The Bracket Watch experienced its first shakeup among the top-16 teams in a couple weeks after weekend losses by VCU and Wichita State. The Rams fell at home against Richmond, but they lost more than just their first game in the Atlantic 10. Senior point guard Briante Weber tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus in his right knee and will miss the rest of the season. Weber was averaging 8.1 points and 4.3 assists per game. More importantly, he’s one of the crucial players in one of the country’s best defenses, averaging 3.9 steals per game. Quite simply, there’s no way for head coach Shaka Smart to replace the activity and pressure Weber brings on a nightly basis.
Wichita State, meanwhile, may have ceded its status as the best team in the Missouri Valley Conference after a 16-point loss at Northern Iowa. The Shockers had no answer for the Panthers’ Seth Tuttle, who scored 29 points on just 13 field goal attempts. Conversely, Wichita State's Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet went a combined 7-for-22 from the floor, and the Shockers shot just 35.4 percent from the floor as a team. The loss snapped their 27-game win streak in the Valley, and knocked them down to a 5-seed in this week’s Bracket Watch.
Replacing VCU and Wichita State in the top 16 are Butler and Oklahoma. Two other Big 12 teams, Baylor and West Virginia, could also lay claim to a 4-seed, but the Sooners have, to this point, done a better job of proving they can beat tournament-quality competition consistently, both at home and on the road. They’ve won at Oklahoma State, Texas and Tulsa, and beat Butler on a neutral floor.
As for those Bulldogs, the Big East is better than most realize. KenPom.com rates it as the second-best conference overall, behind the Big 12 but ahead of the ACC. The Bulldogs are 6-3 in the conference, with wins over all the prime contenders for the conference title, save Villanova. They’ll get their first shot at the Wildcats on Valentine’s Day.
1. Kentucky (21-0, Last week: Midwest 1) -- The Wildcats easily handled Missouri and Alabama last week. They play four straight top-40 KenPom teams in the next two weeks, starting with Georgia at Rupp Arena on Tuesday.
2. Wisconsin (19-2, LW: South 2) -- The Badgers would deserve better than this fate, as they’re not the last-ranked No. 2 seed, and shouldn’t have to beat Kentucky just to get to the Final Four. The committee, however, would consider this a favor to Wisconsin, since it would get to play the regionals relatively close to home in Cleveland.
3. North Carolina (17-5, LW: West 3) -- The Tar Heels let an 18-point second-half lead slip away at Louisville on Saturday. A win there could have had them in contention to move up a line in the bracket.
4. Oklahoma (14-7, LW: S5) -- At 14-7, the Sooners have the most losses of any team in the top-quarter of the bracket, but they also own six top-50 wins, three of which came on the road.
1. Virginia (19-1, LW: East 1) -- The Cavaliers suffered their first loss of the season at the hands of Duke on Saturday, but they’ve got plenty of leash on the top line. This week will tell a lot about the Cavs, as they play at North Carolina on Monday before hosting Louisville on Saturday.
2. Villanova (19-2, LW: E2) -- The Wildcats don’t get nearly the notice that the rest of the top teams in the country do, but they’re 5-2 against the top-50, including wins over VCU and Butler. After hosting Marquette on Wednesday, they have four consecutive games against teams in the top 40 in RPI: Georgetown, Providence, Butler and Seton Hall, the middle two of which are on the road.
3. Iowa State (16-4, LW: E3) -- The Cyclones rolled up wins over Texas and TCU last week, but those may have just been an appetizer for what’s next. They have a chance to sweep the season series with Kansas on Monday when they play at Allen Fieldhouse.
4. Utah (17-4, LW: S3) -- Thursday's 10-point loss at UCLA pushed the Utes down a line from last week, but they rebounded with a 28-point win at USC on Sunday. Still, this is a team with just one top-50 win and a 5-4 record against top-100 teams.
1. Gonzaga (22-1, LW: W1) -- The Bulldogs actually struggled a bit in the first half before pulling away from Portland last week. It’s performances like that one against weak competition that make them vulnerable to slide down the bracket, even if they win out.
2. Arizona (20-2, LW: W2) -- After dominating the state of Oregon last week the Wildcats have now won six straight games. They hit the road for their next three games, against Arizona State, Washington and Washington State.
3. Notre Dame (20-3, LW: MW3) -- After a four-point win over Duke, the Irish suffered a reversal at Pittsburgh, losing by the same margin. The week was easily a net positive, but they would have been on the 2-line had they beat the Panthers.
4. Maryland (18-4, LW: MW4) -- The Terrapins have struggled away from home, losing at both Indiana and Ohio State in recent weeks. That means they’ll have a little something to prove to the committee when they travel to Iowa on Sunday.
1. Duke (18-3, LW: S1) -- Even though they lost to Notre Dame last week, the Blue Devils remained a top seed by virtue of their win at Virginia on Saturday. They easily have the best pair of road victories in the country, with the win in Charlottesville added to their earlier one at Wisconsin, and they also won at Louisville back in January.
2. Kansas (18-3, LW: MW2) -- The Jayhawks own the No. 1 RPI in the country, thanks in large part to seven top-50 and 11 top-100 wins. They always challenge themselves in the non-conference, and it has paid off again this year. They can pad those numbers Monday night when they host Iowa State.
3. Louisville (18-3, LW: W4) -- The Cardinals got a much-needed signature win with their huge comeback against North Carolina on Saturday. They hit the road for games with Miami and Virginia this week.
4. Butler (16-6, LW: S6) -- The Bulldogs may seem like a surprise in this space, but they have six top-50 wins, including neutral-court victories over North Carolina and Georgetown. They look like the second best Big East team, behind Villanova.