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NCAA tournament bracketology: Duke is in unfamiliar territory and needs a win to stay alive

Duke's Patrick Tape (12) is trapped by North Carolina's Armando Bacot (5) and Leaky Black (1) during Saturday's game in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer/AP)
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Two of college basketball’s best March tropes were on display in Monday night title games.

Top-seeded UNC Greensboro, which has won 20 games in five consecutive seasons and is led by tested all-around senior guard Isaiah Miller, outlasted Mercer, 69-61, in the Southern Conference title game. The Spartans (21-8) head back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2018 and the fourth time ever.

Then there was Appalachian State, which hadn’t won four in a row all season, hadn’t taken four consecutive games against conference foes since January 2015 and hadn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2000. Naturally, the Mountaineers (17-11) capped a four-day run in the Sun Belt tournament with an 80-73 defeat of Georgia State.

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UNC Greensboro and Appalachian State will be their league’s lone NCAA representatives. The same will be true of four of the five conference champions crowned Tuesday night. Here’s a look at Tuesday’s games that will influence the bracket:

ACC first round: Duke vs. Boston College (4:30 p.m., ACC Network): The middle game of the hallowed #TuesdayInGreensboro tripleheader features Duke’s first appearance on the opening day of the ACC tournament since 2007. The 10th-seeded Blue Devils (11-11) are the only ACC team playing Tuesday that isn’t below .500.

Bracket impact: Duke’s flickering postseason hopes — stymied by consecutive losses to Louisville, Georgia Tech and North Carolina to close the regular season — aren’t going to be bolstered with a victory over Boston College. But a loss finishes off the Blue Devils for this season.

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Colonial final: Drexel vs. Elon (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network): Sixth-seeded Drexel (11-7) last reached the NCAA tournament in 1996, when it pulled a 12/5 upset of Memphis at the peak of the Malik Rose era. Eighth-seeded Elon, which has won seven in a row since a 3-8 start, has never made the tournament since becoming a full Division I member in 1999. Whoever emerges will be one of this March’s truly fun stories.

Bracket impact: Of course, whoever emerges will also be only the second team seeded fifth or worse to win the event since its inception in 1983, joining seventh-seeded East Carolina’s 1993 run. Unsurprisingly, the winner is probably going to be stuck on the No. 16 line, though Drexel has some hope of earning a No. 15 seed.

Horizon final: Cleveland State vs. Oakland (7 p.m., ESPN): Top-seeded Cleveland State (18-7) rallied from an 11-point hole in the last 10 minutes of Monday’s semifinals in Indianapolis to dispatch Milwaukee, 71-65. The Vikings earned a shot at their first NCAA berth since 2009; to secure it, they’ll need to take down Oakland (12-17), which started the season with nine losses in a row but is on the verge of ending a decade-long NCAA drought of its own. Cleveland State swept two games at Oakland last month.

Bracket impact: Only one bid here, though Cleveland State could end up on the No. 14 line with a regular season/tournament double. No such luck for the Golden Grizzlies, whose sub-.500 record would make them a clear choice for a play-in game.

Northeast final: Mount St. Mary’s at Bryant (7 p.m., ESPN2): Bryant and Mount St. Mary’s were supposed to play a rescheduled regular season series last week. That got canceled, but they’ll play for something even better: an automatic NCAA tournament berth. Bryant (15-5) has won five in a row, beat Massachusetts earlier this season and is the top remaining seed as it seeks its first NCAA berth at the Division I level. The Mount (11-10) has made five previous trips, most recently in 2017.

Bracket impact: Welcome to the No. 16 line. The NEC champion was shipped to the play-in round every year from 2014 to 2019, and it could happen again.

Summit final: North Dakota State vs. Oral Roberts (9 p.m., ESPN2): Oral Roberts bounced top-seeded South Dakota State, 90-88, on Kevin Obanor’s buzzer-beater Monday, moving the Eagles (15-10) within a win of their first NCAA berth since 2008. Awaiting in the final is third-seeded North Dakota State (15-11), seeking its third consecutive Summit title and fifth in eight years. The teams split a two-game set early last month.

Bracket impact: The winner is probably ticketed for the No. 16 line, though if there are enough upsets in other conference tournaments, maybe the Summit champ sneaks onto the No. 15 line.

West Coast final: Gonzaga vs. BYU (9 p.m., ESPN): Gonzaga (25-0) clubbed Saint Mary’s, 78-55, while BYU (20-5) needed overtime to finally finish off Pepperdine, 82-77, in Monday’s semifinals. The WCC’s top teams met twice in the regular season, with the Bulldogs winning both by an average of 14 points. Gonzaga is aiming for its 18th WCC tournament title in 23 years.

Bracket impact: Gonzaga cares who wins this. BYU cares who wins this. Some gamblers care who wins this. Those wanting to see an undefeated college basketball champion care who wins this. But for borderline tournament teams, there is no reason to care who claims the WCC crown since both the Zags and Cougars are safely in the tournament. There’s no need to worry about bid snatchers in this league anymore.

