While it may not get that much attention, another non-league game scheduled for this week on the fly could have a significant impact on the bracket. Western Kentucky (15-4) heads to Houston on Thursday, and the Hilltoppers already have a triumph in Alabama. If you get a high profile win against a planned number 3, their overall profile as a setback would improve significantly in case they fail to win the Conference USA tournament.

The concept of non-conference pairings set late in the season is not new. Less than a decade has passed since the end of the Bracket Busters, a TV event that helped multiple teams improve their overall resumes. Among them: George Mason, who won in Wichita State in 2006 and later grabbed one of the last big berths in the field. The VCU did the same in 2011 after winning in Wichita state. Both the Patriots and the Aries would advance to the last four.

Before bloated leagues and TV demands, it wasn’t uncommon to see crossbreed games less than a month before selection Sunday. In 2001, Maryland met Oklahoma on the last Saturday in February. A year later, Cincinnati and Wake Forest played in early February. Now, with 20 fixtures and conference television networks, pairings this deep in the season are rare.

Placing search ads on social media should be a pure pandemic development. Still, at least a handful of late-season non-conference games have some value.

Marquette-North Carolina, and particularly Western Kentucky-Houston, have the potential to affect bracket design in mid-March. Unlike most games in November and December, they are played when casual fans at least start paying attention to the sport. No one should want a replay of how much of this season has evolved, but the return of the random February non-conference game is actually worth carrying over into the next year.

Field notes

The last four were: Indiana, Seton Hall, Stanford, Colorado

The first four outside: Drake, Minnesota, Richmond, Connecticut

The next four outside: Duke, State of Utah, Western Kentucky, Syracuse

Conference call: Big Ten (9), Big 12 (7), Atlantic Coast (6), Southeast (6), Pac-12 (5), Big East (4), Atlantic 10 (3), Mountain West (3), American Athletic (2), West Coast (2)

Moving in: Furman, Maryland, St. Bonaventure, State of Wichita

Excerpt: Connecticut, Minnesota, UNC Greensboro, State of Utah

Bracket projection

West against East, South against Midwest

(1) WEST COAST / Gonzaga vs. (16) NORTHEAST / Bryant-SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC / Prairie View A & M.

(8) LSU versus (9) MISSOURI VALLEY / Loyola Chicago

(5) Virginia Tech v (12) Colorado State / Stanford

(4) Creighton versus (13) MID-AMERICAN / Toledo

(3) West Virginia versus (14) ATLANTIC SUN / Liberty

(6) Wisconsin versus (11) AMERICAN ATHLETIC / Wichita State

(7) Colorado versus (10) Louisville

(2) Iowa versus (15) EAST AMERICA / Vermont

It’s easy to figure out why Loyola Chicago’s metrics are so cheap, despite only having a Quadrant 1 win. Of the 19 hikers’ victories, 16 are in double digits. … Colorado State hasn’t played since February 6, and stepping water isn’t ideal. But the Rams haven’t lost much – two home games against struggling New Mexico, one against northern Colorado, and a two-game game against a Nevada team that has given others headaches in the mountains west. …

Wichita State has won five straight wins, including a surprise against Houston, and now leads the American with one game in the losing column. … Louisville is in a difficult position and didn’t take Quadrant 1 wins at the end of February. The Cardinals were wiped out by North Carolina (99-54) after a long hiatus and do not have an easy end. … Iowa’s moment of truth for his top row hopes is actually a two-parter within the next week: trips to Michigan (Thursday) and Ohio State (Sunday) are exactly what the Hawkeyes are looking for should crave this phase.

(1) Ohio State vs. (16) WESTERN ATHLETIC / Grand Canyon

(8) Oregon versus (9) MOUNTAIN WEST / San Diego State

(5) Arkansas versus (12) HORIZON / Wright State

(4) Kansas versus (13) SOUTHERN / Furman

(3) Houston vs. (14) USA / North Texas CONFERENCE

(6) Texas Tech versus (11) Saint Louis

(7) Clemson versus (10) Rutgers

(2) SOUTHEASTERN / Alabama vs. (15) SUMMIT / South Dakota State

Whatever doubts there are about San Diego state’s postseason prospects can be answered with this week’s two-game set with Boise State. Separation will make it difficult to remove them from the great field. … Arkansas keeps collecting victories. The Razorbacks (17-5) are 4-4 in Quadrant 1 games and 4-4. … Kansas has beaten everyone in the Big 12 at least once, except Baylor and Texas. This week the Jayhawks close their conference schedule. …

Whatever the faint hope that Houston would land a # 1 seed likely broke up when it lost to the state of Wichita. Even so, there will be a # 2 or # 3 seed if it wins. … It’s a huge seven day stretch for Saint Louis, which remains one of the most difficult teams to judge. The Billikens (11-4) will attend the VCU on Tuesday, receive Richmond on Friday and close the regular season against Massachusetts on Monday.

(1) BIG 12 / Baylor vs. (16) MID-EASTERN / North Carolina A & T-METRO ATLANTIC / Siena

(8) Brigham Young versus (9) Xavier

(5) PAC-12 / Southern California versus (12) Indiana / Seton Hall

(4) Tennessee vs. (13) BIG SOUTH / Winthrop

(3) ATLANTIC COAST / Florida State versus (14) SOUTHLAND / Abilene Christian

(6) Missouri versus (11) Maryland

(7) Oklahoma State vs. (10) St. Bonaventure

(2) Illinois versus (15) BIG SKY / Eastern Washington

Baylor finally gets back to work; Tuesday’s meeting with Iowa State is the first game in three weeks. … Winthrop is the top seed in the Big South tournament after finishing the regular season 20-1. The Eagles do not have to leave campus at all during the league tournament. …

Maryland’s winning streak in four games over eight days – crowned by a win at Rutgers – brings the Terrapins into the field. Their profile is almost identical to that of the Scarlet Knights. … The closer you look at St. Bonaventure’s profile, the better it looks. The Bonnies have no inexplicable losses, are over .500 away from Olean, and are over .500 (4-3) in games against the top two quadrants.

(1) BIG TEN / Michigan versus (16) SUN BELT / Texas State

(5) Texas versus (12) OHIO VALLEY / Belmont

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

(3) Oklahoma versus (14) PATRIOT / Colgate

(6) Purdue vs. (11) ATLANTIC 10 / Virginia Commonwealth

(7) Boise State versus (10) North Carolina

(2) BIG EAST / Villanova versus (15) COLONIAL / James Madison

Michigan hasn’t won a # 1 seed, but its work since returning from a covid hiatus – wins in Wisconsin and Ohio that result from a loss to Rutgers – certainly offers some isolation. The Wolverines are bringing Iowa home Thursday. … It will be fascinating how the committee handles Belmont, the owner of a 21-game winning streak and a 24-1 record. This is true regardless of whether the Bruins win the Ohio Valley or not. …

Another fascinating seeding discussion could be about Colgate, who stands 11-1 and is 13th in the NET but has only played against three other Patriot League teams (Army, Boston University and Holy Cross). Also worth highlighting is Navy (13-2), who occupied 82nd place in the NET, but played a shortened non-conference schedule. The midshipmen could be a huge barrier to conference tournaments for the Raiders. … Boise State did itself a world of good last week when it swept the state of Utah home. This week’s Broncos series in the state of San Diego will likely decide the mountain west.