It had been a long time since anyone other than Arizona occupied the No. 1 overall seed in the projected March Madness field, but Syracuse finally took over the top spot this week.
What's more, Wichita State makes its debut on the top line, taking the place of Kansas after the Jayhawks lost to Texas over the weekend.
The Longhorns' upset was just one of many exciting games to take place in recent days, with Saturday night's game between Duke and Syracuse serving as the most memorable. On Wednesday morning, Jim Boeheim told ESPN's Mike & Mike that he thinks college basketball is the best it has ever been.
And it's only February. Wait until the tournament starts.
In recapping the projected field, we'll start at the bottom by looking at the last five teams to be included and excluded from the field. We also will take a look at five teams that aren't quite deserving of being in the tournament discussion but are creeping onto the radar.
After that, we'll present each seeded region, including the subregional locations in which each pod would be played and some commentary on select teams. Then it's the ranking of the No. 1 seeds, followed by a summary of the entire field broken up by conference.
Now that the calendar has flipped to February, we'll be posting an updated bracket on a weekly basis.
Win-loss records on the following slides exclude games played against opponents not in D-I and are current through the start of play on Friday, Feb. 7. All Rating Percentage Index (RPI) and Strength of Schedule (SOS) rankings (via ESPN) are current through the start of play on Thursday, Feb 6.
Last team in: Baylor Bears (12-8, RPI: 57, SOS: 8)
It is with great hesitation that I include a team with a 2-7 conference record, but the worst is behind the Bears. Compared to two games against Kansas and road games against Iowa State and Oklahoma State, the rest of their schedule should be smooth sailing.
They are 3-6 vs. RPI Top 30. If Pittsburgh is comfortably in the field with a record of 0-4 against that same collection of teams, it's hardly criminal to give Baylor the final spot in the bracket.
Second-to-last: Tennessee Volunteers (13-8, RPI: 48, SOS: 14)
Tennessee snuck into the field last week with a win over Ole Miss and just barely stays in this week after a loss to Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt's RPI currently ranks 65, so there are better teams with worse losses. But for a team like Tennessee that is teetering on the bubble, those are the games that must be won. The rematch against Florida on Feb. 11 could ultimately decide the Volunteers' fate.
Third-to-last: Missouri Tigers (16-6, RPI: 45, SOS: 73)
Since opening the season 12-1, the Tigers are 4-5 with just one of those wins coming against the RPI Top 100 (at Arkansas, RPI: 84). Once a mortal lock to make the tournament, they are perhaps one loss away from dropping out of the field. Getting wins over Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and Vanderbilt in the next two weeks isn't nearly as important as avoiding losses to those middling teams.
Fourth-to-last: Oregon Ducks (15-7, RPI: 44, SOS: 58)
After failing to knock off Arizona on Thursday night, the Ducks are now 3-7 in Pac-12 play—and all three of those wins came against the conference's three teams outside the RPI Top 100. Their best win of the season came at home in overtime against BYU. It's getting harder and harder to keep Oregon in the field, but there simply aren't any deserving candidates to replace it just yet.
Fifth-to-last: Kansas State Wildcats (15-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 46)
The Wildcats are safe for now, but they are currently 1-4 in true road games with the one win coming against still-winless-in-the-Big 12 TCU. In the next 16 days, they play at home against Kansas and Texas and on the road against Baylor and Oklahoma. If they don't figure out how to play away from home in a hurry, they'll be on the outside looking in.
First team out: Richmond Spiders (15-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 37)
It's certainly not a surprise that Richmond lost road games against Saint Louis and VCU last week. Aside from a road game against Florida, those were the two toughest games of the season for the Spiders. But in the end, they merely serve as missed opportunities. They're still in decent shape, but if they end up with 10 or more losses, it would be tough to see them making the tournament.
Second team out: LSU Tigers (14-7, RPI: 54, SOS: 70)
The wins over Kentucky and Arkansas were great, but the loss to Georgia immediately undid all of that good. It was LSU's third loss against teams outside the RPI Top 100, which is not a particularly good recipe for making the tournament. Still, with just seven overall losses and a pair of RPI Top 50 wins, the Tigers are perhaps just one quality win away from getting back into the projected field.
