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Matt’s Monday Morning Bracketology

A weekly look at the world of college basketball through my version of bracketology (on a Tuesday)

With conference play just around the corner as we near the new year, that means that teams will be playing not just for a conference championship, but a higher seed line as we head on the long road towards March.

Tennessee is riding a three game winning streak while four unbeatens remain in the country...but only two reside in the top 12 seeds right now.

Before we get started, an explanation on the major aspects of the formula. First, this is less of a predictor and more of a tracker. It follows the “if the season ended today” line of thinking which favors what we’ve seen teams do thus far more than what a team is capable of doing.

Now for a weights explanation. A team’s résumé is first and foremost the highest valued weight, and I use the NET, KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, and Bart Torvik’s wins above bubble as the prominent remaining three factors. I’ll give a thorough breakdown on the one seeds with brief synopses on the two seeds before unveiling the remaining seeds.

1 Seeds

1|1 — Purdue Boilermakers

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Boilers by the Numbers

Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
B1G 10-1 4 2 4.2 5-0 7-1 2-0 1-0

Much is made about Purdue considering their underwhelming tournament history under Matt Painter compounded by their most recent loss to Fairleigh Dickinson as a one seed, but this Purdue team is better than last year’s team for two reasons: 1. Braden Smith has become one of the better guards in the Big Ten, and 2. Purdue’s woes from three last season are not an issue anymore and has actually become a strength.

From essentially playing Edey-ball all of last season where their guards crumbled at the sign of any full court pressure to a team who actually gets a good deal out of their guards in 2023 is the major reason this team will make at least an Elite Eight run this season. The Boilers ranked 291st with a 32.2% clip from three last season. That number is up to 40.3% this season, good for 7th in the country. With that kind of outside prowess, it becomes much harder for teams to just focus on Edey and make it harder for him to get his and make their guards beat them because this year, their guards are beating them.

See: games against Gonzaga, Tennessee, Marquette, Alabama, and Arizona. Their guards have made the difference in wins and losses. Braden Smith has arrived as a star this season. He’s scored 26 and 27 over the past two games against Arizona and Alabama while posting . Fletcher Loyer and Lance Jones have alleviated that pressure off of Edey as well. For my money, we could be seeing a Virginia type of title run after their brutal upset the season prior. Boiler ball is in full effect.

1|2 — Houston Cougars

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Houston Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Cougs by the Numbers

Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
Big XII 11-0 1 1 2.8 4-0 4-0 0-0 7-0

While Houston does rank first in the NET and on KenPom, their résumé sorely lacks the quality of Purdue right now. That being said, the jump to the Big XII will prove very fruitful for the Cougars, and I project them to finish as the top overall seed as of now.

Houston and their nation-best defense is driven by their guards. The addition of LJ Cryer has more than offset the loss of Marcus Sasser to the NBA as Cryer leads the team in scoring at 17.7 points per game while shooting 40% from three and posting a career low in turnover rate. The addition of Cryer has made point guard Jamal Shead much more effective on the offensive end while being an elite defender. Shead currently holds the second highest assist rate mark in the nation at 45.7% while posting a near 6% steal rate.

The unsung heroes of this team are the wings and interior. Houston plays smaller primarily, letting their team athleticism run the show, but it doesn’t come with a cost on the interior defensively. Houston has the highest block rate of any team in the nation as 6-foot-7 J’Wan Roberts and 6-foot-8 Jarace Walker both rank in the top 100 among qualified players while 6-foot-8 Ja’Vier Francis comes off the bench with a staggering 14.5% block rate.

With the suffocating perimeter defense and elite rim protection, Kelvin Sampson may have his best Houston team to date. Anything less than an Elite Eight run would be seen as a failure.

1|3 — Arizona Wildcats

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Arizona Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports

Zona by the Numbers

Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
PAC-12 8-1 2 4 2.3 3-1 3-1 3-0 2-0

Arizona feels a lot safer to bet on this season than last for one big reason: defense. The offense this season is terrific, but through this point last season, Arizona had allowed 70+ points in 7 of their first 11 games. Through their first 9 games this season, it’s happened just twice. Once in a 25 point win over Wisconsin and to Purdue in their lone loss.

A big reason for this is perimeter defense and sheer size. The Wildcats start just one player under 6-foot-4 (Kylan Boswell) and rotate a pair of very good 7-footers inside with Oumar Ballo and Motiejus Krivas. The addition of Caleb Love has done wonders all around for this team as they’ve replaced a free shooting one-dimensional Kerr Kriisa with another free shooter in Love who has proven to hold his own defensively.

A big question that naturally pops into the minds of anyone who watched Love play the past two seasons at North Carolina is what happens when Love isn’t on? I think Arizona is much better positioned than those Carolina teams to offset those games sheerly do to the efficiency and wealth of scoring threats that surround Love that were never consistently there with the Tar Heels last season, and it takes a lot of pressure off of him. He’s really landed on his feet with Tommy Lloyd, and I think that makes me more confident in Arizona making a deeper run than last season.

