With the selections revealed by the inaugural early version of its bracket, the NCAA men’s basketball committee confirmed at least one piece of conventional wisdom for 2017: Villanova, Kansas, Baylor and Gonzaga are the clear choices as the four No. 1 seeds.
No surprises there. "The 1s are clearly the 1s,” as committee chair Mark Hollis said.
Yet while there were no shocking twist or turns, a number of interesting developments did arise from the committee’s “if the season ended today” bracket.
The Big Ten has work to do
If the season ended today, there would be no Big Ten representation on the top four seed lines. If that does indeed come to pass, it will be the first time the league has been shut out of the top 16 since 2004. In fact, that bracket from 13 years ago marks the only time in the tournament’s modern era that the Big Ten has been a no-show on the top four seed lines.
The conference’s best bet to work its way into the top 16 could be Wisconsin. At 21-3 overall and 10-1 in Big Ten play, the Badgers certainly look deserving on paper.
On the other hand, coach Greg Gard’s team is just 2-3 against the RPI top 50, and, yes, both that venerable metric and the potential for cognitive mischief introduced by phrases like "top-50 wins" will still matter for at least one more year.
Moreover, Wisconsin has done itself no favors in terms of the “eye test” over the past two weeks, needing overtime to defeat both Rutgers (at Madison Square Garden) and Nebraska (in Lincoln). Still, if Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes and the Badgers finish the conference season with just four or possibly three losses, it will be very difficult to keep the Big Ten out of the bracket’s top four seed lines.
Grayson and the gang are back
Was Wisconsin bumped out of the top 16 by Duke? The Blue Devils snagged the very last No. 4 seed, and that certainly did not seem like the most likely outcome back when Duke lost at home to NC State. Since that loss to the Wolfpack, Duke has rebounded nicely.
Grayson Allen in particular has been his old self of late, and by that, of course, I mean that he is making 3s. (What else were you thinking?) If the Blue Devils continue to hit their jumpers and score points at their current rate, Mike Krzyzewski’s team may indeed land in the top 16 when it really counts.
Gonzaga better keep winning if it wants a No. 1 seed
One small surprise revealed by Hollis is that the Bulldogs are currently the fourth No. 1 seed. That seems like fairly harsh treatment for a team that’s 25-0.
A loss at Saint Mary’s on Saturday may not be enough to knock Mark Few’s team off the top line in the actual bracket, but any losses beyond that (or even a strong finishing kick from, say, North Carolina, Oregon or Louisville) could certainly imperil the Zags’ chances for a No. 1.
UCLA and Virginia may need frequent flier miles
Because the committee strives to spread a conference’s various members around to different regions, being the second- or third-best team in a league -- and having a location on or near one of our nation’s coasts -- means you may log some serious miles.
In the case of the bracket preview, Virginia was given a No. 3 seed in the West region, meaning the Cavaliers’ road to the Final Four could be through San Jose. Meanwhile UCLA was awarded a No. 4 seed in the East region, raising the possibility that the Bruins could be headed to New York City.
Regardless of whether the teams that end up doing the traveling are Virginia and UCLA, it’s likely we’ll see representatives from both the ACC and Pac-12 crossing to the opposite coast. The competition in those conferences will be to win the highest spot on the committee’s S-curve and therefore earn the right to play close to home.