The NCAA Selection Committee will reveal their Top 16 teams on Saturday at 12:30 on CBS. These are not the final Top 16 teams, but those who see their names pop up can take comfort that no one who has previously appeared in a mid-season Top 16 has missed an NCAA Tournament. That said, the results over the next month will have a major impact on seeding ordering, so these rankings should be taken for what they are – a snapshot in time.
Here are my predictions for which teams will be in the Selection Committee’s Top 16 rankings when they are revealed on Saturday. Keep an eye on the Steel City Blitz Bracketology Page throughout the next month as I will update it with my latest projections a few times a week up until Selection Sunday.
Projected #1 seeds
Baylor is the #1 ranked team in the country, and while the Selection Committee does not pay attention to the Top 25, the Bears are there for good reason. They are 20-1 overall with a perfect 7-0 record in Quad 1 games. Their only loss is on a neutral court against Washington. Kansas had some struggles early in the season but has bounced back and has more Quad 1 victories (9) than any other team in the nation. The question for the Jayhawks is where they will be seeded – the difference between #2 overall (an Indianapolis regional) and #4 overall (a New York City regional) is somewhat significant. San Diego State is the only unbeaten team in the nation but their best wins are over Creighton (NET 21) and BYU (NET 22). While Gonzaga has a loss on their resume, they also have better wins against Arizona (NET 8) and Oregon (NET 19). The real question here for the Selection Committee is which team gets the West region (regional in Los Angeles) and which one has to go east (either to Indianapolis or New York City).
Projected #2 seeds
While the ACC is having a down year, Louisville and Duke are battling at the top. Louisville’s only Top 30 win is an impressive victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Cardinals don’t have a bad loss on their resume. Conversely, Duke has two impressive wins over Kansas on a neutral court (NET 4) and at Michigan State (NET 11) but also has two questionable losses at Clemson and against Stephen F Austin. The Blue Devils’ good wins are enough to keep them on the 2-seed line but their questionable losses keep them out of the conversation for a higher seed for now. All 10 teams of the Big East are in the NET Top 75, which provides ample opportunities for Quad 1 and Quad 2 victories. Seton Hall has the most Quad 1 road wins of any team in the country, all of them coming against conference opponents. They also topped Maryland (NET 10) at home in non-conference play. The Pirates also feature one of the most exciting players in the country in Myles Powell. Florida State‘s best wins have all come away from home with a road win at Louisville (NET 7) and a neutral court win over Purdue (NET 29). Their only questionable defeat was in a rare November ACC game when they lost at Pitt. Florida State is right in the thick of the mix for the ACC regular season title.
Projected #3 seeds
With Michigan State’s surprising home loss to Penn State this week, Maryland took over the top spot in the Big Ten. It has been nearly impossible to win on the road in the Big Ten this year, but the Terps have avoided taking any bad losses so far. Home wins over Kansas (NET 4) and Butler (NET 12) highlight Villanova‘s resume. While Jay Wright’s team has not been as dominant in Big East play as in year’s past, they still have an impressive resume with 6 Quad 1 wins and no losses to teams out side the NET Top 25. Behind Baylor and Kansas, West Virginia has put together a quietly good season. The Mountaineers had two questionable road losses early in the season, and still do not have a Quad 1 road win. One of the interesting questions will be how the Committee deals with Dayton. The Flyers have been impressive this season but don’t have a victory over a Top 30 opponent. Their best win is over St. Mary’s (NET 33). That said, they have no bad losses on their resume and their two losses (to Kansas and Colorado on neutral courts) were by a combined 8 points.
Projected #4 seeds
After Kansas, the team with the most Quad 1 victories in the nation is…Butler. The Bulldogs got their 8th Quad 1 win this week with a buzzer-beating 3 to top Villanova (NET 15), which was their best win of the season. Auburn made a run to the Final Four last season and has gotten off to an impressive 20-2 start to this season. The Tigers have 3 Quad 1 victories but their best win came against Kentucky (NET 24). Aside from San Diego State and Dayton, this is the lowest-ranked “best win” of any team in the Top 16. Will the Committee overlook their lack of a truly elite win in favor of their overall number of victories? Arizona is a team that the computer rankings love despite some question marks on their resume. The Wildcats have just one win over a Top 30 opponent (at home against Colorado (NET 18)) and just 2 Quad 1 victories. They also have questionable losses to St. John’s (NET 72) and Oregon St (NET 82). Oregon is the current Pac-12 leaders and have impressive victories over Arizona (NET 8) and Seton Hall (NET 13). However, the Ducks also have two questionable losses to North Carolina (NET 94) and Washington St (NET 110). Their 6 Quad 1 victories are tied for the most of any remaining team, which might be just enough to get them into the Top 16.
