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Bracketology: No. 1 Seed Battles, Bubble Chitchat
Right now, the four No. 1 seeds remain very much in the air.
Indiana is the closest to locking up a top seed. The Hoosiers are currently in first place in the Big Ten, and they have nothing to be ashamed of on their résumé. They have not lost to a team outside of the RPI Top 35 and their record vs. the Top 50 is 7-3. In games away from home, they are 8-2 with wins over Georgetown, Ohio State and Michigan State.
Gonzaga also has a great shot at earning a No. 1 seed. Right now, I project Gonzaga as the No. 1 seed in the West Region, and as long as they take care of business in the West Coast Conference that will not change. The Zags are 10-2 against the Top 100, 13-1 away from home (the only loss was at Butler on Roosevelt Jones’ miracle steal and buzzer-beater), and their non-conference strength of schedule ranks in the top 30. Look at who the Bulldogs have beaten on the road: Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Oklahoma and St. Mary’s. As long as Gonzaga finishes the regular season with wins over Brigham Young and Portland and then wins the WCC tournament, it will definitely be a No. 1 seed. Even with a loss in the WCC championship game, it would still have a shot.
Among the other contenders are Miami (FL), Kansas, Duke, Georgetown and Florida. Michigan, Michigan State and even New Mexico stand a chance if they get some big wins down the stretch.
Meanwhile, the bubble continues to be difficult to understand. Villanova’s last week has typified why this season is so wacky when it comes to picking those last few teams to make the field of 68; the Wildcats got a huge win over No. 17 Marquette, their fourth against the Top 50 and third against the top 25, but they followed that performance with a loss at Seton Hall. That was the second time this season a sub-100 team has defeated them.
For every good win a bubble team gets, it seems like there is an equally bad loss to counteract it.
Right now I have Villanova as the first team out of the NCAA tournament, but it feels weird to say the Wildcats have not yet done enough to make the Big Dance. Not many teams are considered “on the bubble” when they have three Top-25 wins, but one of the issues with Villanova’s résumé is that all of those wins came at home. They do have a top-50 win at Connecticut, but that is all they have done on the road. Overall, their record away from home is only 7-7.
The NCAA tournament is not played at home sites, so a team needs to prove that it can not only beat NCAA-tournament-quality teams, but that it can beat them on a neutral or road site.
Villanova will still have opportunities to win away from home. The Wildcats play at Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon, and then they have the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Two interesting teams that are new to the bubble are Tennessee and Arkansas, both from the SEC.
Tennessee struggled a lot early in the season, but the Volunteers have been great lately. They have won five in a row entering a huge game against Florida on Tuesday night, and they have four top-100 wins in the last month. They have only one sub-100 loss, but they still need to do more damage away from home before they can earn a bid. The Volunteers are 2-1 on neutral sties but 3-6 in true road games. Their only other chances for quality wins away from home will be in the SEC tournament.
Arkansas is still a long shot for the NCAA tournament because of how bad it has been on the road. Although the Razorbacks have four wins against the top 100, they all came at home. Their record in games away from home this season is a miserable 2-9. In order to make the NCAA tournament, they will have to beat LSU and Missouri on the road to end the regular season and then get one more quality win in the SEC tournament.
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