Assessing the Race for #1 Seeds Two Weeks OutPosted by Shane McNichol on February 24th, 2017
With a little more than two weeks until Selection Sunday, the battle for #1 seeds in this season’s NCAA Tournament is coming into focus. The specific teams that will sit atop each region have yet to completely crystallize, but the available scenarios are starting to make sense. As regular season conference champions are crowned and the conference tournament brackets are set, the variables in each candidate’s resume fade away and the pathways to a top seed become more clear. Looking around the college basketball landscape leads us to 10 teams remaining with a legitimate chance at the top line. Let’s review.
Kansas and Villanova are almost certainly locked into #1 seeds in the Midwest and East regions, respectively. Both schools have already clinched at least a share of their conference championships and sport resumes worthy of a top seed, barring absolute disaster (i.e., multiple losses) down the stretch. Gonzaga, 29-0 against the 147th-ranked schedule in college basketball, is likely to earn the top seed in the West region. When the Selection Committee provided its sneak peek of the top 16 seeds a couple weeks ago, the Zags occupied the fourth overall #1 seed. Those rankings were released prior to Gonzaga’s decisive victory that evening at St. Mary’s as well as consecutive losses by Baylor, the third overall seed If Mark Few’s club loses its regular season finale against BYU or the WCC Tournament championship game to St. Mary’s, they’d still be in good position to earn a top seed. A loss to any other team in the conference tournament, however, would definitely knock Gonzaga to the #2 seed line.
The fourth available #1 seed is where things get tricky. The likely front-runner for that slot as of today is North Carolina, which is leading the ACC by two full games. An outright regular season title would likely include victories over Duke or Virginia, sealing up a regular season resume well-situated to earn a #1 seed. Assuming a decent performance at the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, the Tar Heels would head to the South Region. If North Carolina slips down the stretch, ACC colleagues Louisville and Duke would be in best position to gain. Even though both teams lost on Wednesday night, a strong closing push that results in an ACC Tournament championship could elevate the Cardinals or Blue Devils to the top line. In the end, the ACC is so strong that any of these three teams can earn a #1 seed by making it clear to the committee that they own the league’s best resume.
If the three viable ACC candidates beat up on each other over the next two weeks and cannot make a compelling case, the Pac-12 stands to gain as the trio of Arizona, Oregon and UCLA still have opportunities to impress. The Bruins visit the Wildcats this weekend in Tucson, and the winner of that game would receive quite a bump. If that victor can also manage to win the Pac-12 Tournament, it likely will have collected as many as three monstrous wins in the final two weeks. Oregon’s regular season finishes with two easier away games at Stanford and Oregon State, so a UCLA win at Arizona on Saturday would probably result in the Ducks winning the Pac-12 title. Earning the top seed in the Pac-12 Tournament means avoiding the other two until the championship game, but Oregon’s path to a #1 seed probably needs to include a couple more big wins. All of this discussion, of course, ignores the fact that this crop of West Coast teams would likely prefer to be the #2 seed in San Jose anyway.
With teams winning and losing every night from now until Selection Sunday, Baylor is the other team waiting for its chance to sneak back on to the top line. The Bears have lost twice since the committee decreed them the third-best overall seed, but their chances, however slim, are still alive. Winning out would be a statement that would necessarily include wins over Iowa State, West Virginia and presumably Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game. With a sprinkling of chaos elsewhere in the form of a Gonzaga loss or muddled situations in the ACC and Pac-12, Scott Drew’s team could sneak into the mix.