Now that we are a little more than a month into the season, it's time for a new bracket to see where everyone stands as conference play approaches.
It looks like the race for the top seeds in the bracket could last all season. It's easy to identify a dozen or more teams that are capable of the kind of season that gets rewarded with a No. 1 seed.
- Villanova doesn't look like it is going to give up its title without a fight. With wins at Purdue and Notre Dame already, the undefeated Wildcats are the overall No. 1 seed.
- Baylor is off to a surprisingly good start and has already knocked off Xavier, Louisville and Oregon. The Bears edge UCLA for the No. 2 overall seed. The Bruins are also undefeated and have a big win at Kentucky.
- Kansas is the fourth No. 1 based on its strength of schedule and a win over Duke, which was the top-rated team in the preseason polls, but has yet to play a game with its full roster. Healthy Duke may very well be the best team in the country. I hope they get a chance to prove it.
Familiar names missing
Four teams that were ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 are nowhere to be found in the bracket, and aren't close enough to even be considered.
- The most surprising of those is preseason No. 12 Michigan State, which has struggled with a younger than expected team due it injuries to key veterans Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter before the season. On top of that, stud freshman Miles Bridges has missed the last four games with an ankle injury, including the loss to Northeastern at home on Sunday. The Spartans haven't missed the NCAA tournament since 1997. I wouldn't bet against that streak ending.
- Connecticut has also had some significant injury problems, but they were off to a rough start before the injury bug hit. The preseason favorites in the American Conference had already lost to Wagner and Northeastern (hey - something else in common with Michigan State) at home to start the season. Then, the Huskies lost three players for the season in the span of a week, including Alterique Gilbert. This looks like a lost season for UConn.
- I wasn't as high on Syracuse as others, but still thought of the Orange as a tournament team. They may still get there, but they better get things turned around quickly. Syracuse has lost four of its last six, including Georgetown at home and what's left of UConn.
- Texas is another head-scratcher. The Longhorns are sitting at .500 after losing five of seven. None of the losses are especially egregious, so Texas can still recover and make a good run for the tournament, but obviously, coach Shaka Smart has his work cut out for him.
Computer rankings not helpful yet
Mid-December RPI numbers aren't much help in putting together a bracket, and other computer rankings aren't overly useful either. There just aren't enough games played to rely on them for much help. The committee's process is guided by RPI, and there are five other ranking systems that they look at collectively - not individually. Those are Sagarin, KPI, LRMC, BPI and the heavily worshipped KenPom. No computer ranking is decisive even in March, but they are especially inconsistent now. Two of those other five rankings aren't even published for this season yet.
The only influence rankings have on this bracket is that the RPI is the tiebreaker for choosing the conference automatic qualifier. I always pick the team with the fewest conference losses and break ties by RPI until the top seed in the conference tournament is determined.
There is a team outside the RPI top 100 in the bracket (Iowa State). That would never happen in March.