Third team out: Indiana Hoosiers (14-8, RPI: 64, SOS: 60)
In the past month, Indiana has wins over Michigan and Wisconsin while also suffering losses to Northwestern and Nebraska. The Hoosiers also have a near win over Michigan State and a near loss to Penn State during that same window. What they'll do between now and Selection Sunday is a complete mystery.
Fourth team out: West Virginia Mountaineers (14-9, RPI: 69, SOS: 62)
The good news for the Mountaineers is that they are two games above .500 in perhaps the most difficult conference in the country. Their three best wins of the season have all come in the past 10 days.
The bad news for the Mountaineers is that they haven't yet played any of their four games against Iowa State or Kansas and still have road games against Oklahoma and Texas. Their schedule over the final month of the season is the least enviable in the entire country.
Fifth team out: Clemson Tigers (15-6, RPI: 67, SOS: 153)
Clemson's nonconference schedule was horrendous. The Tigers played just three games against RPI Top 150 teams and lost all three. And yet, they are a stone's throw away from the tournament because of wins over Duke and Florida State in the past month. Should they decide to throw that stone this weekend at Syracuse, the Tigers would almost certainly be in the field next week.
St. John's Red Storm (14-9, RPI: 63, SOS: 35)
This one blows my mind because St. John's had all but perfected the art of losing. The Red Storm missed all five of their field-goal attempts in the final four minutes of a two-point loss to DePaul and followed that with a double-overtime loss at home to Providence in which they had the ball with a chance to win at the end of regulation and both overtimes.
After that loss, they were 9-8 overall, 0-5 in the Big East and just 1-7 vs. RPI Top 100. For all intents and purposes, they were dead. But recent wins over Butler, Marquette and Providence have restored a little bit of life. If St. John's wins at home against Creighton on Sunday, it will officially be on the bubble and just maybe in the projected field.
North Carolina State Wolfpack (14-8, RPI: 59, SOS: 36)
If Clemson is among the first five out, we have to at least mention North Carolina State in this section. The Wolfpack do have two losses by more than 30 points in their last seven games, but the computer profile doesn't care about margin of victory or defeat.
With games remaining against Syracuse, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Clemson and just one bad loss (vs. North Carolina Central) to speak of, the Wolfpack have plenty of chances to play their way into the field.
Brigham Young Cougars (15-9, RPI: 41, SOS: 12)
BYU has the computer profile that just won't go away. The Cougars are the only team in the RPI Top 45 that isn't in the field, but with good reason.
They have four losses in the West Coast Conference and a total of four losses against teams outside the RPI Top 100. Nonconference wins over Stanford and Texas are nice, but they'll almost have to win their final six regular-season games to make them count for an at-large bid.
Saint Joseph's Hawks (15-7, RPI: 53, SOS: 69)
The Hawks blew a huge opportunity at home against Saint Louis on Wednesday night but will get another chance at a signature win against VCU on Saturday. A loss to the Rams, however, would put them at 2-7 vs. RPI Top 100.
Wyoming Cowboys (12-8, RPI: 93, SOS: 112)
They came up just short, but the Cowboys get one of these honorable mentions for pushing New Mexico to overtime for the second time this season.
They are just 1-5 vs. RPI Top 100, with home games against San Diego State and Boise State representing their only opportunities to improve upon that. They probably won't make the field as an at-large, but watch out for the Cowboys in the Mountain West tournament.
No. 1 Syracuse (22-0, RPI: 5) vs. No. 16 Stony Brook (America East auto bid, RPI: 159) / VMI (Big South auto bid, RPI: 239)
No. 8 Massachusetts (18-4, RPI: 12) vs. No. 9 Stanford (15-7, RPI: 37)
San Diego, Calif.
