The first weeks of conference play did not significantly alter the bracket we debuted at the end of 2016. The only ranked team to lose over the weekend was Wisconsin, but that was at Purdue, another team in the top 25 and safely in the field of 68. Still, we know changes are coming to the bracket—soon.
Last Four In
First Four Out
Next Four Out
Villanova suffered its first loss of the season on Wednesday at Butler, but that doesn’t move it off the top overall line. The Wildcats lead what looks like the best region in this week’s bracket. Florida State is a real player in the ACC, impressing in wins over Virginia and Virginia Tech in their last two games. West Virginia is the No. 2 ranked team on kenpom.com, trailing only Kentucky. The Mountaineers bounced back from an overtime loss at Texas Tech by beating TCU by 12. Oregon, meanwhile, owns one of the biggest wins of the year, a home triumph over then undefeated UCLA on Dec. 28, and is 4–0 in the Pac-12. Add in Notre Dame, Purdue and an improving Michigan State team, and this would be a challenging region for any team to win.
Kansas is off to a 3–0 start in its quest to win the Big 12 regular season title for the 12th consecutive season. A Kansas-Duke tilt with a trip to the Final Four on the line would set up as a classic, and it’s what we find in this week’s bracket. The Blue Devils took care of business against Georgia Tech and Boston College this week, but have huge tests in front of them over the next six days. They spend the entire week on the road, visiting Florida State and Louisville. Creighton’s offense is a machine, ranking third in the country in three-point percentage and fourth in two-point percentage. Their next two conference games are against Butler and Xavier, with the first at home and the second on the road. Virginia bounced back from its two-game losing streak with a home win over Wake Forest on Sunday. The most interesting team in the Midwest Region, however, might be Florida. The Gators are the one true challenger in the SEC for Kentucky, but the two won’t meet until February 4. There’s a great chance both are undefeated in the conference going into that game.
Is this the season the Big 12 finally doesn’t disappoint in the tournament? If it is, Baylor—which has been the source of some of that disappointment—will likely have a lot to do with that. The Bears are 15–0 overall and 3–0 in the conference after knocking off Iowa State and Oklahoma State this week. They’ll get their greatest test to date when they head to Morgantown to take on West Virginia on Tuesday. Kentucky and North Carolina being in the same region might raise some eyebrows, but in this scenario they’d avoid each other until the regional final, and that would be an appropriate spot for that rematch. Kentucky, of course, won the first meeting in what will be remembered as one of the best games of the season, regardless of what happens the next two months. Bracketing principles force them into the same region here. Beyond the top three teams, this shapes up as the weakest region in this week’s bracket.
If any region were going to be the same in its top two spots on Selection Sunday as it is in this edition, it would likely be the West. UCLA and Gonzaga are clear favorites in their respective conferences, and arguably the two best West Coast teams in the country. If they both stay on their current trajectories, they will get the geographic benefit of playing in San Jose. Louisville and Butler round out a strong top-quarter of the West Region. The Cardinals have already been significantly tested this season, with wins over Kentucky, Indiana and Purdue, and losses to Baylor, Virginia and Notre Dame. They have a huge week ahead, with home games against Pittsburgh and Duke. The Musketeers, too, will be tested when they visit Villanova on Tuesday and Butler on Saturday. A split would have to be considered a successful week.