COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Projecting the NCAA tournament’s top 20 seeds, Version 9.0

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Vernon Carey and the Duke Blue Devils (23-5 overall) weren’t viable candidates for dropping to the 3-line, given the school’s elite-level rankings with analytics sites.

BATSBY Sports offers its ninth 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 27, 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 (27-1)
  2. Duke (23-5)
  3. Villanova (22-6)
  4. West Virginia (19-9)
  5. Oregon (22-7)

ANALYSIS

a) It’s little eerie that Gonzaga and San Diego State both lost on the same day last week … after incurring one combined defeat for the whole season, prior to the same-day setbacks.

But in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t do much to drop either school from the 1-line.

On the flip side, it’s worth noting that when charting ESPN’s College Basketball Index, the NCAA’s NET listing, the Strength of Schedule quotient and KenPom rankings — otherwise known as the Big Four analytics sites — Gonzaga maintained a top-2 slot for just one site (ESPN’s BPI).

And San Diego State rates no higher than fourth with any of the metrics.

b) Duke currently rates No. 3 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 last week’s blowout loss to NC State.

c) Villanova (five straight victories) has rebounded nicely from the three-game slide around the midseason point. The metrics sites hold a similarly favorable opinion of the Wildcats, placing the club squarely in the 12-16 range nationally.

Put it all together, and Villanova seems to be a strong bet for the New York regional, with a potential clash against Duke in the Sweet 16 round.

d) In this forum last week, we expressed some guilt about denying West Virginia a 3-seed in any region.

However, after back-to-back defeats to Texas and TCU — hardly the Big 12’s biggest, baddest powers — the Mountaineers should be eminently thrilled with the 4-slot.

e) Let’s welcome Oregon (22-7 overall, tied for 1st in the Pac-12) back into the Projections mix, the happy result of the Ducks’ most recent victories over Arizona and Oregon State.

Speaking of the Pac-12 race … can you believe that UCLA currently shares the conference penthouse with Oregon?

Just a few weeks ago, a well-connected acquaintance of mine openly wondered if new Bruins head coach Mick Cronin would be a one-and-done casualty in Westwood.

MIDWEST

  1. Kansas (25-3)
  2. Dayton (26-2)
  3. Florida State (24-4)
  4. Michigan State (19-9)
  5. Seton Hall (20-7)

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 three weeks ago.

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

b) Forget about Kansas’ three high-profile defeats to Baylor, Duke and Villanova. The Jayhawks’ revenge-fueled road upset of Baylor likely stands as the year’s most impressive national victory.

Here’s something else to celebrate: Kansas currently ranks No. 1 on all Big Four metrics sites — becoming the first school to accomplish the feat all season.

Bottom line: Kansas has essentially sewn up the top spot in the Midwest regional (Indianapolis); and at this pace, the Jayhawks are probably the favorites for the No. 1 overall seed on Selection Sunday.

c) Dayton ranks no lower than seventh overall with KenPom, ESPN’s BPI and the NCAA’s NET listing.

Plus, the Strength of Schedule trends should remain solid for March and Championship Week, 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, NC State, Georgia Tech, Louisville (twice) and Virginia, Florida State makes easy-peezy sense for a 3-seed.

In fact, the Seminoles might merit a spot on the 2-line, this time next week.

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 19-9 overall record, Michigan State stands no worse than 13th with KenPom, ESPN’s BPI, the NCAA’s NET and Strength of Schedule rankings.

f) There’s a simple explanation for Seton Hall’s drop to the 5-line, despite owning an outright lead in the Big East standings (12-3, one game ahead of Creighton and Villanova):

Charting ESPN’s BPI, the NCAA’s NET listing and KenPom, the Pirates have a cumulative national average of 19th overall.

SOUTH

  1. Baylor (25-2)
  2. Maryland (23-5)
  3. Creighton (22-6)
  4. Kentucky (23-5)
  5. BYU (23-7)

ANALYSIS

a) The top-seeded Bears still 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 walked the plank of potential embarrassment this week, staring at a 17-point deficit versus Minnesota and the prospect of back-to-back road defeats.

But then, one of the season’s most stunning last-minute comebacks occurred against the Gophers; and as a happy result, the uber-lucky Terrapins remain solid choices for a 2-seed … and the Big Ten regular-season title.

c) Our love and appreciation for Creighton (No. 8 in the NCAA’s NET rankings) didn’t happen overnight, explaining why the Bluejays have reached the 3-line only twice this season.

But late than never here. Creighton has won nine of its last 10 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 (15-2 in its last 17 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. Go figure.

e) It’s a simple proposition for BYU finally cracking this survey: Knocking off Gonzaga at home, and it’s NOT a major surprise … means the Cougars are on track for some Selection Sunday love from those building the brackets.

WEST

  1. Gonzaga (28-2)
  2. Arizona (19-9)
  3. Louisville (23-6)
  4. Ohio State (19-9)
  5. Texas Tech (18-10)

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) had enough seasonal clout to get thumped by BYU (on the road) and still claim the West’s top seed.

But we wouldn’t recommend any other regular-season/conference tournament defeats from this point forward.

b) The Oregon defeat aside, Arizona still boasts top-14 rankings with ESPN’s BPI (8th), the NCAA’s NET listing (11th) and KenPom.

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) Despite the nine seasonal losses, Ohio State still has prominent tallies with KenPom (8th), ESPN’s BPI (10th) and Strength of Schedule (No. 5).

With this metrics clout, the Buckeyes are now closer to the 3-line … than the 5-spot.

Not bad for a team that toiled through a 2-7 start in Big Ten play.

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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