Moments after Stephen F. Austin made the play of the year to win at Duke, I jokingly tweeted that the NCAA selection committee should do away with No. 1 seeds this year. Because the four preseason choices — Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky and Kansas — have lost five times before the first turkey is carved, one can understand that line of thinking.
Unfortunately for in-the-moment bracketologists, it doesn’t work that way. Come Monday morning, yours truly and others will need four No. 1 seeds as a required part of the job. And, given the calendar, the process of making those determinations is probably more revealing than the actual selections.
First things first: SFA, current adrenaline rush notwithstanding, isn’t now and won’t be later a realistic candidate for an NCAA tournament at-large bid. The Lumberjacks face only one more top-100 opponent the rest of the season and can’t possibly build a successful at-large résumé. Fair or not, they are destined to fight it out with Sam Houston State and others for the lone bid from the Southland Conference.
Duke, on the other hand, like Kentucky after its home-court loss to Evansville, remains very much in play for a No. 1 seed. It’s a question of opportunity, and rarely are there programs with more of those chances than the likes of the Blue Devils or Wildcats.
But what about today? What if the committee had to render its verdict on tournament seeding on Thanksgiving instead of Selection Sunday?
My seed list, replicating the committee’s principles and procedures with each update, now looks like this, 1 through 10:
1. Louisville Cardinals (6-0, MW-1): The Cardinals would be No. 1 in both polls if voted today. While that shouldn’t matter, it does. They’ll have to get past talented Western Kentucky on Friday to hold the spot in Monday’s bracket.
2. Kansas Jayhawks (5-1, S-1): The Jayhawks lost by a bucket to Duke, costing them the No. 1 overall position at this point. Certainly a loss in the Maui Invitational championship game to Dayton would drop them off the top line entirely.
3. Virginia Cavaliers (6-0, E-1): The defending champions would be No. 1 on my ballot, having done the most to date. Presuming a win in a pre-turkey game against Maine, the Cavs take over the top seed in the East.
4. Gonzaga Bulldogs (6-0, W-1): It almost doesn’t matter for the Bulldogs, who are all but certain to begin their NCAA quest on Thursday, March 19, in Spokane. I could see the committee going with North Carolina here, but geography rules for the moment.
5. North Carolina Tar Heels (4-0, S-2): The Tar Heels have the best opportunity to move up this weekend. The Battle 4 Atlantis bracket could easily elevate them to the top line, or even No. 1 overall given the strength of the field.
6. Michigan State Spartans (4-2, MW-2): Provided the Spartans don’t lose again in Maui, they are a solid No. 2 seed. They get a chance to re-establish their No. 1 bona fides wen Duke comes to East Lansing for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge next week.
7. Duke Blue Devils (6-1, W-2): Duke’s upset loss is even worse than Kentucky’s, but the Blue Devils have neutral wins over Kansas and Georgetown. And I wouldn’t want to be Winthrop coming into Cameron Indoor on Friday.
8. Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0, E-2): The Buckeyes are the only team in the top 10 with what could be two Quad One wins (Cincinnati, Villanova). That gives them the last No. 2 seed position on our board.
9. Maryland Terrapins (5-0): The Terps can really help themselves at the Orlando Invitational. To date, Rhode Island is the only top-100 win on their resumé.
10. Kentucky Wildcats (5-1): Our most controversial placement is also the most easily supported. Since the opening night win over Michigan State, the Wildcats haven’t played any teams in the top half of Division I (and they lost to one of them). UK is more likely to get caught from behind this weekend than to move up, with Oregon being the leading candidate to leapfrog it.
In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving!