Florida, Wichita State and Arizona appear to be locked into three of the top four seeds for the NCAA tournament. The identity of the fourth No. 1 remains unclear, and the picture only became murkier after a Saturday in which five of the top 10 teams in last week's AP poll lost, the first time that had happened in 11 years.
With one week remaining in the regular season there are at least five teams with a chance at that final No. 1 spot, and it probably won't be determined until we see what the candidates do in their respective conference tournaments. For now, all we can do is handicap the field, presented here in alphabetical order:
The winner of the ACC tournament could very well end up getting the final No. 1 seed. Duke is currently tied with North Carolina for third place in the conference with a head-to-head matchup looming in Saturday's regular season finale. Regardless of the outcome of that game, Duke will likely have to beat two of Syracuse, Virginia and North Carolina to win the conference tournament. The Blue Devils would definitely have a great argument for the 1-seed if they pulled that off.
Kansas: 22-7, 12-7 vs. top 50, RPI: 1, SOS: 1, KenPom: 8
The Jayhawks were one of the five top-10 teams to lose on Saturday, falling at Oklahoma State. Their case for a top seed is built on their strength of schedule, which has seen them play 19 games against top-50 opponents and go 7-4 against RPI top 25 teams. If they win the Big 12 tournament, they'd likely pick up at least two more wins against top-25 clubs.
Syracuse: 26-3, 7-2 vs. top 50, RPI: 9, SOS: 59, KenPom: 11
Just two weeks ago, the Orange were the projected top overall seed in the tournament but three losses in their last four games, most recently at Virginia on Saturday, have called into question their worthiness for any No. 1 seed. Their next three games are home to Georgia Tech, at Florida State and the ACC Tournament quarterfinal on Friday, March 14. A loss in any of those would likely keep them from the 1-line. Their next chance to make a statement will come -- if they get there -- in the semifinals in Greensboro, likely against either Duke or North Carolina.
Virginia: 25-5, 4-4 vs. top 50, RPI: 13, SOS: 44, KenPom: 2
Any team that wins the ACC regular season championship outright, as the Cavaliers did, will have a chance to be a top seed in the tournament. Virginia, however, has the fewest top-50 wins of any team in contention, is only .500 against that group and had some bad losses early in the season to Tennessee (by 35 points) and Green Bay, meaning it still needs to get some big wins in the conference tournament. The Cavs also benefited from an unbalanced conference schedule that had them match up with Syracuse, Duke, North Carolina and Pittsburgh -- the four teams right behind them in the standings -- once each. They went 3-1 in those games, but they still need more wins against top competition to convince the committee they deserve to be on the top line.
Wisconsin: 24-5, 8-3 vs. top 50, RPI: 5, SOS: 2, KenPom: 10
The Badgers may seem an unlikely No. 1 seed, but their resume does not lie. They own road wins at Virginia, Michigan and Iowa, home wins against Florida, Michigan State and Iowa, and a neutral-court win over Saint Louis. They stumbled against Indiana and Northwestern, but haven't lost another game to a team outside the top 45 in RPI. Winning the Big Ten tournament would give them a strong case to be on the top line.
Verdict: Three teams in tournament history have earned a No. 1 seed despite having seven losses. Kansas is in line to become the fourth, joining Michigan State in 2000 and 2012, and Illinois in 2001. Despite their losses, the Jayhawks have the No. 1 RPI, they've played the hardest schedule in the country, and their 12 top-50 wins are more than any other team. If they end up winning out and claiming the Big 12 tournament championship, they'll almost certainly find themselves on the 1-line come Selection Sunday.
1. Florida (27-2, Last week: South 1): The Gators clinched the outright regular season SEC championship last week, thanks to two losses by Kentucky. They've now won 21 straight and will almost certainly be a 1-seed regardless of what happens the rest of the season.
2. Duke (23-6, LW: S2): The Blue Devils can keep their hopes for a No. 1 seed alive and get revenge on North Carolina at the same time with a win in Saturday's regular season finale.
3. Creighton (23-5, LW: S3): The Bluejays lost to unranked Xavier in their only game last week. But given all the damage inflicted on top teams last week, their 5-3 record against the RPI top 50 keeps them in this spot.
4. Cincinnati (24-5, LW: East 3): The Bearcats are reeling a bit, having lost consecutive games to Louisville and Connecticut. They've now dropped their last three games to teams that will be in the tournament, going back to a Feb. 8 defeat at SMU.
1. Wichita State (31-0, LW: Midwest 1): The Shockers finished off their undefeated regular season last weekend, becoming the first team to do so since Saint Joseph's in 2003-04. They still have their doubters, but their name is essentially etched in stone as a No. 1 seed.
2. Wisconsin (24-5, LW: West 2): After relatively comfortable wins over Indiana and Penn State last week, the Badgers have now won eight straight games and moved into the top 10 on KenPom.
3. Iowa State (22-6, LW: W3): Don't worry about the Cyclones' No. 16 ranking in the AP poll, or their loss to Kansas State over the weekend. This is a team with an 8-5 record against the RPI top 50 and just one loss outside the top 40.
