Very few potholes left

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With still more than a month to go before Selection Sunday, the identities of the four No. 1 seeds seem to have calcified.

Over the weekend, the NCAA Tournament’s selection committee revealed its early look at the top four teams: Baylor, Kansas, Gonzaga and San Diego State.

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The inclusion of two West Coast schools on the top line is a rarity: Just once have two Western teams — Arizona and Stanford in 2000 — been No. 1 seeds in the same season. Additionally, since seeding began in 1979, no team from the West has been a No. 1 seed in the East Region — the committee placed San Diego State in the New York regional — while eastern teams have been sent to the West nine times over than period.

The Aztecs, Bulldogs, Jayhawks and Bears are Nos. 1-4, respectively, according to the NCAA’s NET rankings. Baylor, Gonzaga and Kansas are the top three teams in Warren Nolan’s ELO ratings (San Diego State is 13th), and at KenPom.com Kansas is No. 1 — thanks to the toughest strength of schedule in the nation — Gonzaga is No. 2, and Baylor and San Diego State are fourth and fifth.

The Bracket Matrix, a website that tracks 91 different bracketology predictions, shows Baylor and Kansas each with an average seed of 1.01. The Zags’ is 1.09 and the Aztecs’ 1.15. Duke, the highest ranked of the current No. 2 seeds, has an average seeding of 1.91.

That’s an unusually strong consensus.

And there aren’t many potential potholes remaining for the favorites.

Baylor, which has been perfect since a Nov. 8 loss to Washington in Alaska, stills plays West Virginia twice and hosts Kansas on Feb. 22 in a rematch of the Bears’ 67-55 win at Allen Fieldhouse last month.

The Jayhawks also play at West Virginia tonight and have a tricky game to close the regular season, at Texas Tech on March 7.

But both Big 12 schools could absorb a loss of two and stay on the tournament’s top line. Losses for either Gonzaga or San Diego State would be more problematic.

Before Tuesday night’s home matchup against a New Mexico team that has won just four times in 2020, the Aztecs were only five games from completing a perfect regular season.

San Diego State is a 90-plus percent favorite, according to KenPom, in its two remaining home games, against UNLV and Colorado State. The Aztecs are also favored when they play at Boise State (77 percent chance to win) on Sunday and Nevada (76 percent) on Feb. 29.

The Zags have the tougher remaining contests — Feb. 22 at BYU, where Gonzaga is just a two-point favorite and the season finale against rival Saint Mary’s — but could probably lose a game and still be No. 1 in the West (or East). BYU and Saint Mary’s are likely tournament teams; Boise State and Nevada, barring an upset win in the Mountain West tournament, are not.

If one of the four current No. 1 seeds stumbles badly enough to drop, the most likely candidates to replace them are Dayton (NET No. 5, KenPom No. 6) and either Duke (No. 6, No. 3) or Louisville (No. 7, No. 9).

Dayton, which played red-hot Rhode Island on Tuesday, still has away games with the Rams on March 4 and the other Atlantic 10 Conference Rams (VCU) next Tuesday.

Louisville leads Duke by a game in the ACC standings and won the teams’ only regular season matchup, 79-73 in Durham, N.C.

It’s a down year for the ACC, but a Louisville-Duke title game contest for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament would be a strange occurrence.

Here are this week’s picks. The numbers for the spreads are based on game predictions at KenPom.com. 

Wednesday

Kansas -1 at West Virginia, Total 133: The Jayhawks and Mountaineers are first and second in defensive efficiency according to KenPom.

While Kansas has the better offense, West Virginia is undefeated at home this season. Additionally, the Mountaineers are 9-2 ATS in their past 11 home games. WEST VIRGINIA and UNDER

Thursday

Colorado at Oregon -3: Speaking of being better at home, since the Pac-12 schedule began, the Ducks are 4-0 at Matthew Knight Arena and just 3-4 on the road, including a recent pair of 10-point losses to Stanford and Oregon State.

The Ducks are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the nation. The Buffaloes are not particularly good at defending from the long range. That makes Oregon’s 3-for-18 effort from deep in a loss at Colorado last month seem like an anomaly. OREGON

Last week: 2-1-1

Season: 27-27-2

About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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