Who’s Number One? Predicting This Year’s Top Seeds

Story posted March 7, 2016 in CommRadio, Sports by Michael Marcantonini

Let the fun begin. The college basketball regular season is complete and the major conference tournaments will get underway this week, with some having already tipped. Before the field of 68 is nailed down on Selection Sunday, here’s some insight into who will claim the No.1 seeds in this year’s bracket.

Plenty of things can change throughout the week (they always do), but as it stands right now, these four teams will rank supreme heading into the tournament.

Kansas Jayhawks (27-4, 15-3 in Big 12)

AP Poll: 1, RPI: 1

Record vs. Top-25: 9-3

The Jayhawks have been the most consistent team throughout a college basketball season headlined by weekly upsets and top-25 shakeups. There still hasn’t been a team to emerge as the going away national title favorite, but Kansas is the closest thing to it. Bill Self’s senior-laden team has spent a combined three weeks atop the AP Poll this season, and they currently hold that spot at the most critical point in the season.

Kansas has spent all but two weeks in the top-5 and they haven’t fallen outside of the top-10 this season. Following a mid-January rough patch in which they dropped three of five games, the Jayhawks finished the regular season strong by winning their last 11, with six of those wins coming against top-25 teams. Kansas posted a 15-3 in-conference mark despite a tough schedule to secure yet another Big 12 regular season title.

The Jayhawks have played their best basketball under pressure, and what sets them apart from the pack is their dominance of other top teams. They swept the season series with No. 6 Oklahoma, defeating the Sooners for the first time back on Jan. 5 in a triple-overtime thriller, and again on Feb. 14 in Norman. Kansas also took down a surging West Virginia team on Feb. 9, which helped lock up the regular season conference title.

Much of their success can be credited to their explosive offense, which is scoring over 80 PPG on nearly 50 percent shooting. Unanimous All-Big 12 first team selection Perry Ellis has led the way for the Jayhawks this season, averaging 16.5 PPG, while Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr. each were selected for the All-Big 12 second team. Kansas has already solidified itself as a No.1 seed, and if they win the Big 12 tournament, they’ll undoubtedly be the overall No.1 seed in the field of 68.

Villanova Wildcats (27-4, 16-2 in Big East)

AP Poll: 3, RPI: 3

Record vs. Top-25: 3-4

Villanova was recently dethroned from their seat atop the AP Poll, but the Wildcats should be a lock to enter the tournament as a No.1 seed. Jay Wright’s team entered the 2015-16 season ranked outside of the top-10, but they quickly moved up the polls and have remained in the top-5 for the last five weeks.

The knock against the Wildcats is their 3-4 mark against the top-25, which has skeptics believing that Villanova can’t beat the best teams in the country. On the other hand, their resume is free of “bad losses” and three of their four losses came on the road or at a neutral sight against other top-10 teams. Villanova’s two best wins are a 31-point drubbing of Xavier back on New Year’s Eve and a revenge road win over a then streaking Providence team a few weeks ago.

Seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu pace an offense that can score with the best of them, but it’s Villanova’s defense that makes them an elite team. ‘Nova is holding its opponents to 63.3 PPG and while they roll with an undersized lineup, their athletic guards and stretch forwards fuel the defensive effort. They’re not as deep as some of the other top teams in the country, but the Wildcats utilize a reliable eight-man rotation. All-Big East first teamer Josh Hart (15.3 PPG) leads a team that features five double-digit scorers.

The ‘Cats followed up their most recent loss with three straight double-digit wins to secure their third regular season Big East title in as many years, going 16-2 in conference. After climbing to No.1 in the AP Poll for the first time in program history a few weeks ago and holding onto it for three weeks, Villanova will get that No.1 back next to their name in The Big Dance.

Virginia Cavaliers (24-6, 13-5 in ACC)

AP Poll: 4, RPI: 2

Record vs. Top-25: 6-1

Virginia’s offense won’t blow any team out of the gym, but their relentless defense that’s holding opponents to just 59.2 PPG, the second fewest in the nation, has them as a No.1 seed favorite. But their offense, posting 70.7 PPG with three double-digits scorers is no joke, either. Virginia is also shooting 48.9 percent from the field.

The Cavaliers finished the regular season one game behind North Carolina for the ACC regular season crown, but they beat the Tar Heels last week in the only meeting between the two teams this season. If they meet in the ACC championship game, the winner will most likely be awarded a No.1 seed, but Virginia currently holds the advantage.

Having won six of seven games against top-25 teams, the Cavaliers have put together a rock solid resume for the seeding committee to evaluate. Virginia has played well in conference, but they’ve also excelled in non-conference play, picking up back-to-back wins over West Virginia and fellow No.1 seed hopeful Villanova in December. They lost three of four games to unranked opponents in early January, but that’s the only troubling stretch they’ve had. And following a tough loss to Miami on Feb. 23, the Cavaliers closed out the regular season with three straight wins, including a 22-point victory over Louisville.

ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon, leads Virginia in scoring at 18.4 PPG while averaging 4.2 rebounds and almost one steal per game. This well-balanced Cavaliers team that has spent all but four weeks in the top-10 this season may already be a shoo-in for a No.1 seed, but a strong ACC tournament showing will remove any doubt.

Oklahoma Sooners (24-6, 12-6 in Big 12)

AP Poll: 6, RPI: 5

Record vs. Top-25: 7-4

The Sooners were the No.1 team in the country for three weeks from mid-January to early February, but they’re far from a lock as a No.1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. There are three other teams vying for that final No.1 seed, but Oklahoma has a great shot to earn it.

Oklahoma has seven wins against top-25 teams and it went 12-6 in conference play. Despite dropping both of their meetings with Big 12 champion Kansas, the Sooners lost both of those games by a combined seven points and took the Jayhawks to triple overtime on the road in the first matchup. Oklahoma swept its season series with both West Virginia and Baylor, and finished the regular season winning four of its last five games.

While North Carolina, Xavier and Michigan State all have a shot at the final No.1 seed, the Sooners’ strength of schedule gives them a solid edge. Oklahoma has the 13th best SOS in the nation, while North Carolina, Xavier and Michigan State rank 27th, 36th and 67th, respectively. Oklahoma also plays in a deeper conference, has more quality wins and a higher RPI ranking than the other three.

Oklahoma’s fate as a No.1 seed could come down to their performance in the Big 12 tournament. Kansas is the favorite, but if the Sooners win or at least get to the championship game, they should be able to grab that final top seed. Depending on how those other three teams do in their conference tournaments will play into it as well, but as of right now, two-time Big 12 player of the year Buddy Hield and company have a great shot to land the final No.1 seed.

Michael Marcantonini is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email mjm6452@psu.edu.