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Many schools remain in contention for No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament
Florida, Wichita State and Arizona are pulling away from a crowded pack in the race for No. 1 seeds and it’s a tough call getting tougher by the day for the fourth one.
This is one of those years in which the difference between the No. 4-ranked team in the nation and a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament is slight. The way it looks now, plenty of round of Sweet 16 games could light up the tournament with buzzer-beaters and overtime battles.
For now, let’s focus on the field in contention for the fourth No. 1 seed, ranked in order of where I would seed them at the moment, with the understanding that plenty can change during the final two weekends leading up to Selection Sunday, March 16.
1 - Virginia: The NCAA Tournament selection committee does not look at conference standings, in part because of imbalanced schedules and the Cavaliers did benefit from their ACC slate. Still, Virginia has been smoking good teams for the majority of conference play, putting a shaky nonconference season in the distance.
The Cavs have gone 16-1 in ACC play, won 11 of those games by double figures and seven by 19 points or more. The lone conference loss came at Duke by four points, which is about the margin of home-court advantage. Other losses: Virginia Commonwealth by three, Wisconsin by 10, at Wisconsin-Green By by three, at Tennessee by 35.
2 - Kansas: None of the seven losses could be characterized as bad ones. Don’t forget, the three-point loss at Colorado came when the Buffs had Spencer Dinwiddie, lost for the season five weeks later.
The most impressive nonconference victories came against Duke in Chicago by 11 points and vs. New Mexico in Sprint Center by 17. Sweeping Iowa State and Oklahoma won’t hurt.
3 - Wisconsin: No team in the country has more big-time victories, but a stretch of five losses in six games hurts the Badgers’ cause. Three of the losses — at Indiana and Minnesota, and at home vs. Northwestern — don’t look good.
Badgers won vs. Florida, at Virginia, vs. Michigan State, at Michigan and swept Iowa.
4 - Villanova: On the rare occasions Villanova loses, it gets slaughtered, but the Wildcats win all their close ones. Three losses — to Creighton twice and to Syracuse — came by a combined 65 points. Victories against Kansas and Iowa in the Bahamas remain Nova’s best lines on a shaky resume for a No. 1 seed.
5 - Syracuse: Orange have completely collapsed. Did somebody figure out how to attack the zone and everybody else copy it? More likely, Syracuse's lack of scoring depth has been the main cause of the unraveling. The Orange have lost four of last five games, including a home setback to Georgia Tech.
6 - Duke: Like Kansas, Duke has seven losses. Unlike Kansas, some bad ones are in the mix. Blue Devils have lost ACC road games to Notre Dame, Clemson and Wake Forest. They rely too heavily on perimeter shooters because Jabari Parker, a threat from anywhere on the court, is the only reliable inside scorer.
7 - Michigan: The Big Ten champion has lost seven times, but only three in a competitive conference. Lost to Charlotte early in the season. Only shot at gaining consideration for a No. 1 seed lies in winning the regular-season finale vs. Indiana and taking the conference tournament title.
8 - North Carolina: included here as much because of the opportunities in front of the Tar Heels to leapfrog schools in front of them by winning at Duke on Saturday and then winning three games to take the ACC conference tournament title. That would give UNC 16 victories in a row and seven losses on the season. The Heels already have victories vs. Louisville, Michigan State, Kentucky and Duke.
If KU were to land the fourth No. 1 seed, the tournament selection committee might send Florida to Memphis, with Arizona going to Anaheim, Wichita State to Indianapolis and KU to New York. As a No. 2 seed, KU could go to Indianapolis, setting up a potential Elite Eight game with the Shockers.