The race for one of the NCAA tournament’s four No. 1 seeds has entered its final week. Here’s a look at where the contenders stand entering their respective conference tournaments:
TIER 1: NEAR-LOCKS
1. KANSAS (28-3, 16-2, RPI 2, KenPom 9) Record vs. RPI top 100: 16-3 Record vs. RPI top 50: 8-2 Record vs. RPI top 25: 5-1 Sub 100 losses: none Best wins: at Kentucky, Baylor (2), Duke, West Virginia, at Iowa State Losses: at West Virginia, Iowa State, Indiana Are they a No. 1 seed? Not only is Kansas a No. 1 seed, the Jayhawks would probably be the overall No. 1 if the season ended today. They won one of the nation’s two toughest leagues by a whopping four games, they beat Duke and Kentucky away from Allen Fieldhouse in non-league play and their season-opening loss to a healthy Indiana team is the only real blemish on their résumé. Even if Kansas were to lose early in its conference tournament, its grip on the the No. 1 seed in the Midwest and a favorable Final Four path through Kansas City would likely remain tight. The Jayhawks are in great shape.
2. VILLANOVA (28-3, 15-3, RPI 1, KenPom 9) Record vs. RPI top 100: 17-3 Record vs. RPI top 50: 10-2 Record vs. RPI top 25: 3-2 Sub 100 losses: none Best wins: at Purdue, Virginia, Notre Dame, Creighton (2), Wake Forest Losses: Butler (2), at Marquette Are they a No. 1 seed? It’s debatable whether this year’s Villanova is a better team than last year’s version, but there’s no denying that the Wildcats have assembled a stronger résumé this season. They were just as dominant in what was arguably a stronger Big East and they have quality non-league wins over Purdue, Virginia, Notre Dame and Wake Forest that last year’s team did not. All that should be enough to retain the No. 1 seed in the East region for Villanova no matter how it fares in the Big East tournament. Even with a shocking Big East quarterfinal loss, the Wildcats would very likely still have a top-four résumé nationally.
TIER 2: IN CONTROL OF THEIR OWN DESTINY
3. GONZAGA (30-1, 17-1, RPI 10, KenPom 1) Record vs. RPI top 100: 10-1 Record vs. RPI top 50: 5-0 Record vs. RPI top 25: 4-0 Sub 100 losses: none Best wins: Arizona, Florida, Saint Mary’s (2), Iowa State, at BYU Losses: BYU Are they a No. 1 seed? Had Gonzaga entered the NCAA tournament with an undefeated record, it would have been a mortal lock for the No. 1 seed in the West. It’s not quite as certain anymore after the Zags’ surprising home loss to BYU in their regular season finale. What Gonzaga must do now is win the WCC tournament and hope its résumé stacks up favorably against either the strongest Pac-12 option or a non-North Carolina ACC tournament champion. Bolstering Gonzaga’s case is the best record in college basketball, a head-to-head win over Arizona on a neutral site and other quality non-league wins over Florida and Iowa State. No Pac-12 team currently has more top 50 wins than Gonzaga and no ACC team has fewer than five more losses.
4. NORTH CAROLINA (26-6, 14-4, RPI 4, KenPom 4) Record vs. RPI top 100: 15-6 Record vs. RPI top 50: 10-4 Record vs. RPI top 25: 4-3 Sub 100 losses: none Best wins: Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Virginia, Wisconsin Losses: Kentucky, at Duke, at Virginia, at Miami, at Georgia Tech, at Indiana Are they a No. 1 seed? Winning a loaded ACC by two games gives North Carolina a big leg up on the competition for the No. 1 seed in the South. The Tar Heels went 14–4 in conference play, with wins over Duke, Louisville, Florida State, Notre Dame and Virginia. One ACC tournament win over Miami or Syracuse might be enough to clinch a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Two ACC tournament wins definitely would be. Should the Tar Heels get bounced early, they would have to worry about Louisville winning the ACC tournament, Baylor winning the Big 12 tournament and toppling Kansas in the process or a Pac-12 power making a strong case in that tournament.
TIER 3: MUST WIN THEIR CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS AND GET HELP
5. OREGON (27-4, 16-2, RPI 8, KenPom 17) Record vs. RPI top 100: 15-3 Record vs. RPI top 50: 4-2 Record vs. RPI top 25: 2-2 Sub 100 losses: at Colorado Best wins: Arizona, UCLA, USC (2), Cal (2), Tennessee Losses: at UCLA, at Baylor, Georgetown, at Colorado Are they a No. 1 seed? Of the three Pac-12 juggernauts in contention for high seeds, Oregon enters the league’s tournament in the best position to land on the No. 1 or 2 line. The Ducks won a share of the conference title, boast a 2-1 record against Arizona and UCLA and can cite Dillon Brooks’ injury as an excuse for their modest non-conference performance. Furthermore, as the Pac-12’s top seed, they avoid the Wildcats and Bruins until a potential title game showdown on Saturday night. The most likely scenario for Oregon to land a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament is the Ducks winning the Pac-12 tournament and Gonzaga falling in either the WCC semifinals or title game. There’s a slim chance Oregon could get the nod over a one-loss Gonzaga or a North Carolina team ousted early in the ACC tournament, but that seems pretty unlikely.