Field notes

Last four included: Saint Louis, Drake, Mississippi, Xavier

First four on the outside: Boise State, Colorado State, Syracuse, Utah State

Next four on the outside: Seton Hall, St. John’s, Duke, Stanford

Conference call: Big Ten (9), Atlantic Coast (7), Big 12 (7), Southeastern (7), Big East (4), Pac-12 (4), Atlantic 10 (3), American Athletic (2), Missouri Valley (2), West Coast (2)

Moving in: Colgate, Georgia State, Hartford, Michigan State, Mississippi, Morehead State, Northeastern, Nicholls State

Moving out: Abilene Christian, Belmont, Boise State, Colorado State, James Madison, Navy, Texas State, UMBC

Bracket projection

West vs. East, South vs. Midwest

West Region

(1) WEST COAST/Gonzaga vs. (16) SOUTHLAND/Nicholls State-SOUTHWESTERN/Prairie View

(8) Wisconsin vs. (9) LSU

(5) ATLANTIC COAST/Virginia vs. (12) Mississippi/Saint Louis

(4) Creighton vs. (13) BIG WEST/UC Santa Barbara

(3) Kansas vs. (14) PATRIOT/Colgate

(6) Tennessee vs. (11) UCLA

(7) MOUNTAIN WEST/San Diego State vs. (10) North Carolina

(2) Ohio State vs. (15) COLONIAL/Drexel

Time to ask an updated version of the question again: With five losses in its past six games, what is Wisconsin’s floor? Probably a No. 10 seed. The Badgers aren’t falling out of the field, but they’ve beaten only two likely tournament teams (Maryland and Rutgers) since dispatching Michigan State on Christmas. … Virginia and Florida State are on the No. 5 line in this projection, but it’s safe to assume either would get back to the No. 4 line if it wins the ACC tournament. …

UCLA is 2-6 in Quadrant 1 games and a combined 5-8 in the top two quadrants. An early exit from the Pac-12 tournament could relegate the Bruins to play-in territory. … North Carolina isn’t nearly as accomplished as it usually is, but it shouldn’t have to sweat Selection Sunday after beating Duke on Saturday.

2021 ACC tournament bracket and schedule: What to know heading into Greensboro

East Region

(1) Illinois vs. (16) AMERICA EAST/Hartford

(8) MISSOURI VALLEY/Loyola Chicago vs. (9) Louisville

(5) Colorado vs. (12) BIG SOUTH/Winthrop

(4) BIG EAST/Villanova vs. (13) SOUTHERN/UNC Greensboro

(3) Oklahoma State vs. (14) HORIZON/Cleveland State

(6) PAC-12/Oregon vs. (11) Maryland

(7) Clemson vs. (10) Virginia Commonwealth

(2) SOUTHEASTERN/Alabama vs. (15) WESTERN ATHLETIC/Grand Canyon

Not only has Hartford never reached the NCAA tournament, it hasn’t played in a conference title game since 2008. The Hawks were supposed to last year, but the season was halted two days before the America East final. … Loyola Chicago has advanced to at least the Sweet 16 in its past two NCAA appearances — 1985 and 2018. With the way the Ramblers sliced through the Missouri Valley tournament, don’t count out another run this year. … No team eligible for the postseason has been left out of the NCAA tournament with two or fewer losses. Winthrop (23-1) avoided that fate by winning the Big South tournament. …

Maryland had better hope the committee still loves road victories (Illinois, Rutgers, Wisconsin), especially after its nosedive over the past week. The Terrapins could be staring at play-in territory — and maybe worse — if they lose their Big Ten tournament opener. … VCU is 9-4 against the top two quadrants. That’s exceptional compared to the edge of the field. The Rams should be fine regardless of the result of the Atlantic 10 final.

Maryland collapses in second half, ends regular season with a deflating loss to Penn State

South Region

(1) BIG 12/Baylor vs. (16) SUN BELT/Appalachian State-MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC/North Carolina A&T

(8) Florida vs. (9) ATLANTIC 10/St. Bonaventure

(5) Florida State vs. (12) Drake/Xavier

(4) Purdue vs. (13) CONFERENCE USA/Western Kentucky

(3) Arkansas vs. (14) OHIO VALLEY/Morehead State

(6) Texas Tech vs. (11) AMERICAN ATHLETIC/Wichita State

(7) Oklahoma vs. (10) Georgia Tech

(2) Iowa vs. (15) SUMMIT/North Dakota State

Drake is in for an anxious week, but its profile is pretty similar to Belmont’s two years ago, and the committee sent the Bruins to Dayton. At the moment, this looks like a weaker edge of the field, which would seem to favor the Missouri Valley runners-up. …

Morehead State has won its NCAA tournament opener in three consecutive appearances — play-in games in 1984 and 2009, and a Kenneth Faried-fueled upset of Louisville in 2011. The Ohio Valley champions will get a chance to extend that streak next week. … Georgia Tech looks to be safely in its first NCAA tournament since 2010. The Yellow Jackets have won six in a row entering the ACC tournament.

Midwest Region

(1) BIG TEN/Michigan vs. (16) NORTHEAST/Bryant

(8) Virginia Tech vs. (9) Connecticut

(5) Southern California vs. (12) MID-AMERICAN/Toledo

(4) Texas vs. (13) ATLANTIC SUN/Liberty

(3) West Virginia vs. (14) BIG SKY/Southern Utah

(6) Brigham Young vs. (11) Michigan State

(7) Missouri vs. (10) Rutgers

(2) Houston vs. (15) METRO ATLANTIC/Siena

Connecticut has gone from getting graded on a curve because star guard James Bouknight lost a month to injury to a team that has won six of seven and might be as good a bet as any to win the Big East tournament. … Liberty is making its fifth NCAA tournament appearance, and the defense-minded Flames have a recent history of being spunky. They beat Mississippi State in the first round in 2019 and knocked them off again earlier this season (along with South Carolina). Alas, Ben Howland’s team isn’t making the field of 68 without a miracle run in the SEC tournament. …

2021 Big Ten Tournament bracket and schedule: What to know heading to Indianapolis

Michigan State picked off Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan in its past six games. The Spartans might just be safely in even with a Big Ten tournament loss to Maryland. … Hard as it is to believe, only three teams have more Quadrant 1 victories than Missouri’s seven: Illinois (nine), Baylor (eight) and Oklahoma State (eight).