One of the most difficult parts of putting the bracket together over the past couple of weeks -- and one of the most difficult calls the selection committee might have come March -- is deciding the No. 1 seeds and dealing with how that ultimately affects the rest of the bracket.
While Connecticut is the clear favorite for the No. 1 overall seed, the big question is in which regional should the Huskies be placed?
With the NCAA temporarily going back to having schools play in the same regional they are hosting, that puts Notre Dame in the South Bend Regional, the Cardinal in the Stanford Regional and Louisville at home regardless of its seed. For the past two weeks, UConn has been the No. 1 seed in the Louisville Regional, and it's hard to overlook the Huskies' potential matchup with the Cardinals, a No. 2 seed in the latest Bracketology, on Louisville's home floor.
The rules of placing teams in the bracket still dictate that regional placement is based on geography. As it pertains to regional assignments, the top teams have been placed in the closest regional possible based on their position on the S-curve. The higher a team is on the committee's board, the larger priority that team gets to proximity to its campus. It has been working that way fairly strictly for the past decade or so. In this case, UConn is at the top of the board, and the Huskies are then assigned to the closest regional to Storrs, which is Louisville.
Of course, 2014 is also a different tournament than those of recent years with regional, and not just subregional, hosts. With no immediate and exact history with which to compare, no one can be entirely sure how the committee will interpret its own rules, which as stated would have Connecticut going to Louisville.
That becomes even a little less clear when 2013's tournament is taken into consideration. By all reasonable assertions, Notre Dame was higher on the S-curve than UConn:
3. Notre Dame
That meant after Baylor was placed in Oklahoma City, its closest region, and Stanford went to Spokane, the Irish should have gone to Bridgeport, which is approximately 36 miles closer to South Bend than Norfolk, the other 2013 regional destination. That distance has no impact on travel costs, so presumably in keeping with maximizing attendance, the committee technically went against this stated rule of geographic priority and put UConn in Bridgeport and Notre Dame in Norfolk. No real harm was done and some extra tickets were likely sold, but it creates a larger question mark on what will happen with the Huskies this season.
Would the committee send the Huskies further away to Lincoln and against geographical formula to avoid the No. 1 and No. 5 teams on the board from being in the same regional? Without last year's slight breach, I would have said no. Now all I can say is, I doubt it.
What's equally intriguing is that the season-ending knee injury to Duke's Chelsea Gray -- and how the Blue Devils fare without her the rest of the way -- could affect UConn's placement.
Should Duke slip behind Louisville on the S-curve, the Cardinals would become the No. 1 seed in Louisville, which would force UConn to go to Lincoln.
That's not to say that Notre Dame is a lock for a No. 1 seed either. But while UConn and Stanford will be very hard to move off the top line, the Fighting Irish and Blue Devils have tougher paths to complete the mission. And Louisville is right on their heels.
All that said, Duke is a No. 1 seed in our projections for the second consecutive week, and here's why: The Blue Devils haven't changed much without Gray. Alexis Jones assumes most of the same ballhandling duties as she did last season when Gray went down. Jones' assist-to-turnover ratio in the games since Gray's injury is actually slightly better than Gray's during games played against NCAA tournament-caliber teams. Duke's overall shooting percentage is better, and the Blue Devils' scoring hasn't fallen off at all. There were two close calls (Virginia Tech and Florida State), but both were wins. Jones had 15 assists in the win over the Seminoles. Duke, No. 1 in the RPI and No. 3 in the Sagarin ratings, still deserves a top seed.
We'll continue to follow the Blue Devils' post-Gray play, and how Duke and Notre Dame navigate through another five weeks of a tough ACC will be so important. The Blue Devils and Fighting Irish still have to play each other twice; Duke also has two games against North Carolina and one against Maryland and NC State while Notre Dame is at Maryland on Monday night and also has to go to Florida State and NC State and host North Carolina.
Ultimately, it might be the ACC that determines UConn's fate.