We are officially in the final two weeks of the college basketball regular season, which means two things. One, we’re all wondering : Where the hell did the season go? And two, every fan-base is trying to figure out what their team’s fate will come for Selection Sunday.
For some teams, they’re just fighting for bubble spots. Some know they will need to win their conference tournament to realistically make the NCAA Tournament. And for a select few, they are truly in position to capitalize on a season of success and get a No. 1 seed.
Which is exactly why I am here today.
Last week I went ahead and did a way-too-in-depth breakdown of where the No. 1 seed picture stood heading into the weekend. It was a fun exercise for me and readers seemed to enjoy it, so let’s take a fresh look at the No. 1 seed picture after last weekend’s games.
Especially with all the craziness that has happened since last week’s update.
Since that update oh boy have things changed, with Duke taking a second loss without Zion Williamson, Tennessee losing to LSU but bouncing back with a pseudo-miracle win at Ole Miss and Kentucky holding on for dear life against Arkansas.
Going into the final 10 days of the season, I believe there are eight teams that can realistically get No. 1 seeds. Here they are:
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:
All but assured of a No. 1 seed:
Overall Record: 25-2, 13-2 in the ACC
Quad 1 Games Remaining: at Syracuse, Louisville, ACC Tournament
It’s funny. Because Duke and Zion Williamson have sucked so much of the air out of the college basketball conversation this year (seriously, when is the last time we heard about anyone other than Duke on TV?) what Virginia has done has been kind of lost in the shuffle. Yes, they’ve lost to Duke twice (but a lot of teams have lost to Duke at full-strength), yet outside of the Blue Devils, Virginia has literally won every game on their schedule. That includes wins at North Carolina, at Virginia Tech, at Louisville and at Maryland, all teams that have been consistently in the Top 20 all season long.
So go ahead and say what you want about Virginia’s style of play, but there really is something impressive about a team that has gone four months now without taking a single bad loss. There’s also something to be said about a team that saw pretty much everyone in college basketball struggle this week (Duke, Kentucky, Tennessee) and instead went out and kicked the crap out of a clearly inferior opponent.
Anyway, this is all a long-winded way of me saying Virginia has basically locked up a No. 1 seed. Sure, there is a doomsday scenario where if they were to lose at Syracuse this weekend, against Louisville next week and early in the ACC Tournament, then they could potentially fall off the No. 1 seed line.
But considering that we’ve seen no reason to think that Virginia will actually lose all those games, let’s just go ahead and hand them a No. 1 seed. It’s all but official.
If they do what they’re supposed to, they will get a No. 1 seed:
To me, this category is basically straightforward. There are two teams that, if they handle their business (aka win the games that they’re supposed to) will get a No. 1 seed. They are Duke and Kentucky.
Let’s get into each team individually:
Duke Blue Devils
Overall Record: 23-4, 12-3 in the ACC
Quad 1 Games Remaining: at UNC, ACC Tournament
Had Zion Williamson’s foot never burst through his shoe, and had he not exited the North Carolina game with injury, I think there is a very realistic chance that Duke would be alongside Virginia as a No. 1 lock right now.
Unfortunately, pigs don’t fly, unicorns don’t exist and Zion Williamson’s injury did happen – and Duke is dealing with the ramifications of it all now. And I think we’re at a very realistic point where it’s time to ask: Is it possible that Duke falls off the No. 1 seed line?
Ultimately I do think they control their own destiny, and think that if they were to either win at North Carolina next weekend or make a decent run in the ACC Tournament, that would be enough to get them a No. 1 seed. Their resume really is pretty damn impressive, with two wins over Virginia, neutral court wins over Kentucky and Texas Tech and a bunch of other quality victories in the ACC.
Still, based on what we’ve seen the last two weeks, it’s fair to ask a simple question: Will Duke actually win the games they’re supposed to from here?
The short answer is “probably.” But at the time of the writing of this article (around 10:30 a.m. ET on Thursday) there’s still no word on if or when Zion Williamson will be back in the lineup. If he does return I feel pretty confident they’ll be OK. But what if he doesn’t? Or, what if it takes him longer to get reacclimated to the starting lineup than anticipated? It doesn’t seem inconceivable that Duke would lose on the road to North Carolina, and then in the ACC semifinals to say North Carolina (who they are slated to play right now).
