On Saturday, the NCAA Tournament selection committee provided its first bracket reveal, a way-too-early look at what the NCAA Tournament field would look like if the season ended that day.
This is now the fourth year in a row that the committee has decided to do this, giving fans a look at where things are right now, and where the season could be headed down the homestretch.
At the same time it’s also important to note what I just said: It is in fact just a snapshot in time. Nothing is etched in stone. A lot will change between now and Selection Sunday.
Because of that, I was somewhat surprised at the reaction I got from a lot of fans across the sport when the bracket came out Saturday. Fans in every corner of the country asked me what I thought of their seed line, or lack thereof. And when it came to Kentucky fans, there was even some panic that they did not find themselves in the Top 16 of the first bracket reveal (even if they were listed as one of the first few teams to miss the cut).
Therefore, now a few days (and two Kentucky wins) removed from the reveal, I decided that now would be a good time to take a look back, and look ahead to what is to come for the Wildcats (and some of the teams they’re competing with for a top-four seed), as well as historical trends to indicate who they could potentially jump as well.
Before We Get Started, Some Basics:
I figured that before we get started, it would just be good to remind everyone of some basics. Those basics will help frame the rest of the article.
Let’s start with the Top 16 teams that were actually revealed by the Selection Committee. They were:
No. 1 seeds: Baylor (South), Kansas (Midwest), San Diego State (East), Gonzaga (West)
No. 2 seeds: Louisville (South), Dayton (Midwest), Duke (East), West Virginia (West)
No. 3 seeds: Seton Hall (South), Florida State (Midwest), Maryland (East), Villanova (West)
No. 4 seeds: Auburn (South), Michigan State (Midwest), Butler (East), Oregon (West)
Also, remember that teams’ resumes are largely based on the “NET” ranking. Here is how the NET ranking stood as of Wednesday morning.
And remember, teams’ resumes are largely based on how many wins and losses they have based on the “Quad” system. A Quad 1 win is the best win, and a Quad 4 win is the worst win. Conversely, a Quad 1 loss is the best loss a team can take, and a Quad 4 loss is the worst (unfortunately, Kentucky’s loss to Evansville currently falls into that category).
The “Quads” are based on the NET rankings. A “Quad 1 win” means you beat a team with a Top 30 in the NET ranking at home, a team with a Top 50 NET ranking on a neutral court, or a team with a Top 75 NET ranking on the road.
A full list of how the quads break down can be found here.
The last note is that these rankings are fluid and change daily. A Quad 1 win today can be a Quad 2 win tomorrow, depending on the results. Conversely, a Quad 2 win can become a Quad 1 win as well. Therefore, a team’s resume will constantly be changing now straight through Selection Sunday.
Now, let’s get to the actual article.
The First Thing to Know About the Bracket Reveal: A Lot Will Change Between Now and Selection Sunday
On my podcast Monday I did a brief recap of the bracket reveal, but I did in fact keep it brief. Because if you listened to the segment, you know that I believe that the committee doing the bracket reveal on a Saturday morning is, frankly, really stupid. The bottom-line is that by doing it on a Saturday morning you’re setting yourself up where the bracket could be irrelevant by the end of the day. Instead, I’d prefer they do the bracket reveal on Sunday evening, after that weekend’s games are played.
Well, the bracket did in fact become irrelevant within hours, as five different teams in the Top 16 of the bracket reveal all lost Saturday. West Virginia (a projected two seed), Villanova (a three seed) and Oregon, Michigan State and Butler (all four seeds) all lost on Saturday.
Again, all those losses made the bracket essentially irrelevant by the end of the day Saturday.
It also meant that had the bracket just been revealed Sunday morning or night, Kentucky – which just barely missed the cut line, and picked up a Quad 1 win at Tennessee – would have probably already been on the four line.
Saturday’s Craziness Actually Reflects Historical Trends When It Comes to The First Bracket Reveal:
While this college basketball season is largely considered “more wide open than its ever been” Saturday’s chaos among the Top 16 is actually pretty reflective of the history with the bracket. There are always major changes on the top four seed lines by Selection Sunday, and usually a little bit of a shakeup on top as well.
Again, this is now the fourth year that we have done a bracket reveal. And in the previous three years, at least one team which was pegged as a No. 1 seed in early February ended up falling off the top line by Selection Sunday. Last year Tennessee was actually a No. 1 seed in the bracket reveal, yet was replaced by North Carolina on the top line by Selection Sunday.
What’s more interesting though is that there are always at least a couple teams that fall out of the original Top 16 altogether by the time Selection Sunday rolls around.
Just last year, there were five teams that were in the Top 16 in the bracket reveal, which fell out of the Top 16 by the time the NCAA Tournament started. Marquette and Wisconsin were both in the Top 16 and ended up as five seeds by Selection Sunday. Iowa State fell to a six seed. And both Louisville and Nevada fell from four seeds all the way down to the seven line.
Considering that again, five teams who were part of Saturday’s bracket reveal have already lost a game, it feels like there will be major movement by Selection Sunday.
And it means that again, if Kentucky keeps winning, there is no doubt they will be in the Top 16 by mid-March.
Who Are the Most Likely Teams to Tumble in the Next Month:
Look, just about everyone is going to take at least a loss or two between now and Selection Sunday. It’s inevitable. But there are a few teams in that Top 16 which seem more primed for losses than others.
In no particular order, here they are:
Listen, no one loves West Virginia more than me. But they’re now just 1-4 in Big 12 road games this season, and still have to play at Baylor this weekend, with three of their last five on the road as well. The Mountaineers will take some more losses down the stretch.
