There are less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, but the bracket picture isn’t gaining much, if any, clarity. In the seven days of games since the Selection Committee revealed its top-16 teams, all the No. 1 seeds other than Virginia lost a game. There is uncertainty at the top of the field—with at least six teams in the mix for the final No. 1 seed—and at the bottom of the field, where the last teams in and first teams out seem to shuffle every couple of days. It’s going to be a bracket-shaping three weeks to end the regular season. Find out where we believe everything stands in this week’s Bracket Watch.
Last Four In
First Five Out
Next Five Out
St. Bonaventure has been on the fringes of the NCAA tournament field for the last few weeks, turning around their fortunes after an ugly 2-4 start in the Atlantic 10. Still, its resumé lacked punch, thanks primarily to the noticeable lack of a signature victory. That is no longer the case after the Bonnies 77-74 win over Rhode Island last Friday. The Bonnies trailed by six points with 4:29 left, but closed the game on a 12-3 run to pick up the win they needed to finally vault into our projected field of 68. They’re now 4-2 in Quadrant 1 games, which, for the time being, is enough to counterbalance two losses to teams with sub-100 RPIs. Syracuse, UCLA and USC are nipping at their heels, and other teams currently on the outside looking in (such as LSU, Marquette and Temple) have plenty of time to trade spots with the Bonnies. Their resumé isn’t, and won’t become, strong enough to turn them into a lock, and one more bad loss could have them irrevocably on the wrong side of the bubble. For now, though, they have an inside track to their first tournament appearance since 2012.
Rhode Island was on the other side of the Bonnies potential season-changing win, and the loss further solidifies their position at the center of one of this season’s most intriguing seed debates. The Rams have dominated the A-10, sitting at 13-1 in the conference. They challenged themselves enough in the non-conference to have the 38th toughest strength of schedule, despite being in a league ranked 11th on kenpom.com, behind the Mountain West and Missouri Valley. They’re ranked seventh in the RPI and they don’t have any bad losses. And yet, the resumé still feels a little thin. They’re just 2-4 in Q1 games. To be fair, their six Q1 opponents to date were more challenging than St. Bonaventure’s, but it’s hard not to notice that the Bonnies are two games better than them in a subset of games that the Selection Committee will weigh heavily. That’s not to say that the Bonnies have a better resumé, but simply to point out that Rhode Island’s standing may not be as good as it has seemed for most of the season. I struggled with their seed for this week, but ultimately kept them as a No. 5, just barely ahead of Kentucky, Arizona State and Creighton.
Michigan State pulled off one of the key wins of the season on Saturday when it rallied from a 27-point, second-half deficit to beat Northwestern, 65-60. The Wildcats may be nowhere near the at-large picture, and you could rightly question why the Spartans got in so deep a hole in the first place, but all that really matters for our discussion here is that they came out of the game with a win. A loss to a team like Northwestern would have significantly damaged the Spartans argument that they, too, belong in the No. 1 seed discussion. The lack of depth in the Big Ten this season won’t afford any of its tournament-bound teams the luxury of dropping a game to one of its lesser opponents while still being considered top-line material. Michigan State is 14th in RPI with the 84th-toughest strength of schedule. Part of their top-seed appeal is that their only losses are to Duke, Ohio State and Michigan. They protected that by pulling out of the skid at Northwestern on Saturday.
Losses by Purdue and Auburn opened up the top line in the West Region. Cincinnati would have been considered, but the Bearcats dropped both their games last week, which sent them down a line rather than up one. Duke was in the mix, too, but its 3-4 record in Q1 games wasn’t enough to get them to the top. Instead, Kansas reclaimed a No. 1 seed in the Bracket Watch. The Jayhawks railed from a 12-point deficit against West Virginia on Saturday, outscoring the Mountaineers 31-11 in the game’s final 10 minutes to earn a huge 77-69 victory. It was their ninth Q1 win of the season, tied with North Carolina for the most in the country. They may have six losses—more than we typically see on the top line—but this year’s final No. 1 seed is likely to be flawed, given the up-and-down nature of the season across the country. Nine Q1 wins, an RPI of six, and the second toughest schedule in the country? Those are all resumé elements the committee will approve of on Selection Sunday.