There was a clear picture a year ago on which teams were the No. 1 seeds heading into Selection Sunday. This year, because of the unpredictable nature of the college basketball season, determining the top seeds is as clouded as ever.
The field of No. 1 seed candidates is so muddled that the NCAA Tournament Committee won’t know anything for certain until just before the field is announced tonight (6 p.m., Ch. 4).
“I would like to tell you as we sit around this room, we would love to have it come into focus prior to [today],” said Mike Bobinski, the NCAA Tournament chairman. “It just makes the job a little clearer for us. We can get to the job of bracketing a little sooner, really give ourselves a chance to digest that and give it a good once over to make sure we’re comfortable with the whole picture. That being said, we’re going to do what the field tells us to do. If it doesn’t clarify, we’ll leave things open to the best of our ability and allow for some adjustments at the last minute.”
Last year, everything fell into place early. Kentucky and Syracuse had long established themselves as tournament favorites and North Carolina was close behind while Michigan State made its customary late season push to earn the fourth No. 1 seed. This year? Parity rules.
“As I walk into our process this year, I would tell you that I probably have seven teams that are in my mind for those first four spots,” Bobinski said. “That’s about where I am right now. I think seven for the top four. It could be even as few as six. It’s more than four for the top four, I know that.”
The lone no-brainer is No. 1 ranked Gonzaga (31-2), the country’s most consistent team. But whether the Bulldogs actually gain a No. 1 seed is another story.
“The drumbeat I hear from some people is you can’t be a No. 1 seed out of a league like the West Coast Conference,” ESPN’s Joe Lunardi said. “I think that’s absolutely mind-numbingly wrong. I don’t know what more Gonzaga has to show us to be considered to be one of the four best teams in the country. … To say Gonzaga isn’t worthy of a No. 1 seed is flat-out nuts.”
Louisville, 29-5 after defeating Syracuse in Saturday night’s Big East Championship game, certainly made a case for a top overall seed by running the table in the tournament and beating the Orange. A loss could have moved them down to No. 2.
Kansas (29-5) dominated the Big 12 during the regular season and beat rival Kansas State in the tournament final on Saturday.
At times this year, Indiana (27-6) displayed dominance similar to that of Kentucky’s 2012 national championship team, but the Hoosiers’ loss Saturday in the Big 10 semifinals to Wisconsin perhaps knocked them from the No. 1 overall seed but not from the top line.
“They’re the least vulnerable because they have the biggest chip you can put in your pocket and that’s an outright championship of the best league in the country,” Lunardi said.
And Duke (27-5), an annual top seed candidate, could fall to the No. 2 line because of its loss Friday night to Maryland in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
And what if Miami (26-6) defeats late-charging North Carolina for the ACC title today? Perhaps Ohio State (25-7) raises its resume with a Big 10 Tournament championship win today over Wisconsin.
Does New Mexico (29-5), with its strong strength of schedule (third) have a legitimate argument? Mere hours away from Selection Sunday and it’s too early to tell.
“It’s probably as big as it’s ever been,” Bobinski said. “I’m not sure it’s any larger than maybe a couple years back. But it probably hasn’t ever been any more significant than that in terms of the volume of teams that could compete for that top line.”