No. 4 Saint Louis (20-2, RPI: 18) vs. No. 13 North Dakota State (Summit auto bid, RPI: 48)
No. 5 Ohio State (18-5, RPI: 16) vs. No. 12 Green Bay (Horizon auto bid, RPI: 65)
No. 3 Duke (18-5, RPI: 8) vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin (Southland auto bid, RPI: 92)
No. 6 Oklahoma State (16-6, RPI: 28) vs. No. 11 Xavier (15-7, RPI: 51)
No. 2 Villanova (20-2, RPI: 3) vs. No. 15 Davidson (Southern auto bid, RPI: 168)
No. 7 Memphis (16-5, RPI: 31) vs. No. 10 California (15-8, RPI: 52)
Before we go declaring that the East is the region of doom, allow me to point out that Villanova is No. 8 on my "S-curve." The Wildcats have a great RPI and both of their losses were against teams in the RPI Top 10, but I haven't fully bought into them just yet.
If they don't win the rematch against Creighton on Feb. 16, they will likely finish the season without a single RPI Top 50 win since Nov. 30. (Let the "Oh yeah? Who has Wichita State played?" complaints commence.)
Even if Villanova is the lowest No. 2 seed, this is still a very difficult region. Both Ohio State and Oklahoma State were projected as No. 2 seeds not that long ago. The Cowboys are still in free-fall mode, but the Buckeyes have turned things around with road wins over Wisconsin and Iowa. Duke is jostling with Cincinnati for the honor of the No. 3 seed that would jump up to replace the next No. 2 seed to lose.
Saint Louis makes the leap to a No. 4 seed this week and gets sent out to San Diego for its trouble. It would be very difficult for Saint Louis to pull ahead of either Kansas or Wichita State, but the Billikens would be allowed to play their first two games in Saint Louis should the opportunity arise. Unless they make it to Selection Sunday without another loss, though, a No. 4 seed might be their ceiling.
Stanford was one of the first teams out of the field last week but appears as a No. 9 seed after wins over Arizona State and California.
Speaking of the Golden Bears, it's a good thing they were able to capitalize on Brandon Ashley's injury and Nick Johnson's horrible shooting, because their two-point victory over Arizona is their only win in the last five games. And they were kind of blown out in all of those losses. If they lose to either Washington or Washington State next week, they will fall back onto the bubble.
St. Louis, Mo.
No. 1 Wichita State (23-0, RPI: 6) vs. No. 16 Robert Morris (Northeast auto bid, RPI: 182) / Southern University (SWAC auto bid, RPI: 195)
No. 8 New Mexico (18-4, RPI: 29) vs. No. 9 Florida State (14-8, RPI: 42)
San Antonio, Texas
No. 4 Virginia (18-5, RPI: 20) vs. No. 13 Toledo (18-3, RPI: 27)
No. 5 Texas (18-4, RPI: 24) vs. No. 12 Providence (16-7, RPI: 50)
No. 3 Creighton (18-3, RPI: 10) vs. No. 14 Delaware (Colonial auto bid, RPI: 71)
No. 6 Wisconsin (18-5, RPI: 11) vs. No. 11 Arizona State (17-6, RPI: 47)
No. 2 Michigan State (20-3, RPI: 9) vs. No. 15 Weber State (Big Sky auto bid, RPI: 187)
No. 7 Oklahoma (17-6, RPI: 21) vs. No. 10 Colorado (17-6, RPI: 26)
We'll get into Wichita State in the "Ranking the No. 1 Seeds" slide later, but this is the Shockers' first appearance as a No. 1 seed in my projected bracket.
Michigan State is the biggest threat to eventually steal that spot on the top line from Wichita State. Last Saturday's loss to Georgetown didn't help matters, but the Spartans have 12 RPI Top 100 wins while playing most of the season at much less than full strength. Should they win the Big Ten regular-season championship, it's hard to imagine the Spartans not getting a No. 1 seed.
And then there's Wisconsin, which still has a stellar computer profile but has lost five out of seven and has virtually no hope of finishing in the top two in the conference. The Badgers should win at home against Minnesota next Thursday, but other upcoming games against Michigan State, Iowa and Michigan could very easily put them at eight conference losses with four games to be played.