4. Louisville (24-5, LW: W4): The Cardinals nearly fell out of the top-quarter of the bracket after losing to Memphis but every team considered for this spot has pockmarks. By losing exactly zero games to teams outside the RPI top 40, Louisville has fewer blemishes than most.
1. Arizona (27-2, LW: W1): The Wildcats cruised to wins over California and Stanford last week. After a short stumble in which they went 2-2 and barely escaped Utah with an overtime win, they've won their last three games -- all against tournament-worthy teams -- by an average of 23 points.
2. Villanova (26-3, LW: MW2): The Wildcats cruised to easy wins over Butler and Marquette last week and have still lost just three games all season. So why aren't they a contender for a No.1 seed? Mostly because they have just four wins against the RPI top 50. Their win over Kansas was nice, but it came back in November, and they've since been blasted by Syracuse and Creighton (twice), the next-best teams they've faced all year. Winning the Big East regular season and tournament titles would at least keep them in the background of the discussion for a No.1 right up until Selection Sunday.
3. Virginia (25-5, LW: MW3): Few teams are as hot as the Cavaliers, who have won 13 straight and clinched the ACC regular season championship by beating Syracuse on Saturday. While this feels low for the ACC regular season champ, the Cavs have just four top-50 wins and will have plenty of chances to move up at the ACC tournament.
4. Oklahoma (21-8, LW: E6): The Sooners jumped two spots from last week's bracket thanks to their eight top-50 wins, No. 25 RPI and No. 11 strength of schedule. All the contenders for this final No. 4 seed -- including Michigan State, North Carolina, Texas and St. Louis -- have imperfections. Oklahoma is the one that has most consistently shown the ability to beat tournament-quality teams.
1. Kansas (22-7, LW: MW2): Nothing exemplifies the recent shakeup around the country better than the fact that Kansas was one of the top 10 teams that lost on Saturday and yet it still moved up in the Bracket Watch.
2. Syracuse (26-3, LW: E1): The Orange have been flirting with danger for weeks. Not only have they now lost three of their last four, but of their six wins in February, four came by two points or less. Moving back up to a No. 1 seed is certainly a possibility, but it might mean having to win the ACC tournament.
3. Michigan (21-7, LW: S4): The Wolverines can clinch the outright Big Ten regular season championship with one more win. Given that they play Illinois and Indiana in their last two games, they'll likely be celebrating the program's first outright regular season title since 1986.
4. San Diego State (25-3, LW: E5): The Aztecs were another beneficiary of last week's carnage. A No. 5 seed in our last Bracket Watch, they moved up a line after taking care of San Jose State and Fresno State while many of the teams above and around them lost.
Last Four In
BYU: The Cougars enter the West Coast Conference tournament having won four straight games and eight of their last nine, including a home win over Gonzaga. They're No. 45 on KenPom on the strength of an offense that ranks 23rd in the nation by adjusted efficiency.
California: The Golden Bears are just barely holding onto their spot in the bracket after getting drubbed by Arizona and Arizona State last week. The Feb. 1 win over Arizona is enough for now, but a loss in Saturday's regular season finale against Colorado could put them on the wrong side of the bubble.
Missouri: The Tigers are 2-2 against the RPI top 50 and 8-8 against the top 100. A loss to either Texas A&M or Tennessee this week would be very damaging.
Providence: The Friars did what they had to by beating Seton Hall on the road in their only game last week. If they can beat Creighton in Omaha on Saturday, they'll have a much safer place in the bracket.
First Four Out
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers put themselves in a very tough spot by losing at Illinois last week. They really couldn't afford another so-so loss on their resume, and now must either beat Wisconsin in their regular season finale or make some serious noise in the Big Ten tournament to get in the field of 68.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers do have a handful of nice wins, but at just 7-10 in the Big Ten and 18-12 overall, it's hard to imagine them earning an at-large bid without a few more big wins in the conference tournament.
Tennessee: The Volunteers likely can't get themselves in the NCAAs without beating Kentucky or Florida in the SEC tournament. First, though, they have an opportunity for a decent win in their regular season finale against Missouri.
The Field of 68
|1. Arizona |
16. Robert Morris
|1. Florida |
16. Weber State/Utah Valley
|8. SMU |
|8. New Mexico |
|4. Oklahoma |
|4. Cincinnati |
|5. Saint Louis |
|5. Michigan State |
|3. Virginia |
14. Georgia State
|3. Creighton |
14. North Dakota State
|6. Kentucky |
11. Saint Joseph's
|6. Memphis |
|7. Iowa |
10. Oklahoma State
|7. Ohio State |
|2. Villanova |
15. UC Irvine
|2. Duke |
|1. Wichita State |
16. Alabama State/High Point
|1. Kansas |
|8. Kansas State |
9. Arizona State
|8. Stanford |
9. George Washington
|4. Louisville |
|4. San Diego State |
13. Stephen F. Austin
|5. North Carolina |
12. Southern Miss
|5. Connecticut |
12. Green Bay
|3. Iowa State |
|3. Michigan |
|6. Massachusetts |
|6. Texas |
|7. UCLA |
|7. VCU |
|2. Wisconsin |
15. Boston University
|2. Syracuse |
15. North Carolina Central