On a weekend filled with surprising results, the most unexpected might have come at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, where the Baylor Bears took control of the Big 12 race after their 67-55 victory over the host Kansas Jayhawks. That result vaulted Scott Drew’s club from last Tuesday’s two-seed line to the No. 1 overall position in today’s bracket. The Bears now rank ahead of Kansas, which has dropped a No. 2 seed, and the three returning top seeds, the Duke Blue Devils, Butler Bulldogs and San Diego State Aztecs. Of course it helps that Baylor now has wins over three teams ranked in this field’s top 12: the Jayhawks, Bulldogs and the Villanova Wildcats, a new No. 3 seed.
Half of the two seeds come from the Big 12, with the West Virginia Mountaineers joining Kansas, with a pair of conference leaders, the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Auburn Tigers sitting between the pair. While both San Diego State and Auburn remain perfect, the Aztecs get the edge in terms of seeding for now, as their three Quadrant 1 victories outweigh the Tigers’ current total of just one.
Last week, the Michigan State Spartans looked to be ready to rise up to the top line, as January 5th’s 87-69 rout of the Michigan Wolverines was their seventh win in succession. But even though Tom Izzo’s team was able to extend that streak to eight by defeating the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Thursday, the Spartans were embarrassed by the Purdue Boilermakers on Sunday — while the road setback wasn’t totally unexpected, the 29-point margin was. So, Sparty drops from a two to a three. The Oregon Ducks are the only returnee on seed line No. 3, with the Florida State Seminoles and aforementioned Villanova Wildcats jumping up. The Seminoles have won seven in a row, while the Wildcats are 8-1 since falling to Baylor in the Myrtle Beach Invitational championship game on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
The Dayton Flyers, 3-0 in the Atlantic 10, slipped down to the No. 4 seed line, passed by teams more able to accumulate quality wins in conference play. They’re in danger of being passed further by the other two new No. 4 seeds, the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals. However, the last member of the quartet, the Wichita State Shockers, are also on shaky ground because of the lack of quality wins available in this season’s version of the American Athletic Conference.
After today’s full bracket and rundown, I’ll discuss the heavy turnover near the cut line, which has really changed the field’s composition by conference.
1. South Region (Houston, Texas)
St. Louis, Missouri (Thu./Sat.)
Sacramento, California (Fri./Sun.)
Tampa, Florida (Thu./Sat.)
4. West Region (Los Angeles, California)
Omaha, Nebraska (Fri./Sun.)
Spokane, Washington (Thu./Sat.)
2. East Region (New York, New York)
Greensboro, North Carolina (Fri./Sun.)
Albany, New York (Thu./Sat.)
Cleveland, Ohio (Fri./Sun.)
3. Midwest Region (Indianapolis, Indiana)
St. Louis (Thu./Sat.)
Bids by Conference: 12 Big Ten, 6 Big East, 6 Pac-12, 5 ACC, 4 Big 12, 4 SEC, 3 A 10, 3 WCC, 2 AAC, 23 one-bid conferences
Last Four Byes: Oregon State, Saint Mary’s, Utah, NC State
Last Four IN: VCU, Minnesota, Virginia Tech, St. John’s
First Four OUT: Florida, Houston, Washington, Texas Tech
Next Four Out: USC, Georgia, Xavier, Georgetown
Lowest-Ranked NET At-Large: St. John’s (65)
Highest-Ranked NET Exclusion: Texas Tech (36)
New Today (19/68): Charlotte, Duquesne, Georgia State, Illinois, Indiana, Murray State, NC State, New Mexico State, Nicholls State, North Carolina A&T, Northern Iowa, Oregon State, Quinnipiac, St. John’s, South Dakota State, UC Riverside, Virginia Tech, Western Carolina, William & Mary
Leaving Today: College of Charleston, Florida, Furman, Georgia, Houston, Kansas City, Little Rock, Louisiana Tech, Loyola Chicago, Morgan State, North Dakota State, Rider, Stephen F. Austin, Tennessee State, Texas Tech, UC Santa Barbara, Virginia, Washington, Xavier
Last week, I discussed the possibility of the Big Ten breaking the 2011 Big East’s record of 11 total bids. And thanks to some truly awful performances by other conferences’ bubble teams over the past week, this projection indeed includes 12 Big Ten teams. Both the Illinois Fighting Illini and Indiana Hoosiers enter the field in the 8/9 seed range following 2-0 weeks capped by impressive home victories over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and struggling Ohio State Buckeyes, respectively. Then on Sunday, Purdue grabbed its shocking 71-42 win over Michigan State and Minnesota took down Michigan at Williams Arena to preserve their places.
The other major surprise in today’s bracket is the presence of five teams from the struggling ACC, with none of those being 2019’s National Champion, the Virginia Cavaliers. Tony Bennett’s team dropped out following a truly wacky 63-55 overtime loss to the Syracuse Orange in Charlottesville. But while the Cavaliers dropped out, both the NC State Wolfpack and Virginia Tech Hokies entered the field, despite the ‘Pack dropping a 72-58 decision in Blacksburg on Saturday. You can blame the struggles of many other bubble teams for this. Just take a look at some of their performances over the past seven days.
- The Florida Gators got squeezed out by the presence of a third Atlantic 10 team, as the Duquesne Dukes own a half-game lead on both Dayton and St. Bonaventure to temporarily hold the conference’s auto bid. But UF followed Tuesday’s impressive win at South Carolina Gamecocks with a horrible defensive showing in a 91-75 loss at Missouri Tigers that honestly wasn’t that close.
- The Georgia Bulldogs squandered the goodwill earned with their 65-62 victory at Memphis Tigers, as they fell apart in the second half at home against Kentucky on Tuesday and then got thrashed by Auburn on Saturday afternoon.
- The Houston Cougars saw the Tulsa Golden Hurricane suddenly end their six-game winning streak.
- The Texas Tech Red Raiders dropped out following losses to Baylor and West Virginia.
- Virginia’s home loss to Syracuse followed a road setback at Boston College.
- The Washington Huskies lost point guard Quade Green for the season due to academics, then managed to get swept out of the Bay Area — with a 61-58 overtime loss to the California Golden Bears capping a terrible week.
- The Xavier Musketeers had a pair of great opportunities to shore up their profile — home games against Seton Hall and Creighton. They lost both.
For the most part, the teams right near the cut line have one thing in common: one quality win or two, sometimes against a fellow bubble team (Florida, Houston, Xavier) sometimes against a team that’s better (Washington, Texas Tech) ... and very little else. That’s opened the door for teams like the four Big Ten bubble dwellers, the Utah Utes and a pair of bracket newcomers the Oregon State Beavers and St. John’s Red Storm. The Utes remain in despite a 39-point loss at Colorado on Sunday, but that’s what wins over Kentucky, BYU, Minnesota and Oregon State will do with this bubble. Meanwhile, the Beavers previously won in Boulder and took apart Arizona in Corvallis late on Sunday, while the Red Storm finally recorded their first Big East win of the season on Saturday, over the DePaul Blue Demons. Remember that Mike Anderson’s club already has wins over both West Virginia and Arizona.
So far, the 2019-20 season certainly seems to have a “if you don’t like this week’s field, wait a few days” vibe to it. I’m not going to guarantee that every projection is going to feature seven new at-large teams, but the cut line certainly seems like it will be even more of a revolving door than usual.
However, Friday’s post will look at the other end of the field, as it will be a first look at the contenders for the NCAA Tournament’s four No. 1 seeds.