- After West Virginia and Oklahoma suffered losses this week, Purdue and Duke slid into the top slots as Clemson and Kansas continue to rise.
Another week filled with upsets led to some changes at the top of the field in SI's second Bracket Watch of the season. Villanova and Virginia remain No. 1 seeds, but this week, Purdue and Duke join them, replacing West Virginia, which dropped one seed line, and Oklahoma, which fell all the way to a No. 3 after losing to Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
Last Four In
First Four Out
Next Four Out
Clemson split games with North Carolina and Notre Dame last week, rising to a No. 3 seed in the SI.com Bracket Watch. Of course, that buries the lead more than a bit. Senior forward Donte Grantham tore his ACL in the win over Notre Dame on Saturday and will miss the rest of the season. This is a brutal injury for both team and player. Grantham was enjoying the best year of what has turned into a great college career. With Grantham, Clemson was in prime position to be a player in the ACC and earn a high seed in the NCAA tournament. Without him, both of those are in doubt.
Trae Young is the most exciting player in the country. West Virginia had a 15-game winning streak earlier this season that included wins over Virginia and Oklahoma. And yet, just shy of the halfway point in the Big 12 season, Kansas is atop the conference standings. There’s really no sense in doubting the Jayhawks ability to extend their Big 12 title streak, which sits at 13 seasons, until it actually happens. Kansas picked up its biggest win of the season last week, erasing a 13-point deficit to knock off West Virginia, 71-66, in Morgantown. However, the Jayhawks week ended with some bad news: Billy Preston—who hasn’t played at all this season because of an investigation involving the “financial picture” around a car he was driving—announced he signed with a professional team in Bosnia. Kansas was already playing a shallow rotation, with six players averaging at least 21 minutes per game, and no one else averaging more than 14. Kansas has enough offense to be the best team in the country on any given night, and, until further notice, should be considered the favorite in the Big 12. However, do the Jayhawks have enough to win six straight games in March and April? Their lack of depth could be their undoing.
There may be no team harder to pin down right now than Cincinnati. There is no doubt that the Bearcats have a Final Four ceiling. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country, ranking second in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency. With Jacob Evans and Gary Clark, Mick Cronin has one of the most explosive, versatile offenses he has had during his time at Cincinnati’s helm. They’re 17-2 overall and 6-0 in the AAC. At the same time, it’s impossible not to notice that the Bearcats’ two losses came to Xavier and Florida, the two best teams they have played this season. Their best win came earlier this month when they cruised to a 76-56 victory over SMU at home. That is, unquestionably, an impressive win, but SMU has the look of a bubble team right now. In fact, Cincinnati does not yet have a win over a team that we know will be an at-large quality squad come March. What’s more, with Wichita State not looking like the Final Four contender it was expected to be, the Bearcats could feasibly go into the big dance without a signature win this season. That generally hasn’t worked out well for other teams that have been in the position Cincinnati could find itself in when the tournament begins.
Much has been made of Duke’s substandard defense this season. The Blue Devils are allowing 98.8 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 80th in the country, and even that modest ranking improved significantly after they held Pittsburgh to 54 points in a win over the weekend. At the same time, anyone who watched the Blue Devils win over Miami last week knows that when they’re at their best offensively, it doesn’t much matter what they’re doing on the other end of the floor. With 7:59 left in that game, Miami led Duke 66-53. With 5:14 left, it was 66-66. Duke erased a 13-point deficit in fewer than three minutes. Two minutes later, the Blue Devils had a five-point lead. From the moment Duke went down by 13 points with fewer than eight minutes left in the game, it outscored Miami 30-9. That’s 30 points in eight minutes on 10-for-12 from the floor. The Blue Devils have five players who average at least 12.1 points per game, led by Marvin Bagley at 21.9 points per game. Wendell Carter and Gary Trent are both shooting at least 43.2% from distance and Grayson Allen has what it takes to get to that level. Yes, Duke has a defense problem. It just might not mean that much if their offense can play to its full potential what it matters most.