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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Projecting the NCAA tournament’s top 20 seeds, Version 8.0

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Kentucky boasts strong seasonal wins over Louisville, LSU, Michigan State, Texas Tech and Tennessee ... and yet, the 21-5 Wildcats haven't gotten much love from analytics sites.

BATSBY Sports offers its eighth deep dive into predicting the top 20 seeds for the NCAA basketball tournament (five per region), with conference action now heading for the home stretch.

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 20, 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 (26-0)
  2. Duke (22-4)
  3. Seton Hall (19-7)
  4. Penn State (20-6)
  5. Houston (21-6)

ANALYSIS

a) Next month, the NCAA Selection Committee cannot penalize Gonzaga and San Diego State (one combined defeat) … by placing both championship contenders in the same bracket.

Simply because both schools are located on the West Coast.

It wouldn’t be a prudent strategic move, especially in this Year of Basketball Parity.

Exhibit A: 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 round.

b) Duke currently rates No. 1 with ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, No. 5 in KenPom and No. 6 with the NCAA’s NET rankings.

As such, it would be a tough sell to drop the Blue Devils off the 2-line, even with Wednesday’s blowout loss to NC State.

c) For weeks, we’ve been touting the top-heavy Big East for its night-in, night-out excellence.

In that vein, it only makes sense to include conference leader Seton Hall (11-3, one game over Creighton) as a 3-seed.

(Can you imagine that Duke-Seton Hall clash at Madison Square Garden for the Sweet 16 round? Wow!)

On the flip side, the Pirates don’t rank higher than 14th in any of the Big Four metrics (KenPom, NCAA NET, ESPN’s BPI, Strength of Schedule) … suggesting they might be one bad defeat from the 4-line.

MIDWEST

  1. Kansas (23-3)
  2. Dayton (24-2)
  3. Florida State (22-4)
  4. Villanova (20-6)
  5. Michigan State (18-9)

ANALYSIS

a)  Let’s start with a minor humble-brag:

The top eight teams from the In-Season Selection Show on CBS (Feb. 8) along with the regional destinations for each school, were an exact match to BATSBY’s seed-projections from two weeks ago.

So, we’ve got that going for us … which is nice.

b) Does Kansas (losses to Duke, Baylor, Villanova) meet the proverbial Eye Test of a popular championship pick, 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, who travel to Baylor on Saturday, 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. Regardless of what happens in Waco.

c) 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 five viable options for the NCAA tournament (Dayton, St. Bonaventure, Duquesne, Rhode Island, Richmond).

d) 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.

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

Fortunately for (irrational) people like me, though, the national metrics experts remain firmly in the Spartans’ corner, given their brutal schedule and penchant for knocking off solid teams on the road (Seton Hall, Illinois, Minnesota).

For example, despite the 18-9 overall record, Michigan State stands no worse than 13th with KenPom, ESPN’s BPI, the NCAA’s NET and Strength of Schedule rankings.

Hence, the solid 5-seed in the highly competitive Midwest.

SOUTH

  1. Baylor (24-1)
  2. Maryland (22-4)
  3. Creighton (21-6)
  4. Kentucky (21-5)
  5. Colorado (21-5)

ANALYSIS

a) Good luck poking holes into Baylor’s argument for the No. 1 overall seed, come mid-March.

At this point, the Bears (23-game winning streak) 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 geographic 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.

b) Maryland absolutely warrants a spot on the 2-line, the result of posting nine straight victories and rocketing to the top of the Big Ten standings.

The only downside here: The Terrapins (ranked in the top 11 with KenPom, ESPN’s BPI, Strength of Schedule, the NCAA’s NET listing) could potentially be prime fodder for Baylor in the regional final, with the Bears possessing a massive home-area advantage (Houston’s Reliant Stadium).

c) Our love and appreciation for Creighton (No. 11 in the NCAA’s NET rankings) didn’t happen overnight, explaining why the Bluejays have reached the 3-line just once this season.

But better late than never here. Creighton has won eight of its last nine Big East outings, highlighted by road victories over Villanova, Seton Hall and Marquette … and its offensive-efficiency marks have few peers throughout the nation.

d) Kentucky (13-2 in its last 15 games) keeps making subtle improvements in the BATSBY Sports projections, which is fine.

However, the NCAA Selection Committee doesn’t share our admiration for the Wildcats, despite notching impressive wins over Louisville, Michigan State, LSU, Texas Tech, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia (twice).

What’s more, for a large chunk of time this season, Kentucky hasn’t cracked the top 20 for KenPom, the NCAA’s NET listing or ESPN’s BPI. Ouch.

WEST

  1. Gonzaga (27-1)
  2. Louisville (22-5)
  3. Arizona (19-7)
  4. West Virginia (19-7)
  5. Ohio State (17-9)

ANALYSIS

a) Gonzaga (victories over BYU, Washington, Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon; top-3 rankings with ESPN’s BPI, KenPom and the NCAA’s NET listing) can probably afford one West Coast Conference defeat (regular season or tournament) … 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 mid-year returns in conference play have been seismic blowouts.

b) Arizona boasts top-11 rankings with ESPN’s BPI (7th), the NCAA’s NET listing (7th) and KenPom (11th).

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

c) The biggest injustice of this exercise? It’s West Virginia being stuck with a 4-seed, despite the top-11 rankings with KenPom, ESPN’s BPI, the NCAA’s NET listing and Strength of Schedule quotient.

Our rationale: The recent three-game slide to Oklahoma, Kansas and Baylor can easily be forgiven come Tourney Time; but when charting West Virginia’s last five losses (including Kansas State and Texas Tech), the average margin of defeat was 11 points.

That’s a little troubling.

d) The decision for the final 5-seed came down a three-way battle among Ohio State, Texas Tech and Auburn.

And despite the nine seasonal losses, the Buckeyes still had the trio’s highest listing for KenPom (12th), ESPN’s BPI (12th) and Strength of Schedule (No. 5).

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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