Usually, when I do a mid-December bracket update, there may be a surprise or two that needs to be considered, but especially near the top, there are not wholesale changes. That is not the case this year.
This season has been filled with one surprise after another. Arizona, a preseason favorite went to the Bahamas and lost three games, the last of which was a 25-point blowout at the hands of Purdue, which had also lost its first two games in that tournament.
Florida, one of the preseason favorites in the SEC, also lost three in a row. The Gators first two losses were to Duke and undefeated Florida State, but the third came at the hands of Loyola of Chicago – in Gainesville.
Kansas lost to Washington, a team from which little was expected, in Kansas City and followed that up by losing to this season's biggest surprise, Arizona State, at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils are 9-0 and also count a win over Xavier. That is good enough for a No. 1 seed in this bracket.
Undefeated Villanova is the overall No. 1. The Wildcats have been one of the few top teams to play up to their expectations so far this season. Michigan State is another, although the Spartans do have a loss to Duke. Undefeated Miami rounds out the top line of the bracket.
Even Duke has not been immune to the upset bug. The Blue Devils looked invincible before stumbling at Boston College. The difference with Duke is that one loss did not start a losing streak. It ended there. However, that loss is the difference between the overall No. 1 seed and a spot on the No. 2 seed-line.
Aside from Michigan State, the Big Ten has been a mess. Purdue has righted the ship after the two head-scratching losses in the Bahamas, but Minnesota has struggled and Northwestern has been caught still celebrating last season. It looks like the Spartans league to win for sure, with no clear No. 2 in sight. Wisconsin, which has been to 19 straight NCAA tournaments, will need a "Bo Ryan retires mid-season" type of miracle to keep that streak alive.
On the other hand, the SEC has stepped up, led by Texas A&M, which started the season a blowout win over West Virginia, and Tennessee, which has one of those wins over the Boilermakers. Other than Florida's three-game vacation and Vanderbilt's struggles, this league has performed better than expected.
Normally, I include every undefeated team remaining somewhere in the December bracket. You would think that would be a no-brainer this year with only six undefeated teams left, but one is conspicuously absent. Georgetown is 8-0, but has played such an embarrassingly bad schedule that I did not even consider the Hoyas for a spot in the field. Georgetown's opponents are a combined 12-63 against Division I opposition. Ugh.
Because of all the chaos of the start of this season, you will see familiar names in unfamiliar places. This may not be true in March, but it is fun to see it now.
Before you check out the bracket, let me remind you of how this gets put together.
- I am trying to predict what the selection committee would do if the season ended today based on the information available. The bracket does not necessarily reflect how I feel about these teams.
- Ratings are nice, but if all you have is RPI or a KenPom number, you have nothing. That is true in March. It is much more so in December. Computer rankings are not reliable at this time of the season.
- The automatic qualifier from each conference is determined to be the team with the fewest conference losses, with ties broken by RPI. When the conference tournament starts, the AQ is the highest-seeded team remaining. This is the only automated part of my process. I am not necessarily predicting the teams that are in the bracket as automatic qualifiers will win their respective leagues.
- Selecting and seeding the bracket is always a subjective process based on objective data. The December bracket is especially subjective.