Bracket Watch: After volatile week, Oklahoma remains No. 1 overall seed
Four of the top five teams in the AP poll lost last week, so at this point we could probably just put the names of the top six or seven teams in a hat, pull out four, and call them the No. 1 seeds. But we would never give you, dear reader, such a haphazard bracket. That’s not what we’re about at Bracket Watch Headquarters. This week's bracket has plenty of conviction. Of course, in the world of college basketball for the 2015–16 season, that means the handful of teams at the top better watch their backs this week.
Last Four In
Florida State: The Seminoles lost twice last week—at Louisville and home to Pitt—to fall to 12-7 overall and 2-5 in the ACC, but we admittedly sold them short after they knocked off Virginia on Jan. 18. Every team in this neighborhood has fleas. Few, if any, have a win as strong as that.
California: The Golden Bears got themselves into the field with a 74-73 win against Arizona last Saturday. This is a big week for Cal, which has road games against Utah and Colorado.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs' loss at Saint Mary's last Thursday confirmed that the balance of power in the West Coast Conference has shifted, with the Gaels now the team to beat. Another loss could cause Gonzaga to fall out of our field of 68.
UCLA: The Bruins split games in the state of Oregon last week, beating the Beavers and losing to the Ducks. Though they are just 3-4 in the Pac-12 all three of their wins—vs. Arizona and Arizona State and at Oregon State—are solid. It's the win over the Wildcats that has UCLA on the right side of the bubble for now.
First Four Out
Washington: The Huskies put themselves on the at-large radar with back-to-back wins over Arizona State and Colorado earlier this month, though they then lost to Utah at home in overtime on Sunday. A split on their Los Angeles swing this week could get them over the hump.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats beat Memphis and Tulane last week, which keeps them right on the cusp of the tournament field. A win at Connecticut this week would likely push them on the right side of the bubble.
Connecticut: Speaking of the Huskies, they’ve now won three straight games, though the best win in that run is over Georgetown, which doesn't project as a tournament team at this point. This week’s matchup with Cincinnati is just as big for UConn as it is for the Bearcats.
Saint Joseph’s: The 16-3 Hawks don't have any bad losses—Florida, Villanova and VCU are all in our field—but their best win is over Temple. They’ll need something better to get a dance card.
Oklahoma lost its first game as the No. 1 team in the country, but remains our top overall seed. The Sooners bounced back from last Monday's loss at Iowa State with an impressive downing of Baylor in Waco on Saturday. They lead a region with Texas A&M, Virginia and Purdue rounding out the top quarter. Quite frankly, it was hard to keep the Boilermakers as high as a No. 4 seed, but the next teams in line—from Oregon and Arizona on the 5-line to Pittsburgh and Utah one spot down—couldn’t quite make the leap. This region would set up very nicely for the top-ranked Sooners, who would likely be the biggest favorite of all the No. 1 seeds to advance to the Final Four.
North Carolina has been the most consistent team in the country this year, but they’ve yet to be truly tested in the ACC. If the Tar Heels are still undefeated after the next four weeks of ACC play—a stretch that includes games at Louisville and Notre Dame and home games with Pitt, Duke and Miami—they’ll likely be the No. 1 overall seed. Until then, however, they slot just behind Oklahoma.
West Virginia lost at home to Texas last Wednesday, the Mountaineers' second straight defeat, but they rallied in the final minute to knock off Texas Tech in Lubbock on Saturday and hold onto the No. 2 seed here. Providence notched one of the most impressive wins of the season over the weekend, taking down Villanova in overtime in Philadelphia. Coupled with their win earlier over then-No. 18 Butler last Tuesday, the Friars just polished off one of the best weeks of the year and are a worthy No. 3 seed.
Maryland rounds out the top quarter in a very deep region. There's no shame in their close loss at Michigan State over the weekend, and the Terrapins certainly could claim a higher spot in the bracket, but we need to see them beat someone first. They do not own a victory over a team in our field of 68, with their best win of the season coming against either Connecticut or Wisconsin, depending on how you feel about those teams.
Season sweeps of Michigan State and Purdue? Our ranking of Iowa as No. 1 seed is not too aggressive. If the Hawkeyes hadn't blown a 20-point lead and lost by one against Iowa State in Ames back on Dec. 10, they would be making a push for the top overall seed. They have another big game ahead this week against Maryland in College Park.
Xavier, meanwhile, rebounded from an early-week home loss to Georgetown by beating Seton Hall. The Musketeers had been on the top line last week, but the loss to the Hoyas, coupled with movement elsewhere, means they’re now firmly behind Villanova and Iowa, and likely Kansas, in the running for a No. 1 seed.
Iowa State added another big win to last month's comeback against Iowa by beating the Sooners last week, giving the Cyclones arguably the best pair of wins of any team in the country. Given that, Iowa State's No. 3 seed may seem low, but it will have a major chance to move higher: Its next three games are against Kansas, Texas A&M and West Virginia.
Villanova suffered its first Big East loss, falling at home to Providence in overtime on Sunday. But the Wildcats’ body of work keeps them as a No. 1 seed—they don’t have a bad loss, and they also own wins over Xavier and Butler.
Kansas has beaten Oklahoma but it also has a bad loss against Oklahoma State, which is primarily why the Jayhawks are a No. 2 and trailing the Wildcats for that fourth No. 1 seed.
Michigan State's big win over Maryland on Saturday keeps the Spartans a No. 3 seed. Still, that victory doesn't completely erase the fact that Michigan State had lost its three previous games, including two to teams that aren’t likely to make the tournament (Wisconsin and Nebraska).
Baylor and Louisville check in at No. 4 and No. 5 in this region and have very similar résumés: 15-4, 5-2 in the Big 12 for the former and 16-3 5-1 in the ACC for the latter. The Bears, however, have one great win, at Iowa State, and its worst loss is to Oregon, a team safely in the field of 68. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have one fewer loss, but its best win came against Pittsburgh. They also have losses to Kentucky and Clemson, teams that are in the Dance, but seeded lower than Oregon.