This week’s SI.com field of 68 nearly had a shakeup near the top resulting from Baylor’s loss to West Virginia. Given that we’re still two months from the start of the tournament, however, we decided to keep Baylor at the top of the South Region. We’ll explain our reasoning in further detail below. The hardest decision of the week was at the top of the field with Gonzaga making a strong case to move to the top line. The Bulldogs stuck as the No. 2 seed in the West Region, but UCLA and Baylor should take notice of the Bulldogs getting larger in their respective rear-view mirrors.
Last Four In
First Four Out
Next Four Out
For the second straight week, the East looks like the strongest region. Villanova, West Virginia and Virginia are ranked fourth, second and fifth, respectively, on kenpom.com. Oregon, meanwhile, is the lone team with a win over UCLA, and Florida is also a top-15 kenpom.com team. Chances are you won’t see a region with this exact makeup on Selection Sunday, but bracketing principles are forcing our hand a bit. Villanova-West Virginia has the feel of a national semifinal rather than a regional final, but the Mountaineers would likely be placed in the East with New York being the closest region host to Morgantown.
Kansas moved to 5–0 in the Big 12 with wins over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State last week. The Jayhawks have yet to face any of their fellow conference powerhouses, and won’t until the final week of January, but they have to be considered the favorites in the Big 12 at this point. Florida State beat Duke at home and then lost to North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and that has to be considered a net-positive week. No top seed is going to want to see Creighton in its region. The Bluejays are going to have trouble climbing all the way to the top line because of Villanova’s dominance in the Big East, but they’re going to be a Final Four contender, no matter their draw. After beating Butler and Truman State last week, Creighton has the sixth-ranked offense, in terms of adjusted efficiency, on kenpom.com. Arizona is 5–0 in the Pac-12 after beating Arizona State last week. The Wildcats spend the coming week in Los Angeles, with road games against USC and UCLA. We’ll get a sense of just how great a challenger they are to the Bruins on Saturday.
Speaking of UCLA, they remain atop the West Region, although Gonzaga is knocking on the door after beating Saint Mary’s by 23 points on Saturday. Depending on what happens with the other contenders for the four No. 1 seeds, we might see either UCLA or Gonzaga leave the West Region so both can be on the top line. KenPom gives Gonzaga a 1-in-3 chance at going undefeated in the regular season. Louisville got back on track with wins over Pittsburgh and Duke last week, moving to 3-2 in the ACC. The Cardinals have a big week ahead with games against Clemson and Florida State, the latter of which on the road. Notre Dame, meanwhile, looks more and more like a real player in the conference. The Irish are now 5–0 in the ACC after beating Miami and Virginia Tech last week, getting their second and third true road wins of the season. If they can knock off the Seminoles in Tallahassee on Wednesday, they’ll certainly cement their presence in the conference title race.
Baylor suffered its first loss of the season, getting blitzed by West Virginia and falling by 21 points in Morgantown. Still, we kept the Bears atop the South Region for three reasons. First, they were 5.5-point underdogs in that game, so it can hardly be called an appalling upset. Second, they still sport a mightily impressive résumé, with wins over Louisville and Xavier. Third, that résumé is a touch better than Kentucky’s, and geographic preference still has those two as the top teams in the South. We nearly put Gonzaga atop the South Region, and that could easily change depending on what Baylor does against Texas and TCU this week. North Carolina picked up its best win of the season by beating Florida State over the weekend. The Tar Heels showed in that game how dangerous they can be, scoring 96 points, their third straight game with at least 90 on the scoreboard. They should have a relatively easy week with games against Syracuse and Boston College. Butler had a similar week to Florida State, in that they lost to one of the best teams in their conference but beat another, resulting in an overall gain. The Bulldogs are now 4–2 in the Big East, with wins over Villanova and Georgetown.