This would be so much easier if there were five regions in the NCAA Tournament. I have no idea how the Final Four (or Five?) would work, but that would be for the league to figure out.
Why do I say that? The margin between Duke and Gonzaga for the fourth 1 seed (and the first 2 seed) is so thin right now. First, let me restate something I said on Saturday. Reading this made me rethink how the two teams stand in comparison to each other for the 1,000th time since Gonzaga lost to St. Mary’s on Tuesday night.
“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.”
At that time, my one seeds were Virginia, Duke, Gonzaga, and Kentucky, with North Carolina as the first 2 seed. I followed my train of thought on UNC-Duke and moved UNC up after they completed the sweep of Duke on Saturday night. Now, let’s take a closer look.
First of all, Virginia is a 1 seed. Period. Next, we have North Carolina, followed by Kentucky. Both are on the inside track to a 1 seed, but far from a lock.
On the other side of things, we have Michigan State, Tennessee, and Michigan as the 6, 7, and 8 overall. All have weaknesses in their bodies of work as compared to the other teams on the top two lines. For Michigan State, that is two losses outside of Quad 1; for Tennessee and Michigan, that is a relatively poor Quadrant 1 road record (.500, while the others are all at least two games over).
Now, for Duke and Gonzaga. First, would we be having this conversation if Gonzaga had taken care of business on Tuesday night? No. So, is moving them down an overreaction to one game, as opposed to a careful scrutinizing of their whole body of work? Maybe. Does Duke have a better win profile? Absolutely. Has Gonzaga looked better lately – the tried and true “eye test”? Yes.
Since the reveal, the Zags are 8-1, with all 8 wins coming by double digits, including a 48-point embarrassment of St. Mary’s on February 9. Then again, the level of competition hasn’t exactly been stellar. Duke is 6-3. Granted, the losses are UNC times 2 and at Virginia Tech, but they also lucked out, more or less, in beating Wake Forest by one at home. How much of this is related to Zion Williamson being out? I have no idea, given that they still have multiple other lottery picks on the team. Moreover, no one knows how the Selection Committee will factor that in.
I could flip a coin at this point, and that might be how I decide. Then again, how Duke looks with Zion back in the lineup should tell us a lot. For now, I’m going to stick with what I said on Saturday and put Gonzaga back on the 1 line. As the old adage goes, if you can’t figure out the answer on a multiple choice test, stick with your first guess. But, this is a very, very precarious position for Gonzaga, because the questions are going to be different once Duke gets back in action tonight.
So, here we go. That is the one change I have made since this morning. Several more will be coming tomorrow, but I want to wait for the full slate of results.
I’ve bolded auto-qualifiers, and noted moves up or down in parentheses following the team’s name.
1s: Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Gonzaga (+1)
2s: Duke (-1), Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan
3s: LSU, Texas Tech, Houston, Purdue
4s: Kansas, Florida State, Wisconsin, Kansas State
5s: Virginia Tech, Marquette, Maryland, Mississippi State
6s: Villanova, Auburn, Nevada (+1), Buffalo
7s: Wofford, Cincinnati (-1), Louisville, Iowa State
8s: UCF, Ole Miss, Iowa, Oklahoma
9s: VCU, Baylor, Syracuse, Seton Hall (+1)
10s: Washington (-1), Minnesota, Utah State, St. John’s
11s: TCU, Indiana, Ohio State, Arizona State, Creighton
12s: Temple, North Carolina State (new), St. Mary’s, Murray State, Liberty
13s: New Mexico State, UC-Irvine, Vermont, Northeastern
14s: Old Dominion, Yale, Georgia State, Northern Kentucky
15s: Montana, Colgate (new), Gardner-Webb, Bradley
16s: Sam Houston State, Texas Southern, Iona, Fairleigh-Dickinson, North Dakota State (new), Norfolk State
Last Four Byes: St. John’s, TCU, Indiana, Ohio State
Last Four In: Arizona State, Creighton, Temple, North Carolina State
First Four Out: Florida, Texas (+1), Alabama, UNC-Greensboro (+1)
Next Five Out: Clemson, Belmont (-1), Furman, Georgetown, Lipscomb
Still Alive but Hanging by a Thread: Memphis, Oregon, Xavier, Providence, Fresno State, Arkansas, Dayton, Davidson
Tomorrow morning, I’ll be back with an updated projection and how I see the tiers I’ve been writing about this week shaping up. For now, enjoy the games, and check out the Bracket Matrix!