Alabama would be the No. 1 seed. 1 in the NCAA Tournament if it starts today. Will the Crimson Tide be able to hang on? (Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports)
With the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day both in the rearview mirror, that can only mean one thing: March is almost here.
Twenty-two days before Selection Sunday, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Select Committee shared a snapshot of its top 16 teams. Here is the partial parenthesis that the committee unveiled on Saturday afternoon and four key points.
FOUR KEY POINTS:
1. Alabama has the inside rink for the No. 1 seed. 1 in the NCAA Tournament
It was no secret which four teams would finish top seeds in Saturday’s group reveal. What was more interesting was the order in which the committee ranked Alabama, Houston, Purdue and Kansas.
Despite a loss to Tennessee earlier this week, Alabama (22-4) would be the No. 1 seed. 1 in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended today. Select committee chairman Chris Reynolds cited the Crimson Tide’s 13-4 record in Quadrant 1 games and its 71-65 road win in Houston on December 10.
“That win in Houston put them over the top,” Reynolds said.
Houston (24-2) was the No. 1 second seed even though she has fewer major wins than Purdue or Kansas and is the only one of the group to have a loss outside of the top two quadrants. Reynolds justified this by pointing out that Houston is undefeated on the road, including “an impressive win in Virginia.”
While Reynolds has highlighted the “parity” in the sport this season, Purdue (23-4) and Kansas (21-5) were still the obvious picks as the final #1 seed. The Boilermakers lead the Big Ten and boast non-league victories over Gonzaga, Marquette and Duke. The Jayhawks played the toughest schedule in the nation and had a national best 12 Quadrant 1 wins.
While the primary purpose of the NCAA season bracket preview is to generate discussion, the primary starting lineup has often proven to be a harbinger of things to come. In five of the past six years, three of the four No. 1 seeds from the NCAA’s first peek at the board have remained in the top seed line as Selection Sunday. This pattern likely would have continued into 2020, except COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament.
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2. The committee has a Big 12 problem
A fundamental tenet of committee bracketing is that teams from the same conference must be placed in different regions if they are in the top four seed lines.
That may prove impossible this year given the strength of the Big 12.
Kansas, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Iowa State each made the top 12 in Saturday’s bracket reveal, necessitating two of those teams landing in the same region. In this case, the committee placed Kansas (1) and Kansas State (3) in the West Region, where they could potentially meet in a regional final.
Believe it or not, the committee’s Big 12 problem could get worse in the coming weeks if TCU finishes strong. The Horned Frogs were also an expected top four seed before losing their last four games without injured guard Mike Miles.
The presence of Iowa State and Kansas State on line no. 3 suggests the committee believes in the Big 12. This could bode well for potential Big 12 bubble teams Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
3. How the committee rated Saint Mary’s (and what it means for everyone else)
One of the toughest decisions the committee had to make was whether to include Saint Mary’s in its top 16. The Gaels (23-5) were a fixture all season in the top 10 by all major computer metrics, yet their resume did not. t compare favorably with other potential n seeds. 3 and 4.
The two best teams Saint Mary’s has beaten so far this season are Gonzaga and San Diego State. After that, the WCC-leading Gaels’ next most impressive win is against… BYU? North Texas? Oral Roberts?
Saint Mary’s also has three losses to teams outside the NET top 100: Loyola Marymount, Washington and Colorado State. Those are more head-scratcher losses than any other team in consideration for a top-four seed.
Yet despite that modest resume, Saint Mary’s still entered Saturday No. 5 in the Bart Torvik charts, no. 8 at KenPom and No. Margin-of-victory metrics love the Gaels, who have won 16 games so far this season by 10 or more points.
Ultimately, the committee ignored predictive metrics and dropped Saint Mary’s out of the top 16, a decision that offers insight into how the committee might treat other teams whose resumes and metrics don’t match.
Among the teams that, like Saint Mary’s, are banking on favorable predictive metrics to boost their seedings: UConn, Boise State and West Virginia.
Among the teams that ranked lower in predictive metrics than their resumes would suggest: Kansas State, Miami, and Northwestern.
4. Who were the biggest snubs?
There were five teams in the running for the final top 16 spot. Reynolds said the committee ultimately selected Xavier over Creighton, Miami, Saint Mary’s and UConn, though he described the margin between that fivesome as “thin as a razor”.
Of the four snubbed, Creighton may have the best chance of making the top 16 by Selection Sunday. Since healing, the Bluejays have lived up to their preseason top 10 rankings, snapping an eight-game hitting streak before a double-overtime loss in Providence last week.
UConn, by contrast, has faded a bit from a torrid start. The Huskies are still in the top 10 in computer metrics, but have lost seven times since winning their first 14 games.
The case for Saint Mary’s could hinge on whether they get at least one more win over Gonzaga, either in Spokane next Saturday or in the WCC Tournament title game in early March. As for Miami, the Hurricanes may have to outrun Virginia and Pittsburgh to win this year’s unusually weak ACC.
NCAA Tournament top 16
state of Kansas
State of Iowa