Breaking Down the Nation’s Best
The beginning of the college basketball season was one that we have never seen before. For the first time in the history of the sport there were no undefeated teams entering the month of January. Upset after upset led to a tumultuous and cluttered field at the top, but I’m here to try and help you sort it out.
Let’s take a look at Joe Lunardi’s top seed line in his latest edition of Bracketology, see what each team has done to this point and assess what they need to do to hold their projected seed, and consider potential weaknesses on the teams.
1 Seeds: Duke, Villanova, Michigan State, Arizona State
Duke Blue Devils
Record: 13-1 (1-1 ACC)
Notable Wins: Michigan State (neutral), Texas (neutral), Florida (neutral), Florida State
Bad Losses: at Boston College
Stay: With the top RPI and the top Strength of Schedule in the country, Duke has a little more wiggle room than the rest of the teams on the top seed line. The ACC is the toughest conference in the country. Duke will need to avoid bad losses against teams at the bottom of the conference and steal a few wins from the rest of the teams at the top of the conference on the road to impress the committee. Finishing strong over their last ten games would protect the Blue Devils from falling off the top seed line if things don’t go so well in the ACC Tournament.
Drop: Duke would fall off the top seed line if they suffer more than one bad loss at home and struggle on the road against the ACC toughest competition. Problems could arise for Duke if they become complacent, lose games down the stretch and fail to showcase themselves well in the ACC Tournament.
Record: 13-1 (1-1 Big East)
Notable Wins: Tennessee (neutral), Gonzaga (neutral)
Bad Losses: None
Stay: Villanova will need to continue to show that they are the class of the Big East if they hope to stay on the top seed line. Having already lost on the road to Butler, Villanova will need to prove they are worth a spot as a one seed. The Big East is better than advertised and the chance to beat both Xavier and Seton Hall twice could go a long way in making a case for Villanova to keep their seat amongst the top four teams in the nation.
Drop: With Arizona failing to make the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, Villanova lost the opportunity to snag a quality win on a neutral floor against a perennial national powerhouse. Failing to win games against the cream of the crop in Big East play could jeopardize Villanova’s chances to retain its top seed.
Michigan State Spartans
Record: 15-1 (3-0 Big Ten)
Notable Wins: North Carolina (neutral), Notre Dame
Bad Losses: None
Stay: Michigan State will need to seize every opportunity they have to secure a win against a ranked opponent throughout Big Ten play. As of now, their only chance to do so is against Purdue at home on February 10. The Spartans may need to run the table to hold onto it’s ranking.
Drop: With a lower RPI and Strength of Schedule compared to the other three teams on the top seed line, largely attributable to the weaker than normal Big Ten, Michigan State has a slimmer margin for error than the rest of the teams on the top seed line. More than one bad loss at home and a rough end to the regular season, combined with a poor showing in the Big Ten Tournament could derail the Spartans’ hopes to remain number one.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Record: 12-2 (0-2 Pac-12)
Notable Wins: Xavier (neutral) at Kansas
Bad Losses: at Colorado
Stay: Similar to Michigan State, Arizona State only has one remaining game on their schedule against a ranked opponent. After losing to their in-state rival Arizona, who is on the rise, and at Colorado, the rematch against the Wildcats in Tempe is a must win for the Sun Devils if they hope to hold onto a one seed.
Drop: With back-to-back losses to open up conference play, another slip up could knock Arizona State off of the one line. America’s surprise team will need to continue to do so if they plan to be on the top seed line come Selection Sunday. Arizona State would be my pick to fall off the one line.
There is a lengthy list of honorable mentions that could possibly find themselves sitting on the one line come tournament time. For the time being, let’s focus on Lunardi’s 2 seeds in his latest Bracketology: Oklahoma, Virginia, West Virginia, and Xavier.
Oklahoma is my first pick to steal a one seed if any of the current one seeds slip up throughout conference play. Led by the nation’s best player, Trae Young, the Sooners are tough to stop on the offensive end. Oklahoma lost to Arkansas in the PK80, but have not lost since. The Sooners are now 2-0 in Big 12 play, including a win over a previously undefeated TCU team. The offensive potency combined with the wins they already have and the opportunities in the loaded Big 12 to come up with additional marquee wins are a perfect storm for Oklahoma to make a run to the top of the field of 68. Given the strength of the Big 12 and the weakness of both the Big Ten and the Pac-12, it is tough to imagine a world where the Big 12 Champion is not a one seed in the NCAA Tournament. Right now, I predict it will be Oklahoma. A win in a crucial game at West Virginia this weekend could shape their case even further.
Virginia was unranked during the preseason, but the Cavaliers have climbed through the rankings to establish themselves in the top 10 once again. Kyle Guy, minus the man bun, has taken over his team in his sophomore campaign. The Cavaliers have an opportunity to make noise again in the ACC. If they can remain at the top of the ACC throughout the regular season, an ACC Championship could propel them to a one seed. The question for Virginia is whether they can score enough points against defenses that are just as tough as theirs. The Cavaliers lone loss this season is to West Virginia, an equally stout defensive team that held Virginia to 61 points.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Although there are no remaining undefeated teams in college basketball this season, there is one team that is undefeated on American soil. That would be West Virginia. The Mountaineers have rattled off 12 consecutive wins since losing their season opener to Texas A&M in Germany. Senior guard Jevon Carter has led the team through the non-conference slate. The Mountaineers are 2-0 in Big 12 play with wins over Oklahoma State and Kansas State. A win over Oklahoma would go a long way in launching West Virginia further into the conversation for a one seed in the Big Dance.
Xavier has one loss on the year against Arizona State. The Musketeers blew out Cincinnati in a heated cross-town rivalry and are off to a 3-0 start in Big East play with wins over Marquette, DePaul, and Butler. Trevon Bluiett and the rest of the Musketeers have a chance to steal a one seed. Xavier plays Villanova twice. Two wins against the Wildcats could propel Xavier to the top seed line come March Madness.