Bracket Watch: Arkansas showing there's more to SEC than Kentucky
Kentucky may rightfully hog all the attention in the SEC, but it’s another team in that league that steals the Bracket Watch spotlight this week. Indeed, Arkansas, the conference’s second-best team, is among the biggest risers in the field of 68 as we head into the third week of February.
The Razorbacks have been considered the best non-Kentucky team in the SEC for much of this season. And while they’re nowhere near the Wildcats, they also appear to rank comfortably ahead of teams like Georgia, Mississippi and LSU, the other three SEC teams in this week’s Bracket Watch. Arkansas had one of its best weeks of the season, scoring 101 points in a dominant performance last Tuesday against Auburn, and then going into Oxford and earning a one-point win over Mississippi on Saturday. The win over the Rebels was the Razorbacks’ fourth against a top-50 team, three of which have come on the road. They’ve risen to a 5-seed in our Bracket Watch, the highest they have been this season.
West Virginia, meanwhile, tumbled two spots to a 7-seed after splitting games against Kansas State (win) and Iowa State (loss) last week. The Mountaineers have rated highly in both the RPI and kenpom.com rankings this season, but their flaws have started to show in the last few weeks. The Big 12 is likely going to get at least seven teams in the dance, and West Virginia should be among them. The Mountaineers have gone just 1-5 against the other six teams, though they haven't played Kansas yet. They feature one of the best defenses in the conference, but their offense can desert them at times, and that has kept a ceiling on their overall production. Those offensive struggles showed up in recent losses against Oklahoma and Iowa State; in each, they scored fewer than 60 points.
West Virginia has a big week ahead starting on Monday when it hosts the Jayhawks before traveling to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State on Saturday. It’s a very real possibility that, when this week ends, they Mountaineers will be 7-7 in the Big 12. They’re not in any serious danger to fall out of the field of 68, but this one-time apparent 4- or 5-seed is now more likely to face off with a 1- or 2-seed in a potential Round of 32 matchup.
1. Kentucky (25-0, LW: Midwest 1)—The Wildcats survived their third close call in conference play, but squeaked past LSU by two on the road last Tuesday. Kenpom.com now gives than a 65.5% chance to go undefeated.
2. Notre Dame (22-4, LW: MW2)—The Irish had to sweat all 40 minutes at Clemson last Tuesday, but they managed to get a two-point win. They have a good chance to win out in the regular season, with four of their five remaining games against teams that won’t be dancing. The fifth is at Louisville on March 4.
3. Oklahoma (17-8, LW: East 4)—Despite a loss at Kansas State on Saturday, the Sooners moved up a seed line thanks to an impressive win over Iowa State last Monday. Oklahoma is now 7-3 against the Big 12 teams that are likely headed for the NCAA tournament.
4. Louisville (20-5, LW: South 3)—The Cardinals suffered their fourth loss in conference play, falling to North Carolina State at home on Saturday. Do not lose sight of the fact that Louisville has just three wins over teams likely ticketed for the tournament (Ohio State, Indiana, North Carolina).
1. Virginia (23-1, LW: E1)—Justin Anderson’s absence is really showing up on both ends for the Cavaliers. They knocked off North Carolina State and Wake Forest last week, but only by five points combined. Anderson, their second-leading scorer, won't be back until March because of a broken finger.
2. Villanova (23-3, LW: E2)—The Wildcats had their best week of the season, winning road games against Providence and Butler, their two prime contenders in the Big East. They could force their way up to the top line if they keep winning.
3. Arizona (22-3, LW: E3)—These Wildcats bounced back from a loss to Arizona State on Feb. 7 with wins over Washington and Washington State last week. Still, three losses outside the top 75 have them looking up at several teams they were in front of for much of the season.
4. Maryland (21-5, LW: MW4)—The Terrapins continue to struggle away from home, squeaking out a three-point win at Penn State on Saturday. They have just one game this week, as they host Nebraska on Thursday.
1. Gonzaga (26-1, LW: West 1)—The Bulldogs were less than impressive in an eight-point win over Pepperdine at home on Saturday. With Wisconsin, Villanova and Kansas all knocking on the door for a top seed, winning out may not be enough for Gonzaga to hold onto this spot.
2. Wisconsin (23-2, LW: W2)—The Badgers’ No. 1 ranked offense rolled through Nebraska and Illinois last week. They close the regular season with a four-game stretch that includes Maryland, Michigan State and Ohio State, meaning they can’t afford to suffer any missteps against Penn State and Minnesota.
3. Iowa State (18-6, LW: MW3)—The Cyclones rebounded with a 20-point win over West Virginia on Saturday, but they had dropped their two prior games against tournament teams (Kansas, Oklahoma). Their next three games could be crucial for their seeding, as they’ll face Oklahoma State, Texas and Baylor.
4. North Carolina (18-7, LW: W4)—The Tar Heels lost their only game last week, getting scorched by Pittsburgh on Saturday, and have now dropped three of their last four games, leaving them in serious danger of falling out of the top 16 altogether. North Carolina faces Duke for the first time this season on Wednesday.
1. Duke (22-3, LW: S1)—The Blue Devils have won five straight games, and the ACC now has a very real shot to get two No. 1 seeds. Just two of Duke’s six remaining regular season games are against teams headed to the tournament (home and away against North Carolina).
2. Kansas (21-4, LW: S2)—The Jayhawks beat Texas Tech and Baylor last week, solidifying their hold on the Big 12. If they were to win both the conference regular season and conference tournament, it might be hard to keep them off the top line.
3. Utah (20-4, LW: W5)—The Utes are back in the top 16 thanks to a win over Stanford, as well as losses by a few teams that were ahead of them last week. With the Feb. 28 game against Arizona the only game remaining against a likely tournament team, the Utes should be able to hold onto a spot in the top quarter of the bracket.
4. Butler (18-7, LW: S4)—There’s no shame for the Bulldogs in a losing by three at home to Villanova last Saturday, in what was one of the more thrilling games of the season. Still, their five top-50 wins make them worthy of a high seed.