Michigan State is a team that was loved in the preseason polls and who scores very well in computer metrics but have been inconsistent against top-tier opponents. That said, the only questionable loss on their resume is a neutral court loss to Virginia Tech, but their 7 total losses may just be too many. Creighton has not taken a bad loss this season. The Jays have 6 Quad 1 victories with 4 of them coming on the road. Their 6 Quad 1 wins are tied for the most of any team not in the Top 16. Penn State also has 6 Quad 1 victories with 3 of them coming on the road – including a win at Michigan State for just the second time ever. The Nittany Lions played one of the worst non-conference schedules in the nation, which may keep them out of the Top 16. Colorado is one of the two teams this year to beat Dayton, but 3 of their 5 losses have come to teams outside of Quad 1. The Buffaloes should find themselves between the 5-seed and 7-seed line. Kentucky has two of the best wins of any team not in the Top 16 (Louisville and Michigan State) but also have 2 Quad 2 losses and a dreadful home loss to Evansville. Ohio State has home wins over Villanova (NET 15) and Penn State (NET 20) and no losses outside the Top 60, which should be enough to land the Buckeyes between the 5-seed and 7-seed lines. Similarly, Marquette beat Villanova and Purdue (NET 29) at home and also does not have a loss outside the Top 60.
The four regional sites are New York in the East, Houston in the South, Indianapolis in the Midwest, and Los Angeles in the West. For the Top 16, the teams are placed into regions based on the closest regional site and to not create a matchup of conference opponents before the Elite 8.
Baylor as the #1 overall seed goes to the South region in Houston. The Committee’s choice for Baylor’s opening round games will be interesting as St Louis (725 miles) and Omaha (738 miles) are essentially the same distance. Most projections have Baylor playing in Omaha. With all four #1 seeds coming from west of the Mississippi, one of them will have be the #1 seed in the East Region with the regional in New York City. The Committee’s choice on how to rank Kansas, Gonzaga, and San Diego State will determine who (potentially) has the long travel. For my predictions, I have Kansas as the #2 overall team which sends the Jayhawks to the Midwest Region (Indianapolis). I have Gonzaga as the #3 overall seed which gives the Bulldogs the West Regional (Los Angeles) and sends San Diego State to the East Region (New York City). For first round sites, Kansas is nearly guaranteed to play in Omaha, Gonzaga in Sopkane, and San Diego St in Sacramento.
On the 2-seed line, there may be some discussion on how to slot Louisville. I have the Cardinals as the #5 overall team. In the past there have been discussions if the 2-seed teams should be slotted in “true bracket” form to create 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, and 4-5 matchups or if they should go to the closest region. The closest regional for Louisville is the Midwest (Indianapolis) which would put them against the #2 overall seed Kansas. Under the “true bracket” format Louisville would go to the East Region in New York City. If Louisville does go to the Midwest, the Committee will also have an interesting decision for who to set as the 2-seed in the East – Duke or Seton Hall. Madison Square Garden is basically Cameron North but it is also less than 20 miles from Seton Hall’s campus in South Orange, New Jersey.
I will note that after reviewing the resumes of these teams, there seems to be a fairly clear distinction between the top 6 (Baylor, Kansas, Gonzaga, San Diego St, Louisville, and Duke) and the rest of the field. The next 8 teams is where the fun in seeding will happen as there is not much difference in resume between Seton Hall, Florida State, Maryland, Villanova, West Virginia, Dayton, Butler, and Auburn. Any 2 of them could wind up on the 2-seed line and any 2 could wind up on the 4-seed line. The Committee will likely have some interesting discussions on who the last two teams in the Top 16 will be.
See my full projected bracket heading into the weekend of February 8 on the SCB Bracketology Page.