Over the past weekend, the NCAA revealed the first-ever preview of the top 16 teams, had the NCAA tournament started today. After a picture of the top four seeds in each region, the official NCAA March Madness Twitter account posed the question, “Is it a glimpse at this year’s Sweet 16??” If you’re the official Twitter of March Madness, you should be well aware of the reality that it is rare for the top 16 teams to all advance to the Sweet 16. Nonetheless, it was a question posed for debate, and it certainly worked.
Similarly to college football, the NCAA believed that an early reveal of part of the bracket would give people a sneak preview inside the minds of the committee. In theory, this should work in the same manner as college football. However, they are two separate worlds with completely different playoff structures. For football, the tentative reveal is a positive–since there are only four teams that make the playoff, it allows teams in the top ten to see where they stand, and how they can improve their standing if it’s not where they’d like it to be. The reveal for college basketball behaves in a similar manner, but inherently removes the excitement from Selection Sunday. It’s one thing for Joe Lunardi to make bracket predictions and analyze different scenarios, but when the news is coming straight out of the mouths of the committee a whole month before the tournament begins, it dulls the suspense just a bit.
If there’s one thing that we can agree on, it’s that the rankings don’t matter until they’re official (see first College Football Playoff ranking, where Texas A&M was fourth), but for now, we’re left to analyze the current rankings.
Villanova: Hit – I have no problem with Villanova as the overall number one. They’ve taken care of business thus far this season, and there’s no reason to think they can’t repeat as champs. The rest of their schedule is favorable, with their toughest upcoming games coming at home against Creighton and Butler. It’s reasonable to assume the Wildcats can run the table until the Big East tournament. After that, this team goes where Josh Hart takes them.
Kansas: Hit – A few weeks ago, Kansas may have been the best team in the country. They still might be, but they’ve struggled of late – they needed an insanely inspired effort to take down West Virginia at home in overtime on Monday night. Carlton Bragg is still getting adjusted to being back on the court, and the Jayhawks have struggled defensively. They’ve won two tough Big 12 road games, and need to dig in to keep this number one seed, and it starts with Graham and Mason.
Baylor: Hit – On Monday, Baylor suffered a loss in Lubbock to Texas Tech. The committee could not have foreseen this, and the Bears are worthy of a one seed, but they would need to beat Kansas in Waco on Saturday.
Gonzaga: Hit – It’s time to start believing in the Bulldogs. At first I was skeptical, given their relatively easy schedule and history of under-performing as a high seed in the tournament, but Gonzaga has earned a one seed. Whether or not they succeed in the tournament is up in the air, but for now, Gonzaga is the real deal.
North Carolina: Hit – The Tar Heels are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But when they are firing on all cylinders, they can beat anyone. And they will have to be over their next five games, as they take on Virginia twice, Louisville, and then on the last Saturday of the regular season, a prime-time showdown with the Blue Devils in the Dean Dome.
Florida State: Miss – The ACC is the best conference in the country, and you’d be hard pressed to find an argument for another conference. Had these rankings come out a few weeks ago, I would’ve given the Seminoles the 2 seed nod, but they’re 3-3 in their last six games. Yes, the three losses are on the road, but in the ACC, you must win on the road. As of now, I would put FSU in the three spot.
Louisville: Hit – I love the Cardinals at the two spot for one reason–Donovan Mitchell. He leads the team in scoring at 15.1 PPG, and has emerged as a leader on this team. Paired with Quentin Snider, this team is ready for the big-time, and will have to continue their solid play in big upcoming games against UNC and Notre Dame.
Oregon: Miss – Oregon is a miss not because they’re are a good team, but more so because UCLA should be ahead of them. Yes, they split the season series, but the committee prefers what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, and lately Oregon blew a 19 point lead versus the Bruins. The Ducks have what should be an easy road up until the PAC 12 tournament, where we should see a battle of epic proportions between Arizona, UCLA, and Oregon for the PAC 12 crown.
Arizona: Hit – The Wildcats were embarrassed by the Ducks in Eugene, yet still find themselves sitting atop the PAC 12, with that blunder as their only loss in league play. Arizona will have a chance to improve its seeding with a late-season win versus UCLA, but for now, the Wildcats find themselves comfortable as the top three seed.
Virginia: Miss – It makes sense why the committee placed them here, and it goes back to the emphasis on big wins. They had just beaten Louisville when they were #4, and were upset by Virginia Tech after the rankings had come out. Despite picking up good wins, the Cavs have struggled to find scoring at times, and that will kill them in the tournament should it continue.
Florida: Miss – This seeding is eye-popping evidence that the committee places heavy emphasis on big wins. The Gators have a resume similar to Wisconsin – solid record, but losses to the best teams they’ve played–until Kentucky. The Gators have played well this season, but they should currently be a four seed.
Kentucky: Hit – Kentucky has struggled the past few games, but they have a brutal out of conference schedule, and because they’ve lost a few of those big games (Louisville, Kansas, UCLA), three is the proper seed for a young Wildcat team. Had they beat the Gators, or at least one of the teams mentioned above, they may be a low two seed, but for now, they are sitting comfortably on the three line.
Butler: Miss – This was the committee’s biggest blunder. It’s understandable trying to push the Big East, but this was a huge stretch. Butler is sitting at fourth in the Big East, and I’m confident they won’t be in the top 16 rankings next weekend.
West Virginia: Hit – Huggy Bear’s team can play with anyone because of their defense. I was tempted to label them as a “miss” because I think they may be a little under seeded, but for now they’re in the top 16, and that’s all that matters.
UCLA: Miss – The Bruins are the most under-seeded team in the first official Top 16 reveal. The Bruins have another chance to prove themselves against Arizona, but for now, they should use this as motivation.
Duke: Hit – If Duke ends up at the four spot, the top three seeds in their region should be terrified. The Blue Devils are catching fire at the right time, and will continue to climb if Luke Kennard continues to lead this team.