Thoughts on the Committee’s Release of the Current Top 16 Seeds
The NCAA Tournament committee chairman released the Sweet 16 seeds in the tournament on Sunday afternoon (if games ended today), and a few things may have raised eyebrows.
The first thing that popped out at me was that Oklahoma is hanging on to a Sweet 16 seed as of now, despite their recent poor play. This speaks to the committee loving the Big 12, a conference I am starting to think may have a collection of very good teams, but no one great team. I don’t know if there is a national title contender in the bunch, though Texas Tech’s experience intrigues me. I was also a little surprised to see Kansas is hanging on to a #2 seed, as their season has been uneven. However, given how the rest of the country is playing, Kansas is as good a choice for a #2 seed as anyone.
The most surprising inclusion to me is Arizona. Looking at their non-conference schedule, their best win was a 3-point victory over Texas A&M, a team that has slid considerably since that contest. Within their conference, they handed rival Arizona State their first loss of the season. That is the extent of “substance” that I see on their resume. I guess the committee likes the 6-2 road record, but those six wins are against UNLV, New Mexico, Utah, Cal, Stanford, and Washington State. None of those teams are projected NCAA Tournament squads, and if you factor in the neutral court, the record falls to 7-5.
While it is not controversial that Xavier is a #1 seed (and the third #1 seed, meaning they are in great shape to hold on to the spot), it still is fun to see. The basketball program was once a tournament darling from a mid-major conference that worked their way up to being a Big East squad. They have not only survived the steady climb in the college basketball ranks, they have thrived.
There currently is not a mid-major team on the top four lines, which is a bit of a shame. However, it is hard to argue that any of the best mid-majors belong up there. St. Mary’s argument would have been strong if they would have swept Gonzaga, and Nevada has some solid performances on their schedule. However, they have lost two conference games (Wyoming and UNLV), which lessens their resume.
- Michigan State (24-3) (4) – It almost feels as if we have gone full circle, as many thought the Spartans had the best team before the season began. I move them to #1 because, of the teams in contention for this spot, they obviously had to most impressive win of the week.
- Virginia (23-2) (1) – Sometimes, their habit of shooting poorly comes back to bite them – obviously hasn’t happened often this year, but certainly happened on Saturday night.
- Villanova (23-2) (2) – They were probably on high alert after St. John’s defeated Duke, but it didn’t matter, as St. John’s won their FIRST conference game of the season….on the road against arguably the league’s best team. When you have college basketball figured out, let me know.
- Xavier (23-3) (5) – They have emerged as a contender for a #1 seed. They won two games on the road this week against tough competition (Butler, Creighton), and now have two home games against Seton Hall and Villanova. Finish this stretch 4-0, and their resume will be right up there with any other team.
- Texas Tech (21-4) (7) – If it is true that the Big 12 is the nation’s toughest conference, it is also true that the team that is currently leading that conference should get heavy consideration for a #1 seed. Everything has been so crazy in the Big 12 that, by knocking each other around, nobody may emerge as a #1 seed. Weird logic, but it is what it is.
- Cincinnati (23-2) (6) – Allowed 78 points against Central Florida…combined over two games. Destroyed SMU on the road Sunday to improve to 12-0 in conference. The regular season title is a forgone conclusion, but their two stiffest tests are coming up next: A game at Houston, followed by a home game against Wichita State.
- Purdue (23-4) (3) – Played their two biggest in-conference competitors, and lost both by a combined four points. Not much to be concerned about when you look at the big picture, but losing two moves them down a few pegs.
- Clemson (20-4) (12) – Virginia’s loss doesn’t open the door much for Clemson to win the conference title, and their remaining schedule doesn’t offer much hope that they would be able to catch them: 1. They don’t play Virginia anymore; 2. The schedule itself is extremely tough.
- Ohio State (22-5) (14) – Before the season began, it appeared Michigan State was the team to beat, with Minnesota and Purdue having the best chance to make it interesting. Michigan and Northwestern were going to be in the mix. Ohio State? An afterthought. Now? One of the nation’s best teams and one of the country’s best stories.
- Auburn (22-3) (8) – Tough one-point loss at home against Texas A&M. Followed that up nicely by crushing Georgia on the road. The Tigers likely won’t have enough of a resume to earn a #1 seed, but they own a two-game conference lead as we head down the stretch of the season.
- Gonzaga (23-4) (13) – Avoided the sweep against St. Mary’s, as both teams are now 13-1 in conference play. Gonzaga closes the season at San Diego and at BYU, so they aren’t completely home free.
- Duke (20-5) (9) – Took out some of their frustrations on Georgia Tech, who made the game artificially closer at the end than it actually was. They need to step up their game further with Virginia Tech and Clemson next on their ledger.
- Kansas (19-6) (10) – They are hanging in there in a crazy conference race, but their streak of regular season titles is in serious jeopardy. Baylor isn’t as bad as they have shown this season, but for Kansas to lose to them by 16 (even if on the road) is a giant red flag.
