BATSBY Sports offers its fourth deep dive into predicting the top 20 seeds for the NCAA basketball tournament (five per region), with 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 16, 2020)
FIRST/SECOND ROUND SITES
St. Louis, MO
EAST — New York City
MIDWEST — Indianapolis
SOUTH — Houston
WEST — Los Angeles
FINAL FOUR — Atlanta
- Duke (15-2)
- Auburn (15-1)
- West Virginia (14-2)
- Ohio State (12-5)
- Villanova (13-3)
a) Duke (No. 3 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.
b) Auburn might no longer be perfect, after Tuesday’s defeat to rival Alabama, but the Tigers are still a decent bet for a 1- or 2-seed.
But then again, just about any prominent program could have endured an eminently doable November/December/early January slate of Colgate, Richmond, Furman, Lehigh, New Mexico, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State … and North Carolina State.
The good news: We’ll know more about Auburn’s big-game chops after Saturday’s road clash with Florida.
c) West Virginia (No. 4 overall in KenPom) has been one of the young season’s biggest surprises, quickly becoming nationally relevant after last year’s disappointing 15-21 mark.
As a bonus, the Mountaineers’ 14-2 record hasn’t been constructed on a foundation of easy opponents.
Right now, WVU ranks 11th 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).
d) Four weeks ago, Ohio State (7th 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, four respectable, yet still-deflating defeats to Minnesota, West Virginia, Ohio State and Wisconsin, along with one expected road defeat versus Maryland, have fueled the Buckeyes’ precipitous drop to the 4-line.
- Kansas (13-3)
- Dayton (15-2)
- Michigan State (13-4)
- Florida State (15-2)
- Arizona (12-5)
a) It’s hard to punish Kansas much for last week’s decisive home loss to Baylor … since the Bears are now the No. 1 overall team with the NCAA’s NET rankings.
Plus, the Jayhawks still possess top-2 rankings with KenPom, ESPN’s BPI and Strength of Schedule.
And when you throw in Butler’s midweek loss to Seton Hall (still undefeated in the Big East), Kansas now seems like the ideal choice to preside over the Indianapolis regional.
b) Dayton ranks no lower than sixth overall with KenPom, ESPN’s BPI, NCAA’s NET listing.
Plus, the Strength of Schedule trends should remain solid for February and March, since the Atlantic 10 has six viable options for NCAA Tournament (Dayton, St. Bonaventure, Duquesne, Rhode Island, Richmond, Saint Louis).
c) Michigan State’s 29-point road drubbing versus Purdue might have been the ugliest effort of any powerhouse this year; but let’s not overreact here too much.
The Spartans still own first place in the Big Ten (the nation’s toughest conference); and right now, MSU stands no worse than 10th with KenPom, ESPN’s BPI, the NCAA’s NET and Strength of Schedule rankings.
d) With rock-solid wins over Florida, Purdue, Tennessee, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Virginia, Florida State makes perfect sense for a 4-seed.
The Seminoles (three-way tie for 1st in the ACC) are also decent bets to claim either the conference’s regular-season and/or tourney titles.
Which brings us to this: How great would a potential second-round matchup of Florida State and Arizona be for the TV networks? Very cool.
- Baylor (14-1)
- Butler (15-2)
- Louisville (14-3)
- Oregon (14-4)
- Wichita State (15-2)
a) Good luck poking holes into Baylor’s argument for the No. 1 overall seed, come mid-March.
At this point, the Bears boast road wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, along with strong victories over Arizona, Butler, Texas, Iowa State and Villanova.
Plus, they’re perfect geographical fits for the Houston-based regional, in terms of putting fannies in the seats.
The only non-believer to date? ESPN’s BPI rankings actually have Baylor at No. 6, trailing Michigan State and Dayton, among others. Where’s the love?
b) Butler dropped the proverbial ball during the week, falling to Seton Hall at home.
However, the Bulldogs must walk a fine line with the NCAA Selection Committee: Either Butler will likely be a No. 1 seed in the Indianapolis regional … or a 2-seed for the East, South or West regions.
c) On the surface, Oregon (No. 8 in the AP poll … seasonal victories over Arizona, Seton Hall, Memphis, Houston, Michigan) deserves a better fate than a 4-seed in the West.
But while writing today’s piece, Thursday night’s shocking road defeat to Washington State lingers prominently in our thoughts. So, that’s how it goes.
- Gonzaga (19-1)
- San Diego State (18-0)
- Seton Hall (13-4)
- Stanford (15-2)
- Maryland (13-4)
a) No. 1 Gonzaga (victories over Washington, Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon; top-3 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. Some of these early returns in conference play have been seismic blowouts.
b) Go ahead and shortchange San Diego State’s seasonal resume, at your own peril.
The undefeated Aztecs possess top-12 rankings with the KenPom and BPI charts, the result of posting double-digit victories over Iowa, Creighton and Utah.
c) It goes without saying: If San Diego State gets through regular-season and conference-tournament action with zero or one loss, the Aztecs would be excellent candidates for a No. 1 seed elsewhere.
But for now, we’ll just daydream about this titanic matchup … conveniently played in Los Angeles.
d) It’s easy to sing Stanford’s praises on three fronts:
**The Cardinal have two elite-level defeats (Kansas and Butler).
**Of its 15 victories, 14 involved a spread of five or more points.
**Through 17 games, Stanford (No. 9 overall in the NCAA’s NET rankings) has demonstrated an interesting knack for winning games played in the 60s, 70s or 80s, which speaks to its matchup versatility come Tourney Time.