Duke, Virginia, Wisconsin, Villanova, and Arizona: The Battle for the #1 Seeds Tightened Up on Friday Night

By Jason Lisk

Virginia lost to North Carolina, and Duke went down to Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament, no doubt setting up some debates in the NCAA Selection Committee room. Meanwhile, Villanova, Wisconsin, and Arizona all advanced after each winning the regular season titles, leaving hope of each pulling “the double.”

How unique is this situation? There’s a pretty good chance that at least one, and maybe several, teams that played in major conferences finish with 3 losses and do not get a #1 seed. How unique is that? There have been only three teams that have gotten a 2-seed with 3 or fewer losses in the last decade: San Diego State (2011) and Memphis (2007, 2009). None of those teams played in conferences with multiple top tournament teams as competition.

You have to go back to 2004 for the last time a major conference team lost as few as 3 games and failed to get a #1 seed. Oklahoma State and Mississippi State both did it that year. Mississippi State lost in the SEC tournament opener, but Oklahoma State won both the regular season and tournament, but was given a 2-seed behind 1-loss St. Joseph’s.

So somebody is going to have a major gripe on Sunday evening. That could be compounded if dropping to the 2-line results in also getting in Kentucky’s bracket thanks to bracketing principles.

So, how do these teams stack up? Here are the 10 key games for each, which include all their losses, and list their key wins. (Note: I included projected neutral court conference tourney wins for Arizona, Villanova, and Wisconsin, because they are in this discussion if they win out).

What do you notice? Duke should be safe. They have the two best wins of the group, at Virginia and at Wisconsin, and those could come into play if there is a debate with Duke and either of those teams.

Virginia has the second best profile. They’ve got three losses to teams that are also likely to be among the top 4 seeds in the tournament. They have three great road wins, better than the best road wins of Arizona, Villanova, and Wisconsin combined.

Among the other three, I would go narrowly with Villanova (with no more losses), Wisconsin (with a Big Ten title), then Arizona (with a Pac-12 tourney title). Wisconsin and Villanova are very debatable, though.

And then the question becomes whether Virginia can withstand the Committee rewarding a team that wins both the conference regular season and tourney titles, instead of them. Last year, that bolted Virginia to the #1 seed line (in fact, when I was at the Mock Selection exercise, they said that Virginia winning both was a factor in moving them ahead of Villanova a year ago). This year, it could be Villanova and Wisconsin that benefits. I don’t know that Arizona (with three losses all worse than Virginia’s) can overcome even with that bonus.

But unless you have a pipeline or bug in the Committee room, you just don’t know for sure. This is going to be quite the decision.

I’ll guess that the committee does the following based on the remaining results:

1. Kentucky (Stone Cold Lock)

2. Duke (Because of Quality Wins)

3. Villanova (if they beat Xavier and win Big East double)

4. Wisconsin (if they beat Purdue and Michigan State/Maryland).

5. Virginia

6. Arizona (if they win Pac-12 title against Utah/Oregon)

7. Kansas

8. Wisconsin (with loss)

9. Villanova (with loss)

10. Arizona (with loss)

So yes, I’m saying the Committee will go with Villanova and Wisconsin over Virginia if both win out, but Duke is safe because of the head to head road wins over both Wisconsin and Virginia.