With more than a month left until the tournament, I'm not overly concerned with the actual pairings, but Virginia would certainly be getting a raw deal as a No. 4 seed if sent to San Antonio along with No. 5 seed Texas.
Instead of stressing over the geographical issues with that fictitious game, how about three cheers for the Cavaliers for fighting and clawing to earn a No. 4 seed? After getting slaughtered by Tennessee on Dec. 30, they weren't even in the projected field on Jan. 2. But after winning nine out of 10, they're still climbing the ladder.
And a hip-hip-hooray for the Longhorns as well. Less than one month ago, they were 11-4 with just one RPI Top 50 win and an 0-2 record in Big 12 play. After seven straight wins, they have a strong resume and sit just one game behind Kansas for first place in the conference.
Providence is hanging onto its tournament bid by a thread. Losses to Marquette and St. John's in the past week have put quite the damper on things. The Friars still play at home against Villanova and on the road against Creighton, Georgetown and Xavier. If they don't win at least two of those four games, the dream could be over.
No. 1 Florida (20-2, RPI: 4) vs. No. 16 North Carolina Central (MEAC auto bid, RPI: 140)
No. 8 North Carolina (15-7, RPI: 35) vs. No. 9 George Washington (18-4, RPI: 30)
No. 4 Michigan (17-5, RPI: 14) vs. No. 13 Canisius (MAAC auto bid, RPI: 85)
No. 5 Louisville (19-4, RPI: 33) vs. No. 12 Kansas State (Last five in)
No. 3 Cincinnati (22-2, RPI: 17) vs. No. 14 UC Santa Barbara (Big West auto bid, RPI: 102)
No. 6 Iowa (17-6, RPI: 36) vs. No. 11 Tennessee / Baylor (Last five in)
St. Louis, Mo.
No. 2 Kansas (17-5, RPI: 1) vs. No. 15 Georgia State (Sun Belt auto bid, RPI: 88)
No. 7 UCLA (17-5, RPI: 19) vs. No. 10 Minnesota (14-8, RPI: 40)
Kansas has the highest RPI and has faced the most difficult schedule in the country, but five losses is just one too many to earn a spot on the top line. Certainly anything could still happen. The Jayhawks do have an 8-5 record against the RPI Top 40, while no other team in the country can boast more than six such victories.
Louisville is extremely frustrating. The Cardinals have played 16 games against teams outside the RPI Top 50, going 16-0 with an average margin of victory of 27 points per game. Only one of the games—an 83-76 win at Rutgers—was decided by fewer than 14 points.
But they are just 3-4 vs. RPI Top 50, including two losses at home. Of their final five games of the regular season, four are against RPI Top 50 teams, so perhaps early March will finally provide us with a good feel for this team.
Though Rick Pitino's team is tough to figure out, at least we can all agree that Louisville is safely in the tournament. Richard Pitino's team, however, is trying like mad to play its way out of the field.
Wednesday night's triple-overtime game against Purdue was Minnesota's third straight rough loss. The Golden Gophers lost their previous two games against Nebraska and Northwestern and now sit at 4-6 in Big Ten play. Dating back to last season, they have lost 12 of their last 13 road games in conference.
The other Big Ten teams in this region are in much better shape. Iowa has six losses, but all six have come against the RPI Top 16. The Hawkeyes have dropped a bit after losing three out of five, but they would need to start suffering some bad losses (vs. Purdue or at Penn State) to slip any further.
And Michigan took a step back after Sunday's loss to Indiana, but the Wolverines could go 0-4 in their upcoming stretch of horror against Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State and still maintain a comfortable grip on a single-digit seed.
Sean Kilpatrick isn't the most consistent shooter in the world, but he has scored at least 26 points in three of Cincinnati's last four games. The Bearcats defense has been great all season, but they had been lacking in scoring until now.
After the five-point win over Connecticut on Thursday night, Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin told reporters, "The mark of great players is that they rise to the occasion. (Kilpatrick) has the ability to rise to the occasion."
