Bracket Watch: A Weekend of Drama Brings Change to the Top Line

After the weekend saw the final two unbeaten teams fall, a new team jumped on to the top line in our NCAA tournament projection.
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The inimitable Ken Pomeroy pulled out a stat late Friday night that may have occurred only to him. Saturday’s college basketball slate featured 150 games, which will be the busiest day of the year. It’s no surprise that a day with that many games led to turnover in our working field of 68 here in the Bracket Watch.

Two of the one seeds in our most recent bracket—Michigan and Virginia—lost onSaturday. It was a guarantee that at least one would with Duke hosting Virginia, but the former’s win in that game meant that three teams that have lived on the top line since we unveiled our first bracket of 2019 suffered losses in the previous week. The only one that didn’t was Tennessee, so it should come as no surprise that the Volunteers remain a No. 1 seed. They are not, however, the top overall seed.

That honor belongs once again to Duke, after a brief interlude last week. The Blue Devils ceded the top overall spot in the field to Virginia after losing to Syracuse a week ago, but that loss came with two major caveats. First, Cam Reddish missed the game due to illness. Second, Tre Jones left just before halftime with a shoulder injury, and did not return. It was still a surprising loss at home, but one that we could forgive in the moment. It became even more forgivable after what the Blue Devils did over the weekend.

Power Rankings: The Unbeatens Are Done, So Who's No. 1?

Jones remained out for Saturday’s clash with Virginia, but Reddish returned, putting Duke nearly back at full strength. The Blue Devils took a five-point lead into halftime, and the first 18 minutes of the second half were played within a six-point window. With 4:28 remaining in the game, a De’Andre Hunter layup cut Duke’s lead to one point. Over the next three minutes and 30 seconds, Duke outscored Virginia 6–0, effectively putting the game away. The final score said Duke 72, Virginia 70, and the game was close throughout, but it wasn’t that close in the final minutes. The Blue Devils unquestionably drew first blood at the top of the ACC. That’s why they’re back atop our field of 68.

Virginia, however, remained on the top line. No one should be penalized for a close loss at Duke, least of all a team that was 16–0 before the game and remained first in the country in NET and on after it. There was, however, shakeup on the top line.

About five hours before Virginia became the last time to fall from the ranks of the unbeaten, Michigan suffered the same fate, losing for the first time this season in a 64–54 reversal at Wisconsin. While Michigan has been hogging the spotlight in the Big Ten for most of the season, Michigan State has been quietly lurking just behind, amassing records of 16–2 overall and 7–0 in conference. The Spartans are ranked fifth in NET and third on The Wolverines are sixth by both measures. Michigan State is 7–2 in Quadrant 1 games. Michigan is 4–1. The Spartans have played the 37th toughest scheduled in the country this season. The Wolverines’ strength of schedule ranks 97th. It’s certainly close, but Michigan State’s résumé is just slightly better, pushing it to the top line, with Michigan sliding down to a No. 2 seed to begin the final week of January.

SI's 2018–19 Midseason All-America Team

Last Four Byes

Ohio State
Seton Hall

Last Four In


First Eight Out

Arizona State
San Francisco
Fresno State
Saint Louis

Next Eight Out

South Carolina
Notre Dame
Utah State

East Region

Baylor was nowhere near the field of 68 at the start of conference play. It's now won three of its first five games in the Big 12, including victories over Iowa State and Texas Tech. That, combined with a soft bubble thus far, was enough to get the Bears one of the final four spots in the field. They didn’t do much in the non-conference portion of their schedule, though a win over Arizona looks a bit better now than it did at the time. If the Bears can beat the teams they’re supposed to and pick off another meaningful win or two, they’ll have a good shot at remaining in the field. This is one of those take-care-of-business weeks for them, with games against West Virginia on the road Monday and Alabama at home on Saturday.