The computers love Michigan State thanks to their brutal schedule, but there’s just one problem: Michigan State hasn’t won most of those big games. Even after Tuesday’s one-point road win at Illinois, they are still just 3-7 in Quad 1 games this season, and just 2-4 in road games since January 1. Considering that they still have Big Ten leader Maryland at home this weekend, and three of their final five on the road, more losses are coming for them too. Frankly, if the bracket were a done a day later than it had been, there is no way Michigan State would have found itself on that four line.
In the Big East, Villanova is on a three-game losing streak entering Wednesday night’s game against Marquette. Even if they win, this is a team that is trending in the wrong direction right now. Same with Butler, which, after a 15-1 start is just 3-5 since.
Then there’s Oregon. The Ducks found themselves with a loaded out of conference resume that included neutral court wins over Seton Hall and Memphis, with a road win at Michigan and a home win against Houston. It also doesn’t change the fact that they are now just 2-4 on the road in Pac-12 play, with losses to the ninth and 11th ranked teams in the standings.
Oh, and Auburn – a four-seed in the first bracket reveal – is just 3-2 on the road in SEC play this season, with two of their wins (Arkansas, Ole Miss) coming in overtime. With road games at Kentucky and Tennessee, it feels like Bruce Pearl’s club will be a due a loss or two in the coming weeks as well.
Alright, now let’s look at the Kentucky perspective, starting with:
How Much Can Kentucky Actually Improve its Resume:
And this is part that is the most important. It doesn’t matter how Oregon, West Virginia or Michigan State close their schedule if the Wildcats don’t win the games they’re supposed to.
For starters, they are 5-3 in Quad 1 games, a good but not great overall record. For comparison’s sake, Duke is 4-1 in Quad 1 games, Louisville 3-3 and Michigan State 3-7. So, the teams that Kentucky is competing with range from “good against other good teams” to umm yeah, not so much.
With that said, there is still ample opportunity for the Wildcats to improve their resume.
Of their seven remaining games, six are considered to be either Quad 1 or Quad 2, at least right now (thanks for nothing, Ole Miss!). The Wildcats have three remaining Quad 1 games, at LSU, at Florida and Auburn at home. They also have three Quad 2 games remaining, Tennessee at home, Florida at home and on the road at Texas A&M.
So yeah, I’d say that going 5-2 down the stretch (assuming the losses aren’t to Ole Miss or A&M) would put Kentucky in good position to end up among the Top 16. That would put them at 24-6 entering the SEC Tournament. Obviously going 6-1 or 7-0 would be even better, as it would allow them to accumulate more good wins (assuming they don’t have any bad losses).
Quietly though, the SEC Tournament could be the thing that punches Kentucky’s ticket among the top four seed lines. Incredibly, as the rankings currently stand, there are six teams that would qualify as a Quad 1 if Kentucky beat them in Nashville – Auburn, LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Mississippi State. Tennessee would also count as a Quad 2 win.
Again, that could change as the season unfolds and if any of those teams fall out of the Top 50 of the NET. But if Kentucky largely takes care of business down the stretch, and in a perfect world can get 2-3 quality wins in Nashville, they would be in position to get a top four seed.
The One Variable That is Impossible to Figure Out:
The one thing that is just impossible to factor in is how the committee will view Kentucky’s loss to Evansville.
Put bluntly, you could argue that – relative to the two teams – it is the worst loss that any team has taken all season long. Evansville (thanks to their post-Walter McCarthy departure collapse) is currently a Quad 4 team, and Kentucky is the only team ranked in the Top 40 of the NET with a Quad 4 loss.
Admittedly, the committee should factor in that EJ Montgomery was not available that game (the committee factors all injuries to major players).
But there really is no precedent for a team as good as Kentucky taking a loss as bad as Evansville since the NET became a thing a few years ago.
What is Kentucky’s Seed Line Ceiling?
Alright enough small talk, let’s get to the question everyone wants to know: Just how high of a seed can Kentucky get come tournament time?
It’s a fair question, and is obviously really, really hard to project with a month left in the season. Again, you’ve got to factor who Kentucky will beat and or lose to, what other teams will lose games along the way, as well as how the committee will view that Evansville loss.
With that said, I think every Kentucky fan should feel good that if nothing catastrophic happens, they will end up with, at the very least a Top 4 seed. For all the bad losses, they still own wins over two teams in the Top 10 of the NET (Louisville, Michigan State), something that only Duke (wins over Kansas and Michigan State), Kansas (Dayton and West Virginia) and weirdly, Michigan (Gonzaga, Michigan State) can say.
Now, the question is, how much higher can they go than that?
If Kentucky simply takes care of the teams they’re supposed to, say, 6-1 down the stretch with a loss at LSU, a three-seed seems likely. I’m guessing they could go 5-2 and if they won the SEC Tournament (especially if they get the right mix of teams) they could get a three-seed as well.
Now, in a pie-in-sky, they go 6-1, 7-0 and win the SEC Tournament? I really do think a two-seed would be in play. Again, it would depend on how other teams did, and just how bad the committee believes that loss to Evansville is, but I don’t think it’s out of the question. At this point, a one seed probably is, however.
Therefore, if you’re asking me today, I feel confident saying that I’ve seen enough to believe that Kentucky will end up as a top four seed, but probably not on the one line.
If I had to guess today, I would say that a two seed is absolutely in play, although a three seed is the most likely outcome.