It’s likely that no one outside of Knoxville, Tenn., was surprised when the NCAA Basketball Committee revealed Saturday that Duke was No. 1 overall in its Selection Sunday preview.
With the top spot in the East region, the Blue Devils were joined by Tennessee in the South, Virginia in the Midwest and Gonzaga in the West as 1-seeds.
Duke, No. 2 in last week’s AP poll, was the top selection – over the No. 1 Volunteers – even before they won at Virginia later Saturday.
The committee, as it has done the past two years, revealed its top 16 seeds five weeks before the actual NCAA Tournament field is assembled. A year ago, three of the committee’s early top four seeds – Virginia, Villanova and Xavier – were No. 1’s on Selection Sunday. Purdue, the fourth No. 1 team picked in the preview, ended up as a No. 2, with Kansas getting the other top spot.
Do any of the 12 teams seeded 2-4 have a chance of moving up to the top rung?
The NCAA’s NET ratings and most advanced analytics sites show some combination of Duke, Gonzaga and Virginia as Nos. 1-3. At KenPom.com, those three have started to separate from the field.
With their loss to the Blue Devils on Saturday, the Cavaliers fell from first to third in KenPom’s ratings but maintained a five-point advantage – the largest gap between any two schools on the list of 353 – over fourth-place Michigan State, which was given a 2-seed by the committee on Saturday. (Virginia was second at KenPom after beating North Carolina on Monday.)
Michigan, which bounced back from its second loss with a solid win over Wisconsin this weekend, North Carolina and Kentucky, which still plays Tennessee twice, are the other logical contenders for a top spot. But any of them would need losses from above.
Both Gonzaga and Duke figure to be strong favorites in their remaining games. The Zags’ toughest remaining test, according to KenPom, comes at Saint Mary’s in the season finale. Gonzaga on Saturday crushed the Gaels 94-46 in Spokane, Wash.
In Duke’s toughest remaining game, at North Carolina on March 9, KenPom gives the Blue Devils a 65 percent chance of winning. Duke also has a home game against the Tar Heels, plays at Virginia Tech and could face either of those two plus Virginia in the ACC Tournament.
While a Zags loss in the regular season or West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas would likely drop them to the No. 2 line, the Blue Devils can probably absorb a loss (or two?) and still be a 1.
Michigan and Michigan State have two regular-season match-ups still to come, and Tennessee on Saturday plays the first of potentially three games against Kentucky. The Wildcats, since a loss to Alabama more than five weeks ago, had won nine straight heading into Tuesday’s game against LSU in Lexington.
Kentucky, which no longer resembles the team that lost to Duke by 34 on opening night, might be the top candidate to make a move for a No. 1 seed.
Saturday’s early top 16 seeds
EAST: 1. Duke, 2. Michigan, 3. Marquette, 4. Iowa State
SOUTH: 1. Tennessee, 2. North Carolina, 3. Purdue, 4. Nevada
MIDWEST: 1. Virginia, 2. Kentucky, 3. Houston, 4. Wisconsin
WEST: 1. Gonzaga, 2. Michigan State, 3. Kansas, 4. Louisiville
Syracuse at North Carolina State: Give the Wolfpack credit: After its now-infamous 47-24 loss to Virginia Tech, it remembered how to put the ball through the hoop, scoring 96 in a loss to North Carolina and 79 in a win over Pittsburgh.
Still, four of North Carolina State’s five ACC wins have come against conference bottom-dwellers, and the Wolfpack has lost three of four. The Orange is 4-1 away from home in ACC games. SYRACUSE
UNC Greensboro at Furman: It’s showdown week in the Southern Conference. The Spartans, who’ve lost once since Dec. 1, should be about a 5-point underdog going against a 20-win Furman team.
Here’s betting they won’t be looking ahead to Saturday’s game against first-place Wofford. UNC GREENSBORO
Arizona at Utah: The Wildcats, losers of five straight, are fading fast. Their 14-point home loss against Washington State on Saturday was their worst of the season.
Utah is one of three Pac-12 teams with an outside chance of catching first-place Washington. UTAH
Utah Valley at New Mexico State: With nine wins in a row, the Aggies are well on their way to another WAC title. They return to Las Cruces to take on the Wolverines, whom they’ve already beaten, in the first of four straight games at home. NEW MEXICO STATE
Last week: 3-1
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