Welcome to the latest installment of our weekly series looking at the top 10 NCAA tournament resumes. As we approach the end of January, we are now basically halfway through the regular season. That means a lot can change between now and Selection Sunday, but it's still a significant sample size.
When the NCAA selection committee evaluates teams, they are looking to answer some key questions about each team. Who did they play? Where did they play them? Who did they beat? And who beat them? It's a subjective process guided by objective data (RPI). There are five other computer ranking systems averaged together to help inform the committee, but no team gets in or seeded based on any individual or collective computer ranking alone.
At this point in the season, there will be a lot of disagreement among the various computer rankings. The rankings will tend to converge as the season goes on, but there will still be disagreements and anomalies.
For those of you who follow the football selection committee, note that head-to-head is not necessarily a decisive criterion in basketball. It is not unusual to see a team selected or seeded ahead of a team it lost to during the season.
Here is how things stand as of games through Jan. 17.
Best wins: UCLA
The Ducks are the only team to knock off UCLA and lead the Pac-12 early on because of it. They also have a win over USC and four other RPI top-100 teams. Star Dillon Brooks missed some early games, including the loss to Baylor, not that it likely mattered much. His first game back was the loss to Georgetown. Oregon hasn't lost since. Brooks' injury is a consideration for the selection committee, but losses are losses. It may be hard for the Ducks to hold this spot even if they keep winning because the Pac-12 doesn't provide many opportunities for higher quality wins.
Best wins: Louisville
Notre Dame has won five straight since back-to-back losses to Villanova and Purdue. That has the Irish in first place by themselves in the ACC at the moment. Notre Dame also has five other wins against teams in the middle to the bottom of the at-large part of my most current bracket, and four of those wins came away from home.
Best wins: vs. North Carolina
Losses: UCLA, at Louisville
Kentucky is in the same position as Oregon in the sense that it may be hard to hold this spot even by continuing to win. The SEC provides even fewer opportunities for quality wins than the Pac-12. Notre Dame is already nipping at the Wildcats' heels. UK has one other win over a team in the current bracket (Michigan State) and six other top 100 wins. It is their overall strength of schedule, which is seventh, that has the Wildcats holding this spot for now.
The Bluejays suffered a serious blow to their long-term hopes for this season with the loss of PG Maurice Watson Jr. for the season due to a knee injury suffered in the win at Xavier. Watson was a national player of the year candidate and the nation's assist leader. He will be next-to impossible to replace.
Creighton has yet to play since the injury, so we have nothing to go on with regard to how they will play without Watson, but the committee will get a good opportunity to judge them over the last two months of the season.
This situation is similar to what Purdue went through in 2010. The Boilermakers lost all-American F Robbie Hummel to the same injury in late February of that season. Purdue was on its way to a No. 1 seed and was considered a favorite to make the Final Four. Instead, the Boilers struggled a bit down the stretch, and although they did secure the Big Ten regular season title, they clearly weren't the same team without Hummel. Purdue ended up with a profile that would normally have earned a two or three seed, but the committee made the Boilers a four seed. We will have to see what Creighton does going forward, but this may be the kind of thing the committee does with the Bluejays as well.
Losses: at North Carolina, vs. Temple
The Seminoles suffered their second loss of the season at North Carolina on Saturday, but they still have a very strong profile. The only other team that has as many RPI top-25 wins as Florida State is Butler. The Noles have already shown that they can beat a high quality team away from home, which is not something every team on this list can say. They have a chance to pick up a couple more top-25 wins this week when Notre Dame and Louisville visit Tallahassee. The loss to Temple is becoming a concern as the Owls continue to fade.
Best wins: vs. Florida, vs. Arizona, St Mary's.
Gonzaga has played a decent schedule and hasn't lost, but that strength of schedule will fall considerably as conference play goes on. The Zags' long-term seeding prospects will rely largely on how Florida and Arizona finish the year. They also have a win over Iowa State, which is currently in the bracket near the bottom of the at-large list. A strong finish by the Cyclones would help also. Gonzaga is also dependent on St. Mary's. They need to beat the Gaels three times, but also need St. Mary's to avoid bad losses in the league so that the quality of those wins is as high as possible.
You may remember the debate as to whether undefeated Wichita State should have been a No. 1 seed in 2014. There is little doubt that Gonzaga's profile this season will be stronger than the Shockers' that year. However, seeding is relative. Gonzaga could have a better profile and a lower seed if the competition for the top line of the bracket is stronger this year, which it probably will be.
Best wins: At Kentucky
Losses: at Oregon
The Bruins are largely living off the win at Kentucky, which is arguably the best win any team on this list possesses. Although they have eight RPI top-100 wins, they only have one other win over a team in the current bracket projection. UCLA has the weakest schedule of any of the one-loss teams, but the Bruins haven't hit the meat of their relatively thin conference schedule yet. They can add to their quality win list, and maybe hold on to this spot, when they host Arizona on Saturday.
Best wins: vs. Duke
Losses: vs. Indiana
Kansas lost to Indiana in overtime on a neutral floor to start the season and hasn't lost since. That is why they are the top rated team in the coaches poll, which primarily measures the length of your winning streak. Kansas would really be helped if Indiana would get out of its funk. The Jayhawks have a whopping 10 wins over teams in the RPI top 100, but besides the one over Duke, only two of those are against teams in the current bracket.
Best wins: vs. Louisville, Xavier, Oregon
Losses: at West Virginia
This is the line of demarcation on this list. Baylor and Villanova are a full step ahead of everyone else when it comes to the strength of their tournament resumes.
The Bears have 10 RPI top-100 wins, including six over teams in the current bracket. The only complaint about Baylor's resume, and this is nitpicking, is that they haven't beaten a tournament quality team in a true road game. They do have three neutral court wins, and those are good too, but road wins are better. In their one road game against a tournament quality team, the Bears got their doors blown off at West Virginia.
Best wins: At Creighton, At Purdue, vs. Notre Dame, Xavier
Losses: at Butler
The defending champions have made it abundantly clear that they will not give up their title without a fight. The Wildcats have four top-25 wins, and three of them have come away from home. Two have come in some of the most hostile road arenas anywhere. Villanova's only loss came in a pretty competitive game at Butler, which is another tough road venue.
But the Wildcats aren't just winning, they are dominating. Only three of their wins have come by fewer than 10 points. Those were against Notre Dame, at Purdue, and oddly, at home against DePaul.
The Big East will continue to provide some good strength-of-schedule games for Villanova, and they have an intriguing non-conference game with Virginia coming up as well. Don't be surprised if the Wildcats finish the season in this spot in the bracket.