1|4 — Kansas Jayhawks

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

KU by the Numbers

Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
Big XII 9-1 13 10 2.7 3-1 4-1 1-0 4-0

The addition of Hunter Dickinson has unlocked Kevin McCullar for Bill Self’s squad. McCullar sees the floor better than any forward in the country, and with the action Kansas is able to get off of Dickinson, it’s no wonder this team leads the nation in assists per field goals made.

My X-factor for this Kansas team is point guard Dajuan Harris. This team is simply better when he’s more aggressive on the offensive end. He’s one of the best facilitators in the nation, but when he asserts himself as a secondary scoring threat, this team nears unstoppable. Just to put numbers with this statement, Jon Rothstein pointed out a great stat: Kansas is 27-1 when Harris scores in double figures.

All in all, this Kansas team’s resolve has impressed me as this past weekend against Indiana, they came back from 13 down at half in Assembly Hall. They trailed against Tennessee as well as against UConn, but they stay composed and really string together baskets down the stretch. They’ve been battle tested with a tough non-conference schedule, and with an absolute gauntlet ahead in Big XII play, they’ve carved out a great start to the season.

2 Seeds

2|5 — Marquette Golden Eagles

NCAA Basketball: St. Thomas (MN) at Marquette Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Marquette by the Numbers

Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
Big East 9-2 7 6 2.3 2-2 3-2 2-0 4-0

Marquette returned a ton of important production from last season, most notably point guard Tyler Kolek, but it’s been Kam Jones who’s impressed me the most. Jones was a very good player last season, averaging over 15 points per game on very efficient shooting while being an absolute gamer in conference play. This season, he’s taken the next step, shooting 44.3% from three. The Big East is always tough to navigate, but if Shaka and co. simply just meet expectations, they’ll be a top-8 seed.

2|6 — Tennessee Volunteers

NCAA Basketball: Hall of Fame Series-San Antonio-N.C. State at Tennessee Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Vols by the Numbers

Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
SEC 8-3 8 7 1.7 2-3 5-3 0-0 3-0

The Vols remain a mystery to me, but through very obvious results. Transfer Dalton Knecht has made a world of difference early on, establishing a full blown all-around offensive threat for the Vols, something they’ve not had in some time. That being said, the concerns are still there with this team. Santiago Vescovi has still yet to shake off the early season rust, and getting anyone to string together consecutive good offensive performances right now has been few and far between.

That being said, Zakai Zeigler is slowly starting to rebound from his ACL tear, and if the NC State game was any indication where Zeigler scored 20 to go with 8 assists and 4 steals, he very well might be fully back.

The scoring lulls aren’t as pronounced this season, a major step forward, but this team has really struggled with fouling in their higher profile matchups. Yes, one was against Purdue, so you can almost throw it out the window entirely, but on the whole, the Vols are allowing teams to get to the charity stripe just shy of 23 times a game. They are still a very good defense, but they’re not quite pacing towards elite like year’s past.

The Vols have won four straight since dropping three in a row, so they’ve rebounded well. Consider me a very cautious optimist on this iteration of Rick Barnes’ team.

2|7 — Connecticut Huskies

NCAA Basketball: Continental Tire Seattle Tip-Off-Connecticut at Gonzaga Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

UConn by the Numbers

Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
Big East 10-1 5 3 2.3 2-1 3-1 1-0 6-0

The margins between the last one seed and the first three two seeds are extremely thin, and I maintain that this is still the best team in the country. They’ve mowed through a relatively relaxed non-con schedule compared to the teams above them — they’ve still beaten Texas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga — and Tristen Newton is blossoming into one of the best players in the country. Donovan Clingan has also made the departure of Adama Sanogo a very smooth transition as the sophomore 7-footer took over the Gonzaga game, scoring 21 to go with eight boards and a pair of blocks. Once this team can get Stephon Castle back healthy, I fully expect them to run through the Big East.

2|8 — Clemson Tigers

NCAA Basketball: Hall of Fame Series-Toronto-Clemson at Texas Christian John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Tigers by the Numbers

Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
Conf. Record NET KenPom WAB Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4
ACC 9-1 15 25 2.8 3-1 4-1 2-0 3-0

Clemson is a bit over-ranked here (my future projections have them slated as a four or five seed), but that’s the beauty of early season bracketology. They’ve ascended from 51st in KenPom to start the season to 25th currently, and their 2.8 wins above bracket currently ranks second in the nation. Though they just lost a nail biter to Memphis on the road, they’re currently rated the third best team in the ACC as they enter conference play after being selected fifth in the ACC media preseason poll. PJ Hall has become one of the better players in the conference while Syracuse transfer Joe Girard has meshed well into a more favorable role as an elite three point shooter. A lot of good things going for the Tigers.

