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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Projecting the NCAA tournament’s top 20 seeds, Version 2.0

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Guard Cassius Winston and the Michigan State Spartans (11-3 overall) are the only undefeated club in Big Ten action.

BATSBY Sports offers its second deep dive into predicting the top 20 seeds for the NCAA basketball tournament (five per region), with intra-conference action in full swing this week.

It’s worth noting: Our projections aren’t necessarily focused on power rankings with the 20 schools.

Rather, we’re taking certain educated guesses when presuming this elite-level field, factoring in current track record, strength of schedule, expert rankings (analytics) and probability of future success within conference play.

(NOTE: TEAM RECORDS THROUGH JANUARY 3, 2020)

FIRST/SECOND ROUND SITES

Cleveland, OH
Tampa, FL
Greensboro, NC
Albany, NY
St. Louis, MO
Omaha, NE
Spokane, WA
Sacramento, CA

REGIONALS/FINAL FOUR

EAST — New York City
MIDWEST — Indianapolis
SOUTH — Houston
WEST — Los Angeles

FINAL FOUR — Atlanta

EAST

  1. Duke (12-1)
  2. Oregon (11-3)
  3. Dayton (12-2)
  4. Purdue (9-5)
  5. West Virginia (11-1)

ANALYSIS

a) Duke (No. 2 in Associated Press poll) projects to be an easy-breezy option for the Selection Committee, in terms of commandeering a top regional seed … and serving as opening-weekend host in nearby Greensboro.

The rationale: The Blue Devils hold top honors with ESPN’s Basketball Power Index and KenPom’s analytics-heavy 2020 rankings.

b) Oregon (No. 4 in the AP poll … fell to Colorado in Thursday’s Pac-12 opener) had proffered a great resume during the first two months, enjoying top-25 victories over Memphis, Seton Hall and enduring close defeats to North Carolina (with Cole Anthony in the lineup) and Gonzaga.

Which brings us to this …

The NCAA tourney committee might shy away from a potential Gonzaga-Oregon rematch in the West final, even though it would be on a neutral court (Staples Center).

Hence, the Ducks opening tourney play along the West Coast (Sacramento or Spokane) … before flying cross country to New York City for the East regional (assuming they advance).

c) At first blush, a five-loss Purdue squad seems like an odd choice for a No. 3 seed, especially with all the superb competition from unblemished San Diego State and the SEC powers.

However, the Boilermakers have two positive factors working in their favor:

**A top-20 rating with Strength of Schedule
**Top-15 rankings with both the KemPom and ESPN/BPI listings

MIDWEST

  1. Louisville (11-2)
  2. Auburn (12-0)
  3. Ohio State (11-3)
  4. San Diego State (14-0)
  5. Villanova (10-2)

ANALYSIS

a) Three weeks ago, Ohio State (rated sixth with Strength of Schedule) seemingly had the requisite star power, perimeter depth, coaching acumen and defensive/rebounding proficiency to be a viable top seed.

However, three respectable, yet still-baffling defeats to Minnesota, West Virginia and Wisconsin (Friday night) have fueled the Buckeyes’ sudden drop to the 3-line.

As part of that, Ohio State should no longer garner automatic consideration for the Cleveland site on opening weekend.

b) Auburn’s the only top-15 KenPom team with an unblemished record; but then again, we would expect nothing less from an eminently doable schedule which includes Colgate, Richmond, Furman, Lehigh, New Mexico … and North Carolina State.

c) Louisville gets a battlefield promotion to the 1-line in the Midwest, despite still hurting from last week’s loss to Kentucky.

Given the tenuousness of this region, Michigan State, Butler, Oregon or even Auburn could easily own the top spot for Version 3.0.

d) Go ahead and shortchange San Diego State’s seasonal resume, at your own peril.

The undefeated Aztecs possess top-20 rankings with the KenPom and BPI charts, the result of posting double-digit victories over Iowa, Creighton and Utah.

e) We initially went with Memphis (12-1 overall) within this region. However, the Tigers no longer have access to freshman James Wiseman — a potential No. 1 pick who left school to focus on the NBA draft — and have already lost ground with the KemPom and BPI rankings.

SOUTH

  1. Kansas (10-2)
  2. Butler (13-1)
  3. Maryland (11-2)
  4. Kentucky (9-3)
  5. Michigan (10-3)

ANALYSIS

a) This might be the most evenly matched quintet of the bunch, with Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan all previously ranking in the top 3 (or higher) with the Associated Press poll … and Butler and Maryland being solid dark horses for the Final Four.

b) An elite-level Kansas team should have no problems securing placement into the Omaha sub-regional.

c) This might be Butler’s best team of the last 10 years, which is saying a lot.

The Bulldogs recently went 6-1 from a daunting stretch that included Missouri, Stanford, Ole Miss, Florida, Purdue and Baylor (the lone defeat). Hence, the top-10 rankings with the KenPom and BPI charts.

The only problem here: The Selection Committee might resist the urge of putting Butler in the Indianapolis regional, if the Bulldogs don’t possess the top seed.

d) It’s been a crazy campaign for Kentucky, which knocked off a No. 1 in early November (Michigan State), got booted from its own top ranking a week later (courtesy of Evansville) and then recently a produced a robust upset of Louisville, which also had the AP No. 1 ranking back in late November.

But alas, we’re supremely confident about the Wildcats’ chances for success during SEC play. Over time, the proverbial cream rises to the top.

WEST

  1. Gonzaga (15-1)
  2. Michigan State (11-3)
  3. Baylor (10-1)
  4. Arizona (10-3)
  5. Florida State (12-2)

ANALYSIS

a) No. 1 Gonzaga (victories over Washington, Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon; top-6 rankings with KenPom and BPI charts) can probably afford one or two West Coast Conference defeats (regular season) … and still earn the West’s top seed.

At the same time, don’t be shocked if the Zags breeze through the WCC regular season with nary a setback.

b) At this point, Michigan State has more high-level defeats (Duke, Kentucky) than signature victories (at Seton Hall).

On the plus side, though, the Spartans are the only undefeated club in Big Ten play (3-0); and their Thursday rout of improving Illinois was an old-school, one-sided win, with MSU forcing the Illini into wretched tallies with overall shooting (29.3 percent) and three-point shooting (10.7 percent).

As such, MSU has likely earned its way back to the 2-line, after starting off as a 3-seed.

c) Could this be the year Baylor sheds its tourney underachiever label and reaches the Final Four?

So far, so good for the No. 6 Bears (AP poll), who already claim signature wins over Arizona, Butler, Washington and Villanova.

About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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