(1) Duke vs. (16) Robert Morris/Prairie View A&M
(8) Cincinnati vs. (9) St. John's
(5) Nebraska vs. (12) Butler/Baylor
(4) Nevada vs. (13) South Dakota State
(6) Mississippi State vs. (11) Minnesota
(3) Houston vs. (14) Loyola-Chicago
(7) Florida State vs. (10) Ohio State
(2) Kansas vs. (15) Montana

South Region

Before Saturday’s huge win over Michigan, Wisconsin had lost a couple of tough games in a row. Two weekends ago, they dropped a game at home in overtime to Purdue, 84–80. The following Monday, they fell behind by 21 points at Maryland, only to rally all the way back and take a 60–59 lead with two minutes left in the game. From that point forward, Maryland scored the final five points of the game, pulling out a 64–60 win. In other words, the Badgers were desperate for a big win, and they got one by absolutely dominating Michigan in the second half. The Badgers outscored Michigan by 12 points after halftime, and over the final four minutes of the game went on a 14–8 spurt to put it away. Ethan Happ had 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, his third 25-10-5 game of the season. On the other side of the ball, the Badgers held Ignas Brazdeikis to the first scoreless game of his college career. Like Baylor, Wisconsin has a take-care-of-business week ahead, with games against Illinois and Northwestern.

(1) Tennessee vs. (16) Sam Houston State/Norfolk State
(8) NC State vs. (9) TCU
(5) Wisconsin vs. (12) Arizona/UCF
(4) Texas Tech vs. (13) Hofstra
(6) Iowa vs. (11) Wofford
(3) North Carolina vs. (14) Texas State
(7) Mississippi vs. (10) Texas
(2) Michigan vs. (15) Radford

West Region

Kansas and Texas Tech started the season as the presumptive best teams in the Big 12, and Iowa State emerged in mid-December and early January as the most-likely challenger to the order. That, however, might be changing. Since getting Dean Wade back from a foot injury last week, Kansas State has reeled off wins over Iowa State, Oklahoma and TCU, the first two of which came on the road. With Kansas and Texas Tech faltering over the weekend, and the Jayhawks dealing with Udoka Azubuike’s season-ending injury, Kansas State is starting to peak at just the right time. A win at home over Texas Tech on Tuesday could shift the balance of power in the Big 12.

(1) Virginia vs. (16) Rider
(8) Kansas State vs. (9) Indiana
(5) LSU vs. (12) Lipscomb
(4) Maryland vs. (13) Vermont
(6) Louisville vs. (11) Alabama
(3) Marquette vs. (14) Northern Kentucky
(7) Oklahoma vs. (10) Seton Hall
(2) Gonzaga vs. (15) UC-Irvine

Midwest Region

This is a big week for Virginia Tech, which is 15–2 overall and 4–1 in the ACC. Our eyes and all of the reliable metrics can tell us that the Hokies have one of the top offenses in the country. They’re scoring nearly 120 points per 100 possessions, rank seventh in’s adjusted offensive efficiency, third in effective field goal percentage, and third in three-point percentage. And yet, their résumé lacks the hallmarks of a typical top-10 team. They have just one win against a team likely to get an at-large berth, beating Purdue before Thanksgiving. Beyond that, they’ve played only one more team that will surely hear its name called on Selection Sunday, and that game resulted in a 22-point drubbing at the hands of Virginia. We know the Hokies are good, but we know just as strongly that they are untested. That will start to change this week, with a visit to North Carolina on Monday and a home game with Syracuse on Saturday. This is when we begin learning just how dangerous the Hokies really are.

(1) Michigan State vs. (16) Bucknell
(8) Auburn vs. (9) Syracuse
(5) Iowa State vs. (12) VCU
(4) Buffalo vs. (13) New Mexico State
(6) Villanova vs. (11) Murray State
(3) Virginia Tech vs. (14) Yale
(7) Purdue vs. (10) Washington
(2) Kentucky vs. (15) Marshall

Full NCAA Tournament Bracket Watch (as of Jan. 21)