We have finally run out of undefeated teams. Gonzaga fell on Saturday for the first time, losing 77-71 at home to BYU. It was not enough to knock the Zags off of the top line of the bracket, at least for now. However, they are now the fourth No. 1 seed behind Kansas, Villanova and North Carolina.
There will be pressure coming, though. In particular, the Pac-12 champion, especially if it is Oregon or UCLA, could dislodge Gonzaga from the top line, even if the Bulldogs do not lose again. Arizona is a little trickier because of Gonzaga’s win over the Wildcats in non-conference play, but I would not rule them out. Head-to-head usually does not carry as much weight in basketball as it does in football.
If Gonzaga falls to a No. 2 seed, it means very little for its lot in life as far as the bracket goes. The Bulldogs will still be slotted in the West region in San Jose whether they are on the top line or not. However, there is a scenario that could dislodge them from the West. If Gonzaga is seeded on the same line as the top Pac-12 team, whether it is as a one-seed or a two, and is behind the Pac-12 team on the overall 1-68 rankings, then the Pac-12 team would be placed in the West region and the Bulldogs would get shipped out.
UCLA is up a couple of seeds in the bracket today after its win at Arizona on Saturday night. I have been hesitant to move the Bruins up too quickly since the selection committee revealed their rankings two weeks ago. At that time, they had UCLA pretty far down compared to Oregon and Arizona due to strength of schedule, or more accurately, weakness of schedule. There is still a gap between the Bruins and most of the other teams in the bracket, but it is closing some.
UCLA has an interesting profile. The Bruins have arguably the best pair of road wins of anyone. They won at Arizona and Kentucky. Kansas also won at Rupp Arena and has a road win over Baylor. UCLA’s non-conference schedule ranks in the 250s though, and that, combined with a relatively weak Pac-12, is holding its overall strength of schedule down. And as the committee demonstrated in its top 16, it may also end up holding Steve Alford’s team down in the bracket.
That UCLA win over Kentucky is partly why the Bruins moved up as far as they did. They were close enough to Kentucky that the head-to-head result became more of a factor, especially with the game having been at Rupp. So, even though Kentucky beat Florida, it still got jumped by UCLA. That is an example of how a team’s movement in the bracket, or lack thereof, is not just about what they did.
Florida fell to a No. 4 seed after the loss to the Wildcats, which is probably closer to where the Gators should have been to begin with. I felt the committee overrated the Gators in their initial rankings. However, Florida’s resume has improved in some ways since then with surges by Arkansas, Miami and Seton Hall, the latter two of which the Gators beat in non-conference play.
Duke joins Florida as a No. 4 after a second consecutive loss, this time at Miami. The Blue Devils played without Grayson Allen, who is nursing an ankle injury. Duke is now just 3-5 on the road, although the loss to Syracuse on Wednesday night is the only one to a team outside the RPI top 50. The Blue Devils have games left against Florida State at home and at UNC, so they could surge back up the bracket with a pair of wins or keep sliding down.
Purdue’s loss at Michigan lifted the Wolverines out of the bubble, but it also knocked the league-leading Boilers down to a five-seed in the bracket. You have to go back to the dark ages to find another year like this in the Big Ten. The last season that the league did not have a team in the top four seeds of the bracket was 2004, when Illinois was the regular-season champion and a five-seed with only two other Big Ten teams in the tournament.
This year figures to look more like 2002 or 2003 for the league. In each of those seasons, the Big Ten had six teams in the field with none seeded higher than a four. They could get six or seven in this year, but finding a team capable of being a No. 3, or even a No. 4, could be tough.