Last, but not least, George Washington's schedule-maker deserves a gold medal. Provided Miami (Fla.) stays in the RPI Top 100, the Colonials play a total of 15 games against RPI Top 100 teams this season, with only four of the games being played at home.
How their strength of schedule ranks 109th in the country is a head-scratcher, but they have four quality wins away from home with three more opportunities upcoming.
San Diego, Calif.
No. 1 Arizona (22-1, RPI: 2) vs. No. 16 American (Patriot auto bid, RPI: 131)
No. 8 Virginia Commonwealth (19-4, RPI: 25) vs. No. 9 Southern Miss (17-3, RPI: 34)
No. 4 Kentucky (17-5, RPI: 13) vs. No. 13 Mercer (Atlantic Sun auto bid, RPI: 70)
No. 5 Connecticut (17-5, RPI: 32) vs. No. 12 Harvard (Ivy auto bid, RPI: 42)
No. 3 Iowa State (17-4, RPI: 7) vs. No. 14 Belmont (Ohio Valley auto bid, RPI: 68)
No. 6 Gonzaga (20-3, RPI: 22) vs. No. 11 Oregon / Missouri (Last five in)
San Antonio, Texas
No. 2 San Diego State (18-1, RPI: 15) vs. No. 15 New Mexico State (WAC auto bid, RPI: 75)
No. 7 Pittsburgh (19-4, RPI: 22) vs. No. 10 Southern Methodist (18-5, RPI: 43)
Other than San Diego State and its elite defense, just about every team in this region is an enigma.
Iowa State has a great RPI thanks to 10 games against the RPI Top 50, but aside from laying the smackdown on Baylor right as the Bears were hitting their schneid, the Cyclones haven't comfortably beaten a RPI Top 100 team yet this season.
According to KenPom.com (subscription required), they have the third-highest shooting percentage from inside the arc yet take more than 40 percent of their field-goal attempts from three-point range. If not for their fast tempo and high-scoring games, would we really be that impressed with them?
Then there are Kentucky and Connecticut, who have been hot and cold and back again several times this season. Inconsistent as they have been, would you be comfortable picking either team to win more than one game? But would you be surprised if either team made the Final Four?
Gonzaga has an impressive record, as usual, but the Bulldogs haven't exactly been coasting through West Coast play. They have one loss to Portland and nearly lost again to Portland on Wednesday night, getting outscored 43-17 during a 19-minute stretch in the middle of the game.
They were also held to less than 60 points in near losses to San Diego (11-11) and Santa Clara (8-14). At this point, if they don't lose in the first round, it would be a surprise.
Worst of all is Pittsburgh. The Panthers are 19-0 against teams outside the RPI Top 30 but 0-4 against teams that are actually good. Is this a good team? The 33-point home win over Clemson would indicate that it is, but the 15-point loss to Duke and near losses to Maryland and Miami seem to suggest otherwise.
And who knows what to expect from Arizona anymore? Playing a short-handed rotation without Brandon Ashley, the Wildcats could get smothered by VCU's defense, or they could still go on to win the whole tournament. File this away under "statistics that don't mean anything," but the No. 1 seed in the West region hasn't made it to the Elite Eight in any of the past four tournaments.
If you operate under the theory that one of the regions is inevitably going to be crazy—multiple double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16, a No. 3 seed vs. a No. 5 seed in the Elite Eight, etc.—this is the region for you.
No. 4: Wichita State Shockers (23-0, RPI: 6, SOS: 86)
For nearly two full months, we've said that if Wichita State can win on the road against Indiana State, there's a very real chance it could finish the regular season undefeated. Now that the Shockers have beaten the Sycamores, it's finally time to put them on the top line.
From a blind-resume perspective, Wichita State is pretty much identical to Syracuse. Syracuse's RPI is one spot better, but Wichita State's SOS is five spots better.
So, why exactly are there two teams between them?
Because RPI is far from perfect.
Syracuse has five RPI Top 40 victories compared to just one for Wichita State. Syracuse has 13 RPI Top 100 wins, while Wichita State has just six.
