An upset-filled week did not have quite as significant an impact at the top of the field in the Bracket Watch as one might expect. The reasoning? With Villanova, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia and UCLA all dropping at least one game last week, there weren’t any major net gains or losses. It may have been an unexpectedly rocky week for the teams at the top of the field, but that did not result in many seeding changes.
Last Four In
First Four Out
Next Four Out
Wichita State and Wake Forest are two of our last four teams in the field this week, but they must take different routes to get to the Big Dance. Unless the Shockers win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, they’re going to be on the bubble on Selection Sunday. Their best win of the season to date was over Oklahoma. To be clear, that’s not a great win. The Valley won’t provide them with many résumé-building opportunities the rest of the way. They still have a return matchup with Illinois State on tap, but even a split with the Redbirds might not be enough to earn the Shockers an at-large bid. If they’re going to get back to the tournament for the sixth straight season, they’ll have to completely dominate the Valley for the rest of the season. There’s a real chance that their at-large hopes cannot survive one more loss.
As for the Demon Deacons, they let a golden chance slip away over the weekend. They led Duke by seven points with less than two minutes left, and then watched as the Blue Devils closed the game on a 9–0 run. Luke Kennard’s eventual game-winning three with 6.6 seconds on the clock marked Duke’s first lead of the game since they were up 18–17 about 10 minutes into the game. The loss dropped Wake Forest to 12–9 overall and 3–6 in conference, and yet, it could be in a better spot than Wichita State. The Demon Deacons still have matchups with Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Clemson, Duke, Louisville and Virginia Tech on their schedule, and that’s before whatever awaits them in the ACC tournament. If they can grab one win over the Notre Dame/Duke/Louisville group, another over Georgia Tech, Clemson or Virginia Tech, and take care of business against Boston College, Pittsburgh and NC State (their three other regular season games), they’ll be in good shape on Selection Sunday. That’s the luxury of playing in a power conference generally, and the opportunities are even richer in this season’s ACC, which could be the deepest conference we’ve ever seen in the sport.
Louisville jumped up to a No. 2 seed this week, and the Cardinals give us an entry point for talking about this week’s most confounding seed line. Arizona was the only team that ended up on the 2-line with a solid case for the seed. Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky and Florida State were all in the running for the other three spots, and there were no obvious answers. We ultimately moved Kentucky and Florida State down a seed line, but someone could look at the same evidence and make a compelling case that they should both be No. 2 seeds with, say, North Carolina and Virginia as No. 3s.
The Cardinals had the best case among the five teams. They’re fourth in both kenpom.com rating and in the RPI, with wins over Purdue, Kentucky and Duke. Their four losses, meanwhile, were to Baylor, Virginia, Notre Dame and Florida State, all of which are going to have high seeds and Final Four aspirations. North Carolina can’t match up with Louisville’s roster of wins, and they have losses to Miami and Georgia Tech, teams that are in the back end of this week’s field of 68. Kentucky has a glittery win over North Carolina, but the Wildcats’ next best victory was at the expense of South Carolina, and they have a loss to a Tennessee team that, while trending in the right direction, is still a few wins away from at-large consideration. Virginia is growing ever more dangerous, and nearly put together the best week any team has had this season. The Cavaliers ran Notre Dame out of its own gym, then went to Philadelphia and almost toppled Villanova, losing on a buzzer-beating tip-in by Donte DiVincenzo. Still, a loss to Pittsburgh has the Cavaliers behind Louisville on the s-curve. Finally, Florida State could do no wrong to start ACC play, but took consecutive losses to Georgia Tech and Syracuse.
All five of those teams could rightfully be No. 2 seeds this week, and they all still have the top line in their sites. For now, however, Louisville’s résumé is the strongest in the group.
The South takes over as the field’s most loaded region in this week’s bracket. Baylor, Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon and Duke all in one region, with down-ticket teams like Saint Mary’s, Marquette and Michigan State? Any team that emerged from such a region would have earned its trip to the Final Four. And in a week when top-10 teams in the AP poll combined for nine losses, we should take a moment to appreciate Baylor.
The Bears had a relatively light week, beating Texas Tech at home and Mississippi in Oxford. They’re one of five teams in the country with 20 wins at this point of the season, and plenty of those stand out. Baylor started the season by beating Oregon. The Bears then spent Thanksgiving week beating VCU, Michigan State and Louisville in Atlantis. One week later, they knocked off Xavier, and own wins over Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, TCU and Texas Tech in the Big 12. Their only loss came at the hands of West Virginia in Morgantown, which has quickly become one of the toughest places to play this season. We’ll get our first dose of Baylor-Kansas in Lawrence on Wednesday, and that will be another great measuring stick for the Bears. No matter the outcome, though, they’ll be worthy of being a No. 1 seed.
After being one of the Big Ten’s headliners in its first two seasons in the league, Maryland flew under the radar for most of this season. Not anymore. The Terrapins beat Rutgers and Minnesota last week to move to 19–2 overall and 7–1 in the Big Ten, tied with Wisconsin for first place. No win really jumps off the page, but the Terrapins have done a great job of taking care of business when they’re supposed to all season. There’s a lot of value in that, especially when you’re in a conference like the Big Ten.
Maryland already has four true road victories in the conference over Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. The Terps also beat Indiana, and took down Kansas State and Oklahoma State in nonconference play. That gives them five wins to date over at-large quality teams and, with junior guard Melo Trimble and freshman wing Justin Jackson, a pair of players capable of taking over for long stretches.
The Terrapins’ season could take a turn over the next few weeks. Even with Maryland and Northwestern playing well, Wisconsin and Purdue have separated themselves from the rest of the conference. Maryland gets its first game with one of those teams on Sunday when the Boilermakers visit College Park. In the middle of February, the Terrapins will make trips to Evanston and Madison in a four-day window. How well they play in those three games could determine whether the Terrapins go into the field in the top-quarter of the bracket, or as something like a No. 7 seed.