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Inside the Bracket: No. 1 seed contenders …

Welcome to Bracketville

Selection Sunday is quickly approaching.  While the bottom of the bracket remains highly volatile, the No. 1 seed contenders are taking shape.  We have four front-runners with eight total teams remain in the hunt.  Keep in mind that a team’s entire body of work is examined by the Selection Committee.  So one good week in early March isn’t justification for a No. 1 seed.  Here’s a look at the contenders …

Ohio State - The Buckeyes are a lock.  OSU could potentially lose its spot in the East Region, but I can’t imagine a scenario in which the Buckeyes fall off the top line.  OSU’s only two losses are at Wisconsin and at Purdue – both are in line for top-three seeds.  The Buckeyes are 15-2 vs. the RPI Top 100 and beat Florida and Florida State on the road.

Pittsburgh - The Panthers lead the Big East and have been very consistent throughout the season.  Pitt also has a non-conference victory over Texas on its resume and six Top 25 RPI wins.  While not yet a lock, the Panthers control their path to a top seed in the East or Southeast.  They may not have to win the Big East Tournament title, but they do need to avoid back-to-back losses to end the season.   Their worst loss is Tennessee (neutral court).

Kansas - Kansas sits at No. 1 in the RPI (for what that’s worth) and has 17 wins vs. Top 100 teams – best in the nation.  The Jayhawks also own the inside track to a Big 12 regular-season title.  Why is Kansas not a lock?  Only because there is the potential to be bumped should they lose a couple of games this next week and other teams below them excel.  Kansas’ losses are to Texas at home and Kansas State on the road.

Duke – The Blue Devils close their regular season at North Carolina.  A victory would give them the outright ACC title.  A loss would leave Duke tied with Carolina pending the ACC Tournament.  While Duke’s overall body of work is better to this point, if the Blue Devils were to lose twice to UNC in the next week, their odds to stay on the top line would certainly diminish.  Duke is 14-3 vs. the Top 100.  It’s best non-conference wins are Kansas State and Temple.

Notre Dame - The Irish will need some help, but could make strong case if they continue to win and reach the Big East Tournament title game.  Notre Dame has six Top 25 RPI wins and beat Pittsburgh on the road.  A 4-4 road record could hold the Irish back, but they have enough quality wins to push the leaders. Outside the Big East, Notre Dame beat Wisconsin, Georgia, and Gonzaga.

Purdue – Like Notre Dame, Purdue needs help and would likely need to beat Ohio State (again) in the Big Ten Tournament.   The Boilers split with the Buckeyes in the regular season.  Purdue is 10-2 in its last 12 games and few teams are playing better. The Boilers are 15-5 vs. the Top 100 and are 7-4 in true road games.  Outside the Big Ten, however, Purdue’s best wins are Virginia Tech and Oakland.  They lost at West Virginia.

Texas – The Longhorns have certainly hurt their chances in recent days, but aren’t out of the equation just yet.  If Texas were to win this weekend and claim the Big 12 Tournament title – beating Kansas again – the Longhorns would be in the discussion.  A lot would depend on what else happens around them.  Texas beat North Carolina and Illinois outside the Big 12, and lost close games to Pittsburgh and Connecticut. 

BYU - The loss of Brandon Davies – and the subsequent lopsided home loss to New Mexico – have certainly damaged the Cougars’ chances.  If BYU can pull it together and win out – including the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas - they’ll still have a shot.  The Selection Committee is re-evaluating BYU based on how it performs in its remaining games.  The Cougars have to represent well because a key component of their team that compiled 13 Top 100 wins is missing.

That’s a look at where we stand heading into Championship Week.  Stay tuned for some great hoops.

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