Even though the Missouri Valley is pretty weak, Wichita State is lucky that it isn't dreadfully so. The Shockers have played just two games this season against teams in the bottom 100 of the RPI rankings, benefiting from nine wins against teams ranked 101-150—the type of wins that slightly boost a team's RPI without actually challenging it.
That isn't meant to take away from Wichita State's accomplishments—winning 23 consecutive games is quite a feat, regardless of the competition—but it would take collapses by quite a few other teams before I even remotely consider Wichita State for the overall No. 1 seed.
No. 3: Florida Gators (20-2, RPI: 4, SOS: 39)
Aside from the season-opener against North Florida and a 77-75 victory over Memphis, not a single team has scored more than 66 points in regulation against the Gators.
Yes, they play at a very slow tempo—328th in the country, according to KenPom.com (subscription required)—but that's still pretty ridiculous.
Also, the slow tempo is much more the fault of the opposition. Florida's average length of possession on offense is 17.5 seconds, while the opponent is averaging 19.9 seconds per possession—the longest in the country on defense aside from Syracuse, according to KenPom.com.
Other than a win at home against Kansas, Florida doesn't have a ton of high-profile victories. But there's no question that this is one of the toughest teams in the nation.
No. 2: Arizona Wildcats (22-1, RPI: 2, SOS: 11)
Arizona struggled on Thursday night in its first game without Brandon Ashley but ultimately emerged victorious due to its typically impressive defense. Oregon had scored at least 68 points in every game this season until the loss to the Wildcats.
There will be an adjustment period to life after Ashley, but Arizona remains one of the best teams in the country until further notice.
No. 1: Syracuse Orange (22-0, RPI: 5, SOS: 91)
Most of Syracuse's resume was already discussed in the Wichita State section, but it doesn't take much analysis to explain that the only major-conference team with an undefeated record in February is deserving of the No. 1 overall seed.
In case you lost track of how many teams from which conferences received what bids, here's the whole field in one snapshot.
One-bid conferences: 23
- America East (Stony Brook: 16)
- Atlantic Sun (Mercer: 13)
- Big Sky (Weber State: 15)
- Big South (VMI: 16)
- Big West (UC Santa Barbara: 14)
- C-USA (Southern Miss: 9)
- Colonial (Delaware: 14)
- Horizon (Green Bay: 12)
- Ivy (Harvard: 12)
- MAAC (Canisius: 13)
- MAC (Toledo: 13)
- MEAC (North Carolina Central: 16)
- MVC (Wichita State: 1)
- NEC (Robert Morris: 16)
- OVC (Belmont: 14)
- Patriot (American: 16)
- Southern (Davidson: 15)
- Southland (Stephen F. Austin: 14)
- Summit (North Dakota State: 13)
- Sun Belt (Georgia State: 15)
- SWAC (Southern: 16)
- WAC (New Mexico State: 15)
- WCC (Gonzaga: 6)
Multi-bid conferences: 9
American: Cincinnati (3), Connecticut (5), Louisville (5), Memphis (7), Southern Methodist (10)
Atlantic 10: Saint Louis (4), VCU (8), Massachusetts (8), George Washington (9), Richmond (First five out)
ACC: Syracuse (1), Duke (3), Virginia (4), Pittsburgh (6), North Carolina (8), Florida State (9), Clemson (First five out)
Big East: Villanova (2), Creighton (3), Xavier (11), Providence (12)
Big Ten: Michigan State (2), Michigan (4), Ohio State (5), Iowa (6), Wisconsin (6), Minnesota (10), Indiana (First five out)
Big 12: Kansas (2), Iowa State (3), Texas (5), Oklahoma State (6), Oklahoma (7), Kansas State (Last five in), Baylor (Last five in), West Virginia (First five out)
Mountain West: San Diego State (2), New Mexico (8)
Pac-12: Arizona (1), UCLA (7), Stanford (9), California (10), Colorado (10), Arizona State (11), Oregon (Last five in)
SEC: Florida (1), Kentucky (4), Missouri (Last five in), Tennessee (Last five in), LSU (First five out)
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.