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Bracket Watch: Duke Cements Its Case as the No. 1 Overall Seed

Our latest look at the NCAA tournament picture, including discussion on Duke, Nevada and Villanova, plus Michigan vs. Michigan State's battle on the two-line.

The NCAA tournament Selection Committee released its top-16 seeds as of Saturday morning, giving us a window into what they’re thinking with five weeks until Selection Sunday. Those seeds may have changed since then after some of this weekend’s most important results—Duke over Virginia, Marquette over Villanova, Michigan over Wisconsin, and Iowa State’s home loss to TCU, just to name four—but no result was so weighty, at least to the eye of the Bracket Watch committee, to make any changes to the top 16.

Last week, we explained why the mid-February seed reveal does matter, even with so much basketball left to play before the field of 68 is set. In this edition of the Bracket Watch, we’ll discuss what we learned about four of the top teams, one from each region.

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East Region

It’s going to take a lot to knock Duke from its perch as the top overall seed. The Blue Devils were already atop the entire field before earning a season sweep over fellow No. 1 seed Virginia with a convincing win in Charlottesville on Saturday. With that win in hand, the Blue Devils are going to have to slip up in a major way to be anything but the No. 1 overall seed when the committee reveals the actual bracket on Selection Sunday. They’d likely have to lose multiple times the rest of the season and win neither the ACC regular season or tournament titles. We’ve all watched Duke this season. How many of us see that scenario coming to fruition over the next five weeks? Exactly. Plan on Duke being the No. 1 overall seed when you sit down to fill out your bracket in March.

(1) Duke vs. (16) Siena/Norfolk State
(8) Washington vs. (9) Ole Miss
(5) LSU vs. (12) Indiana/Temple
(4) Iowa State vs. (13) Murray State
(6) Kansas State vs. (11) Minnesota
(3) Marquette vs. (14) Texas State
(7) Buffalo vs. (10) Clemson
(2) Michigan State vs. (15) Montana

South Region

It’s probably a stretch to say any team involved in the mid-season reveal was disappointed, but if there was one such team it was likely Nevada. The Wolf Pack were always going to be fighting an uphill seeding battle once conference play began with few résumé-building opportunities in the Mountain West. Last weekend’s reveal, then, would be suggestive of Nevada’s seed ceiling. After all, the committee isn’t likely to move them up much, if at all, if they roll through the likes of Wyoming and UNLV the rest of the season. A spot on the No. 4 line indicates that the Wolf Pack will likely have to go through a No. 1 seed just to get to the Elite Eight. To be fair, they do have regular season games remaining with Utah State and Fresno State, the Mountain West’s other at-large contenders. If they win out, including the conference tournament, they could certainly climb up another seed line. Barring some sort of disaster for multiple teams ahead of them, though, they’ll likely do no better than a No. 3 seed.

(1) Tennessee vs. (16) Robert Morris/Prairie View A&M
(8) Baylor vs. (9) Wofford
(5) Villanova vs. (12) New Mexico State
(4) Nevada vs. (13) Hofstra
(6) Virgnia Tech vs. (11) Oklahoma
(3) Purdue vs. (14) Northern Kentucky
(7) Ohio State vs. (10) St. John's
(2) North Carolina vs. (15) Loyola-Chicago

Midwest Region

O.K., we’re going to stretch the rules we set for ourselves a bit in the Midwest by looking at another team we have in the South. Villanova was left out of the top 16 while fellow Big East power Marquette landed as the No. 3 seed in the East Region. The Golden Eagles then went out on Saturday and beat the Wildcats 66–65 at home, drawing first blood in the matchup likely to determine the Big East regular season and tournament crowns. At this point, it’s fair to wonder just how far up the seed list the Wildcats can go. The committee indicated with its weekend reveal that it’s not particularly interested in a team dominating this version of the Big East, which is unquestionably down from where it’s been in recent seasons. The Wildcats went into Saturday at 10–0 in the conference, beating every team in the league other than Marquette. Still, that wasn’t enough to get them into the top 16. Marquette, meanwhile, was seeded 12th overall despite losing twice in conference, thanks in large part to big non-conference wins over Louisville, Wisconsin, Kansas State and Buffalo. Villanova did beat Florida State in the non-conference portion of its schedule, but that was its only win outside the Big East over a team likely to get an at-large bid. Like Nevada, Villanova has to win out to find any upward mobility on the seed list.

(1) Virginia vs. (16) Sam Houston State
(8) Cincinnati vs. (9) Alabama
(5) Texas Tech vs. (12) VCU
(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Yale
(6) Florida State vs. (11) Seton Hall
(3) Houston vs. (14) Old Dominion
(7) Texas vs. (10) Syracuse
(2) Kentucky vs. (15) UC-Irvine

West Region

We did make one minor tweak to the committee’s work revealed on Saturday, and it concerns the No. 2 seed in the West Region. The committee seeded Duke first overall, Gonzaga fourth, Michigan sixth and Michigan State eighth. Despite that, it paired Michigan with Duke and Michigan State with Gonzaga. This, of course, makes no sense. Why should Duke, the top overall team have to go through a “better” No. 2 seed than Gonzaga, the fourth overall team? Why should Michigan, slotted two spots higher than Michigan State, have to beat the team deemed best in the country by the committee when the Spartans only have to beat the fourth-best team to get to the Final Four? This makes even less sense when you consider that Michigan and Michigan State are in the same conference, meaning there weren’t any conference-related bracketing principles that forced the committee’s hand. All it takes to achieve a little more competitive balance in the field is to flip Michigan and Michigan State, a move that requires no effort and doesn’t violate any bracketing principles. If anything, the gap between the two teams widened this weekend. Yes, they both won, but Michigan beat Wisconsin, a fellow top-16 team, while Michigan State cruised to a victory over bubble team Minnesota. We went ahead and made the change, moving Michigan out west and sliding Michigan State over to the East Region, where it will have to deal with the No. 1 overall seed, Duke.

(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Bucknell
(8) Auburn vs. (9) TCU
(5) Iowa vs. (12) Butler/UNC-Greensboro
(4) Louisville vs. (13) Vermont
(6) Maryland vs. (11) Lipscomb
(3) Kansas vs. (14) South Dakota State
(7) Mississippi State vs. (10) NC State
(2) Michigan vs. (15) Radford

Full NCAA Tournament Bracket Watch (as of Feb. 11)