What will the committee do with five worthy contenders for remaining three spots on the top line of the 2015 NCAA Tournament bracket?
While it’s clear that the Kentucky Wildcats will be the No. 1 overall seed in tonight’s real bracket — no matter what they do against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament final (1 p.m. ET, ESPN) — the race for the other three positions has become complicated, thanks in part to the results of the past two nights.
On Friday night, both of the ACC’s contenders — Duke and Virginia– fell in the semifinals in Greensboro, but to teams likely to find themselves among the group of 16 protected seeds. Then on Saturday night, Villanova romped past Xavier to win the Big East Tournament in New York, and Arizona put on a show in steamrolling Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament championship in Las Vegas. Both teams completed championship doubles with the result. Considering the Big Ten Tournament championship game — featuring Wisconsin, a team that can also complete a double — won’t conclude until just before the final, the Badgers’ result against Michigan State (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS) might lead to late scrambling in Indianapolis.
After a look at Selection Sunday morning’s bracket and rundown, which gives away my answer to my projected top four seeds, I’ll break down the contenders in a far more detailed manner.
|Louisville (Thu/Sat)||Pittsburgh (Thu/Sat)|
|1||Kentucky (SEC)||1||VILLANOVA (Big East)|
|16||HAMPTON /ROBERT MORRIS||16||COASTAL CAROLINA (Big South)|
|8||Dayton (A 10)||↑ 8 88||Cincinnati|
|↑ 9||N.C. State||9||Ohio State|
|Columbus (Fri/Sun)||Jacksonville (Thu/Sat)|
|5||SMU (AAC)||5||West Virginia|
|*12||BUFFALO (MAC)||↑ 122||WOFFORD (SoCon)|
|*13||EASTERN WASHINGTON (Big Sky)||↓ 13||VALPARAISO (Horizon)|
|Columbus (Fri/Sun)||Pittsburgh (Thu/Sat)|
|11||Ole Miss/Texas||*11||WYOMING (MW)|
|3||NOTRE DAME (ACC)||3||Maryland|
|14||NORTH DAKOTA STATE (Summit)||14||NORTHEASTERN (CAA)|
|Omaha (Fri/Sun)||Omaha (Fri/Sun)|
|10||Oklahoma State||↓ 10||Colorado State|
|2||Wisconsin (Big Ten)||2||Kansas|
|15||TEXAS SOUTHERN (SWAC)||15||ALBANY (AE)|
Los Angeles (Thu/Sat)
|Charlotte (Fri/Sun)||Charlotte (Fri/Sun)|
|↓ 16||LAFAYETTE (Patriot)||16||MANHATTAN/NORTH FLORIDA|
|↓ 8||San Diego State||8||Iowa|
|Portland (Thu/Sat)||Seattle (Fri/Sun)|
|↓ 12||Indiana||12||STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (Southland)|
|4||NORTHERN IOWA (MVC)||4||Arkansas|
|13||Georgia State (Sun Belt)||13||HARVARD (Ivy)|
|Jacksonville (Thu/Sat)||Louisville (Thu/Sat)|
|↑ 6||Michigan State||6||Utah|
|3||Baylor||3||IOWA STATE (Big 12)|
|14||UC IRVINE (Big West)||*14||UAB (C-USA)|
|Portland (Thu/Sat)||Seattle (Fri/Sun)|
|↓ 10||Davidson||10||Boise State|
|2||ARIZONA (Pac-12)||2||GONZAGA (WCC)|
|↓ 15||NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)||15||BELMONT (OVC)|
|FIRST FOUR (Dayton)|
|Tuesday: To Louisville||Tuesday: To Louisville|
|16||ROBERT MORRIS (NEC)||11||Temple|
|Wednesday: To Charlotte||Wednesday: To Columbus
|16||MANHATTAN (MAAC)||↑ 11||Ole Miss|
|16||NORTH FLORIDA (A-Sun)||↑ 11||Texas|
* = new team
|BIDS BY CONFERENCE||AVOIDING DAYTON||ARRIVALS||DEPARTURES|
|Big 12: 7||Davidson||Buffalo||Central Michigan|
|Big Ten: 7||Boise State||Eastern Washington||Delaware State|
|Big East: 6||BYU||Wyoming||Montana|
|MW: 4||LAST FOUR IN|
|A 10: 3||Ole Miss|
|MVC: 2||FIRST FOUR OUT|
|One-Bid Conferences: 21||Miami|
|NEXT FOUR OUT|
Also considered (in rank order): Stanford, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Iona, Louisiana Tech, Murray State, Green Bay
Note that I switched Indiana’s position with one of the First Four games for bracket integrity purposes, with a pair of Big Ten teams in a 3 and 6 seed pod.
As I’ve written previously, the Selection Committee respects championships when seeding teams, even at the top. Updating the numbers in that piece a bit, since 2008, 17 teams have claimed both a share of a regular season championship and a league tournament title in a traditional power conference. And of those 17 squads, 14 went on to earn a No. 1 seed — the only exceptions were 2008 Wisconsin (a No. 3 seed), 2010 Ohio State (a No. 2) and 2013 Miami (yet another No. 2). A share of a regular season crown helps considerably, as well, as 25 of the 28 top seeds in the past seven seasons have gone to teams that earned at least that honor.
Plus, if you go back through the seeded era of the NCAA Tournament, which began in 1979, only 10 of a possible 148 top seeds were granted to teams selected without a conference title of any sort, and half that total went to DePaul (four) and Notre Dame (one) back in the days when independents not named NJIT roamed the earth, and two more came in the Big East’s monster year of 2009.
But let’s take a look at how the five contenders for the three spots stack up.
Going by the eye test, I’d rate the teams in this order: Wisconsin, Arizona, Virginia, Duke and Villanova. But this test likely plays a limited role in the committee room.
