Gonzaga lost at home to BYU on Saturday night, ending the perfect season talk, and also potentially dropping them from a top seed in the West. If the season ended today, Gonzaga would hold on to that #1 seed. The season does not end today, and I am projecting what I think will happen on Selection Sunday.
There has been talk about why UCLA has been so low in many “bracketologist” projections. I heard one of the ESPN studio guys (sorry, I am forgetting which) credit it to East Coast bias and not staying up to watch. That, of course, is ludicrous. The reason that UCLA has been seeded lower than their ranking is that the Pac-12 is down, and UCLA played a pretty soft non-conference schedule other than traveling to Kentucky and winning.
All that said, though, I am now projecting that UCLA is the slight favorite to get the final #1 seed by Selection Sunday, passing Gonzaga. I don’t think any team is the favorite actually (Kansas, Villanova, and North Carolina are fairly safe as the other three). The final slot will come down to a plurality of Gonzaga holding on, the Pac-12 passing them (UCLA, Oregon, Arizona), Louisville winning the ACC Tournament, or Butler drawing to an inside straight and running the table, including a third win over Villanova.
Because the season doesn’t end today, and we know that they will play the Pac-12 tournament, UCLA has the opportunity to add wins over both Arizona and Oregon. Arizona has the same opportunity, and Oregon, likely on the other side of the bracket, can beat one in the final, and likely add a win over Cal or USC in the semi. So while UCLA is 6-3 against the Top 50 now, they can get to 8-3, and within that have two wins over Oregon and Arizona each, and a road win at Kentucky.
So what I’m saying is this–while the Pac-12’s top team doesn’t have the better RPI resumé right now, by Selection Sunday, it’s likely they do. Arizona isn’t passing Gonzaga (the Bulldogs won head-to-head), but a 31-3 UCLA (with an RPI that will climb inside the top 10 if they do that, and 8 top 50 wins) will. Oregon, likewise, could pass them. Add in the possibility of Gonzaga losing the WCC Final to St. Mary’s or BYU, and that’s why I have UCLA narrowly in front after the big road win at Arizona.
There’s a gap starting at about the middle of the 4 seed line. There can be movement from the 2 to 4 seeds as conference tourneys approach. Likewise, there will likely be movement in this 5 to 8 seed group. We have several ACC teams (Notre Dame, Virginia, Miami) where the pecking order will be decided. The Big Ten has Minnesota and Wisconsin playing in the season finale and likely on the same side in the conference tourney. Cincinnati and SMU could meet in the conference tourney, and Iowa State and Oklahoma State will have the opportunity for signature wins in March.
On Friday, I posted a bubble breakdown and included a look at recent history and similar teams using the RPI rank, overall record, and record against the Top 50.
I’ve had Rhode Island projected just in for awhile, and that’s where my method differs. I was already accounting for the home game against VCU in my projections (had they lost, they would have fallen out). So others have moved them in while they stay in here. Kansas State has fallen out with their collapse, and TCU and California are now just out thanks to upsets elsewhere. Notable among those was Providence winning at Creighton, and then beating Marquette, just one week after a win over Butler. Vanderbilt, also on a four-game win streak, is now right on the cutline. A big win over either Kentucky or Florida would shoot them solidly in.
Northwestern alums should be nervous. I’ve got them still in the field but dropping to an 11 seed in the latest projections. That will likely give us more Doug Collins’ moments in the Big Ten tourney.
California is now just out. (And USC is slipping in the Pac-12). Cal’s only win over a tournament at-large team is a one-point home win over USC. They really need a second good win in the Pac-12 tournament to solidify their chances. BYU, meanwhile, gets back in the conversation with the shocker in Spokane. They likely need to upset St. Mary’s and face Gonzaga again in the final to be in serious consideration.