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Bracket Watch: Michigan, Kentucky Push for the Top Line

Did Michigan State hang on as a No. 1 seed after its loss to Purdue? See how the weekend's results impacted our latest Bracket Watch.

It was a relatively tame weekend, and that resulted in few changes to our working field of 68 in the Bracket Watch. There was some shuffling, to be sure, but 65 of the 68 teams from our previous bracket returned, and two of the three new teams—North Texas and Lehigh—are from one-bid leagues. The lone newcomer from a power conference is Temple, which took away one of the last four spots in the field from Arizona.

Continuity reigned at the top of the field, even with Michigan State’s loss to Purdue. The Bracket Watch Committee believes strongly that a team should not be penalized for losing a road game against a strong team. Michigan is knocking loudly on the door for that final No. 1 seed, but, for now, it still belongs to the Spartans. The loss did push MSU out to the West Region, however, with Tennessee now the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, and Virginia the top dog in the South.

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Last Four Byes


Last Four In

Arizona State
Seton Hall

First Eight Out

San Francisco
Fresno State
South Carolina

Next Eight Out

Utah State

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East Region

Remind me, have Duke and Kentucky ever played a legendary Elite Eight game against one another? Should they meet in the same round this year, it would be an encore worthy of its predecessor from 27 years ago. It’s Purdue that gets the focus in this region, with the Boilermakers arguably the hottest team in the country. After upending Michigan State 73–63 on Sunday, they’ve won five straight games and are now 7–2 in the Big Ten. What should have the rest of the conference scared is that, save for a hiccup late in the second half, Purdue thoroughly dominated this game despite an off-game from Carsen Edwards. He was 4 for 19 from the floor, including 3 for 11 from three, but the Boilermakers still took an 18-point lead into halftime and kept the Spartans at arm’s length the entire second half. Four other Boilermakers were in double-figures, led by Ryan Cline’s 17 points, and the combination of Matt Haarms and Trevion Williams limited Nick Ward to nine points on 4 for 10 from the floor. The Boilermakers are done with Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin for the rest of the regular season, meaning it could be a long time before they lose again.

(1) Duke vs. (16) Robert Morris/Prairie View A&M
(8) Ole Miss vs. (9) Washington
(5) Texas Tech vs. (12) VCU
(4) Purdue vs. (13) South Dakota State
(6) Buffalo vs. (11) Indiana
(3) Houston vs. (14) UC-Irvine
(7) Kansas State vs. (10) Wofford
(2) Kentucky vs. (15) Loyola-Chicago

Midwest Region

This would be a particularly loaded region thanks to the surges of its No. 4 and 5 seeds, Louisville and Villanova. The Cardinals have ripped off five straight wins since losing to Pittsburgh, and have proved themselves players in a top-heavy ACC. The last time the Wildcats lost was the same weekend as the NFL’s Week 15, and that was a three-point loss at Kansas. They’ve won eight straight since then, and go into this week half a game ahead of Marquette in the Big East. A second-round meeting between those two would almost be a shame, given that they’ve both proved their second-weekend bona fides over the last month. It would also only be further proof that the draw is paramount.

(1) Tennessee vs. (16) Sam Houston State/Norfolk State
(8) Nebraska vs. (9) Cincinnati
(5) Villanova vs. (12) Arizona State/UCF
(4) Louisville vs. (13) Hofstra
(6) Iowa vs. (11) Murray State
(3) Kansas vs. (14) Northern Kentucky
(7) NC State vs. (10) St. John's
(2) Michigan vs. (15) Montana

South Region

Why is Gonzaga, clearly the best team out west and a worthy top-two seed, in the South Region rather than the West? It’s the triumph of bracketing principles over geographic preference. The Big Ten has four teams—Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue and Wisconsin—seeded fourth or better. The ACC has five such teams—Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia Tech. Bracketing principles force us to place the four Big Ten teams, as well as the four best ACC teams, in separate regions. Moving Gonzaga to the west would start a domino effect, the result of which would either have Virginia facing off with Virginia Tech in the Sweet 16, or force us to change the teams atop three of our regions. In an era of ridiculously fast and comfortable air travel, we felt it better to move Gonzaga to the South Region rather than upset the competitive balance of the field.

(1) Virginia vs. (16) Rider
(8) TCU vs. (9) Ohio State
(5) LSU vs. (12) Lipscomb
(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) New Mexico State
(6) Oklahoma vs. (11) Alabama
(3) Marquette vs. (14) Texas State
(7) Florida State vs. (10) Minnesota
(2) Gonzaga vs. (15) Radford

West Region

It isn’t often that we talk about a No. 12 seed in this space—unless it’s a dangerous mid-major—and even rarer for us to discuss one of the last four teams in the field here. Seton Hall may seem a controversial choice for an at-large bid, though, so we felt we should address it. I remember a Selection Sunday years ago when Jay Bilas said something to the effect of, “Every bubble team has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it can lose. I want the ones who have also proved they can play with the best teams in the country in the field.” That has always stuck with the Bracket Watch Selection Committee, and helps drive our decision-making process at the backend of the field. Yes, Seton Hall has some bad losses, highlighted by a sweep at the hands of DePaul. The Pirates also beat Kentucky on a neutral floor and won at Maryland. Those are two wins few, if any, true bubble teams will be able to match. For now, they’re good enough to keep the Pirates in the field.

(1) Michigan State vs. (16) Lehigh
(8) Auburn vs. (9) Syracuse
(5) Iowa State vs. (12) Seton Hall/Temple
(4) Virginia Tech vs. (13) Vermont
(6) Maryland vs. (11) Texas
(3) Nevada vs. (14) Yale
(7) Mississippi State vs. (10) Baylor
(2) North Carolina vs. (15) North Texas

Full NCAA Tournament Bracket Watch (as of Jan. 28)