Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sorting Out the One Seeds From the Twos

By Andrew Jones

As the college basketball season winds down, we're met with questions of bubble teams, road wins, strength of schedule, and my personal favorite debate this time of year: who deserves the number one seeds. It's not easy to sort out before the conference tournaments begin, but the scenarios are such that we can hypothesize a bit.

Florida Gators

Florida hasn't lost since December 2. They have one difficult game remaining — at home vs. Kentucky. Aside from Kentucky, the SEC is weak and there is a reasonably good likelihood the Gators will play the Wildcats for the SEC tournament title when the time comes. Winning one of those games will be enough to solidify a number 1 seed for the Gators. Losing one of their three other remaining games (at Vanderbilt, vs. LSU, at South Carolina) could alter things a bit, but expect the Gators to take care of business.

Chance of a number 1 seed: 95%

Wichita State Shockers

After Syracuse's losses, the Shockers are now the only undefeated team in the country. You've probably heard a dozen professors of bracketology say that the Shockers won't get a number one seed and I was inclined to agree with them until I saw the AP poll. It surprised me that the Shockers were number 2. I expected them to stay at 3 and be jumped by Arizona, or even to drop to 4 with Syracuse staying ahead of them, but they jumped to number 2.

However, what makes me think the Shockers have a real shot at a number 1 seed is the fact that 14 of the AP's 65 voters put Wichita State at number 1. I don't know how much that will affect the selection committee, maybe not at all, but it tells me that people are paying closer attention to the Shockers this year than to mid-majors of previous years.

What I described earlier with the Shockers dropping, despite winning, is precisely what has happened to other mid-majors who carried undefeated or one loss records deep into the season. Once voters start thinking tournament, they downgrade mid-majors in the rankings, but not the Shockers in 2014. Not yet anyway. The Shockers are at Bradley and vs. Missouri State to close out the season. The Missouri Valley Conference tournament will then be all that's left to determine if the Shockers can carry the undefeated record into the NCAA tournament. But what stands most in the way of the Shockers is the selection committee.

Chance of a number 1 seed: 53%

Arizona Wildcats

I don't get the number 1 votes for the Wildcats. To me, they are barely different on paper than Saint Louis (yes, Pac 12 teams are better in general than teams in the Atlantic 10). I guess there are a lack of options. They are the only team ranked in the entire Pac-12. I also don't understand RPI and BPI very well as the Wildcats are 2 in RPI and 1 in BPI. I just look at their schedule and see so few impressive wins in the list (Duke, San Diego, Michigan). And I see losses to 32 and 51 in RPI. Despite my disagreements, it seems like they are the actual favorites for the number one overall seed and not Florida. With four games remaining (vs. Cal and Stanford; at Oregon and Oregon State), it seems obvious that winning will be enough to shore up a number 1 seed for Arizona.

Chance of a number 1 seed: 90%

Syracuse Orange

Syracuse didn't do itself any favors last week. Everyone can forgive a loss at Duke, but a loss at home to Boston College doesn't make a lot of sense. It makes less sense that Syracuse couldn't win at home in overtime. And just in case you think Boston College is just mediocre, they're not. They are terrible. They are 3-11 in the ACC (with two of those wins over the even more dismal Virginia Tech.) and 7-20 overall. Boston College has lost to Toledo and Harvard. And here's a question for you? What do Syracuse and the Sacred Heart Pioneers have in common? They both lost to Boston College in overtime. The Sacred Heart Pioneers are certainly one of the worst 10 teams in all of Division I basketball with a record currently of 4-24.

All that being said though, Syracuse is still 26-2 all while playing in a tough ACC. Syracuse remaining schedule includes at Virginia (who has made a quiet leap to the top of the ACC), at home vs. Georgia Tech. (who is better than Boston College) and at Florida State. One loss and not winning the ACC tournament could downgrade Syracuse to a number 2. Two losses in their last three and a poor showing in the ACC tournament certainly would push them to a number 2 ... if not a 3. At this point though, winning the ACC tournament might be enough to show that they are back on track and solidify a number one seed ... unless they lose to Georgia Tech.

