The college basketball world, really the entire basketball world at large, is holding its collective breath, waiting to see how serious Zion Williamson’s knee injury is, and what the presumptive National Player of the Year and first overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft will do over the next six weeks. That’s true of the SI.com Bracket Watch Committee, as well.
North Carolina ended up waxing Duke, 88–72, on its home floor Wednesday, though the result was but a footnote after Williamson left the game within the first minute after a bizarre shoe mishap resulted in a sprained knee. For now, we’re keeping Duke not only on the top line, but atop the entire field as our No. 1 overall seed. Depending on what happens with Williamson, that could certainly change. For what it’s worth, Duke still has three challenging road trips before the ACC tournament, with visits to Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Chapel Hill on tap.
Last Four Byes
Last Four In
First Eight Out
Next Eight Out
How about the last week for Florida basketball? The Gators have been lurking just outside the tournament field for most of the season, with a résumé strong enough to be in the picture, but not quite on the right side of the bubble. That has changed with consecutive road wins over Alabama and LSU. That brand of victory was exactly what their résumé was lacking. Now that they have proved they can beat at-large quality competition away from home, including a Final Four contender in LSU, they have an inside track to a tournament berth. If they merely stay the course and win their next three games against Missouri, Vanderbilt and Georgia, it shouldn’t matter what they do in their final two regular season games against LSU and Kentucky. Florida is likely in a situation where it can get to the dance merely by avoiding bad losses the rest of the way.
(1) Duke vs. (16) St. Francis (PA)/Prairie View A&M
(8) Baylor vs. (9) St. John's
(5) Kansas State vs. (12) Lipscomb
(4) LSU vs. (13) Murray State
(6) Virginia Tech vs. (11) Minnesota
(3) Marquette vs. (14) Texas State
(7) Washington vs. (10) Florida
(2) Michigan vs. (15) Montana
On the flip side of that is Villanova, which has now lost two straight games and three of its last four. No one faulted the Wildcats for losing the first of those three, a road game at Marquette. Losses at St. John’s and Georgetown, however, are different. Those may not be bad losses, even though they got run out of the gym by the Hoyas, but they do signal that this team’s ceiling may not be what it appeared a few short weeks ago. Villanova hasn’t defeated a surefire tournament team since Nov. 25, when it took down Florida State. That’s it’s only win against a tournament lock all season, and just one of four wins it has against teams in our field of 68, with the other three coming against Temple, Seton Hall and St. John’s. Villanova is in no real danger of missing the tournament, and any team with scorers like Eric Paschall and Phil Booth will be dangerous, but this simply does not look like a second-weekend team right now.
(1) Virginia vs. (16) Rider/Norfolk State
(8) Ole Miss vs. (9) Oklahoma
(5) Nevada vs. (12) New Mexico State
(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Yale
(6) Villanova vs. (11) VCU
(3) Houston vs. (14) Old Dominion
(7) Buffalo vs. (10) Ohio State
(2) Kentucky vs. (15) UC-Irvine
If you’ve been following along with the Bracket Watch recently, then you know we’ve had Arizona State on the outside of the field for the last few weeks. So how did the Sun Devils leapfrog the Last Four In section to get to a bye from being one of our first teams out? When we got down to the very end of the field this week, we had two spots for three teams: Arizona State, Alabama and Clemson. There isn’t a huge difference in their résumés, but one difference was glaring. Arizona State and Alabama have wins over high-quality tournament competition. The Sun Devils beat Kansas, with strong second tier wins over Mississippi State and Washington. The Crimson Tide beat Kentucky, with supporting victories against Clemson’s only win over an at-large quality team came at home against a Virginia Tech squad playing without Justin Robinson. It’s next best win was at home against Lipscomb. That pushed the Tigers to the wrong side of the bubble. From there, Arizona State’s quality wins broke a virtual tie with teams like UCF and Temple, which are among our last four in. The Sun Devils’ hold on a bye is precarious, but, for now, they deserve it.
(1) Tennessee vs. (16) Sam Houston State
(8) Texas vs. (9) Syracuse
(5) Florida State vs. (12) Alabama/Temple
(4) Maryland vs. (13) Vermont
(6) Iowa State vs. (11) Arizona State
(3) Purdue vs. (14) Northern Kentucky
(7) Iowa vs. (10) TCU
(2) North Carolina vs. (15) Loyola-Chicago
Michigan State won its first game without Nick Ward, a 71–60 victory over Rutgers. The game was not without its troubling moments, though. Rutgers jumped out in front in the first half and took a 32–25 lead into the locker room at halftime. The eventually grew that lead to 11 early in the second half, putting some fear into the Breslin Center. From there, it was all Spartans, and the game was well in hand over the final few minutes. Even if we give them some slack for it being their first game without Ward, there’s clearly cause for concern in East Lansing. The Spartans still have two games left with Michigan, the first of which is in Ann Arbor on Sunday. Those games won’t necessarily determine how far they can advance in the tournament, especially if they get Ward back in the postseason, but they will be a litmus test of sorts for what this team can achieve without one of its two best players. Barring an unexpected sweep of the Wolverines or some significant help from the teams ahead of them, the Spartans can likely wave goodbye to their hopes for a No. 1 seed.
(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Bucknell
(8) Wofford vs. (9) Auburn
(5) Louisville vs. (12) UCF/Utah State
(4) Texas Tech vs. (13) Hofstra
(6) Mississippi State vs. (11) Seton Hall
(3) Kansas vs. (14) South Dakota State
(7) Cincinnati vs. (10) NC State
(2) Michigan State vs. (15) Radford