The college basketball season is heating up as conference play gets into full swing. With less than two months until Selection Sunday on March 12th, teams are jockeying for position in NCAA Tournament bracketology projections. The latest forecasts from top experts show some shakeups in the seeding, but the cream is rising to the top.
Duke Jumps to a 2 Seed Behind ACC Dominance
Perennial powerhouse Duke has vaulted up to a 2 seed in updated March Madness predictions, jumping past struggling preseason No. 1 North Carolina. The Blue Devils are off to a 5-0 start in Atlantic Coast Conference play, taking firm control of the league.
Behind a young squad led by 7-foot-1 freshman center Kyle Filipowski and veteran guard Jeremy Roach, Duke has reestablished itself as a national title threat after missing last year’s Big Dance. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi bumped the Blue Devils up from the No. 3 line to No. 2 in his latest bracket, while CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm has followed suit.
ACC foes Miami, Clemson and Virginia are also appearing on bracketologists’ radars as potential second-weekend teams come March. But Duke remains the class of the conference and a formidable Final Four contender.
Houston Holds Strong Despite Loss to TCU
The Houston Cougars suffered their first loss of the season Wednesday, falling to Texas Christian University 75-72 on the road. But the setback did little to dent their résumé as Jerry Palm kept the Cougars on the No. 1 seed line in his updated bracket projection.
“A true road loss to a top 30 KenPom team isn’t something that should move the needle all that much,” Palm rationalized.
ESPN’s Lunardi also kept Houston stationed on the top line in his latest forecast, cementing their status as a frontrunner to earn a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday. That would likely place them in the Midwest Regional, going through the Chicago bracket.
The Cougars are still seen as the class of the American Athletic Conference alongside Memphis and are poised to enter March Madness with a target on their backs. But Wednesday’s narrow loss showed they could be vulnerable earlier than their 2021 Final Four run.
“For the first time all season, Houston looked beatable last night in Fort Worth,” college basketball insider Jon Rothstein observed on Twitter. “Still think the Cougars will get a #1 seed but definitely not the indestructible force they’ve been for the past year and a half. TCU out-toughed them late.”
Big 12 Powers Kansas, Texas Trending Upward
While the Big 12 lacks a clear frontrunner like in years past, a couple of its traditional heavyweights are making noise in updated bracketology forecasts.
The defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks have roared up the seed list after victories over ranked foes Iowa State and Kansas State. Rothstein bumped Bill Self’s squad up to a No. 3 seed in his latest projection, as the Jayhawks shape up as a dangerous floater in March.
Meanwhile, Texas has made a strong case as the Big 12’s top team after taking down Tennessee, Gonzaga and Creighton in the non-conference slate. The Longhorns appear firmly on the No. 3 line in Palm and Lunardi’s brackets as they seek a second straight trip to the Round of 32.
Further down the projections, Kansas State and TCU are battling for position. The Wildcats and Horned Frogs both own quad 1 wins and bring rugged defenses that could translate to tournament success. But they still have work left to solidify their March Madness résumés.
“Kansas State (1-4 in Quad 1) SMU (1-3) and Missouri State (1-3) all have rough metrics,” college basketball stats guru Jordan Sperber noted on Twitter regarding their NCAA tourney hopes. There remains plenty of chances in conference play for fringe teams to play their way in or out of the Field of 68.
ACC Teams Crowding the Bubble
The majority of ESPN bracketologist Lunardi’s “Last Four In” and “First Four Out” come from the basketball-rich ACC, reflecting a jam-packed middle of the league.
NC State, Syracuse, Florida State and Virginia Tech are all teetering on the cut line in late January. The Wolfpack scored a critical victory over Duke but later lost to Georgia Tech. The Orange own impressive non-conference wins over Richmond and Notre Dame but are just 2-3 in ACC play.
Further clouding the picture is the absence of league schedules, which makes comparing résumés tricky between ACC teams. That should clear up in the next month as teams move through the remainder of conference action.
“The problem for some ACC bubble teams…is that league schedules are far from balanced at this point of January,” Lunardi explains. “NC State, Cuse and FSU can’t yet be easily judged vs. UVa, VT and Clemson.”
But there remains ample opportunity for teams to play their way into the field by March. The ACC sent just five teams dancing last year; bracketologists foresee up to eight making it this time around.
Purdue Solidifies Itself as Overall 1 Seed
After a dominant win over Michigan State Tuesday, Purdue has separated itself as the No. 1 overall seed in Palm and Lunardi’s latest NCAA Tournament projections. The Boilermakers are undefeated through six games of Big Ten play, boasting an imposing lineup led by 7’4″ center Zach Edey.
“If you were saying who’s playing better than anybody right now, it’s clearly Purdue,” Palm said during an appearance on CBS Sports HQ. “Not a surprise to see them as the No. 1 overall seed.”
Purdue owns Division I’s best adjusted efficiency margin, per KenPom, blowing opponents out by an average of 20.4 points per game. That includes convincing victories over Gonzaga, Duke and Michigan State.
“They have all the analytics to back them up as not only the No. 1 overall seed, but potentially the national champion,” noted Stadium basketball analyst Chris Hassel.
Of course, much could change between now and Selection Sunday. But Matt Painter undoubtedly has his Boilermakers looking like the team to beat as the calendar flips to February.
Top Storylines to Watch in February
There is still ample time for teams to solidify or play their way into the Field of 68. What should we look out for in the coming weeks heading up to bracket reveal day?
Conference Races Tighten
As league play continues, races for regular season conference championships will heat up. Watch for surprise challengers like Clemson in the ACC or Missouri State in the Missouri Valley as they try to enhance their March Madness hopes. Those pivotal games will swing seeding lines and spots in the bracket.
Virginia’s Résumé Building
Despite four straight losses in November, Virginia has battled back into the ACC hunt behind a stingy defense. Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers lack big wins but also notably don’t have any bad losses. Their résumé likely hinges on how they fare against Duke, Miami and Virginia Tech down the stretch of league play.
|Key Games Remaining
|at Virginia Tech, Feb 7
|Duke, Feb 11
|at Miami, Feb 16
Battle of the Bubbles
Teams straddling the cut line like Syracuse, NC State and Kansas State have ample résumé-boosting opportunities left. Important February games and conference tournament performance will determine if they are dancing or left on the outside looking in come March.
The next month promises to bring clarity to a crowded NCAA Tournament picture that is just now coming into focus. Top teams will jockey for coveted No. 1 seeds while bubble squads scrap to cement at-large bids. By March 12th, the full 68-team bracket will be set – but not before more twists and turns in this unpredictable college basketball season.
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