This has already been a wild week of college basketball, and the effects are being felt across the field of 68 in this edition of Bracket Watch. Duke came from 23 down with less than 10 minutes remaining to win at Louisville. Virginia bounced back from its loss to Duke, winning at North Carolina a mere 48 hours later. LSU upended Kentucky in Lexington, a win for which it deserves full credit even if the game-winning bucket should’ve been disallowed. In the Big Ten, Michigan (at Penn State), Purdue (at Maryland) and Wisconsin (vs. Michigan State) all lost on the same day, though, to be fair, the latter two were underdogs in their games. And to think, we still have a full weekend slate ahead of us before putting a bow on this week.
With all the above results in mind, as well as all the goings-on at the other end of the field of 68, this was our busiest midweek update to the Bracket Watch of the season.
Last Four Byes
Last Four In
First Eight Out
Next Eight Out
It’s time to talk about Virginia Tech again. The computer metrics love the Hokies. They’re 13th in the NET, 11th on kenpom, 14th in Sagarin and 12th in T-Rank. What’s more, they’ve been particularly stubborn in those metrics, playing all season in about a six-spot rankings window by all four measures. All of that will matter when the committee sits down on Selection Sunday. And yet, we still cannot ignore the fact that this team has not won a meaningful game since the middle of November, no matter how beloved it is by the computers. The weekend before Thanksgiving, Virginia Tech beat Purdue on a neutral floor. The Boilermakers weren’t then the team they are now, but that still goes down as a signature win for the Hokies. Since then, their best wins have come against Washington, Syracuse and NC State. As it stands now, all those teams are more likely than not to get into the dance, but even if they all do there likely isn’t better than a No. 7 seed in that group. When the Hokies have played the best the ACC has to offer, they’ve been soundly defeated: 81–59 at Virginia, 103–82 at North Carolina, and 72–64 at home against Louisville. To be fair, they played the Louisville game without Justin Robinson, but they’ve had about as unimpressive an 8–4 season as is possible in the ACC. The Hokies aren’t in any particular danger of falling out of the tournament picture, but they may not have the ceiling their computer metrics suggest. After visiting Pittsburgh this weekend, they play Virginia, Duke and Florida State in three of their subsequent four games. It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for the Hokies.
(1) Duke vs. (16) St. Francis (PA)/Prairie View A&M
(8) Washington vs. (9) Texas
(5) Villanova vs. (12) Lipscomb
(4) Texas Tech vs. (13) Murray State
(6) Virginia Tech vs. (11) Minnesota
(3) Marquette vs. (14) Texas State
(7) Cincinnati vs. (10) Alabama
(2) Michigan vs. (15) Montana
In one of the first editions of Bracket Watch this season, we talked about breaking points in the bracket, referring to where the field clearly steps down into a lesser tier. We find one of those with Maryland, a No. 5 seed, and Iowa State, a No. 6 seed. We had four teams for five spots on the No. 5 line, with Iowa State in the same tier as Maryland, Villanova, Kansas State and Louisville. Any of those five teams could have found themselves the odd one out, and it came down to Maryland and Iowa State for the final No. 5 seed. Ultimately, Maryland's win over Purdue on Tuesday, combined with Iowa State's home loss to TCU last weekend, gave the Terrapins the slightly better résumé. Go into this weekend thinking of those five teams in a cluster, though, rather than believing Iowa State is comfortably behind the other four.
(1) Tennessee vs. (16) Quinnipiac/Norfolk State
(8) Baylor vs. (9) Wofford
(5) Maryland vs. (12) New Mexico State
(4) Nevada vs. (13) Hofstra
(6) Florida State vs. (11) Oklahoma
(3) Purdue vs. (14) Northern Kentucky
(7) Ole Miss vs. (10) Seton Hall
(2) North Carolina vs. (15) Loyola-Chicago
Earlier this week, we discussed the potential ceilings on Nevada’s and Villanova’s seeds given where they stood in the Selection Committee’s midseason top 16. Houston would seem to be in a similar position to Nevada because of the lack of at-large contenders in its own conference, but there are a few key differences at play. First, the AAC is a stronger league than the Mountain West, with Cincinnati a likely at-large team, Temple and UCF firmly on the bubble, and Memphis and South Florida solid NIT teams still harboring slim at-large hopes. Second, Houston has four Q1 wins, compared with zero for Nevada. The Cougars have two wins over guaranteed or likely at-large teams, LSU and Cincinnati, while the Wolf Pack have none. With recent missteps by a couple No. 2 seeds, and challenging roads ahead for all of them, the Cougars could still move up a line in the actual bracket. It is hard to craft a realistic scenario in which they end up as a No. 1 seed, though.
(1) Virginia vs. (16) Sam Houston State
(8) Auburn vs. (9) Ohio State
(5) Kansas State vs. (12) Utah State/Clemson
(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Yale
(6) Iowa State vs. (11) Indiana
(3) Houston vs. (14) Old Dominion
(7) Buffalo vs. (10) NC State
(2) Kentucky vs. (15) UC-Irvine
No one had a better start to their week than the LSU Tigers. Their win in Lexington wasn’t just their best win of the season, or the victory that officially locked up a tournament bid. It also positioned them to win the SEC regular season title. The Tigers are done with Kentucky and have one game remaining with Tennessee, which is in Baton Rouge. The Volunteers and Wildcats, meanwhile, still play one another twice in the regular season, with the first game on Saturday in Lexington. If the LSU wins out and Tennessee and Kentucky split their two meetings, the Tigers will be all alone atop the SEC standings at the end of the regular season. That, of course, would include a major win over Tennessee, and they still have three games left with at-large contenders in Florida (twice) and Alabama. Those, however, should be wins for an LSU squad that has placed itself among this season’s true Final Four contenders. The program’s first SEC regular season title since 2009 is within sight.
(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Bucknell
(8) TCU vs. (9) St. John's
(5) Louisville vs. (12) Temple/Nebraska
(4) LSU vs. (13) Vermont
(6) Iowa vs. (11) VCU
(3) Kansas vs. (14) South Dakota State
(7) Mississippi State vs. (10) Syracuse
(2) Michigan State vs. (15) Radford