COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Projecting the NCAA tournament’s top 20 seeds, Version 1.0

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Just 11 games into the 2019-2020 season, both Duke and Kansas are projected to earn No. 1 regional seeds for the NCAA tournament.

BATSBY Sports offers its first deep dive into predicting the top 20 seeds for the NCAA basketball tournament (five per region), with essentially one week of non-conference action remaining.

It’s worth noting: Our projections aren’t necessarily focused on the power rankings of the 20 schools.

Rather, we’re taking certain liberties 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.

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 (10-1)
  2. Oregon (10-2)
  3. Maryland (10-2)
  4. Auburn (11-0)
  5. Michigan (9-3)

ANALYSIS

a) Duke projects to be an easy-peezy option for the Selection Committee, in terms of commandeering a top regional seed … and playing opening-weekend host in nearby Greensboro.

Right now, the Blue Devils rate first with ESPN’s Basketball Power Index and second overall with KenPom’s 2020 rankings.

b) Oregon has proffered a great resume in the first two months, enjoying top-25 victories over Memphis, Seton Hall and enduring close defeats to North Carolina (with Cole Anthony in the lineup) and Gonzaga.

Speaking of which, the tourney committee might shy away from a potential Gonzaga-Oregon rematch in the West final, even though it would be on a neutral court (Staples Center).

Hence, the Ducks opening tourney play along the West Coast (Sacramento or Spokane) … before flying cross country to New York City for the East regional (if they advance).

c) It’s OK for Big Ten powers Maryland and Michigan to collect top-5 seeds in the same regional, provided there’s no chance of meeting until the final round.

d) Auburn’s the only top-15 KenPom team with an unblemished record; but then again, we would expect nothing less from an eminently doable schedule which includes Colgate, Richmond, Furman, Lehigh, New Mexico … and North Carolina State.

MIDWEST

  1. Ohio State (11-1)
  2. Butler (11-1)
  3. Memphis (10-1)
  4. Villanova (9-2)
  5. Florida State (10-2)

ANALYSIS

a) For my money, Ohio State has the nation’s best early resume — the culmination of having star power, solid depth, great coaching and a penchant for imposing their defensive will onto the opposition.

Put it all together, and the Buckeyes should be strong favorites to corral the No. 1 overall seed and a super-convenient destination for opening weekend (Cleveland).

b) This might be Butler’s best team of the last 10 years, which is saying a lot.

The Bulldogs recently went 6-1 from a daunting stretch that included Missouri, Stanford, Ole Miss, Florida, Purdue and Baylor (the lone defeat). Hence, the top-10 rankings with the KenPom and BPI charts.

The only problem here: The Selection Committee might resist the urge of putting Butler in the Indianapolis regional, if the Bulldogs don’t possess the top seed.

c) It’s hard to project Memphis’ seed potential in late December, knowing freshman James Wiseman — a potential No. 1 pick next summer — has permanently left school to focus on the NBA draft.

SOUTH

  1. Kansas (9-2)
  2. Louisville (11-1)
  3. Memphis (10-1)
  4. Arizona (10-3)
  5. Dayton (10-2)

ANALYSIS

a) This might be the most evenly matched quintet of the bunch, with Kansas, Michigan State and Louisville previously sitting No. 1 in the Associated Press poll … and Arizona and Dayton being solid dark horses for the Final Four.

b) Just like Ohio State in the Midwest, an elite-level Kansas team should have no problems garnering placement into the Omaha sub-regional.

c) The opening-week destinations for Michigan State and Louisville should be interesting:

Both schools could anchor the St. Louis, Tampa or Albany sites; or the Selection Committee could favor placing the Spartans and Cardinals in Cleveland and Greensboro, respectively, creating powerhouse doubleheaders with Ohio State and Duke.

WEST

  1. Gonzaga (13-1)
  2. Baylor (9-1)
  3. Kentucky (8-3)
  4. San Diego State (12-0)
  5. Virginia (9-2)

ANALYSIS

a) Gonzaga (victories over Washington, Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon; top-6 rankings with KenPom and BPI charts) currently sits atop the Associated Press poll, meaning the Zags can probably afford one or two West Coast Conference defeats (regular season) … and still earn the West’s top seed in mid-March.

b) Could this be the year Baylor sheds its tourney ‘underachiever’ label and reaches the Final Four?

So far, so good for the No. 7 Bears (AP poll), who already claim signature wins over Arizona, Butler, Washington and Villanova.

c) It’s been an up-and-down campaign for Kentucky, which has already knocked off a No. 1 team (Michigan State), got booted from the No. 1 perch a week later (courtesy of Evansville) and has flirted with getting dropped from the AP Top 25 altogether.

But alas, we’re supremely confident about the Wildcats’ chances for success during SEC play, along with this Saturday’s showdown against No. 3 Louisville.

d) Go ahead and shortchange San Diego State’s seasonal resume, at your own peril.

The undefeated Aztecs hold top-20 rankings with the KenPom and BPI charts, the result of posting double-digit victories over Iowa, Creighton and Utah.

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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