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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Projecting the NCAA tournament’s top 20 seeds, Version 5.0

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Potential NBA lottery pick Obi Toppin and his Dayton Flyers (17-2 overall, 6-0 in the Atlantic 10) rank no lower than fifth with KenPom, ESPN's BPI and the NCAA's NET listing.

BATSBY Sports offers its fifth 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 23, 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 (16-3)
  2. Kansas (15-3)
  3. Butler (15-4)
  4. Maryland (15-4)
  5. Auburn (16-2)

ANALYSIS

a) In previous weeks, Duke had been an easy choice for the top spot in the East, given its lofty standing with every major metric.

However, last week’s two-game slide (@ Clemson, vs. Louisville) dropped the Blue Devils down to the third choice among the No. 1 seeds.

Why no total drop from the 1-line?

Duke currently rates first overall with ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, second with KenPom’s listing, fourth in Strength of Schedule quotient and sixth with the NCAA’s NET rankings.

As such, the Blue Devils remain a healthy lock to serve as an opening-weekend host in nearby Greensboro.

b) This time last week, it was difficult to punish Kansas for its decisive home loss to Baylor … since the Bears had subsequently ascended to the No. 1 spot with the NCAA’s NET rankings.

But this week, the Jayhawks lost some sympathy points from their beyond-stupid brawl with Kansas State, resulting in the indefinite suspension of Silvio de Sousa.

So with that, forget about Kansas currently owning top-3 rankings with Strength of Schedule, ESPN’s BPI, the NCAA’s NET and KenPom. Things could get hairy over the next few weeks.

c) We’re not ignoring Butler’s three-game slide in Big East play, per se.

We’re simply relying on the various metrics sites (ESPN’s BPI, KenPom, NCAA’s NET ranking) … all of which have the Bulldogs in the top 15.

Here’s the main problem, though: There’s no way the Selection Committee would put Butler as a 2 or 3 in the Midwest, given the Indianapolis location.

It needs to be an overwhelming choice for the top spot … otherwise, it’s off to the East, South or West regionals.

d) Auburn incurs a precipitous drop to the 5-line after last week’s blowout losses to Alabama and Florida.

Why so harsh, considering both road defeats came against respectable SEC foes?

Counting the eminently doable November/December/early January slate of Colgate, Richmond, Furman, Lehigh, New Mexico, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and North Carolina State … we’re still waiting for Auburn’s first signature victory of the season.

MIDWEST

  1. San Diego State (20-0)
  2. Dayton (17-2)
  3. Michigan State (14-5)
  4. Seton Hall (15-4)
  5. Stanford (15-3)

ANALYSIS

a) As stated last week in this forum, we could only keep San Diego State off the 1-line for so long, given the Aztecs’ thorough dissection of their schedule to date.

So, instead of potentially facing Gonzaga in a monster West final, we now have San Diego State leading the way in Indianapolis.

The undefeated Aztecs possess top-7 rankings with the NCAA’s NET listing (first overall) and KenPom, the result of posting double-digit victories over Iowa, Creighton, Nevada and Utah.

b) Dayton ranks no lower than fifth overall with KenPom, ESPN’s BPI and the 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 Thursday loss to unheralded Indiana was hardly damning, metrics-wise.

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) Seton Hall stands as the Big East’s lone unbeaten, 3 1/2 games ahead of Butler in the league standings. And yet, we have the Bulldogs installed as a 3-seed … and the Pirates on the following line.

Is that fair? Uh, probably not. But right now, when factoring in the most renowned metrics sites (listed above), Seton Hall has only cracked the top 10 with Strength of Schedule quotient.

e) 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 18 outings, Stanford (No. 16 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.

SOUTH

  1. Baylor (16-1)
  2. Louisville (16-3)
  3. West Virginia (15-3)
  4. Oregon (16-4)
  5. Kentucky (14-4)

ANALYSIS

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. 7, trailing Michigan State, Arizona and Dayton, among others.

Where’s the love?

b) Louisville makes for a rock-solid 2-seed, based on three factors:

****Cardinals rate no worse than 11th with ESPN’s BPI (8th overall), KenPom (9th) and the NCAA’s NET rankings (11th).

****Louisville currently stands atop the ACC standings, a byproduct of handling Duke on the road last week.

****The Cardinals’ three defeats are all respectable, falling to Texas Tech (neutral floor), Florida State (home) and Kentucky (road).

c) On the surface, Oregon (No. 12 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 man, last week’s shocking road defeat to Washington State still lingers prominently in our thoughts.

WEST

  1. Gonzaga (20-1)
  2. Arizona (13-5)
  3. Florida State (16-2)
  4. Villanova (15-3)
  5. Iowa (14-5)

ANALYSIS

a) No. 1 Gonzaga (victories over Washington, Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon; top-3 rankings with ESPN’s BPI and KenPom) 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 campaign with nary a setback. Some of these early returns in conference play have been seismic blowouts.

b) With rock-solid wins over Florida, Purdue, Tennessee, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Virginia, Florida State makes good sense for a 3-seed … even if the Seminoles rank no higher than 13th with the Big Four metrics sites.

c) Villanova deserves the final 4-seed for three reasons:

****The Wildcats have won five straight Big East games, including a sound drubbing of Butler last week.

****Villanova hasn’t been flashy to date, but the Wildcats have earned respect, metrics-wise. They currently rate in the top 20 for KenPom, Strength of Schedule quotient and the NCAA’s NET rankings.

****It’s easy to daydream about a Gonzaga-Villanova clash in Los Angeles. Potentially the best matchup of the Sweet 16 round.

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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