Based on trophies won, the list looks like this: Villanova and Arizona (2), Wisconsin (1, with 2 possible), Virginia (1) and Duke (none).
Using our old frenemy the RPI, the order is Villanova (3), Wisconsin (4), Duke (5), Arizona (6) and Virginia (7).
Now let’s look at how the teams fared against quality opposition.
- Villanova has a 13-1 mark against the RPI top 50 — the best out of this group — with five top-25 victories. However, the Wildcats’ best wins are over No. 16 VCU and No. 23 Providence (three times). Nova split a pair of meetings with Georgetown.
- Wisconsin won 10 of the 12 games it played against the top 50, with another on the way today, with a 3-2 mark against the top 25, with today’s result against No. 22 Michigan State changing that total, for better or worse. The two losses came against Duke at home and Maryland on the road. That means the Badgers’ three best wins came against Georgetown and Oklahoma in the Battle for Atlantis and the Spartans in conference.
- Duke picked up 10 top-50 wins in 13 opportunities, with seven of those coming against the top 25, including road wins at Wisconsin and Virginia. The Blue Devils also won at North Carolina and Louisville, but dropped two of three decisions to Notre Dame.
- Arizona closed its account with a perfect 9-0 record against this group, but a home win over Gonzaga and sweep of Utah are its only top-25 triumphs.
- Virginia went 8-3 against the top 50, which is the worst mark of the group, but all three losses came against teams in the top 25, and the Cavaliers four best wins (UNC, Maryland, Notre Dame and VCU) all came away from Charlottesville.
That’s a nice segue into road/neutral records, where Villanova (16-2, .889) leads the way, followed by Wisconsin (15-2, .882, with a chance to tie Nova today), Virginia (14-2, .875) and then Arizona and Duke (both 14-3, .824). However, Virginia’s and Duke’s road wins stand out, in particular. Wisconsin’s best true road wins came at Ohio State (38th) and Iowa (41st), while Villanova’s came at Providence (23rd) and Georgetown (24th). That’s not quite what both Duke and Virginia managed, though a top-heavy ACC helped.
With the committee caring about how the teams scheduled in the non-conference, that looks to be another worthy place of examination.
- Wisconsin leads the way with a 13th-ranked schedule, bolstered by the Battle 4 Atlantis, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against Duke and home games with Buffalo and Boise State. Of those games, the Badgers only fell to the Blue Devils.
- Duke is 26th, with road wins over Wisconsin and St. John’s Red Storm, and neutral-site triumphs over Michigan State and Temple pushing the Blue Devils to a 4-0 record against top-50 opponents from outside of the ACC.
- Virginia, meanwhile, is somehow at 37th, despite a woeful Barclays Center Classic field. The Cavaliers swept their three games against teams that managed in the top 50, VCU and Maryland on the road and Davidson in Charlottesville.
- Arizona ranks 44th, but only two of their non-league wins came against the top 50, a home win over Gonzaga and a Maui Invitational championship victory over San Diego State.
- Villanova sits at 46th, with neutral site games against VCU, Michigan and Illinois the highlights, but victories over the Rams and Big Five rival Temple were the only top-50 non-league wins the Wildcats picked up.
Finally, let’s look at the losses this quintet picked up.
- As I mentioned above, Virginia is the only team of the trio to avoid a truly questionable loss, dropping three games to top-25 opposition, the worst being a two-point setback at 21st-ranked Louisville.
- Villanova lost at Georgetown (24th), which is respectable, and at Seton Hall (92nd), a result that looks far worse than it did on Jan. 3.
- Duke lost to Notre Dame twice, which is fine, since the Irish are a top-25 team, but a home loss to Miami and road defeat at North Carolina State don’t look so great.
- Wisconsin lost to No. 5 Duke and No. 12 Maryland, the latter on the road, but also at 176th-ranked Rutgers, which is by far the worst loss this group experienced. However, Frank Kaminsky missed the game with a concussion and Traevon Jackson broke his foot during the game. The Committee will weigh their absences when looking at a five-point road loss. But, given how the Scarlet Knights played for most of this season, shouldn’t the Badgers have won that game anyway?
- Arizona dropped three road games to Arizona State (98th), UNLV (122nd) and Oregon State (129th). Enough said.
With those results in mind, we can eliminate Arizona from the picture. The Wildcats have that trio of road losses and don’t have the quality wins to match the remaining four teams.
That leaves us with Duke, Villanova, Virginia and Wisconsin. If the committee continues to respect championships, the Blue Devils should be eliminated. However, Virginia’s unofficial ACC regular season crown is bolstered by eight wins against teams from outside of the top 100, including a pair over in-state rival Virginia Tech, which sits outside the top 200. Duke played one less game against such opposition, and only one against the Hokies. That complicates matters slightly, especially since Duke got a few more cracks against top-75 opposition in league play (12 to 10), which damaged its record (thanks to those losses to N.C. State and Miami) but boosted its RPI a bit.
Villanova didn’t get to play any of the other contenders, while Duke went 2-0 — winning both on the road — leaving Wisconsin and Virginia at 0-1. But a one-game sample does not make a season.
As you can see, this is a very difficult decision for the Selection Committee. Right now, I’m going to keep Villanova, Virginia and Duke on the top line. Those are the teams that have the most impressive profiles overall. Wisconsin’s lack of top-25 wins and that loss to Rutgers, even if it was shorthanded, are factors working against the Badgers.
Might a Big Ten double change that? Possibly. You’ll have to wait for my final update, which will arrive just before the Selection Show and after a final scrub of the seed list, to know for sure. Keep in mind that Connecticut could also cost a bubble team its spot if it defeats SMU in the American final in Hartford (3:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).