With the college basketball season wrapping up and conference tournament time about to kick in, the NCAA Tournament picture should be getting more clear. That’s not happening. Just look at the very top. Who are the four #1 seeds?
Asking me to name my four top seeds right now, is like asking me to name which of my children is my favorite. The reality is…while their are plenty of options, none deserve the label, as I can find so much fault in all of them. Yet, I’m going to try.
EAST REGION – VIRGINIA
After getting their hearts Mola Ram’d by UMBC in the first-round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, no one would have blamed the Cavaliers if they spent the season rocking back and forth in the fetal position, as chants of “UMCA, UMCA!” danced in their heads. Yet once again, Tony Bennett continued to prove, while he’s playing chess, the rest are just throwing cats against the wall, wondering why they won’t stick.
Simply put, when you’re 28-0 against every team not named “Duke”, something is being done right. While Virginia’s non-conference schedule wasn’t exactly a row of murderers, thanks to a solid top-half of the ACC, they got 12 wins against Ken Pom’s top-50, including four out of their last six contests, three of which came on the road (Virginia Tech, Louisville, Syracuse).
WEST REGION – GONZAGA
The Zags are a lock for a top-seed, thanks to a 29-2 record, which features perfection in conference play. Yet, do they deserve to be? Here we have to get into the old “mid-major vs power conference” debate. Now I”m a big believer the tournament is better with more Cinderella stories, so if you got a solid mid-major fighting over a bubble spot with a team sitting at .500 or below in a power conference, I want the Lil’ Engines that Could. However, I don’t feel the same way about the top spots.
The reality is, while Gonzaga has faced just five teams among the top-50 in Ken Pom’s Ratings, most of the other teams in this conversation have double-digit wins over that same top-50. Heck, one of those teams that the Bulldogs haas faced is conference rivals, St. Mary’s, who will be enjoying the NCAA Tournament the same way as me, by watching it on television. Take out the Gaels and you’re left with a 2-2 record against the top-50.
But Mr. Shirtless, Gonzaga passes the eye test, right…ask the straw man I just created. The answer to my own question…I can’t be so certain. When was the last time anyone who wasn’t a fan or doesn’t get paid to watch basketball, actually have their eyes on the Zags in a meaningful game?
Their resume consists of railroading a one-bid West Coast Conference and a two-point victory over Duke, in a game where R.J. Barrett forget he had teammates in the final two minutes. Don’t get me wrong, they’re the only team to take down the Devils at full strength, but I once hooked up with a hot cheerleader; that doesn’t make me Leonardo DiCaprio.
MIDWEST – MICHIGAN STATE
While the ACC, much like Charlotte McKinney, is top heavy, the Big Ten, is arguable the deepest of them all. Barring a bunch of bubble busting upsets next week, the league should send eight solid teams to the tournament (Sorry, Indiana).
Head coach Tom Izzo, like a rash that can’t be scratched away, has his squad once again out performing my expectations, finishing tied for first with Purdue. They did this despite the fact they faced off against 20 (Yep, 20) of Ken Pom’s top-50. That’s many. They managed to win 15 of those games, which is also a large number.
Now if you’re a nitpicker, let’s do some nitpicking. Half of those top-50 teams were ranked between 40th and 50th, so it’s not like the Spartans were playing the best of the best of the best. In fact, their only win against a team currently ranked in the top-10 in Kenny’s rankings was against Michigan (twice).
SOUTH REGION – NORTH CAROLINA
What I like about the Tar Heels are their 11 wins against Pom’s top-50 and the fact they’ve won fourteen of their last fifteen. Yeah, I know the committee says they don’t play “what have you done for me lately,” but I find that as believable as the relationship in the film, Green Book. On top of that, I also like the fact that the Tar Heels don’t have a bad loss on their resume. Sure, they lost to Texas and the Longhorns are not going to the tournament, but they are ranked 27th in Ken Pom and I have a thing for Kenny.
Still, the South Region is wide open. If the Tar Heels lose to a Zion-led Duke team this coming Friday in the ACC Tournament, they will drop back to the 2-line, opening the door for…
JUST MISSED THE CUT
I know they’re playing without Zion Williams and Marques Bolden just injured his knee and they’ve lost just once with a complete roster, but let’s face it, you need to win with the roster you have. The Blue Devils have dropped three of six and would have lost to lowly Wake Forest if it wasn’t for some serious rim voodoo. To get past Carolina and the winner of the SEC tournament for a top seed, Duke will need to win the ACC Tournament.
KENTUCKY – TENNESSEE
First, let’s get the black sheep out of the way…LSU officially won the SEC regular season title, but even with a SEC Tournament victory, I don’t see the Tigers getting a top line. Fact is, they’re head coach never saw Goodfellas and is now suspended, they lucked out by having to only play both Kentucky and Tennessee once during the regular season and lastly, their non-conference schedule was laughable. So, no.
If I had to put a SEC team on the top line, I’d have to go with the Wildcats, who have a more impressive resume outside the conference with wins over Kansas, North Carolina and Louisville, although the Volunteers also have a W over the Cardinals, plus a win over Gonzaga. It’s tight, so if either is able to take home a SEC tournament crown, then they could sneak into the top spot if both the Tar Heels and Blue Devils fail to win the ACC tourney.
The fact is, if the Wolverines could have split their season series with Michigan State, they would probably be the top dog in the midwest. For now, they’ll have to settle for a two-seed.. Still, earn a Big Ten tournament title, which hopefully will include a win over the Spartans, and I can see Michigan sneaking into a top spot.
The Red Raiders deserve massive props for becoming the first team not named Kansas to win the Big 12 regular season title since I was last scoping out chicks on MySpace, yet I don’t see a scenario where Texas Tech gets one of the top four seeds. The fact is, this is a team that didn’t earn their first win over a Ken Pom top-40 team until January 5 of this year. This is a team that’s signature win in non-conference play was a victory over 15-loss Nebraska. Not good enough.