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Ranking the Contenders to earn #1 Seeds


Mar 12, 2019 EST


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Only five days until Selection Sunday, the race for the NCAA tournament’s four No. 1 seeds remains wide open.

Eight teams enter their conference tournaments with realistic hope of claiming one depending on how the week unfolds.

Below is a look at how the resumes of each of the contenders stack up against one-another as of Tuesday morning. The teams are ranked from most to least likely to secure a No. 1 seed.

1. VIRGINIA (28-2, 16-2, NET 2, KenPom 1, Q1 11-2, Q2 5-0)

Marquee wins: at North Carolina, Virginia Tech (2), Louisville (2), Wisconsin

Losses: Duke (2)

Outlook: It won’t be easy for anyone to overtake Virginia as the overall No. 1 seed, let alone knock the Cavaliers off the top seed line altogether. They have the strongest resume of any team in the country entering Championship Week. Virginia is tied with Michigan State for the most Quadrant 1 victories in college basketball and tied with Gonzaga for the fewest losses. Even more impressive, the Cavaliers’ only two losses came against Duke before Zion Williamson’s injury. Worst-case scenario for Virginia, it suffers a major ACC quarterfinal upset against either Clemson or NC State. That would be a tiny ding in an otherwise immaculate resume, but it’s hard to envision it costing the Cavaliers a No. 1 seed.

2. GONZAGA (30-2, 16-0, NET 1, KenPom 2, Q1 4-2, Q2 6-0)

Marquee wins: Duke, Washington, at Creighton, Saint Mary’s (2)

Losses: Tennessee, at North Carolina

Outlook: When the NCAA tournament selection committee unveiled an early version of its bracket last month, Gonzaga was among the No. 1 seeds. That almost certainly won’t change unless the Zags suffer a stunning upset against Saint Mary’s in the WCC title game on Tuesday night. They’re the only team to beat full-strength Duke this season. They haven’t lost to any team ranked outside the NET top 10. And they’ve steamrolled WCC competition by an average of 27 points. It hurts the Zags that they play in the WCC instead of a power conference, but they’ve done all they can while playing in the nation’s eighth-best league. No team has come within 10 points of Gonzaga since North Carolina beat the Zags in mid-December.

3. NORTH CAROLINA (26-5, 16-2, NET 7, KenPom 5, Q1 9-5, Q2 7-0)

Marquee wins: Gonzaga, Duke (2), Louisville (2), Virginia Tech

Losses: Virginia, Kentucky, at Michigan, Louisville, Texas

Outlook: North Carolina’s sweep of Zion-less Duke elevated the Tar Heels from the fringes of the No. 1 seed race into the thick of it. They’re suddenly in better position than the Blue Devils, having beaten their rivals twice, finished two games ahead of them in the ACC standings and amassed a similar overall resume. It won’t be easy for both North Carolina and Duke to join Virginia on the No. 1 seed line unless contenders in the SEC and Big Ten all crash out of their conference tournaments early. As a result, the onus is now on the Blue Devils to avenge their two previous losses to the Tar Heels and prove they’re more deserving of a No. 1 seed. Should North Carolina reach the ACC title game, expect the Tar Heels to receive a No. 1 seed.

4. KENTUCKY (26-5, 15-3, NET 5, KenPom 9, Q1 10-4, Q2 5-1)

Marquee wins: Tennessee, North Carolina, Auburn (2), Kansas

Losses: Duke, at Tennessee, LSU, Seton Hall, at Alabama

Outlook: Having a slightly stronger resume than Tennessee or LSU puts Kentucky in position to snare a No. 1 seed for now. Trouble is that margin is slim enough that the Wildcats may need to make the deepest SEC tournament run to stay ahead of their two league rivals. If Kentucky lost to Tennessee in the SEC semifinals, the Vols would own a 2-to-1 head-to-head advantage, close the gap in quality wins and boast higher-caliber losses. And if Kentucky lost to LSU in the SEC title game, the Tigers would have swept a pair of games from the Wildcats and won both the SEC regular season and tournament titles. Bottom line is the SEC tournament champ will likely have the best chance at a No. 1 seed, but Kentucky is in the strongest position if all three top-tier top teams crash out early.

