It’s March, and I’m a nice guy, and because I’m a nice guy, and because it’s March, I decided that it is time for the latest installment of “The Race for the No. 1 seeds.”
For you astute readers, over the last few weeks I’ve kept you updated on which teams are in position to get those No. 1’s, and what it will take for each team to secure a spot on the top line. And as we head into the final weekend of the regular season, it only seems appropriate we update that picture.
Here is what I wrote last week on the subject, and at this point, it doesn’t feel like a ton of explanation is needed. Right now I believe that one team has firmly clinched a No. 1 seed and one team is reeeeeeeeeeally close, leaving six schools battling for the final two spots.
Let’s take a look at the No. 1 seed race.
Before we get there, a quick reminder:
First, a few simple parameters before we get started
One, when I reference “Quad 1” and “Quad 2” wins and losses below, those are all according to the NCAA’s new “NET” rankings which will help put together the field of 68 and seed those teams. Games, wins and losses are broken up into “Quads” with the biggest games, against the best teams falling into “Quad 1” and so on so forth. The worst wins, against the worst teams in college basketball, fall into “Quad 4.”
Not surprisingly, the more Quad 1 wins and fewer Quad 1 losses you have, the better your resume will look.
Here is how the Quads break down, per the NET rankings:
- Quadrant 1: Home Game 1-30; Neutral Site 1-50; Away Game 1-75
- Quadrant 2: Home Game 31-75; Neutral Site 51-100; Away Game 76-135
- Quadrant 3: Home Game 76-160; Neutral Site 101-200; Away Game 136-240
- Quadrant 4: Home Game 161-plus; Neutral Site 201-plus; Away Game 241-plus
Here are the overall NET rankings for those who are so inclined to dig through each individual team’s “Team Sheet.”
Now with that, let’s look at the competition for No. 1 seeds:
A No. 1 Seed Has Officially Been Locked Up
Overall Record: 27-2, 13-2 in the ACC
Remaining Games: Louisville, ACC Tournament
There really is nothing else to be said: With what they’ve over the last few weeks – and entire season really – Virginia has locked up a No. 1 seed. Their resume really is staggering, as they have 10 Quad 1 wins (tied for the most in college basketball) including a wild collection of road victories that includes wins at North Carolina, at Syracuse, at Virginia Tech, at Louisville and at Maryland. Love Virginia or hate them, there really is something to be said about a team whose only two losses came against Duke, when Duke was at full-strength.
Ultimately, we’ll spend the next few weeks debating whether this is the year Virginia might actually be good enough to win the title (for the first time in forever, I actually think the answer might be “yes.”). but right now, there is no debate: Virginia will be a No. 1 seed. Even if they lose to Louisville at home this weekend and in their ACC Tournament opener (which is unlikely) they are still a lock to end up on the one-line come Selection Sunday.
Reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally Close to Locking Up a No. 1 Seed
Overall Record: 29-2, 14-0 in WCC play
Remaining Games: WCC Tournament
A week ago I fell under the camp of, “Even if Gonzaga wins out, I think there’s a chance they could get jumped by other teams on the No. 1 seed line.” But after Kentucky lost to Tennessee and Michigan State lost to Indiana, I think the possibility of Gonzaga getting jumped if they win out is next to impossible. Basically, if the Zags just win the West Coast Conference Tournament (which starts Friday and ends next Tuesday) you can go ahead and put them in pen for the No. 1 seed out West.
Now quickly, this is the part where I have to again put out the disclaimer: If you want to criticize their league, go ahead. To me, if Gonzaga wins out, they will have earned the No. 1 seed based on their wins over Duke, Washington and at Creighton, not to mention three likely wins against Saint Mary’s, which is a bubble team in its own right (assuming they play Saint Mary’s in the title game). Plus, I think there’s something to be said about a team that gets everyone’s best shot on any every night… and still kicks the crap out of them. Which is exactly what Gonzaga did this season. I don’t care how bad Gonzaga’s league is. They are a damn good team.
And independent of what your thoughts are on Gonzaga, what I can tell you is: If they win the WCC Tournament, they will be a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday.
Control Their Own Destiny
Duke Blue Devils
Overall Record: 25-4, 12-3 in the ACC
Remaining Games: at UNC, ACC Tournament
Duke is in the weird spot. And I actually both sides of the for and against “Should Duke be a No. 1 seed” argument.
