Bracket Watch: Kentucky, Virginia, Gonzaga appear locked into top line
There are still seven weeks remaining until Selection Sunday, but we may already know the identity of three No. 1 seeds.
It’s awfully hard to imagine Kentucky being anywhere other than the top line. Not only have they been the nation's best team all season, but the SEC won't offer the difficulty the degree of difficulty that Virginia, for instance, will have to endure in the ACC. We can say with a surprisingly high degree of certainty for this time of year that the Wildcats are going to be at the head of one of the four regions.
Even with all those contenders, the unbeaten Cavaliers also look like a strong bet to hold onto a 1-seed. They’ve yet to see Duke, Louisville or North Carolina this season, but they have vanquished three other teams that appear in this week’s Bracket Watch -- Maryland, VCU and Notre Dame and Virginia. None of those games were in Charlottesville either: Virginia beat the Terrapins and Fighting Irish on the road and the Rams on a neutral court, winning those three games by a combined 34 points. A brutal three-game stretch against the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Cardinals is on the horizon, but the Cavaliers look like the class of what may be the nation’s best conference.
Finally, losses by Duke and Wisconsin in recent weeks opened the door for Gonzaga to ascend to a 1-seed, and the Bulldogs may very well slam that door behind them. Gonzaga, ranked No. 3 by KenPom, doesn’t have a game remaining on its schedule against a top-50& RPI team. BYU, at No. 52, is the closest, and the the Zags already won in Provo this season. If Gonzaga wins out, the committee would likely grant it the top seed in the West.
1. Kentucky (17-0, No. 1 overall seed; Last week: Midwest 1, No. 1 overall) -- The Wildcats won their games against Missouri and Alabama last week by a combined 71 points. With all due respect to teams like Virginia, Louisville and San Diego State, the Wildcats clearly have the best defense in the country.
2. Iowa State (13-3, LW: South 3) -- It wasn’t just that the Cyclones beat Kansas on Saturday, but the way in which they did it that pushed them up a seed line this week. They were in control from wire to wire, an impressive feat even at home. They should actually get to catch their breath this week, with games against Kansas State and Texas Tech.
3. Notre Dame (17-2, LW: West 3) -- The Irish beat Georgia Tech without forward Zach Auguste, who had been suspended for an academic issue, then got him back and knocked off Miami, too. Notre Dame once again ranks first in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
4. VCU (15-3, LW: S4) -- The Rams have now won 10 straight games since losing to Virginia on Dec. 6. If they have one Achilles’ heel it’s at the line. They’re connecting on just 62 percent of their free throws, which ranks 339th in the country.
1. Virginia (17-0, LW: S1) -- The Cavaliers remained undefeated with easy wins over Clemson and Boston College last week. They’re enjoying their best start in 34 years and have a 23.5-percent chance of finishing the season unbeaten, according to KenPom.
2. Wisconsin (16-2, LW: S2) -- The Badgers got Frank Kaminsky, and their offensive groove, back last week, cruising to a win over Nebraska last Thursday in their only action. Bronson Koenig, the starting point guard with Traevon Jackson out, had 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting and played a team-high 37 minutes against the Cornhuskers. He can probably expect a similar workload while Jackson recovers from his broken right foot that should have him sidelined until late February.
3. Kansas (14-3, LW: East 3) -- The Jayhawks lost their first Big 12 game of the season, falling at Iowa State on Saturday. They have another tough week ahead, with games against ranked opponents Oklahoma and Texas (in Austin) looming.
4. Wichita State (16-2, LW: W5) -- As expected, the Shockers are rolling right through the Valley, winning their six conference games by an average of 13.7 points per game. That number may increase this week, as they take on doormats Missouri State and Drake.
1. Villanova (17-1, LW: W1) -- The Wildcats' only loss of the season thus far was to Seton Hall in overtime on the road on Jan. 3. They’ve notched all but three of their 17 wins by double digits. The Big East will provide them with some challenges, but they have a much easier path to a 1-seed than teams like Duke, Wisconsin and Arizona.
2. Duke (15-2, LW: E1) -- Speaking of Duke, the Blue Devils had in interesting week. They got blown out by Miami in Durham, losing by 16 points, and then went on the road to trounce Louisville by 11. If they end up falling short of the Final Four this year, defense will almost certainly be what holds them back. They are just 51st in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
3. Utah (14-3, LW: E2) -- Even though they were on the road, the Utes really disappointed in their first big showdown of the season with Arizona, losing by 18 points on Saturday. There isn’t a bad loss on Utah's resume, but its best wins are over Wichita State and BYU.
4. Maryland (17-2, LW: E4) -- The Terrapins could easily lay claim to a better seed, but there just wasn’t a spot for them above this spot right now. They’ve won three straight since losing to Illinois, and now own a season sweep over Michigan State after beating the Spartans again on Saturday.
1. Gonzaga (18-1, LW: MW2) -- The Bulldogs are now rightly on the top line, and they could easily remain there come Selection Sunday. Remember, their highest hurdles left to clear are two games against Saint Mary’s (the first of which comes at home on Thursday), a return matchup with BYU and an eventual West Coast Conference championship game. KenPom gives the Zags a 41.4-percent chance of winning out.
2. Arizona (16-2, LW: MW3) -- There was only enough room for one Pac-12 team on the 2-line, and that honor went to the Wildcats after they drubbed Utah in Tucson. The defense has been there all season, but they’re back inside the top-20 in adjusted offensive efficiency, as well.
3. Louisville (15-3, LW: W2) -- Are the Cardinals yet again perpetrating a major fraud against the American public, similar to the one they pulled off last year? Their three best wins of the season are all against the second tier of the Big Ten (Ohio State, Indiana, Minnesota), and their three losses are to Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke.
4. North Carolina (14-4, LW: MW4) -- The Tar Heels are trending in the right direction, picking up a road win over North Carolina State and home victory against Virginia Tech last week. They have about as unimposing a week ahead of them as you could hope for in the ACC: a visit to Wake Forest on Wednesday and a game in Chapel Hill against Florida State on Saturday.