At the end of the day, there are two things to remember here. One, as long as Zion is back before the NCAA Tournament, Duke’s losses without him won’t be weighted as heavily. A popular rumor spread on Twitter Tuesday night that Duke’s losses without Zion won’t count against them at all – which is factually incorrect. They will still be weighted, but the NCAA Tournament committee likes to consider what team you’ll have entering the NCAA Tournament, not hold it against you if you lose games without key players (it’s the same with Kentucky by the way, if they were to hypothetically lose a game or two without Reid Travis).
Two, are we sure Duke even cares about a No. 1 seed? At the end of the day, they are the best team in college basketball when fully healthy (sorry to type it, but it’s true) and I’m not sure it matters all that much to them where they are slated, or who they play. Just whether they can get healthy in time to make a serious run to a title or not.
Still, that is another debate for another day, and right now Duke is in real danger of losing a No. 1 seed if they don’t turn things around quick.
Overall Record: 24-4, 13-2 in the SEC
Quad 1 Games Remaining: At Tennessee, at Ole Miss, SEC Tournament
There really is no other way to put this: Had Kentucky lost to Arkansas the other day, it would have been really hard for them to get a No. 1 seed. At that point, Kentucky would have taken a second Quad 2 loss (the Seton Hall loss counts as one as well) and considering that Virginia, Duke, Tennessee and Gonzaga have zero Quad 1 losses combined it would have been by far the worst loss any of the No. 1 seed favorites have taken this year.
But now they survived, and the path to the No. 1 seed remains in front of them.
In terms of “what they have to do” to lock in that No. 1 seed, I think the big thing at this point is winning all the games they’re supposed to. Win at Ole Miss next week – I know Ole Miss is good, but if you’re truly No. 1 seed caliber, you need that win. Win against Florida next week on Senior Night.
Then at that point, I’d say for Kentucky to feel safely on the No. 1 seed line come Selection Sunday, they need to either 1) Beat Tennessee Saturday or 2) If they lose to Tennessee, win the SEC Tournament (which would likely include a win over Tennessee in the semifinals and potentially LSU in the finals).
At that point you’d be talking about a pretty air-tight resume with a bunch of Quad 1 wins (Kentucky is currently tied for third most behind Michigan State and Kansas) and two head-to-head wins over Tennessee, which would in theory bump them down. In theory, if Tennessee went on to win the SEC Tournament, it could throw a wrinkle in that. But with the way Tennessee is playing right now, I’ll believe that when I see it.
There is probably a scenario where the Wildcats could get a No. 1 seed without beating Tennessee this weekend or winning the SEC Tournament, but that’s way too convoluted for me to even wrap my head around.
Currently in great position, but in theory could get jumped
Overall Record: 27-2, 14-0 in WCC play
Quad 1 games remaining: at Saint Mary’s, a WCC Tournament matchup with Saint Mary’s
Considering that Joe Lunardi currently has Gonzaga projected as his second No. 1 seed behind only Virginia, some of you are probably wondering, “How in the heck could Gonzaga actually drop past a No. 1 seed?”
Well, I’ll admit it’s not likely. And they would need a whole lot to work against them. But it isn’t inconceivable.
Let me explain.
Right now Gonzaga’s resume is basically complete. They currently only have four Quad 1 wins on their resume (the fewest of major No. 1 seed contenders) and only two more chances to pick up additional Quad 1 wins – at Saint Mary’s this weekend, and if they were to beat Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament final.
And even if they win those two games, again, that’s still only six total Quad 1 wins. For comparison’s sake, Kentucky already has nine, with at least two more opportunities (at Tennessee, at Ole Miss), Duke has nine with UNC remaining, Michigan State has 11 with one remaining. Tennessee has six Quad 1 wins, but still has three chances left to pick up more in the regular season (Kentucky, Mississippi State and at Auburn). And I didn’t even include those team’s respective conference tournaments where more opportunities will exist.
The bad news for Gonzaga is that all the candidates for a No. 1 seed already have superior resumes and will only have a chance to improve them. The good news is, it’s almost certain that all those teams won’t win out, and won’t significantly improve their resumes going forward.
So yes, in theory, Gonzaga could still get jumped, even if they win all their games. it would take something wild like Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State all winning out, or Tennessee losing to Kentucky this weekend but then winning every game from there, or whatever.
Right now it feels pretty safe to say that Gonzaga will be a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday – it would take a wild turn of events for it not to happen. But even if the Zags win out there is no guarantee, hence why they could get jumped.