- St. Mary’s (24-3) (11) – Had a chance to sweep Gonzaga on Saturday night, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Each team won on the other’s home court, and it is very hard to differentiate between the two beyond Gonzaga’s better schedule. While Gonzaga has two tough road tests left on their schedule, St. Mary’s remaining four games should not be too difficult. Their hardest test is a game at San Francisco, a team that 14-13. The Gaels already beat them by 36.
- Rhode Island (20-3) (17) – Destroyed VCU by 13 on the road. In past seasons, that would have been a huge accomplishment. This season, it doesn’t carry quite as much weight, though Rhode Island’s dominance of this traditionally tough conference counts for SOMETHING.
- Wichita State (19-5) (19) – 4-1 in their last five games, with all four wins by 19+ wins. The one loss in that span (Temple) is disappointing, but maybe…just maybe….the Shockers are finally getting settled in to their new surroundings.
- North Carolina (19-7) (NR) – In this crazy season, it doesn’t take too much to rise quickly in the rankings. Nice win over Duke followed by a nice road win at bubblicious North Carolina State.
- Tennessee (18-6) (15) – Everyone is allowed to trip up from time to time, and Alabama has been a fierce home team, with home wins over Oklahoma, Missouri, Auburn, Texas A&M, Rhode Island, and now Tennessee. I am not fond of the margin of the loss (28, scoring only 50 points), but they should be OK (famous last words this year)
- Michigan (20-7) (23) – Wisconsin has been a house of horrors for the Wolverines, though this year’s watered down squad provided little resistance. Michigan’s poor free throwing (especially true of their starting point guard) can become a big problem, since they play a lot of close games.
- Arizona (20-6) (16) – Stopped their brief two-game losing streak with an important home win over USC, who could have closed the gap for the regular season conference crown. The Wildcats are one of the nation’s big mysteries.
- West Virginia (18-7) (18) – Went on the road to impressively defeat Oklahoma….only to go back home to lose to Oklahoma State. Holding their head above water in the nation’s most difficult conference (7-5), but their play of late is not inspiring confidence. Will they get their mojo back?
- Middle Tennessee (20-5) (NR) – Seven consecutive wins, own a win on the road against Western Kentucky, and came tantalizingly close to huge out-of-conference wins against Auburn, Miami, and USC. They did defeat Vanderbilt and Mississippi, neither of which is a contender. Their lone loss in Conference USA was a road game at Marshall, and that can hurt them more than anything come Selection Sunday.
- Arizona State (19-6) (NR) – They finally broke above the .500 mark in conference, thanks to a nifty three-game winning streak in which they scored 80+ points in each game. That is how you evaluate this offensive-minded squad, as they are 16-1 in games in which they cross the 80 point barrier.
- New Mexico State (22-3) (NR) – Winners of 11 straight, and own a win against Miami on a neutral court. They weren’t really challenged at all in-conference until their last outing, where they hung on for a 4-point win over Grand Canyon. They have allowed the 4th least PPG in the nation.
- Virginia Tech (18-7) (NR) – Their resume continues to build up, and nothing looks better than beating Virginia in a road contest. They are a team that is constantly on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament (especially during the Seth Greenberg years), but their resume this year is looking quite strong. Perhaps they can rest easy on Selection Sunday.
Oklahoma (16-8) (20) – I understand the quality of the Big 12, and the quality of their wins. But they have struggled badly as of late, They are 2-6 in their last eight games, and five of those losses were against unranked opponents.
Nevada (20-5) (21) – Strong win over a down San Diego State squad, but that was preceded by a bad loss against a down UNLV squad. Nevada has a nice resume, so they aren’t in any immediate NCAA Tournament danger. The conference just isn’t strong enough to support many more losses, though.
Kentucky (17-8) (22) – Best West Virginia by 7 on the road…..follow that up with a 1-3 stretch. That is the story of this year’s Wildcats.
Louisiana (21-4) (24) – It was a risk putting them in the Top 25 last week, and they rewarded my risk by losing to Georgia State. Georgia State is the second best team in this competitive conference, so losing to them on the road isn’t necessarily terrible; they just don’t have the resume to support it.
Washington (17-8) (25) – The knee-jerk reaction of throwing them into the Top 25 based on a win over an overrated Arizona squad bit me in the butt, as they followed that up by travelling to Oregon to lose to both Oregon schools, including a 25-point thrashing at the hands of Oregon.
Others to Watch:
Nebraska (19-8) – Winners of five in a row, the Cornhuskers do not have a tough remaining schedule. They will be favored in all four of their remaining games, which would likely give them the #4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
St. Bonaventure (18-6) – 6 straight wins, with a date against Rhode Island coming up quickly. That will be their chance to give their at-large resume a big boost, especially if they were to work their way to the Atlantic 10 tournament final.
Miami (18-6) – It looked like the Hurricanes were starting to get on a roll…until they lost to Boston College on the road on Saturday. They are the only 6-loss or less school from a major conference that is not in my Top 25.