6. UCLA (28-3, 15-3, RPI 15, KenPom 16) Record vs. RPI top 100: 11-3 Record vs. RPI top 50: 5-3 Record vs. RPI top 25: 3-2 Sub 100 losses: none Best wins: at Kentucky, at Arizona, Oregon, Michigan, USC Losses: at Oregon, Arizona, at USC Are they a No. 1 seed? Whatever remote chance UCLA has of vaulting to the No. 1 seed line starts with the Bruins winning the Pac-12 tournament. Should they tear through USC, Arizona and Oregon to do it, that would add three more quality wins to their profile and make them a threat to capitalize should Gonzaga fall in the WCC tournament or North Carolina go out early in the ACC tournament. UCLA finished a game behind Arizona and Oregon in the Pac-12, but its road win at Kentucky is by far the most significant outcome any of the three achieved in non-league play. The Bruins also avenged all three of their losses during the second half of Pac-12 play. Ultimately, a No. 1 seed is a long shot, but that’s fine. What UCLA wants is to stay in the West and have its path to a Final Four go through Sacramento and San Jose.
7. ARIZONA (27-4, 16-2, RPI 9, KenPom 21) Record vs. RPI top 100: 12-4 Record vs. RPI top 50: 4-4 Record vs. RPI top 25: 1-4 Sub 100 losses: none Best wins: at UCLA, Michigan State, USC (2), Cal (2), Utah Losses: at Oregon, Gonzaga, UCLA, Butler Are they a No. 1 seed? Whereas the Pac-12’s other two powers would almost certainly secure the No. 1 seed in the West with a conference tournament title and a second Gonzaga loss, Arizona’s bid is complicated by its head-to-head loss to the Zags. The Wildcats fell 69-62 on a neutral floor on Dec. 3, albeit with star Allonzo Trier suspended and point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright sidelined by injury. Now both are back and Arizona is a stronger, deeper team because of it. The selection committee conceivably could take that into account and consider the Wildcats for the top seed line if they win the Pac-12 tournament, but the more likely scenario would be a No. 2 in the West.
8. LOUISVILLE (24-7, 12-6, RPI 3, KenPom 8) Record vs. RPI top 100: 14-7 Record vs. RPI top 50: 7-7 Record vs. RPI top 25: 4-6 Sub 100 losses: none Best wins: Kentucky, Duke, Purdue, Notre Dame, Wichita State Losses: at North Carolina, Baylor, at Florida State, Virginia (2), at Notre Dame, at Wake Forest Are they a No. 1 seed? Louisville’s ultra-difficult ACC tournament draw could be both a blessing and a curse. The Cardinals could have to go through Duke and North Carolina just to reach the ACC title game, however, if they were somehow able to win the tournament anyway, they’ll have improved their résumé tremendously. In that scenario, the Cardinals would be 27-7 with a bushel of quality ACC wins and marquee non-league victories over Kentucky, Purdue and Wichita State. Would that be enough to vault Louisville to the No. 1 seed line over ACC regular season champ North Carolina or either Gonzaga or Villanova? Don’t rule it out.
TIER 4: SO YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S STILL HOPE?
9. FLORIDA STATE (24-7, 12-6, RPI 11, KenPom 18) Record vs. RPI top 100: 15-6 Record vs. RPI top 50: 10-3 Record vs. RPI top 25: 6-3 Sub 100 losses: Temple Best wins: at Virginia, Louisville, Florida, Duke, Notre Dame Losses: at North Carolina, at Duke, at Notre Dame, at Syracuse, at Pittsburgh, at Georgia Tech, Temple Are they a No. 1 seed? Like Louisville, Florida State could substantially bolster its résumé by winning the ACC tournament, but the Seminoles would be coming from further behind than the Cardinals would. They have a strong collection of ACC wins and quality non-league victories over Florida and Minnesota, but they also have some sub-par losses against Temple, Pittsburgh and to a lesser extent Syracuse and Georgia Tech. Ultimately, Florida State would at least enter the conversation with an ACC tournament title — especially if it beat North Carolina in the championship game — but their case for a No. 1 seed would not be as strong as Louisville’s in the same scenario. The Seminoles’ ceiling is most likely a No. 2 seed.
10. BAYLOR (25-6, 12-6, RPI 6, KenPom 11) Record vs. RPI top 100: 14-5 Record vs. RPI top 50: 9-4 Record vs. RPI top 25: 4-3 Sub 100 losses: at Texas Tech Best wins: Louisville, Oregon, West Virginia, Oklahoma State (2), Iowa State Losses: Kansas (2), at West Virginia, at Iowa State, Kansas State, at Texas Tech Are they a No. 1 seed? Baylor’s non-conference performance was so exemplary that it still has faint hope of a No. 1 seed even after losing six Big 12 games and finishing four games back of Kansas in the league standings. They boast five quality non-league wins including head-to-head victories over Louisville and Oregon. Say Baylor wins the Big 12 tournament, beating West Virginia and Kansas in the process. Is it possible the Bears could jump a two-loss Gonzaga in the West or a North Carolina in the South? Perhaps. Is it likely? Definitely not.
11. KENTUCKY (26-5, 16-2, RPI 7, KenPom 7) Record vs. RPI top 100: 16-5 Record vs. RPI top 50: 7-4 Record vs. RPI top 25: 2-4 Sub 100 losses: None Best wins: North Carolina, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Michigan State Losses: Kansas, at Louisville, at Florida, UCLA, at Tennessee Are they a No. 1 seed? Here’s Kentucky’s slim-to-no-hope path: Win the SEC tournament, beat Florida by 50 in the title game and pray the committee puts a ton of stock in the Wildcats’ head-to-head victory over North Carolina way back in December. Ultimately, Kentucky’s shot at a No. 1 seed was realistically undone by the weakness of the SEC and near misses in non-league play against Kansas, UCLA and Louisville. The Wildcats’ best-case scenario is a No. 2 seed with an SEC tournament title.