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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Projecting the NCAA tournament’s top 20 seeds, Version 3.0

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Vernon Carey's Duke squad has been incredibly consistent this season, claiming top-2 listings with KenPom, ESPN's BPI, the AP poll and the NCAA 'Net' rankings.

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

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 9, 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 (14-1)
  2. Auburn (14-0)
  3. Maryland (13-2)
  4. Arizona (11-4)
  5. Wichita State (14-1)

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 rankings.

b) Auburn’s one of only two top-20 KenPom teams with an unblemished record (along with San Diego State); but then again, we would expect nothing less from an eminently doable schedule which includes Colgate, Richmond, Furman, Lehigh, New Mexico, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State … and North Carolina State.

On the plus side, we’ll glean more about the Tigers in short order, with Auburn encountering Georgia (home), Alabama (road) and Florida (road) over a nine-day stretch.

c) Maryland (3-1 in Big Ten play) has seemingly righted the ship after a rough three-game stretch of Illinois (furious comeback victory at home), Penn State (beaten soundly on the road) and Seton Hall (close road defeat).

The Terps’ last two wins over Indiana and Ohio State were both decisive, and their offense has once again become a per-game threat for 80-plus points.

Will this translate to a prolonged winning streak? That’s hard to say. Maryland has a tough roadie against Iowa tonight, followed by a Super Tuesday trip to Wisconsin.

MIDWEST

  1. Butler (14-1)
  2. Michigan State (12-3)
  3. Louisville (12-3)
  4. West Virginia (12-2)
  5. Villanova (11-3)

ANALYSIS

a) In previous weeks, there might have been some trepidation with Butler, in terms of the Selection Committee blindly putting the Bulldogs in the Indianapolis regional … as a 2- or 3-seed.

But with this newfound rise to the top line … it’s an easy call for everyone. Problem solved!

Of course, from a ‘chalk’ perspective, it’s fair to wonder if a Butler-Michigan State regional final would be a crowd advantage for either school?

At this point, the Bulldogs and Spartans are interchangeable as 1 or 2.

b) Michigan State has been on a certifiable roll since the disheartening December defeat to Duke, enjoying an average victory margin of 22.5 points in their last eight games.

Within this run of success, the Spartans (the Big Ten’s lone unbeaten in conference action) have vaulted into top-3 spots with the KenPom (3rd overall), BPI (2nd) and Strength of Schedule rankings (3rd).

The only remaining nut to crack, in terms of warranting a 1-seed in the NCAA tourney? Michigan State currently ranks ninth in the NCAA’s ‘Net’ rankings.

c) West Virginia has been one of the young season’s biggest surprises, quickly becoming nationally relevant after last year’s disappointing 15-21 mark.

The Mountaineers’ 12-2 record to date hasn’t been constructed on a foundation of easy opponents.

Right now, WVU ranks ninth overall with Strength of Schedule quotient — a rating that has climbed considerably higher in recent weeks, stemming from high-profile encounters with Wichita State (win), Ohio State (win) and Kansas (close road defeat).

SOUTH

  1. Kansas (12-2)
  2. San Diego State (16-0)
  3. Ohio State (11-4)
  4. Dayton (13-2)
  5. Kentucky (11-3)

ANALYSIS

a) At this pace, an elite-level Kansas team (No. 1 in the NCAA’s ‘Net’ rankings … three straight victories over Stanford, West Virginia, Iowa State) should have no problems securing placement into the Omaha sub-regional.

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

The undefeated Aztecs possess top-15 rankings with the KenPom and BPI charts, the result of posting double-digit victories over Iowa, Creighton and Utah.

c) 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.

d) Three weeks ago, Ohio State (5th 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, along with one expected road defeat versus Maryland, have fueled the Buckeyes’ sudden drop to the 3-line.

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

WEST

  1. Gonzaga (17-1)
  2. Baylor (12-1)
  3. Oregon (13-3)
  4. Florida State (14-2)
  5. Michigan (11-4)

ANALYSIS

a) No. 1 Gonzaga (victories over Washington, Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon; top-4 ranking with the BPI listing) can probably afford one or two West Coast Conference defeats (regular season) … and still earn the West region’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) Could this be the year Baylor sheds its tourney underachiever label and reaches the Final Four?

So far, so good for the No. 4 Bears (AP poll), who already claim signature wins over Arizona, Butler, Washington, Texas, Texas Tech and Villanova.

c) On the surface, Oregon (No. 9 in the AP poll … seasonal victories over Arizona, Seton Hall, Memphis) deserves a better fate than a 3-seed in the West.

However, at this time, the Ducks don’t have a top-10 ranking with KenPom, ESPN’s BPI or the NCAA’s ‘Net’ countdown.

On the plus side, Oregon serves as our most-regarded 3-seed, putting the school back on the West Coast for regional weekend (Los Angeles), as opposed to being a No. 2 for the New York regional in recent weeks.

d) Here’s a prime example of the regions’ requisite strength and balance, when attempting to go five-deep with each one:

Michigan boasts wins over No. 1 Gonzaga, Purdue, Iowa, Iowa State, Creighton and North Carolina … and the Wolverines were still the final 5-seed with this week’s breakdown.

Does that seem a tad unfair, especially with Michigan weathering the injury-based absence of star forward Isaiah Livers?

Probably. The Wolverines have the nation’s fourth-toughest schedule, and all four defeats were highly respectable setbacks (Louisville, Oregon, Michigan State, Illinois).

The upside here? This could be the last time Michigan has to worry about a 5-seed … although the upcoming opponent triumvirate of Iowa (road), Penn State (home) and Illinois (home) could be a little tricky.

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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