Inside the Bracket: No. 1 seeds and Quick Takes from Saturday
When a new bracket appears on Monday, Kentucky, Syracuse, and Ohio State will remain as No. 1 seeds. Yes, Syracuse lost at Notre Dame on Saturday, but the Orange were not headed to the NCAAs with a perfect record. That’s unrealistic when you play in a Top 10 RPI conference. It’s more likely that Syracuse will have two or three losses by Selection Sunday. If that’s the case, SU could/should be a No. 1 seed. The question: Which teams are currently in the hunt for the final No. 1 seed? Data comes from collegerpi.com.
The best candidates right now are Duke and three teams from the Big 12: Missouri, Kansas, and Baylor. Some people will point at Duke’s home loss to Florida State and discard the Blue Devils. Just keep in mind that Duke is 4-2 vs. Top 25 RPI teams – including non-conference wins over Michigan State and Kansas. The Blue Devils have also beaten Michigan, Virginia, and Davidson – a team that won at Kansas – and boast the nation’s No. 1 strength-of-schedule. Duke may or may not be one of the best four teams, but the Blue Devils’ overall resume is still pretty strong. We’ve seen it before: if Duke wins both an ACC league and/or ACC tournament title, the Blue Devils could again be a top seed.
Missouri boasts an impressive 18-1 record and is coming off a strong road victory at Baylor. By comparison, the Tigers’ are 2-0 against Top 25 (RPI) teams and 3-1 vs. the Top 50. Missouri’s best additional wins: Illinois, California, Iowa State, and Texas. Of those, only Illinois is a confident NCAA pick at this juncture. As a footnote: Missouri’s non-conference SOS ranks No. 260 – Duke’s non-conference SOS is No. 3
Kansas leads the Big 12 and dominated Baylor in Lawrence. KU still plays Missouri twice, so that will be a huge factor in the final analysis. The Jayhawks are 5-3 vs. Top 50 teams and 8-3 vs. the Top 100. That ties them with Duke (and a few others) for the most Top 100 wins, and is only behind Syracuse (10 Top 100 wins). KU’s losses are on neutral courts to Duke and Kentucky, plus a home loss to Davidson. The Jayhawks have wins over Baylor, Ohio State (no Jared Sullinger), Georgetown, and Kansas State. Those are four tournament level teams.
Baylor had a tough schedule this past week, visiting Kansas and hosting Missouri. A split (road/home) would have been expected. Instead, Baylor lost both and is now two-games back of Kansas. Overall, Baylor is 7-1 away from home and 4-1 in true road games. Those are strong numbers. Road wins include Kansas State, Northwestern (by 27), and BYU. There are questions about Baylor’s ability to win physical games, but the Bears’ resume to date remains impressive. Their only losses are to teams mentioned here as potential No. 1 seeds.
As the ACC and Big 12 seasons progress, these comparisons will become more clear. The list of other potential No. 1 seeds at this juncture is unclear. If North Carolina were to run through the rest of its ACC slate, beat Duke twice and win the ACC tournament, the Tar Heels would still be in the picture. But they are closer to a 3-seed right now than a 1-seed.
Quick Takes …
Michigan and Arkansas both have issues away from home. After a sizzling start, the Razorbacks held off the Wolverines in Fayetteville on Saturday. The loss dropped Michigan to 1-4 in true road games (win was at Oakland). Arkansas is 0-4 in games away from home; the Hogs have played no neutral-court games. There’s almost no way Arkansas will be an NCAA team without changing its road status. Especially with a non-conference SOS ranked No. 245.
No team helped its NCAA resume more in eight days than Florida State – beating UNC by 33, taking care of Maryland at home, and then winning at Duke on Saturday. This is the same team that lost at home to Princeton, to Harvard (Bahamas), and at Clemson by 20 points. The question is, can FSU keep momentum by winning at Wake Forest and taking care of Georgia Tech in its next two games? A great week certainly bumped Florida State off the bubble, but the Seminoles can’t just assume they’ve done enough and be average (or worse) down the stretch.
Connecticut has lost 4 of 6 games after falling at Tennessee on Saturday. This after a loss at home to Cincinnati and on the road at Rutgers. The Huskies are an NCAA team, but seeding status remains a question mark. UConn could be one of those teams talented enough to make a run and inconsistent enough to make a quick exit.
New Mexico lost at UNLV and failed to beat either Mountain West frontrunner in a span of three days. When you consider that the Lobos’ best wins are St. Louis, Wyoming, and Missouri State, there are certainly questions about their NCAA status. The good news: New Mexico gets another shot about both UNLV and San Diego State. Going 0-4 against those teams could be problematic.
Mississippi State got a huge road victory at Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs previous best road victory was at Detroit. Victories away from home always hold more weight. The victory moved MSU to 3-2 in the SEC and four of the Bulldogs’ next five games are at home.
Middle Tennessee State owns a two-game lead in the Sun Belt after Denver lost at North Texas. The Blue Raiders are 18-2 with non-conference wins over UCLA, Mississippi, Akron, and Belmont. At 18-2, MTSU’s two losses are to Belmont and UAB. A big game looms at Vanderbilt on January 28. Pull off an upset, win the Sun Belt title in strong fashion, and reaching the conference tournament title game would be enough to keep Middle Tennessee in the at-large picture. Resume issues include a non-conference SOS of 215 and 15 (of 18) current wins against teams ranked 100 or higher in the RPI. As for Denver, the loss at North Texas hurts the Pioneers, who probably need a regular-season title for any realistic at-large hopes.
Nevada will enter Monday’s bracket as the new WAC favorite. The Wolfpack’s best win, however is at home over Washington. At 14-3, Nevada is worth watching, but it’s hard to think Nevada could earn an at-large right now. It will take a regular-season WAC title and continued strong play for that to happen. Losses are to UNLV, BYU, and Missouri State. Nevada has just one Top 100 RPI win.
Wyoming is also 14-3 and has wins over Colorado State and Colorado. The Mountain West will provide more opportunities than Nevada has in the WAC. But a No. 322 non-conference SOS could be too much to overcome without some serious wins down the stretch. A loss to New Mexico at home isn’t helping – considering UNM was beated by both San Diego State and UNLV this past week. Wyoming has a whopping 9 wins against teams ranked 200-higher in the RPI.
Enjoy the hoops and thanks for going Inside the Bracket.