Teams currently in position to potentially play themselves into No. 1 seed consideration: North Carolina, Tennessee, Michigan State, Michigan
Each of these three teams has a realistic shot at getting a No. 1 seed, so let’s break them down team-by-team.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Overall Record: 23-5 overall, 13-2 in the ACC
Quad 1 Games Remaining: at Clemson, Duke, ACC Tournament
To be clear, I don’t actually think North Carolina will get a No. 1 seed. But they do control their own destiny.
And that destiny is pretty clear: Beat Duke in Chapel Hill to end the regular season, then beat them again in the ACC Tournament semifinals and go on to win the ACC Tournament. If that were to happen, Carolina would have a better overall record than Duke (who at that point would have six losses) and three separate head-to-head wins. They would also pick up a win over Virginia too. How could you not give the Tar Heels a No. 1 seed if that were to happen?
That is, if they win all those games though.
If not, then North Carolina has a less spectacular resume that already includes five Quad 1 losses (the most of any team competing for a No. 1 seed right now) and they would likely settle on the two-line.
I honestly believe there are several teams that have a better shot at a No. 1 seed than North Carolina (Gonzaga specifically).
But just take my word on this: If North Carolina wins out, they will be a No. 1 seed.
Overall Record: 25-3, 13-2 in the SEC
Quad 1 Games Remaining: Kentucky, Mississippi State, at Auburn, SEC Tournament
For all the doom and gloom around Tennessee, I actually think they control their own destiny in the race to a No. 1 seed. I don’t think they even have to beat Kentucky this weekend to get there.
For starters, they would have to win their final two regular season games (Mississippi State, at Auburn) which would be two more Quad 1 wins, then they’d have to win the SEC Tournament title (likely beating Kentucky and LSU in the process). If they do, the Vols would sit at 30-4 overall, with 10 Quad 1 wins and an SEC Tournament title. It wouldn’t hurt that they also have a head-to-head win over Gonzaga to hang their hats on from earlier in the season.
And in that scenario, it doesn’t even include a win over Kentucky this weekend. A win there obviously wouldn’t hurt things for the Vols.
Now it’s of course fair to ask if Tennessee is actually capable of going on a run like that with the way they have played of late.
But the path to a No. 1 seed is in front of Tennessee.
Michigan State Spartans
Overall Record: 23-5, 14-3 in the Big Ten
Quad 1 Games Remaining: at Indiana, Michigan
Let’s give a little credit to the Spartans. Michigan State is currently 23-5 and 14-3 in the toughest league in college basketball. They are doing it without two of their top three scorers, Nick Ward and Joshua Langford, who combine for over 30 points per game. And they have the most Quad 1 wins in college basketball, with 11. That includes a respectable 7-2 record in Quad 1 games on the road this season.
And after the Spartans’ shocking win at Michigan on Sunday – again, without two of their three best players – Michigan State has a realistic chance at a No. 1 seed come tournament time.
Still, despite that, they still have work to do, mainly because the Spartans have two Quad 1 losses (Indiana at home, Illinois on the road), two losses that are worse than just about any team competing for a No. 1 seed. For comparison’s sake, Tennessee, Gonzaga, Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky have a combined one Quad 1 loss between them (Kentucky losing to Seton Hall on a neutral court). So in the context, those losses are especially crippling for Michigan State.
In theory, my guess is that Michigan State could put themselves for a No. 1 seed by sweeping the rest of the regular season (including another win against Michigan) and then winning the Big Ten Tournament. Do that, and they will be a No. 1 seed.
If not, look for them to land on the two-line.
Overall Record: 24-4, 13-4 in the Big Ten
Quad 1 Games Remaining: at Maryland, at Michigan State
Michigan plays Nebraska tonight, and there’s a chance that – should they lose – Michigan could play themselves out of conversation for a No. 1 seed by the time you read this. But considering Nebraska is abysmal, let’s assume Michigan wins. It sets up an interesting scenario down the stretch.
In that scenario Michigan closes its schedule with two Quad 1 road games, against arguably the two most dangerous teams in the conference: at Maryland and at Michigan State.
In theory, if they win both, Michigan could be in the hunt for a No. 1 seed if they make a deep run at the Big Ten Tournament. But considering that three of Michigan’s four losses have come on the road, considering that they’re just 3-3 in Quad 1 road games and that they’ve already lost to Michigan State at home, what makes us think they’ll win those two games?