On the “Duke deserves a No. 1 seed” side of the argument, their list of wins is absolutely staggering. The Blue Devils are the only team to beat Virginia – and have done it twice. They beat Texas Tech, which might win the Big 12. And they beat Kentucky, which is probably one of the five best teams in college basketball right now. And that doesn’t even include victories over second-tier tournament teams like Auburn, at Louisville, at Syracuse and at Florida State.
That is a WILD resume.
Still, we also can’t just erase what has happened the last two weeks since Zion Williamson got hurt. They are 4-2 overall, with a loss to Virginia Tech, when the Hokies were without their starting point guard (Justin Robinson). And it includes a near home loss to Wake Forest on Tuesday, the same Wake team that has lost to Houston Baptist, Richmond and Garner-Webb this season. This is clearly not the same team without Zion Williamson.
And it feels fair to ask: What if they lose at North Carolina this weekend? And what if they lose again early in the ACC Tournament, say to North Carolina again in the semifinals? That would three head-to-head losses with North Carolina, and a 5-4 record in their final nine games. Does that really sound like the resume of a No. 1 seed? Not to me.
That also doesn’t factor in another aspect: We have no idea what’s going to happen with Zion Williamson. I know that Coach K said that he expects him back for the ACC Tournament – but what if he doesn’t come back? At that point, the NCAA Selection Committee really must ask themselves: Do we really believe Zion will be back, and do we seed Duke appropriately? Or do we have to assume that Zion might not play in the NCAA Tournament?
(FYI: We spent a TON of time talking Zion Williamson conspiracy theories on the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast on Monday, and we discussed the very real possibility that Coach K is lying about Zion’s injury to protect Duke’s pursuit of a No. 1 seed. You can listen to the show by clicking here)
All of that is a long-winded way of me saying that if Duke wins at North Carolina this weekend they lock up a No. 1 seed. If they beat North Carolina in the ACC Tournament semifinals, they lock up a No. 1 seed.
But if they lose both? It’s going to put the committee in an interesting pickle come Selection Sunday.
Which brings us to…
North Carolina Tar Heels
Overall Record: 25-5 overall, 15-2 in the ACC
Quad 1 Games Remaining: Duke, ACC Tournament
Considering I just spent a ton of time talking about North Carolina’s scenarios relative to Duke’s, it feels kind of repetitive to go too deep on the Tar Heels here.
But what you need to know is this: The only way for Carolina to guarantee themselves a No. 1 seed is to win out – beat Duke this weekend and win the ACC Tournament. If they beat Duke, and lose in the ACC Tournament final to Virginia I think it’s possible they could get a No. 1. If they lose prior to the ACC finals, they will be a No. 2. If they lose to Duke this weekend, they will be a No. 2 seed as well.
Right now, the most interesting scenario is what if Carolina beats Duke this weekend and in the ACC Tournament, but then loses to Virginia in the final? At that point, the committee would have to ask themselves, what is more important: North Carolina’s three head-to-head wins against Duke? Or Duke’s overall body of work (assuming we know for sure Zion Williamson will be back for the NCAA Tournament)?
It will be fascinating to follow straight through Selection Sunday. But as I said, North Carolina does control their own destiny. Win out, and they will get a No. 1.
The Same Path to a No. 1 Seed
Overall Record: 25-5, 14-3 in the SEC
Quad 1 Games Remaining: Florida, SEC Tournament
Overall Record: 27-3, 15-2 in the SEC
Quad 1 Games Remaining: at Auburn, SEC Tournament
To me, Kentucky and Tennessee basically have the same path to a No. 1 seed. And it’s really pretty simple.
First off, each team must win this weekend. For Kentucky, that means beating Florida at home. And for the Vols, it means a win at Auburn. That’s the first step. Then, after LSU’s wild win at Florida on Wednesday night, it seems almost certain that LSU will get the No. 1 seed at the SEC Tournament (they close with Vanderbilt this weekend) and that Kentucky and Tennessee will play in the SEC Tournament semifinals.
Which brings me to the second part of this scenario.
If both teams win their game this weekend, and both teams win their opener in SEC Tourney play, then I believe that whoever wins that SEC Tournament grudge match gets the No. 1 seed. Yes, even if they lose to LSU in the final. Obviously if either team wins in the final, that clinches the No. 1 seed.
