Let’s shift gears from my usual bubble watch and look at the top of the NCAA tournament field. Who has a shot at a 1 seed, and how likely is it for these teams? To do this, I’m looking at the metrics that I know the Selection Committee as a whole uses: overall record, road record, NET, win-loss record by quadrant, strength of schedule (especially non-conference), and the most important one of all. That is who did you beat, who did you lose to, and where did it happen?
I won’t go into detail about every metric for every team, because that would result in a 10-page post. If you want to know more, drop me a line on Twitter, @Mike_Broman1. I’ll be watching games all day, and I’d love to hear from you.
Let’s start off with Virginia and Gonzaga. In short, I don’t see how either team falls off the 1 line. UVA has lost 2 games all year and they play in arguably the best conference. They have 6 wins over teams who are in position for a protected (4-line or above) seed, including at North Carolina and at Maryland. Their only 2 losses are to Duke, before Zion Williamson got hurt.
Gonzaga doesn’t have the win profile of the teams around them, but they were a top seed in the bracket reveal on February 9 and they’ve been winning by mind-boggling margins ever since, helping them to reach #1 in NET. Their only losses are at North Carolina and to Tennessee at a neutral site.
Next, we have North Carolina or Duke. In all likelihood, one of them will get a 1 seed. Duke is better positioned right now primarily because they swept Virginia and beat Kentucky at a neutral site. But, it’s really close, and UNC won at Duke to complement the early-season win over Gonzaga. A home win against the Dukies in tonight’s rematch might give UNC the push they need to be a 1 seed.
After that, we have two more pairs of teams where one could earn a 1 seed. These are Kentucky or Tennessee, and Michigan or Michigan State. Of course, it’s likely that three top seeds are already taken (see above), so only one team among these four is going to earn a 1 seed. I think it’s more likely to come from the SEC. There’s not a huge difference between any of the four; all have had great seasons and have an argument for that 1 seed. Let’s look a little closer at what I think the differences are.
When you look at Kentucky and Tennessee, each has a win over the other. Of course, the same will be said for Michigan and Michigan State if Michigan wins tonight. Kentucky and Michigan both beat North Carolina; Tennessee beat Gonzaga, and Michigan State might have the best road win of the bunch, at Wisconsin. Then again, Kentucky won at Louisville, while Michigan won at Maryland and at Villanova (by 27 points). See how close this is?
Here’s the difference: non-conference strength of schedule is 18 for Kentucky, 83 for Tennessee, 110 for Michigan State, and 192 for Michigan. Also, the SEC pair has avoided any bad losses. Michigan lost at Penn State. This is actually a Quadrant 1 loss, but let’s be real. Penn State is a bad team. Michigan State lost at Illinois. So, I’d say Kentucky is the most likely of the group to get a 1 seed, followed by Tennessee.
Now, let’s get to today’s projection. There were some exciting games last night, but nothing that really inspired movement in the bracket, in my opinion (check out my post from yesterday if you want to see my thought process about moving teams up or down a lot this time of year). Only nine teams that were in or even near the projected field yesterday were in action last night. Also, I’m going to hold off on making changes to the teams that can only get in with auto bids (lines 13 and below) until the conference tournaments really get into full swing over the next couple of days.
That said, our first ticket will be punched tonight, as Murray State takes on Belmont for the Ohio Valley Conference championship. A team with a high lottery pick in Ja Morant versus a team that will definitely inspire debate as to whether they should get an at-large if they lose tonight, in Belmont. I can’t wait for this game.
This is really a reiteration of what I projected yesterday; expect some shifts after the weekend, as we have two days packed with games on tap.
1s: Virginia, Duke, Gonzaga, Kentucky
2s: North Carolina, Tennessee, Michigan, Michigan State
3s: LSU, Houston, Texas Tech, Purdue
4s: Marquette, Kansas, Florida State, Kansas State
5s: Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Iowa State, Maryland
6s: Villanova, Mississippi State, Cincinnati, Buffalo
7s: Nevada, Louisville, Auburn, Iowa
8s: Oklahoma, St. John’s, Wofford, Syracuse
9s: Baylor, Washington, UCF, Ole Miss
10s: Minnesota, VCU, Ohio State, Florida
11s: Utah State, Seton Hall, Texas, Indiana
12s: Clemson, Temple, TCU, Alabama
13s: New Mexico State, UC Irvine, Vermont, Old Dominion
14s: Hofstra, Yale, South Dakota State, Texas State
15s: Northern Kentucky, Radford, Montana, Drake
16s: Texas Southern, Bucknell, Sam Houston State, Norfolk State, St. Francis-PA, Iona
Last Four Byes: Utah State, Seton Hall, Texas, Indiana
Last Four In: Clemson, Temple, TCU, Alabama
First Four Out: Creighton, North Carolina State, Arizona State, UNC-Greensboro
Next Four Out: Furman, Georgetown, Dayton, Memphis
Still Alive (in no particular order): St. Mary’s, Butler, Murray State, Toledo, Oregon, East Tennessee State (these teams could, in theory, get in with a great performance down the stretch and some collapses by the teams above them).
Hanging on by a Thread: Providence, San Francisco, Davidson, Xavier, Colorado, Oregon State, South Florida, Arizona (really, these teams have almost no shot short of winning out and everyone above them losing out but, I thought I’d list them for fun).
Enjoy the games, and look for my next update tomorrow (Sunday, March 10). Check out the Bracket Matrix in the meantime!