Bracket Watch: Villanova rises to No. 1
For the second straight week, we have a shakeup at the very top of the Bracket Watch. Last week, Iowa became the No. 1 overall seed, thanks to Oklahoma’s Feb. 6 loss at Kansas State. The Hawkeyes, in turn, lost at Indiana last Thursday, and now a new team has ascended to No. 1. That team is Villanova, which is not only 22-3 and two games up in the Big East race, but has yet to suffer a bad loss, having fallen only to Oklahoma, Virginia and Providence. Still, Kansas may have had the best week of all, though, beating two top-10 teams. First the Jayhawks avenged an earlier loss to West Virginia, and then they completed a season sweep of Oklahoma with a thrilling 76-72 win in Norman. Kansas is also a No. 1 seed, and it has moved to No. 2 overall.
To find out the identity of the other top seeds, as well as all the teams in our field of 68, keep reading.
Last Four In
Texas Tech (15–9, 5–7 Big 12): The Red Raiders had a great week, picking up wins over a pair of ranked teams in Iowa State and Baylor, the latter of which came on the road. Those are the kinds of victories that will serve them quite well on Selection Sunday.
Connecticut (18–7, 8–4 AAC): Despite a loss at Temple and a two-point win at home over Tulsa, the Huskies are still in the field of 68, but they can’t afford too many more losses in the below average American Athletic Conference. They have a chance for a signature win at home against SMU on Thursday.
Clemson (15–10, 8–5 ACC): We remain bullish on the Tigers thanks to their wins over Louisville, Duke, Miami and Syracuse. They must beat Boston College and North Carolina State this week, however, to stay in the bubble picture.
VCU (18–7, 10–2 A-10): The Rams’ at-large candidacy took a huge hit after consecutive losses to George Washington, on Feb. 6, and Massachusetts five days later. They rebounded to rout Saint Louis by 33 points last Saturday, and they continue their homestand this week with games against middle-of-the-pack league foes Rhode Island and Richmond. VCU will need to hold serve in both those games to remain on track for a bid.
First Four Out
Saint Mary’s (20–4, 11–3 WCC): Last Thursday's home loss to Pepperdine could end up costing the Gaels a spot in the tournament field. Would a win at Gonzaga on Saturday be enough to change their calculus yet again?
Vanderbilt (15–10, 7–5 SEC): The Commodores took care of business against Missouri and Auburn last week, keeping them in range to sneak into the field. They’ll have to do the same against Mississippi State and Georgia this week, though, before closing February with big games versus Florida and Kentucky.
Cincinnati (19–7, 9–4 AAC): The Bearcats won both of their games last week, but they came against lowly AAC competition in Central Florida and East Carolina. Teams that picked up victories against stronger competition, like Wisconsin and Texas Tech, have left Cincinnati on the wrong side of the bubble for now.
Alabama (15–9, 6–6 SEC): The Crimson Tide got back in the tournament discussion by beating Texas A&M and Florida. Doing the same against LSU on Wednesday could put them into next week’s field.
1. Villanova (22-3, 12-1 Big East): The Wildcats sit atop this region, as well as the entire field, this week. If they win their next three games—at Temple, Butler at home and at Xavier—they’ll head into March as the favorite to be No. 1 overall.
2. West Virginia (20-5, 9-3 Big 12): The Mountaineers are tied with Kansas in first place in the Big 12 and have wins over Baylor, Iowa State and the Jayhawks. As unlikely as it seemed a few weeks ago, West Virginia is the team most likely to end Kansas’s run of Big 12 titles. The Mountaineers have a brutal week ahead, facing Texas on the road and hosting Oklahoma.
3. Miami (20-4, 9-3 ACC): The Hurricanes have won four straight games, including solid wins against Pittsburgh and Florida State last week. A Saturday showdown with North Carolina in Chapel Hill will be their toughest test to date.
4. Iowa State (18-7, 7-5 Big 12): The Cyclones lost at Texas Tech last Wednesday before getting back in the win column against Texas on Saturday. There’s still time for them to snag a better seed, especially with games against Baylor, West Virginia and Kansas still on its schedule.
