Who deserves NCAA number 1 seeds?


Each year as the college basketball regular season ends and we head into what now is known as “championship week” everyone seems to debate over which teams deserve the NCAA number 1 seed in the tournament. This year is no different.

The NCAA tournament committee has no easy task as it sifts through the massive amount of data that goes to eventually determining the teams chosen on “Selection Sunday”. The fact is though that only one time since the tournament has expanded to the field of 64 and now 68 (with the play in games) have all four #1 seeds made it ultimately to the Final Four. This year the list consists of roughly seven teams vying for the one seeds. The teams most mentioned include Kentucky, Virginia, Duke, Wisconsin, Villanova, Kansas, Arizona and Gonzaga.

Overall these teams have each had highly successful regular seasons and as they gear towards their respective conference championship tournaments they all will be favored to win. However, when the committee selects the four that will receive the one seeds eventually there are some glaring observations that must be realized.

Today, ranking systems and analytics become key components in determining not only the number 1 seeds but the at large selections in the tournament field. Whether KenPom or RPI or BPI is used or favored in any way is irrelevant but if we use such analytics let’s look at who realistically should be the 1 seeds. First let’s agree that Kentucky has by virtue of its regular season and no matter the outcome of the SEC tournament locked up a one seed for the tournament.  Then there is both Duke and Virginia. Of course they both play in the ACC and Duke has beaten Virginia during the regular season. However, even if both teams make the conference tournament final one of them must lose and as the saying goes “to victory goes the spoils”. In addition the ACC if using the RPI has 15 teams and the average RPI ranking of the top ten league teams is 40.9. In the case of the others, Wisconsin and the Big10 (14 teams, top ten RPI average 47.3), Arizona and the PAC12 (12 teams, top ten 69.7), Kansas and the Big12 (10 teams, average RPI 54.3), Gonzaga and the WCC (10 teams, average RPI 143.3) and Villanova of the Big East (10 teams, average RPI 70.5).

More than anything should be quality of opponents that make up the bulk of a team’s regular season opponents. All of the above have played significant opponents outside of their conference schedules but it is very difficult to consider as one seeds of the tournament any team from a conference that has played a bulk of games throughout the year versus low ranking conference foes versus those that have not. You would expect more upsets in conferences such as the ACC, the Big10 and Big12 as these conferences overall have more quality teams, analytically speaking.

So who and under what conditions should the number 1 seeds emerge. As mentioned certainly Kentucky is a one seed and if continuing to win the overall one seed is all but certain. It is hard to imagine Kentucky even if they do not win the SEC tournament upcoming not being the overall number 1.

Then there is Duke and Virginia. If they meet in the ACC championship then the winner gets the second number one seed. We will get to the loser in a second. The third number one is Wisconsin if winning the Big10 championship. The fourth number one would be Kansas if winning the Big12. In the case of both teams the only knock on Wisconsin is its upset during the year at Rutgers but it played without its star and on the road. As for Kansas only its loss to Kansas State is a loss to a team that most likely will not play in a post season tournament.

As for Villanova, Gonzaga and Arizona, all are looking from the outside along with the Virginia or Duke loser.

So let’s play. Assuming all win out as mentioned by winning their respective conference tournaments above:

#1 seeds: Kentucky (1), Duke or Virginia (2), Wisconsin (3), Kansas (4)

#2 seeds: Duke or Virginia (5), Arizona (6), Villanova (7), Gonzaga (8)

What happens if either Wisconsin or Kansas falters but Arizona and Villanova win their respective conference tournaments?

#1 seeds: Kentucky (1), Duke or Virginia (2) Arizona (3) Villanova (4)

#2 seeds: Duke or Virginia (5), Wisconsin (6), Kansas (7) Gonzaga (8)

In conclusion, as championship week in college basketball takes the country by storm, some conference champions have been anointed, so congratulations to the University of North Florida in obtaining their first automatic bid ever to the “Big Dance”. Congratulations to both Coastal Carolina and Belmont who also have secured their conferences auto bid with their victories and in the process proved once again that “March Madness” is aptly named as neither were the number one seeds heading into their respective conferences tournament. Finally, to Northern Iowa that offered so many “bubble teams” a sigh of relief when they came back from an 18 point deficit to win the Missouri Valley title and limited in the process the MVC from becoming a three bid league.