COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Projecting the NCAA tournament’s top 20 seeds, Version 6.0

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Jordan Nwora and the Louisville Cardinals (No. 5 in AP poll, No. 6 in ESPN's BPI listing) have won eight straight ACC outings -- including a solid road victory over No. 7 Duke.

BATSBY Sports offers its sixth 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 FEBRUARY 4, 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. San Diego State (23-0)
  2. Duke (19-3)
  3. Villanova (17-4)
  4. Penn State (17-5)
  5. Auburn (20-2)

ANALYSIS

a) For last Saturday’s College Gameday, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas surmised that Gonzaga and San Diego State were headed for a 1-2 situation out West (Los Angeles regional), given the geographic locales of both schools.

However, from my perspective, the NCAA Selection Committee cannot penalize the Zags and Aztecs for having one combined defeat … by placing both championship contenders in the same bracket.

It’s not a sound strategic move, especially in this Year of Basketball Parity.

To wit, San Diego State and Gonzaga rate 1st and 3rd in the NCAA’s NET rankings. With this type of transparency, it would be impossible to justify both schools meeting in the Elite Eight.

b) Duke currently rates No. 1 with ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, No. 2 in KenPom and No. 6 with the NCAA’s NET rankings.

In other words, it might be a tough sell to drop the Blue Devils (winners of four straight) onto the 2-line. And yet, theoretically speaking, there’s very little separation between San Diego State serving as the lowest No. 1 seed … and Duke being the highest-valued No. 2.

What’s more, the Blue Devils would still possess the home-area advantage, in the event of a regional-final clash with San Diego State in New York City (Madison Square Garden).

c) Villanova deserves a prominent 3-seed for two reasons:

****Forget about the Big Ten. The Big East stands as the nation’s best conference this season, touting five schools (along with Seton Hall, Butler, Creighton, Marquette) which could realistically reach the Final Four in Atlanta.

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

d) Penn State’s sterling victory over Michigan State (Tuesday night, opposite the State of the Union Address) might have been one of college basketball’s 10 best road upsets.

Upset being a loose term, since the Nittany Lions have claimed five straight Big Ten games (including three on the road) and play exceptional on-the-ball defense in half-court settings.

The rationale here: Penn State (No. 14 in KenPom) would be a scary opponent for San Diego State in the Sweet 16 round.

e) Auburn incurred a precipitous drop to the 5-line two weeks ago, after its blowout losses to Alabama and Florida.

But the Tigers have righted the ship in the aftermath, collecting five straight victories (four in SEC play), including last Saturday’s exhilarating home win over Kentucky.

MIDWEST

  1. Kansas (19-3)
  2. Dayton (20-2)
  3. Florida State (19-3)
  4. Michigan State (16-7)
  5. Creighton (17-5)

ANALYSIS

a) Does Kansas (losses to Duke, Baylor, Villanova) meet the proverbial Eye Test of a popular championship pick this season, especially with the lingering fallout of the Kansas State brawl?

Eh, judgment call on the above question; but here’s something which cannot be disputed:

The Jayhawks are the nation’s only team to currently boast top-4 tallies with KenPom, the NCAA’s NET rankings, ESPN’s BPI and Strength of Schedule quotient.

Bottom line: Kansas should be the top seed for the Indianapolis regional.

b) Dayton ranks no lower than eighth 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 the NCAA Tournament (Dayton, St. Bonaventure, Duquesne, Rhode Island, Richmond, Saint Louis).

c) With rock-solid wins over Florida, Purdue, Tennessee, Clemson, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Virginia, Florida State makes good sense for a 3-seed … even if the Seminoles rank no higher than 15th with the Big Four analytics sites.

d) The Michigan State alumnus in me wants to scream, yell and quietly boil over disappointing defeats to Penn State, Wisconsin and Indiana in recent weeks.

But fortunately for (irrational) people like me, the national metrics-makers aren’t freaking out about a Spartans team that keeps falling short in close games.

For example, despite the 16-7 overall record, Michigan State stands no worse than 11th with KenPom, ESPN’s BPI, the NCAA’s NET and Strength of Schedule rankings.

Hence, the solid 4-seed in the highly competitive Midwest.

SOUTH

  1. Baylor (20-1)
  2. Louisville (19-3)
  3. Maryland (18-4)
  4. Seton Hall (16-5)
  5. Colorado (17-5)

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, Florida 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. 5, trailing Michigan State of all teams.

Where’s the love?

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

****The Cardinals rate no worse than eighth with ESPN’s BPI (6th overall), KenPom (8th) and the NCAA’s NET rankings (7th).

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

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

c) Our respect and admiration for the Big East has already garnered mention in this week’s Mini-Bracketology. So, it only makes sense to include Seton Hall, the conference leader (8-1 … one game over Villanova), as a robust 4-seed in the South.

Should the Pirates be a notch or two higher, with seeding?

Uh, maybe. But right now, when factoring in the most renowned metrics sites, Seton Hall has cracked the top 15 with only KenPom and Strength of Schedule quotient.

WEST

  1. Gonzaga (23-1)
  2. West Virginia (17-4)
  3. Arizona (15-6)
  4. Butler (17-5)
  5. Kentucky (17-5)

ANALYSIS

a) No. 2 Gonzaga (victories over Washington, Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon; top-3 rankings with ESPN’s BPI and the NCAA’s NET listing) can probably afford one West Coast Conference defeat (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 to mid-year returns in conference play have been seismic blowouts.

b) Oregon might be leading the Pac-12 after 10 games, but Arizona and Colorado have proffered better tallies with the major metrics sites.

Regarding the Wildcats, they boast top-10 rankings with ESPN’s BPI (7th), the NCAA’s NET listing (9th) and KenPom (10th).

With this momentum, it sets up a potential Sweet 16 encounter with West Virginia … and a possible rematch with Gonzaga in the West final.

c) We’re not ignoring Butler’s recent 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 17.

Here’s the main problem, though: There’s no way the Selection Committee would put Butler as a 2, 3 or 4 in the Midwest, given the Indianapolis location.

(It wouldn’t be fair to the higher-seeded schools, facing Butler in its hometown.)

In that vein, Los Angeles makes for the ideal regional destination.

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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