Duke, Tennessee and Virginia all took care of business over the weekend and are now a combined 59–4 on the season. There’s still plenty of time left for any—or all, for that matter—to fall off the top line, but all three have some leash with which to work. Michigan State, which was the fourth No. 1 seed in our previous Bracket Watch, lost its second straight game, falling at home in overtime to a reeling Indiana squad. With Michigan getting trounced at Iowa over the weekend, Gonzaga rose to a No. 1 seed in the Bracket Watch for the first time this season, claiming the top line out west.
We’re now inside six weeks to go until Selection Sunday. That’s still enough time for teams to make dramatic moves up or down the seed list, but the field of 68 comes into sharper focus with each passing day. Here’s where things stand as we kick off the first full week of February.
Last Four Byes
Last Four In
First Eight Out
Next Eight Out
It’s been a while since we talked about the top overall seed in our field, so let’s spend a moment discussing Duke. The Blue Devils have won five straight games since losing to Syracuse last month, but just one of those—a huge win over Virginia—came at the expense of a team sure to get an at-large bid. Still, Duke impressed in the other four by winning them by an average of 20 points, with no margin of victory less than 13 points. After another matchup with a willing patsy, Boston College, on Tuesday, the Blue Devils will start a stretch on Saturday where they play Virginia, Louisville, NC State, North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia Tech in succession. That they’re likely to be favored in all of those games, save their trip to Charlottesville this weekend, is just another indication of how lethal they are this season.
(1) Duke vs. (16) Robert Morris/Prairie View A&M
(8) Ohio State vs. (9) TCU
(5) Texas Tech vs. (12) VCU
(4) Nevada vs. (13) Murray State
(6) Florida State vs. (11) Alabama
(3) Marquette vs. (14) UC-Irvine
(7) Buffalo vs. (10) Texas
(2) Michigan State vs. (15) Loyola-Chicago
North Carolina exacted revenge over the weekend for its only ACC loss to date, going to Louisville and upending the Cardinals, 79–69. The Tar Heels, too, have won five straight games and go into this week at 7–1 in the conference, tied with Duke a half-game behind Virginia. The Tar Heels still have three games remaining with those two teams (two against Duke, one against Virginia), so it’s safe to say tougher days loom ahead. It’s likely that their performance in those three games will determine the conventional wisdom surrounding their Final Four bona fides heading into the tournament, but it’s safe to say that they’ve separated themselves from the rest of the conference. They can do so even further this week with home games against NC State and Miami.
(1) Tennessee vs. (16) Rider/Norfolk State
(8) Oklahoma vs. (9) NC State
(5) Iowa vs. (12) Florida/Seton Hall
(4) Louisville vs. (13) Hofstra
(6) Mississippi State vs. (11) Lipscomb
(3) Purdue vs. (14) Northern Kentucky
(7) Baylor vs. (10) Minnesota
(2) North Carolina vs. (15) Montana
We’re developing a theme in this week’s Bracket Watch as we focus on our third straight team on a five-game winning streak. Wisconsin knocked off Maryland over the weekend to win its fifth consecutive game, a streak that started with the Badgers handing Michigan its first loss of the season. The Badgers have held their opponents to an average of 54.4 points during the streak, and now sit at 8–3 in the Big Ten. Ethan Happ turned in another monster game in the win over Maryland, scoring 18 points, pulling down 11 rebounds and dishing out six assists. The senior is now averaging 18.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game, leading the Badgers in all categories. Should he maintain those averages, he’d be the first player since 1992–93 to average 18-10-5 over a full season. The Badgers visit Minnesota on Wednesday, then play Michigan and Michigan State in back-to-back games.
(1) Virginia vs. (16) Sam Houston State
(8) Washington vs. (9) Ole Miss
(5) Villanova vs. (12) New Mexico State
(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Yale
(6) LSU vs. (11) Wofford
(3) Houston vs. (14) Old Dominion
(7) Kansas State vs. (10) Indiana
(2) Kentucky vs. (15) Radford
Now that Gonzaga is atop the West Region, it’s going to be hard to knock it back down to a No. 2 seed. The Bulldogs have cruised to an 8–0 record in the West Coast Conference, with their slimmest victory thus far being by 13 points at San Francisco, the league’s second-best team. If the Bulldogs win out, nothing Michigan State, Michigan or Kentucky does will matter. North Carolina could theoretically pass Gonzaga in résumé strength if it, say, wins two of its three games with Duke and Virginia and then wins the ACC tournament, but that would likely result in either the Blue Devils or Cavaliers, not the Bulldogs, falling off the top line. In short, Gonzaga is going to have to lose at least once, and possibly more than that, to not be the No. 1 seed in the West Region, especially considering the committee’s desire to keep the bracket geographically balanced. It just so happens that Gonzaga’s toughest remaining week is this one, with games against San Francisco and Saint Mary’s. Should the Bulldogs take care of business in those two games, it’s hard to see them losing at any point before March.
(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Bucknell
(8) Auburn vs. (9) Syracuse
(5) Iowa State vs. (12) Temple/Nebraska
(4) Virginia Tech vs. (13) Vermont
(6) Maryland vs. (11) St. John's
(3) Kansas vs. (14) South Dakota State
(7) Cincinnati vs. (10) Arizona State
(2) Michigan vs. (15) Georgia State