The NCAA Selection Committee released its reveal of the top 16 teams, one month out from Selection Sunday. So before I get to my projections for what will happen in a month, let’s go through the release and see what it tells us. The order was as follows:
#1 Seeds: Virginia, Villanova, Xavier, Purdue
#2 Seeds: Auburn, Kansas, Duke, Cincinnati
#3 Seeds: Clemson, Texas Tech, Michigan State, North Carolina
#4 Seeds: Tennessee, Ohio State, Arizona, Oklahoma
I was curious how the Committee would project Michigan State. I’ve had them down as a 3 in recent projections, not because I think they belong there, but because I felt the lack of top tier wins would hurt them. I think that was borne out, even though they just beat Purdue on Saturday for perhaps their biggest of the year (my projections were based on being the favorite to beat Purdue at home). Michigan State has 3 wins against the so-called Tier 1, and only 5 games total, and none remaining until the Big Ten tournament.
You may scratch your head at the Kansas’ placement. I think that’s a valid reaction as this is not a vintage Kansas team, and they just took their 6th loss on Saturday. But, they also have more Tier 1 wins than anyone, because while they’ve lost at home multiple times, they have added big road wins. (Tier 1 wins are kind of replacing the old “vs. RPI Top 50,” but account for location and now include vs Top 30 at home, vs Top 50 neutral, and vs Top 75 on the road). If you know anything about how the committee selects and seeds, they like big wins in comparing teams with similar RPI. By my rough count, the teams with the most Tier 1 wins to date are: Kansas (9), Villanova and Virginia (7), and Xavier, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Florida (6).
Which brings us to the Oklahoma inclusion as a 4-seed after their recent run of losses. I don’t know that they hold that spot (I’m projecting them to continue to drop as they’ve got their flaws) but the reason they are there is because there is no great candidate for that final spot yet, and they have a lot of quality wins. By that same token, though, I’m surprised the committee had Texas Tech below Kansas. If the Red Raiders complete the sweep in Lubbock, I bet that changes.
So the lesson, that we already knew from past experience, is that the Committee will overvalue big wins (while kind of ignoring number of opportunities, as Oklahoma is a fairly average 6-6 in Tier 1 games).
Now to the projections:
Sure, a lot could change over the next month. Purdue has the most tenuous grip on a #1 seed, and could see any of the top 10 teams getting a #1 seed, but the safest prediction is that things will largely hold, because there is a good gap between Virginia, Villanova, and Xavier (after this week’s wins) and the rest.
Texas Tech is I think the best candidate to get a 1-seed of those outside (and I have them moving past Kansas to a #2), followed by Auburn.
Further down, Texas A&M has rebounded after a rough start in SEC play and is back inside the top 20 in the RPI, and has lots of quality wins. I’ve got them as my candidate to fill that spot. Kentucky will be an interesting one, as they have been free-falling, but the RPI is still good. Gonzaga has as many top wins as the big conference brethren and should get a good seed after avenging their only WCC loss by beating St. Mary’s.
Creighton had a heart-breaking loss to Xavier on a foul with 0.3 seconds left. Unfortunately, they are now 1-6 in Tier 1 games and don’t have a quality road win. I think that will start to affect them in the seeding, so I have them dropping. Virginia Tech’s big win at Virginia vaulted them into the field in my projections, and the ACC is going to be tight. I’ve also got Baylor now in the field in a play-in spot after beating Kansas, while Kansas State is out (Baylor has the better RPI). Temple seems to be out of a lot of brackets, but the RPI is in the Top 50 and they have wins over Auburn, Clemson, and Wichita State. If they don’t finish poorly, they will be this year’s Vanderbilt profile.
Of the teams that are just out now, Kansas State is going to be on the bubble into the Big 12 tourney, missing opportunities at home against both Kansas and Texas Tech recently. Boise State must get the win over Nevada. St. Bonaventure is an interesting one. Of their four Tier 1 wins (or projected wins), two are against Buffalo and Vermont. They also have a road win at Syracuse so they need to beat Rhode Island.
I’ll do a more in-depth breakdown of the bubble this week to go into this list.