1. Kansas (21-4, 9-3 Big 12): Two weeks ago, we wrote about the possibility of the Jayhawks' 11-year run in control of the Big 12 coming to an end. Since then, Kansas has defeated its nearest pursuers in West Virginia and Oklahoma and is once again in first place in arguably the country’s best conference. This week, the Jayhawks have a chance to avenge a conference loss to Oklahoma State before facing in-state rival Kansas State on the road.
2. Virginia (20-5, 9-4 ACC): The Cavaliers suffered a tough, one-point loss at Duke on Saturday, as it appeared Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen traveled while hitting his game-winning buzzer-beater. Had Virginia won that game, it would have been on the top line.
3. Maryland (22-4, 10-3 Big Ten): The Terrapins undoubtedly have Final Four potential, but they just lost at home to Wisconsin and have just four wins against teams inside this week’s Bracket Watch (and one was against UConn, which is one of the last four teams in our field).
4. Dayton (21-3, 11-1 Atlantic 10): The Flyers have now won nine straight games, and while the Atlantic 10 isn’t as strong this season as it has been over the last few, their sterling record in a conference that’s going to get multiple at-large bids speaks for itself.
1. Oklahoma (20-4, 8-4 Big 12): The Sooners may be stuck behind Kansas for good at this point, both in the Big 12 standings and on the S-curve, but they are still worthy of being a No. 1 seed. Before anyone assumes they should drop a seed line for losing two of three and needing a buzzer-beater to topple Texas at home, remember that this team has wins over Villanova, Iowa State, Baylor, West Virginia, Texas and Wisconsin.
2. Michigan State (21-5, 8-5 Big Ten): The Spartans are getting hot at the right time, racking up wins over Maryland, Michigan and Indiana in the last three weeks. The Spartans also nearly pulled off a huge comeback win at Purdue last Tuesday before losing by one in overtime. Tom Izzo’s bunch is starting to look like one of the more dangerous teams heading into March, and you know the old rule about facing Tom Izzo in March. (Don’t do it.)
3. Oregon (20-6, 9-4 Pac-12): Right when the Ducks started to get some widespread notice, they had their worst week of the season, losing at California and Stanford. Oregon plays just once this week, hosting Oregon State on Saturday.
4. Kentucky (19-6, 9-3 SEC): The Wildcats are another team that is turning the corner at just the right time. After opening February with a road loss to a Tennessee team that is still just 12-13, Kentucky has ripped off huge wins over Florida (by 19 points), Georgia (by 32 points) and at South Carolina (by 27 points). That resurgence, combined with Texas A&M’s slide (five straight conference losses), has the Wildcats once again looking like the best team in the SEC.
1. Iowa (20-5, 11-2 Big Ten): Two days after losing at Indiana, the Hawkeyes returned home and struggled to a four-point home victory over Minnesota, which remains winless in conference play. Iowa is our last No. 1 seed, and would have slid down to the 2-line had Virginia beaten Duke last Saturday.
2. Xavier (22-3, 10-3 Big East): The Musketeers also had a split week, losing at Creighton last Tuesday but beating Butler in Indianapolis on Saturday. Non-conference wins over Michigan, USC, Dayton and Cincinnati, as well as a league win against Providence, gives Xavier a decent claim to No. 1 seed this week, but those wins still don't match up to Iowa’s best, most notably its season sweep of Michigan State.
3. North Carolina (21-4, 10-2 ACC): The Tar Heels had a solid week, beating Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and Pittsburgh in Chapel Hill to remain in first place in the ACC. They now face a critical week with home games against Duke on Wednesday and Miami on Saturday.
4. Texas (16-9, 7-5 Big 12): Yes, the Longhorns lost twice last week, but those defeats came against Oklahoma by three and Iowa State by eight. That won't hurt Texas on Selection Sunday. The Longhorns have now won six of nine, and the only other loss in that stretch came at Kansas, while including wins over West Virginia, Iowa State and Baylor. In other words, they're moving in the right direction. Purdue and Texas A&M were contenders for this spot, but Texas has done more away from home than either of those teams.