Arizona, Duke, Kentucky, Wisconsin are No. 1 seeds in first Bracket Watch
Now that the college basketball season is 25 percent over, it's time for the first edition of SI.com's Bracket Watch. Already there have been a slew of matchups we may see again in March, such as Kentucky-Kansas, Duke-Wisconsin and Arizona-Gonzaga. Meanwhile some familiar faces like Florida (4-4), Connecticut (3-3) and Michigan (6-3, but with home losses to New Jersey Institute of Technology and Eastern Michigan in its last two games) may not even make the field if they don't improve their play in the coming weeks.
Of course, there's still a lot of basketball to be played between now and Selection Sunday, which is just 94 days away. The only thing that is certain is that plenty of what we think we know right now will be turned on its head over the next few months. Starting in January we'll unveil our weekly projections for the entire 68-team field, but for now, this is how we project the top 16 seeds for the 2015 NCAA tournament (regions are presented in order of how we rank the top seeds in each respective region):
1. Kentucky (9-0): The Wildcats are off to a great start, already boasting impressive wins over Kansas and Texas. UK is No. 3 in kenpom.com's adjusted offensive efficiency rankings and No. 1 on defense.
2. Gonzaga (7-1): Mark Few’s bunch may have done more to prove itself in its lone loss -- an overtime defeat in a true road game at No. 3 Arizona -- than in any of its seven wins.
3. Ohio State (6-1): Freshman point guard D'Angelo Russell is the best offensive player the Buckeyes have had since Deshaun Thomas left Columbus two years ago. Ohio State lost its only test thus far -- a road game at Louisville in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge -- but we’ll know its for real if it can beat North Carolina on Dec. 20 on a neutral court in Chicago.
4. Iowa State (6-1): It would have been natural for this team to take a step back after losing Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane, but the Cyclones rank 15th in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom and boast an 18-point win over a ranked Arkansas team.
1. Duke (8-0): The Blue Devils own what might be the most impressive win of the season, going on the road and keeping the Badgers at arm’s length from wire to wire in Madison on Dec. 3. That’s something that just doesn’t happen to Wisconsin under Bo Ryan.
2. Villanova (9-0): The Wildcats are getting it done on both sides of the ball so far. They’re one of five teams ranked in KenPom’s top 15 for both offensive and defensive efficiency.
3. Texas (7-1): The Longhorns could have scored a huge win at Kentucky last week, but they have to feel great about their chances to knock of Kansas in the Big 12. They've already beaten Cal and Iowa on a neutral court and topped defending national champion UConn in Storrs on a last-second three-pointer.
4. Utah (6-1): The Utes served notice that they will be players in the Pac-12 when they knocked off Wichita State in overtime on Dec. 3. A huge test in a virtual road game looms this weekend, as they head to Kansas City to take on the Jayhawks.
1. Arizona (9-0): Yes, some of the Wildcats' games against their toughest competition to date have been very close: a four-point margin against Kansas State, two points against San Diego State and three against Gonzaga. But Arizona won all of those games, as well as six others to remain undefeated. Freshman Stanley Johnson has joined holdovers Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski to give the Wildcats one of the nation's best frontcourts.
2. Louisville (8-0): Too bad the Cardinals aren’t in the Big Ten. They already have wins over Minnesota, Ohio State and Indiana. Louisville is second only to Kentucky in defensive efficiency, which makes their showdown on Dec. 27 that much more enticing.
3. Wichita State (6-1): The Shockers finally suffered a regular-season loss, falling to Utah last week to snap a winning streak that dated to the 2012-13 season. They rebounded with a 29-point win over Saint Louis and may be about to embark on a new streak. Wichita State doesn't have a ranked team left on its schedule, although Missouri Valley Conference foe Northern Iowa has gotten off to a great start.
4. North Carolina (6-2): Losses to Butler at the Battle 4 Atlantis and at home to Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge were unexpected, and so has been the play of Marcus Paige. The preseason first-team All-America has seen his scoring (14.0 points per game, down from 17.5) and outside shooting (.340 from three-point range, down from .389) decline noticeably from his standout sophomore season. Both Paige and the Tar Heels, who are still ranked No. 13 by KenPom, get a shot for a statement game when they play Kentucky in Lexington this weekend.
1. Wisconsin (8-1): The Badgers lost their showdown with Duke in Madison, but they are in the top 10 in both adjusted offense and defense, and they only have two games left against teams that are currently ranked in the top 25: Maryland on Feb. 24 and Ohio State in the regular-season finale on March 8, both on the road.
2. Virginia (9-0): Road wins over Maryland and VCU, two true rivals, just three days apart last week suggest that the Cavaliers may actually be better than they were last year, when they won the ACC regular season and tournament titles to grab a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
3. Kansas (6-1): There’s still plenty of reason for optimism with the Jayhawks despite their 32-point loss to Kentucky back on Nov. 18. For one thing, they've since beaten Tennessee, Michigan State and Florida. For another, heavily-hyped freshman forward Cliff Alexander is showing signs of improvement after a slow start. He posted his first double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds in KU's most recent game, against the Gators.
4. San Diego State (6-2): The Aztecs undoubtedly have one of the best defenses in the country, but they’re destined for another letdown in March if they don’t find some offense along the way. They’re averaging 62.6 points per game and are 131st in the country in adjusted offense.