of the bracket. The Scarlet Knights nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback at Penn State on Wednesday, but fell short and dropped to 1-10 away from home this season.

For new readers, many of whom may be Rutgers fans since the Scarlet Knights are trying to get into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991, the last team to get an at-large bid with fewer than three wins away from home – road or neutral – was Illinois in 1994, which had two. Rutgers should not expect to buck that trend. That is the best indicator of a minimum standard for tournament selection.

It’s not over yet for Rutgers, of course. They still have a shot at Purdue to end the regular season and conference tournament wins would count also. I have seen a few Scarlet Knight fans suggest all they need to do is beat Maryland and nothing else would matter. In fact, beating Maryland doesn’t matter because it does not solve their problem.

The tournament is not played on home floors. Everybody knows Rutgers can win at the RAC. The Scarlet Knights are one of the best home teams in the country this season. If they can’t prove they can win away from home though, they will likely get more home games in the NIT and are currently the third team team out of the projected bracket behind Mississippi State and Cincinnati.

Top seeds in Palm’s Bracketology

Here are a few other takeaways from the updated bracket projection:

NC State sent packing: Another team that fell out this week is NC State, which lost at North Carolina. That has not been an easy feat this season. The only other team to lose at UNC since Thanksgiving is Miami. That is the Wolfpack’s eighth loss out of 11 that has come to a team that is not going to the NCAA Tournament. That is too many for home wins over Duke and Wisconsin and a road victory at Virginia to make up for right now.

Bruins not in bracket: UCLA is still missing from the bracket despite now leading the Pac-12, along with Oregon. You might wonder how it is possible that a team leading a major conference is not in the bracket. Well, as I have said repeatedly, conference record and standings are not criteria. The Bruins, currently the fourth team out of the bracket, are still trying to make up for a poor performance against a poor non-conference schedule.

Having the conference champion not make the tournament is not unfamiliar to the Pac-12. Washington was the league regular season champ in 2012 and missed the field.

Big Ten is big headache for seeding: Bracketing the muddle in the middle of the Big Ten is not easy. There are five league teams seeded in as a No. 2, 7 or 10. Those are all in the same pod, which means bracketing two of them together. I have Wisconsin in Maryland’s pod, which is allowed under the bracketing rules because they only face each other once in the regular season. Michigan could have gone in that spot as well.

Rhode game in First Four: Our smallest state has filled the gap in the bracket. Rhode Island and Providence moved up and are bracketed to play each other in the First Four. As they do every year, those two played each other in the regular season, with the Rams winning at home 75-61. However, there are no rules regarding rematches within the First Four, so this matchup is allowed.

Beginning Monday, the projected bracket will be updated daily if there is a change. A dozen conferences will have finished their regular seasons by then and two more will finish on Tuesday.

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