Kansas finally fell off the top spot in the always beloved RPI. They may have also lost any realistic hope for a #1 seed. The only reason that is not completely true is because they play a tough closing schedule (tournament teams Texas, West Virginia, and at Oklahoma, before playing two more if they advance to the Big 12 Final). Kansas would have to run the table to have a chance.
Why do I say that despite the RPI love? The reason that the RPI ranking system is infatuated with Kansas while they are ranked 8th nationally is because the Jayhawks scheduled in such a way to avoid teams that crush the RPI. They played decent college teams–not necessarily even NIT-worthy teams, but decent, rather than the dregs.
But top seeds are not determined by whether they beat bad or merely okay teams. They are determined by how they do against the other teams they will meet in the tournament.
There are eight clear contenders for a top seed, with a large gap after that right now. I don’t think any team not on this list has a chance. Here’s a breakdown of how each has done against each other (vs. Top 2 seeds), and using Lunardi’s current list, how they have done against teams currently seeded 3 to 6, and those seeded between 7 and 12, plus the first 8 out (vs. tourney type teams).
Here’s how I have the candidates, in descending order, with three weeks left.
8. Kansas (22-6): Yes, they’ve played the toughest schedule in the country, and it’s not going to get easier. They’ve also gone 10-5 against tournament-type teams. That’s good, and the winning percentage that #2 and #3 seeds typically have on Selection Sunday.
It’s not #1 seed material. Villanova and Wisconsin, for example, are both 8-1 against tournament type teams. Run the table, get to 15-5 against tournament-type teams, then Kansas gets in the conversation.
7. Arizona (24-3): Arizona is 7-0 against tournament-type teams, which is good, though the road game at Utah looms. The problem for Arizona when compared to other top teams is that they have three losses to teams that won’t be at-large possibilities. (UNLV, Oregon State, Arizona State), more than the other seven in consideration, combined.
Those losses have them a few notches below the rest of the teams on this list. Arizona doesn’t have as many opportunities as Kansas, so they also need to run the table, including a win at Utah, to shoot up the ranks.
6. Gonzaga (27-1): Here’s where it gets tough. Not much separates the next three teams on this list, and they each have interesting arguments. It is wide open for the last #1 seed.
Gonzaga has the easier schedule because of the West Coast Conference. They also have the most justifiable loss, in a close game in overtime at Arizona. The ‘Zags also can’t afford anymore losses, but get to Selection Sunday with one loss, and they will be very much in play.
5. Villanova (25-2): The Wildcats have a pretty good #1 seed case. They also are the only team on this list that hasn’t played one of the others, and in a close case, that may be a factor. Not much separates Villanova and Wisconsin. In a blind taste test, they would look very similar, because both the Big Ten and Big East have several tournament contenders, but not other Top 12 teams.
4. Wisconsin (25-2): So what gives the Badgers the slight advantage? A couple of things. First, the “best” loss is to Duke at home, versus Seton Hall and Georgetown. Second, in Wisconsin’s bad loss, All-American candidate and Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky was out, and Traevon Jackson went out with an injury that game. Those two things likely swing a close call to the Badgers for the final spot, for now.
3. Duke (24-3): There’s a decent gap between the previous three and Duke. The Blue Devils won at Wisconsin. They also have the win over Virginia, arguably the two best wins in this group. The reason they are third, though, is the other losses. They probably can’t afford, say, two losses, if they want to solidly be in the #1 spot on Selection Sunday.
2. Virginia (25-1): The Cavaliers have the home loss to Duke. They haven’t lost otherwise, including 9-0 against tournament-type teams. They, like Duke, probably have a two-loss cushion for a top seed.
1. Kentucky (27-0): Is it worth a discussion? Kentucky is deep and talented and would need to suffer a major collapse to not be in consideration. It’s more likely that they are undefeated on Selection Sunday than not. (Pomeroy puts their chances of being undefeated at 74.3%).
[images via USA Today Sports]