Bracket Watch: Will the Pac-12 hurt Utah's chance to enter the top 16?
The Utah Utes have been inside the top 16 of every Bracket Watch this season. They’ve been as high as a 2-seed but have typically sat in the 3-to-4 range. They won their only game last week, an easy 28-point throttling of Colorado on Saturday. Yet, you won’t find them in the top-quarter of this week’s bracket. So why is Larry Krystkowiak’s team now sitting on the 5-line?
Utah is ranked 12th in RPI and has just four losses on the season. However, the Utes only have one top-50 win, and that was against a Wichita State team that has lost some of its shine in the last few weeks. Take a look at the teams on seed line above Utah: Maryland and Oklahoma each have four top-50 wins; North Carolina has two, including one over Louisville; and Butler leads the group with five, three of which came outside Indianapolis. The Utes aren’t far behind those teams, but their résumé simply does not measure up at this point. The Pac-12 doesn’t afford them the same opportunities as the Big 12, ACC, Big East and Big Ten does its members, meaning Utah may need to beat Arizona on Feb. 28 or get some help to move back up the bracket.
Baylor, meanwhile, has taken matters into its own hands and jumped into the top 16 for the first time this season. The one element the Bears needed to add to their resume heading into last week was a strong road win. They already had four wins against the top 35, but all of those came in Waco. Their best true road win of the season to date had been against a Vanderbilt team that ranks 109th in RPI.
The Bears erased that blemish by going into West Virginia and running the Mountaineers out of their own gym. Baylor started the game on a 21-3 run and took a 46-30 lead into halftime. West Virginia never got closer than 14 points the rest of the way, as the Bears cruised to an 87-69 victory. With a 5-4 record against the top 50, and all of those wins coming against teams with an RPI of 35 or better, Baylor moved all the way to a 3-seed this week after being a 5-seed last week.
1. Kentucky (23-0, Last week: Midwest 1) -- The Wildcats had to battle for their most recent win, but they ended up pulling away from Florida in the final minutes. Kentucky plays at LSU on Tuesday in what will be one of their toughest tests left in the regular season.
2. Notre Dame (21-4, LW: West 3) -- The Irish rank as the last No. 2 seed because their two best wins -- over Duke at home and North Carolina on the road -- are better than any team below them. That said, Notre Dame just lost by 30 points in Cameron Indoor Stadium last Saturday, and has dropped two of its last three. Another stumble would give any of the 3-seeds a decent claim on this spot.
3. Iowa State (17-5, LW: East 3) -- The Cyclones rebounded from their loss at Kansas on Feb. 2 with a 37-point victory over Texas Tech last Saturday, a team they lost to late last month. Iowa State starts a hellacious five-game stretch this week -- four are against ranked teams and the fifth is at Texas, which has been ranked almost the entire season -- with games against Oklahoma and West Virginia.
4. Maryland (18-5, LW: W4) -- The Terrapins have lost three of their last five, all of which have come away from home. Perhaps equally as troubling is that they struggled in wins over Northwestern and Penn State in College Park. Star freshman Melo Trimble was poked in the eye in the loss at Iowa over the weekend, but escaped serious injury.
1. Virginia (21-1, LW: E1) -- After losing its first game of the season, at home to Duke on Jan. 31, the Cavaliers rebounded like a championship team with impressive wins last week over North Carolina and Louisville. Now they’ll have to respond again after losing All-America candidate Justin Anderson for at least a month due to a fractured finger.
2. Villanova (21-2, LW: E2) -- The Wildcats played much better in their return matchup with Georgetown, gaining control right at the start and ultimately winning by 16 points to avenge an earlier loss. They have a challenging week ahead with road games against Providence and Butler.
3. Arizona (20-3, LW: W2) -- There’s little doubt that the Sean Miller’s Wildcats can play with just about anyone, but after falling at Arziona State last Saturday they now have three losses to teams ranked 75th or worse in RPI. The only other top-16 team with even one is Wisconsin, which lost at Rutgers on Jan. 11. Frank Kaminsky missed that game for the Badgers with a concussion, and Wisconsin also lost starting point guard Traevon Jackson to a fractured foot early in the second half.
1. Gonzaga (24-1, LW: W1) -- Arizona’s los to Arizona State was perhaps more important for Gonzaga solidifying its hold on the top spot in the West than were their own wins over Santa Clara and San Francisco. It’s going to be awfully hard to keep the Bulldogs off the top line if they win out.
2. Wisconsin (21-2, LW: MW2) -- The Badgers cruised to wins over Indiana and Northwestern last week. They’re now averaging 1.19 points per possession and are on pace to be the most efficient offense ever measured by kenpom.com.
3. Baylor (18-5, LW: E5) -- The aforementioned rout of West Virginia was important. Now the Bears have to make sure they don't give back those gains this week, which features stern challenges against Oklahoma State (at home) and Kansas (on the road).
4. North Carolina (18-6, LW: MW3) -- Last Monday's defeat to Virginia was hardly the biggest loss of the week for the Tar Heels, which lost legendary coach Dean Smith to a long illness last Saturday, just hours after the team returned from a win at Boston College. North Carolina gets a week to mourn before heading to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers on Saturday.
1. Duke (20-3, LW: S1) -- The Blue Devils continue to have Jekyll and Hyde tendencies. They looked sluggish in a six-point win over lowly Georgia Tech last Wednesday, then decimated Notre Dame, winning 90-60. They’re 3-1 against their four competitors for the ACC title.
2. Kansas (19-4, LW: S2) -- The Jayhawks split games with Iowa State (win) and Oklahoma State (loss) last week. They remain in contention for a top seed, but they can’t afford too many more defeats if they’re going to move up a line.
3. Louisville (19-4, LW: South 3) -- The Cardinals hung with Virginia last Saturday before falling by five in Charlottesville. Like North Carolina, Rick Pitino’s squad is 1-3 against the upper echelon of the ACC, and the only such win for either of those teams came against the other.
4. Butler (18-6, LW: S4) -- The Bulldogs had no problem in wins over St. John’s and DePaul last week. They’ve won five straight games, and could really strengthen their position in the top 16 with a win over Villanova in Indianapolis on Saturday.