After most of the top teams took care of business this week, we take a look at possible contentious seeding for two teams in our latest NCAA tournament bracket projection.
SI.com's first Bracket Watch of the week is released on Monday. On Thursday, we go back to the bracket drawing board after the week's early results to reassess the field. See the updated bracket below.
This week has mostly played to script thus far, with the top teams in the country taking care of business. Texas Tech was the lone ranked team to take a loss, at Oklahoma State, and the Red Raiders indeed fell down a line to a No. 4 seed, flipping with Tennessee. Other than that, it has been quiet for the country’s best teams.
Without any major moves to talk about, let’s take a look at what could be contentious seeding for two teams. We are duty-bound to discuss Oklahoma, by virtue of this being a bracket projection column, coupled with their suffering through one of the most glaring tailspins in recent memory. The Sooners have lost six straight games, seven of eight, and nine of 11. They are 16-11 overall and 6-9 in the Big 12, which places them eighth in the conference. That has them plummeting down the seed list, with some even suggesting they could miss out on the tournament.
Before we get too frenzied, let’s pull back and remember a few things. First, the committee doesn’t discriminate based on the calendar. A win or loss in November is counted the same as one in February. Second, Oklahoma’s accomplishments before the wheels fell off the Conestoga have not disappeared. The Sooners still have those wins over Kansas and Texas Tech at home, and Wichita State and TCU on the road. They still have the six Q1 wins, which may not have them toward the top of the field but keeps them in good company. Finally, always remember that the Selection Committee does not generally care about overall record—so long as it isn’t egregious—conference record, or conference standing. Those are not substantive inputs for a team’s body of work. The recency of Oklahoma’s precipitous slide may have you rethinking how far you’ll have them going in your bracket pool, with good reason, but it won’t have the committee debating whether they should be a tournament team. They remain safely in the field of 68.
The other team is Creighton. As recently as Monday, we had Creighton as a No. 6 seed. First, I need to come out and say that I whiffed on that. Creighton has a solid enough resumé that they likely won’t be in any jeopardy on Selection Sunday, but they have just three Q1 wins, an RPI of 39 and a strength of schedule of 50. What’s more, their best wins of the season came at home against Seton Hall, Butler and Providence, and on a neutral floor against UCLA. I admittedly gave too much weight to the fact that they have no bad losses, which is a good trait, but not one that should have helped drive them up to a No. 6 seed.
Still, it might seem more than a little incongruous that they fell all the way to No. 10 after losing at Butler this week. This is where bracketing principles come into play. Initially, I had Creighton as a No. 9 seed. However, I have Seton Hall as a No. 8 and Providence as a No. 9. Villanova and Xavier, meanwhile, remain on the top line. Bracketing principles say that teams from the same conference cannot play one another in the second round if they met more than once in the regular season, and every Big East team plays every other team in the conference twice, not including the conference tournament. That means no Big East team can be in an 8/9 game in Villanova’s or Xavier’s region, which means that only two teams from the conference can be on either of those lines.
That forced me to consider Creighton’s resumé specifically against Seton Hall’s and Providence’s. The former, too, has just three Q1 wins, but its best wins—home against Texas Tech and at Butler—are better than Creighton’s. The Pirates also have a better RPI and strength of schedule. Providence, meanwhile, owns five Q1 wins, including victories over Villanova and Xavier. That placed the Bluejays third among those three teams and, when paired with the relevant bracketing principle, pushed them down to a No. 10 seed.
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