5. DUKE (26-5, 14-4, NET 3, KenPom 3, Q1 8-4, Q2 6-1)

Marquee wins: Virginia (2), Kentucky, Texas Tech, at Florida State

Losses: Gonzaga, North Carolina (2), at Virginia Tech, Syracuse

Outlook: Duke’s case for a No. 1 seed is simple enough. The Blue Devils have been the best team in the country when they’ve had all four of their freshmen available. They didn’t have Tyus Jones and Cam Reddish for a midseason loss to Syracuse, nor did they have Zion Williamson for their two losses to North Carolina or their setback at Virginia Tech. Duke will have a chance to reassert its dominance at the ACC tournament since Williamson is expected to return. If they avenge two previous losses to North Carolina and at least advance to the ACC title game, they should have a good case to jump the Tar Heels. If they bow out early at full strength, the penalty likely will be falling to the No. 2 seed line.

6. TENNESSEE (27-4, 15-3, NET 6, KenPom 7, Q1 7-4, Q2 6-0)

Marquee wins: Gonzaga, Kentucky, Louisville, Mississippi State

Losses: at Kentucky, at LSU, at Auburn, Kansas

Outlook: The notion that Tennessee fell out of contention for a No. 1 seed the past couple weeks isn’t exactly true. Three losses in their final seven games sent the Vols tumbling off the top seed line for now, but it’s not too late for them to get back if they were to win the SEC tournament. While Tennessee hasn’t lost to a team outside the NET top 25, the Vols’ collection of Quadrant 1 wins isn’t as large or as impressive as some fellow No. 1 seed contenders. As a result, it’s imperative that they take advantage of the chances they get in the SEC tournament. A tournament championship would almost certainly be enough. Even a semifinal win over Kentucky might do it, especially if LSU didn’t claim the title.

7. MICHIGAN STATE (25-6, 16-4 NET 8, KenPom 4, Q1 11-4, Q2 5-2)

Marquee wins: Michigan (2), Purdue, at Wisconsin, Maryland

Losses: at Purdue, Kansas, at Louisville, Indiana (2), at Illinois

Outlook: For a team that has endured some major injuries this season, Michigan State finds itself in surprisingly good position. The Big Ten regular season champs should land at least a No. 2 seed if they can avoid a quarterfinal Big Ten tournament loss. They even have an outside shot at a No. 1 seed if they can win the conference tournament title. Michigan State enters the Big Ten tournament with more Quadrant 1 victories than any team in the nation besides Virginia, but the Spartans’ losses to bubble-bound Indiana and struggling Illinois dent an otherwise impressive resume. To compensate enough to stay in the No. 1 seed race, they need to keep piling up marquee wins — especially against Michigan or Purdue in a potential Big Ten title game.

8. LSU (26-5, 16-2, NET 13, KenPom 16, Q1 9-2, Q2 7-3)

Marquee wins: at Kentucky, Tennessee, at Mississippi State, Auburn

Losses: at Houston, Florida State, Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma State

Outlook: To be honest, a No. 1 seed shouldn’t be LSU’s biggest concern entering the SEC tournament. The Tigers just need a solid showing to prove to the committee they’re the same team without suspended head coach Will Wade and freshman guard Javonte Smart. LSU won the SEC regular season title outright and owns head-to-head wins against both Kentucky and Tennessee, but the Tigers’ overall resume right now is still a tick worse than that of their league rivals. Their ceiling is probably a No. 2 seed unless they also win the SEC tournament. Then it would be tough for the selection committee to justify seeding another SEC team over them and it would come down to whether they’ve done enough to overtake Michigan State and one of the ACC’s three contenders.

© Provided by Oath Inc. Tremont Waters (3) is averaging 15.3 points per game for LSU. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

9. HOUSTON (29-2, 16-2, NET 4, KenPom 13, Q1 5-2, Q2 9-0)

Marquee wins: LSU, Cincinnati (2), at UCF, Utah State

Losses: at Temple, UCF

Outlook: Houston would have realistic hope of a No. 2 seed if it sweeps the American regular season and tournament titles, but leaping up to the No. 1 line seems unlikely. They don’t have the same caliber of quality win as most of the teams ahead of them on this list besides Gonzaga and the Zags have vastly superior computer metrics and higher-caliber losses. The best Houston could do to address those issues is add a second victory over UCF in American semifinals and a third win over Cincinnati in the title game. That would help a bit, but it wouldn’t move the needle enough for a No. 1 seed.

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