Now sure, there are other variables at play here. What if either Big Ten team in contention for a No. 1 seed (Michigan or Michigan State) wins out? Even then, I’m not sure the committee would give the nod to either over Kentucky or Tennessee.
Many of you are also probably wondering: What if LSU wins the SEC Tournament title? Wouldn’t they get a No. 1 seed over Tennessee and Kentucky? With all due respect to the season Will Wade’s team is having, I’m not sold they can climb up to a No. 1 seed – even if they win the SEC Tournament. Believe it or not, they have three Quad 2 losses (Kentucky and Tennessee have one combined) including a loss to the worst team in the Big 12 (Oklahoma State) and one of the worst teams in the SEC (Arkansas). Those losses to me, would outweigh the great wins they have in the committee’s mind.
By the way, I also think there’s an outside possibility that both Kentucky and Tennessee get No. 1 seeds, but that would take something truly crazy happening – like North Carolina and Duke both losing in the ACC Tournament, or Gonzaga losing in their conference tournament.
Therefore the bottom line is simple for both teams: Win this weekend and win in the SEC Tournament semifinals, and you’re headed to the land of No. 1 seed.
Hanging Around on the Fringes
Overall Record: 25-5, 15-2 in the SEC
Remaining Games: Vanderbilt, SEC Tournament
I already dove into LSU above, so I won’t dig too deep here. But I do believe that those bad losses (Arkansas at home, Oklahoma State on a neutral court) will be too much to overcome. Even if LSU wins the SEC Tournament.
LSU has had an incredible season and deserves all the acclaim they’re getting. And while I think they’d have an interesting case for a No. 1 seed if they win out, I ultimately think they’ll settle on the No. 2 or 3 seed line.
Michigan State Spartans
Overall Record: 24-6, 15-4 in the Big Ten
Remaining Games: Michigan, Big Ten Tournament
Michigan State did itself no favors by losing to Indiana last week – a loss that has all but eliminated them from serious No. 1 seed discussion. To their credit, the Spartans still have 10 Quad 1 wins (tied for most with Virginia) and could pick up more this weekend. But they also have two Quad 2 losses (a home loss to Indiana and at Illinois) and a season sweep at the hands of Indiana.
If the Spartans were to win out (a home win over Michigan this weekend and sweeping the Big Ten Tournament) then things would get interesting come Selection Sunday. But even then, I’m not sure it’s enough. I think they would need help somewhere, be it an upset in the SEC Tournament, or Duke and North Carolina both getting knocked out early in the ACC.
Expect Michigan State to settle in on the two-line come Selection Sunday.
Overall Record: 26-4, 15-4 in the Big Ten
Remaining Games: at Michigan State, Big Ten Tournament
So again, Michigan travels to Michigan State this weekend and the loser is obviously eliminated from No. 1 seed consideration. Considering that Michigan already lost to the Spartans at home, and considering that three of their losses have come on the road (including at Penn State, one of the worst teams in the Big Ten) it seems reasonable that Michigan might not even make it out of this weekend with hopes of getting a No. 1 seed.
But if they do win at Michigan State, it sets up a fascinating week for them at the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago. Right now, the Wolverines have one of the weaker overall resumes (8-4 in Quad 1 games) and 4-3 in Quad 1 road games, buuuuuuuut, a win at Michigan State would improve that resume, with SEVERAL opportunities to pick up Quad 1 wins at the Big Ten Tournament. Currently, there are a staggering seven teams in the Big Ten that would be considered Quad 1 wins on a neutral court, and there’s the possibility that Michigan could pick up three more Quad 1 victories in Chicago.
Ultimately, it feels a little far-fetched to me that Michigan will both win at Michigan State this weekend, and then sweep the Big Ten Tournament, but then again, stranger things have happened. Even then, Michigan would still simply be in the conversation for a No. 1 seed, along with the top SEC team (Tennessee or Kentucky) or the second ACC team behind Virginia (to their advantage, Michigan does have a head-to-head win over North Carolina from early in the season).
In the end, if you’re a Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina or Duke fan, you’re rooting for Michigan to lose this weekend. If they win out, it makes things interesting come Selection Sunday.
I do however think the Wolverines will end up as a two-seed.