Now, for the remaining seeds:

Bracketology

Seed Ovr Team Conf. NET KenPom Record Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4 WAB
Seed Ovr Team Conf. NET KenPom Record Quad 1 Q 1&2 Quad 3 Quad 4 WAB
3 9 Creighton Big East 11 11 9-2 2-1 3-1 2-1 4-0 1.5
3 10 Wisconsin B1G 18 16 8-3 3-3 4-3 0-0 4-0 1.7
3 11 FAU AAC 12 15 9-2 1-1 5-1 2-0 2-1 1.6
3 12 Memphis AAC 34 31 8-2 2-2 6-2 0-0 2-0 2.2
4 13 Baylor Big XII 18 14 8-1 1-1 2-1 2-0 4-0 1.6
4 14 Colorado State MWC 20 28 9-1 1-0 5-0 2-1 2-0 2.3
4 15 Oklahoma Big XII 9 18 10-0 0-0 4-0 0-0 6-0 2.1
4 16 Illinois B1G 19 13 7-2 1-2 2-2 1-0 4-0 1.1
5 17 Texas A&M SEC 16 22 7-4 3-3 3-4 2-0 2-0 1
5 18 BYU Big XII 3 5 10-1 1-1 2-1 3-0 5-0 1.4
5 19 Princeton Ivy 21 47 9-1 1-1 3-1 2-0 4-0 1.7
5 20 Virginia ACC 23 30 9-1 1-1 2-1 3-0 4-0 1.6
6 21 Utah PAC-12 32 34 8-2 1-1 3-2 1-0 4-0 1.6
6 22 Dayton A-10 30 41 8-2 2-1 3-2 2-0 3-0 1.5
6 23 Grand Canyon WAC 31 55 9-1 2-1 3-1 1-0 5-0 1.2
6 24 Kentucky SEC 27 21 8-2 1-1 3-1 1-1 4-0 0.8
7 25 San Diego State MWC 26 29 7-2 0-2 3-2 2-0 2-0 1.3
7 26 James Madison Sun Belt 25 68 9-0 1-0 2-0 2-0 5-0 2.1
7 27 Auburn SEC 22 8 7-2 0-2 2-2 1-0 4-0 1
7 28 Utah State MWC 29 56 9-1 0-0 3-1 4-0 2-0 1.3
8 29 North Carolina ACC 36 20 7-3 1-3 1-0 3-0 2-0 0.9
8 30 Iowa State Big XII 6 17 8-2 0-1 2-2 0-0 6-0 0.2
8 31 Ohio State B1G 33 26 9-2 1-1 0-1 4-0 4-0 1
8 32 Indiana State MVC 14 51 9-1 0-1 2-1 2-0 5-0 1.1
9 33 Alabama SEC 10 9 6-4 1-4 2-4 1-0 3-0 0
9 34 New Mexico MWC 28 35 10-1 0-0 2-1 3-0 5-0 1.2
9 35 South Carolina SEC 41 69 9-1 1-1 2-1 1-0 6-0 1.2
9 36 Gonzaga WCC 37 19 7-3 0-3 2-3 2-0 3-0 0.9
10 37 Nevada MWC 49 53 8-1 1-0 1-1 1-0 6-0 0.7
10 38 Virginia Tech ACC 52 57 8-3 1-3 2-3 1-0 5-0 0.4
10 39 Nebraska B1G 72 42 8-2 0-1 2-1 1-0 5-0 1
10 40 Ole Miss SEC 64 90 10-0 0-0 3-0 1-0 6-0 2.1
11 41 Villanova Big East 42 27 7-4 2-0 3-3 2-2 2-0 -0.2
11 42 Mississippi State SEC 47 36 8-2 1-0 2-0 2-1 4-1 0.6
11 43 Duke ACC 24 12 7-3 1-1 1-2 2-1 4-0 -0.1
11 44 Washington PAC-12 60 48 6-3 0-2 2-3 0-0 4-0 0
11 45 Colorado PAC-12 35 24 8-2 0-1 2-1 0-1 6-0 0.2
11 46 Butler Big East 51 58 8-2 0-2 2-2 1-0 5-0 0.9
12 47 Northwestern B1G 77 66 8-2 2-1 2-1 1-0 5-1 0.4
12 48 Saint Joseph's A-10 48 75 9-2 2-1 2-1 1-0 6-1 0.4
12 49 Florida SEC 55 38 7-3 1-2 2-3 1-0 4-0 0
12 50 Michigan State B1G 46 23 5-5 1-5 1-0 0-0 3-0 -1
F4O 51 Drake MVC 68 74 9-1 1-0 2-0 3-1 4-0 0.9
F4O 52 Boise State MWC 82 78 7-3 0-1 3-3 1-0 1-0 0.2
F4O 53 Providence Big East 69 51 9-2 1-1 1-2 2-0 6-0 0.5
F4O 54 Miami (FL) ACC 61 59 8-2 0-2 1-2 2-0 5-0 0.7
N4O 55 Texas Tech Big XII 62 42 8-2 0-2 1-2 3-0 4-0 0.4
N4O 56 Appalachian State Sun Belt 47 77 7-2 1-0 1-0 1-2 5-0 -0.1
N4O 57 Kansas State Big XII 76 65 8-2 0-0 2-2 3-0 3-0 0.4
N4O 58 TCU Big XII 43 32 8-1 0-1 0-1 2-0 6-0 0.4
Tennessee Volunteer Basketball

AP Top 25: Tennessee stays put after big week

Monday Morning Bracketology — A shake-up at the top

Monday Musings: Vols stood on business in T-Town