Chance of a number 1 seed: 66%

Kansas Jayhawks

Despite 6 losses, Kansas is being thrown around as a likely candidate for a number one seed. They are currently number 1 in RPI and number 3 in BPI. Looking at the Big 12 today, claiming a Big 12 regular season title doesn't seem all that impressive, but when one considers that Baylor and Oklahoma State have underperformed as badly as they have, the feat becomes a bit more impressive. But six losses. Is that ever acceptable for a number one seed? If Kansas wins out and wins the Big 12 tournament, I'll be perfectly fine with their number one seed. But if they lose one of their remaining regular season games (at Oklahoma State on March 1 perhaps) and do not win the Big 12 tournament, I simply cannot justify them as a number 1 seed. Eight losses is too many. I don't care how hard your schedule is.

Chance of a number 1 seed: 58%

Duke Blue Devils

Duke seems to be on the fringes of these conversations, which I find odd. Kansas is getting a lot of attention, but Duke is largely ignored in the number 1 seed conversation. Duke won't win the ACC regular season title, that honor will go to Syracuse or Virginia. Is it possible that Virginia will win the ACC and Duke would get a number 1 seed in the NCAA tournament despite being third in its own conference? I don't know. It would mean losses by two of the five teams above. I think essentially it would mean Wichita State would have to lose once and Kansas or Syracuse would have to lose twice (including conference tournaments) for the Blue Devils to be in the mix. But a number 2 seed is extremely likely.

Chance of a number 1 seed: 10%

Louisville Cardinals

It will be really interesting to see how the newly formed American Conference is treated. It seems like there's a pretty clear cut five teams who will make the tournament, but how they will be treated and seeded remains a mystery. Louisville's reputation should earn them a favorable placement. But the last three games for the Cardinals are not simple. They are at Memphis, at Southern Methodist, and at home vs. Connecticut. I think we might see one loss in that mix. Winning the conference depends on how Cincinnati performs as well.

Could winning the newly-formed American regular season and tournament titles spell a number one seed? It depends on the selection committee. There's a balance issue here as the Cardinals' RPI is 27 and their BPI is 5. Winning out could move the RPI up enough to make a number one seed a real possibility for the Cardinals, especially with losses from the teams above.

Chance of a number 1 seed: 12%

Villanova Wildcats

Villanova at 24-3 in last year's Big East would have been on everyone's radar as a potential number one seed and potential NCAA champion. In this weakened shell of a Big East, things are less certain. Villanova has lost twice to Creighton and at Syracuse. They've beaten Iowa and Kansas. This is a good team, right? They have an RPI of 4 and a BPI of 10. But I've yet to hear their name in the discussion of number one seeds. It should be. The Wildcats could win the Big East. Is that something to sneeze at nowadays? I don't think so.

Chance of a number 1 seed: 8%

Creighton Bluejays

Creighton is a team that seems to play to the level of its competition. They beat Villanova twice, but lost at St. Johns, at Providence, and on a neutral court to San Diego State and George Washington. Creighton simply doesn't have the non-conference strength of schedule to compare to other teams with 3-5 losses. But perhaps being the Big East champion still means a lot.

Chance of a number 1 seed: 2%

Saint Louis Billikens

There's really not much to say here. Even though St. Louis hasn't lost since December 1 (to Wichita State) there isn't enough competition in the Atlantic 10 this year to move the Billikens near a number 1 seed. In fact, I think they'll be lucky to get a 4. They may drop as low as 6 even with only two losses.

Chance of a number 1 seed: 0%

Cincinnati Bearcats

The Bearcats are in nearly the same boat as the Louisville Cardinals. Their final three regular season games are at UConn, at home vs. Memphis, and at Rutgers. The Bearcats are a little more predictably out of the number one race. Currently their RPI is only 19 and their BPI is 22. Those will likely move up around 10 spots with six straight wins, but even still, I don't see a number 1 happening.

Chance of a number 1 seed: 4%

Virginia Cavaliers

Imagine this, if Virginia runs the table before selection Sunday, they'll win the ACC regular season and tournament titles. They have only five losses (admittedly, two of them horrendous ones — at Green Bay and at Tennessee ... by 35). The ACC regular season and tournament champion sounds like a reasonable number 1 seed most years. Don't you think? The issue is that Virginia currently has one win over an opponent ranked at the time of the matchup. The pileup ahead of the Cavaliers will likely keep them out of a number one spot.

Chance of a number 1 seed: 2%

Of note in all of this is that the Big Ten does not have a team on this list. Wisconsin is ranked 14 in the AP, but 5 in RPI and 12 in BPI. They have a few too many unseemly conference losses to garner too much attention for a number one seed.

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