Where do Kentucky and the rest of the nation stand?
Conference play for many leagues will begin this week, meaning most teams have had plenty of time to take stock of where they stand.
The non-conference schedule has established, more or less, the contenders for the top teams in the NCAA Tournament field, the teams that can continue their momentum and expect a spot in the bracket and those that still need a fair amount of work to do between now and Selection Sunday.
In other words, this is the perfect time to project the teams in the NCAA Tournament.
Our first NCAA Tournament projections tended to have a more egalitarian approach when it comes to the non-major conferences. This may change in the coming weeks as teams in the Atlantic 10, Mountain West or even the American see their schedules diluted by the lower halves of their respective leagues.
For now, all teams included have done enough in their non-conference schedules to warrant a spot in the field of 68.
NCAA Tournament Projections: Dec. 30
Top-four seed material: Syracuse, Duke
Feeling good: North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Florida State
Barely in: Virginia
On the outs: Maryland, Notre Dame
Notes: Undefeated Syracuse picked up a top-10 win with a defeat of Villanova on Saturday. Duke’s two losses came against KenPom.com top 10 teams Kansas and Arizona. ... No team has better non-conference wins than North Carolina’s victories over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, but the knack for baffling losses persists. ... Florida State keeps getting better. Noles are 0-2 against the Big Ten but picked up key win over UMass on Saturday. ... Virginia will be on the bubble with a loss to Tennessee on Monday. ... Tough to see Notre Dame thriving without Jerian Grant, but not impossible.
Top-four seed material: Louisville, Memphis
Feeling good: Connecticut, Cincinnati
Barely in: SMU
Notes: No shame in losing to Kentucky and North Carolina away from home, but Louisville’s best non-conference win is Southern Miss. ... Memphis’ win over Oklahoma State and close call with Florida signals good things. ... Cincinnati’s ugly win over Pittsburgh erases some sting from losses to New Mexico and Xavier. ... SMU’s first three conference games (at Cincinnati, Connecticut, at Louisville) are huge.
Atlantic 10 (4)
Feeling good: UMass, VCU
Barely in: Saint Louis, George Washington
On the outs: Dayton
Notes: UMass had a quality non-conference schedule in its 11-1 start, but the Lobos will count on LSU, New Mexico, BYU and Florida State to be NCAA contenders. ... VCU went 3-1 against ACC teams. ... Beating Vanderbilt on the road Monday will be a boon for Saint Louis. ... Dayton’s win over Gonzaga is great, but losses to Illinois State and USC make it look like fool’s gold. ... George Washington has wins over Creighton and Maryland.
Big 12 (5)
Top-four seed material: Oklahoma State, Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor
Barely in: Texas, Kansas State
On the outs: Oklahoma
Notes: Kansas’ brutal schedule is starting to yield good wins again (New Mexico, Georgetown). The Jayhawks return to Lawrence against Toledo and San Diego State. ... Iowa State is the Big 12’s last undefeated team with nice wins over Michigan, Iowa and Boise State. ... Baylor’s win over Kentucky looks even better after Wildcats win over Louisville. ... Oklahoma’s best non-conference win is over Alabama. The Sooners will figure out where they stand by opening Big 12 play against Texas, Kansas and Iowa State. ... Texas’ win over schizophrenic North Carolina was key for Rick Barnes. ... Kansas State’s December wins over Ole Miss and Gonzaga signal a team getting better.
Big East (4)
Top-four seed material: Villanova
Feeling good: Creighton, Marquette, Xavier
On the outs: Butler, Providence
Notes: Villanova still looks like the class of the Big East despite giving up an early lead against Syracuse. ... Creighton’s only losses are on neutral courts to San Diego State and George Washington. ... Marquette hasn’t lost to a bad opponent, but the Eagles need a nice Big East record. .... Xavier’s resume needs work, but defeating Cincinnati, Alabama and Wake Forest in consecutive games was a start. ... Butler has surprised, but that non-conference schedule is lacking.
Big Ten (6)
Top-four seed material: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State
Feeling good: Iowa
Barely in: Michigan, Indiana
On the outs: Minnesota, Illinois
Notes: Notre Dame’s epic collapse kept Ohio State undefeated, but Buckeyes have one win over a KenPom.com top-50 team (Marquette). ... Wisconsin also opens Big Ten play undefeated. .... Michigan State is battling through bumps and bruises but still beat Texas easily on Dec. 17. ... No shame in Iowa’s losses to Villanova in Iowa State, but wins over Notre Dame and Xavier may fade in stature. ... Michigan fans have reason for concern with Mitch McGary going in for back surgery. ... Minnesota’s win over Florida State will keep the Gophers worth watching.
Missouri Valley (1)
Top-four seed material: Wichita State
On the outs: Indiana State
Notes: After navigating a non-conference schedule including BYU, Saint Louis, Tennessee and Alabama, Wichita State may flirt with an undefeated season. ... Indiana State has a road win over Notre Dame and split games against Belmont to put the Sycamores on the bubble.
Mountain West (3)
Top-four seed material: San Diego State
Feeling good: New Mexico
Barely in: Boise State
On the outs: UNLV, Utah State
Notes: San Diego State will hope Creighton and Marquette go toe-to-toe for the Big East title. The Aztecs defeated both, and they face Kansas in Lawrence on Sunday. ... New Mexico also has a win over Marquette, plus a win over Cincinnati and a split with rival New Mexico State. ... Boise State held Iowa State to a season-low 70 points in a loss in the Diamond Head Classic.
Top-four seed material: Arizona, Oregon
Feeling good: Colorado, UCLA, Arizona State
Barely in: Stanford
On the outs: Cal, Utah
Notes: Undefeated Arizona has wins over Duke and Michigan away from home. ... Oregon can only get stronger with Dominic Artis returning to the lineup as transfers gain chemistry. ... Colorado has a good win over Kansas, its only losses are to Oklahoma State and Baylor away from Boulder. ... UCLA pulled away from Alabama to avoid a not-so-pretty loss at home. ... Arizona State is among a handful of teams hoping wins over Marquette and UNLV will still be respectable in March. ... Stanford had an OK pre-Christmas stretch with win at UConn and three-point loss to Michigan.
Top-four seed material: Florida, Kentucky
Feeling good: Missouri, LSU
Barely in: Tennessee
On the outs: Arkansas, Ole Miss
Notes: Kentucky finally got the signature win it needed against Louisville. ... Florida has no bad losses and wins over Kansas, Memphis and Florida State. ... Missouri’s only loss is by 1 to Illinois. ... Arkansas’ schedule will be lacking unless SMU, Minnesota and Clemson turn out to be good wins. ... Tennessee’s home game against Virginia on Monday will be critical.
West Coast (1)
Feeling good: Gonzaga
On the outs: Saint Mary’s, Pacific, BYU
Notes: Gonzaga played a lackluster non-conference schedule by the Bulldogs’ standards and still lost to Dayton in Maui plus Kansas State. ... Saint Mary’s started 9-0 but lost to South Carolina, Hawaii and George Mason in the Diamond Head Classic.
One-bid leagues (21)
America East: Stony Brook
Atlantic Sun: Florida Gulf Coast
Big Sky: Montana
Big South: Charleston Southern
Big West: UC Santa Barbara
Conference USA: Southern Miss
Horizon: Green Bay
MEAC: Norfolk State
Ohio Valley: Belmont
Patriot: Boston University
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
Sun Belt: Western Kentucky
SWAC: Texas Southern
WAC: New Mexico State