There are no longer only four realistic contenders to claim the No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
As Selection Sunday approaches, the streaking UCLA has pulled off 11 consecutive wins and is in the news.
Driven by a stout defense that shut down the passing lane and took nothing easy at the rim, UCLA bulldozed its way through a mediocre Pac-12 that featured only two other NCAA Tournament teams. May be The Bruins (28-4) clinched the outright Pac-12 title in late February, then confirmed it with a convincing win over rival Arizona on Saturday.
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UCLA’s collection of marquee wins isn’t as impressive as some other No. 1 seed hopes, but the Bruins swept Kentucky on a neutral court and handed Maryland their lone home loss of the season, by no less than 27 points. Mick Cronin’s squad full of senior players have also not lost at the Pauley Pavilion all season, nor have they suffered outside Quadrant 1.
There are a pair of No. 1 seed contenders that UCLA just might not be able to catch.
Houston is 27-2 overall and is ranked No. 1 in every major metric. The Cougars could probably lose to East Carolina in Friday’s American Athletic Conference quarterfinals and still get the No. 1 seed.
It’s a similar story for Kansas, which earned its 16th Quadrant 1 win Thursday against West Virginia, five more than any other team in the country. The defending national champion Jayhawks could lose to Iowa State in the Big 12 semifinals and still land on the top seed line.
29-2, 17-1 American | Net: 1 | kenpom: 1 | Q1: 4-1 | Q2: 8-0 | Q3, Q4 deficit: 1
Marquee wins: Virginia, St. Mary’s at Oregon, Memphis (2)
Loss: Alabama, Temple
25-6, 13-5 Big 12 | Net: 8 | kenpom: 9 | Q1: 16-6 | Q2: 5-0 | Q3, Q4 Loss: 0
Marquee Wins: Texas, Baylor, Kansas State, Indiana, TCU, Duke at Kentucky
Losses: At Texas, at Baylor, at Kansas State, at Iowa State, Tennessee, at TCU
That leaves Alabama, Purdue and UCLA competing for the two remaining No. 1 seeds. All three of them have similar enough resumes that could undercut the performances of each during their conference tournaments this week.
alabama crimson tide
26-5, 16-2 sec. Net: 2 | kenpom: 3 | Q1: 9-5 | Q2: 7-0 | Q3, Q4 Loss: 0
Marquee wins: Houston, Kentucky, Michigan State, Auburn (2), Arkansas (2), Mizzou
Losses: UConn, Gonzaga, at Tennessee, Texas A&M, at Oklahoma
26-5, 16-5 Big Ten | Net: 5 | kenpom: 6 | Q1: 9-4 | Q2: 7-1 | Q3, Q4 Loss: 0
Marquee Wins: Marquette, Gonzaga, Duke, MSU (2), Illinois, West Virginia, Michigan, at Wisconsin
Losses: Indiana (2), at Maryland, at Northwestern, at Rutgers
28-4, 18-2 Pac-12 | Net: 4 | kenpom: 2 | Q1: 8-4 | Q2: 9-0 | Q3, Q4 Loss: 0
Marquee wins: Arizona, Maryland, Kentucky, USC, Arizona State (2), Oregon (2)
Losses: to Arizona, Baylor, Illinois, USC
Alabama was the selection committee’s No. 1 overall seed when it unveiled its bracket preview just two weeks ago, but the weight of the Brandon Miller scandal is taking a toll. The Crimson Tide was barely scraped by South Carolina, Arkansas and Auburn before dropping their SEC final against Texas A&M last Saturday.
Is Alabama in a slightly stronger position than Purdue and UCLA right now? Perhaps. That win in Houston, in particular, holds a lot of weight. But can Alabama lose an SEC quarterfinal to Mississippi State and keep its No. 1 seed if Purdue and UCLA win their respective conference tournaments? It seems highly improbable.
The margin between Purdue and UCLA looks even thinner entering the weekend. The gap has closed over the past month as the Bruins have won while the Boilermakers have lost four of eight. Purdue likely has more wins over NCAA tournament teams. The mid-November home win over then-unheralded Marquette has aged particularly well. The Boilermakers have also suffered another loss – and another loss outside Quadrant 1.
How the committee chooses between Purdue and UCLA may ultimately decide which team achieves more success in their conference tournaments. UCLA Easy way to game your title With Arizona and USC on the other side of the bracket, but Purdue The quality of the opening round is more likely to win. The Boilermakers would face Rutgers in the quarterfinals and potentially Ohio State or Michigan State in the semifinals.
Another factor in the committee’s decision may be potentially serious injury Tackled by UCLA’s Jaylen Clark during Saturday’s win over Arizona. Clark, UCLA’s second-leading scorer and one of the nation’s elite perimeter defenders, returned to the Bruins bench with crutches and a boot on his right foot.
While UCLA has not disclosed the diagnosis or timetable for Clark’s return, Jeff Goodman of Stadium reported that Clark is out for the season due to an Achilles injury. There is precedent for the selection committee to change a team’s seeding based on a season-ending injury, although this has rarely happened.
Even though Alabama, Purdue and UCLA all struggle in their conference tournaments, it’s hard to imagine anyone else leapfrogging them over the No. 1 seed line. Arizona (25-6) has three losses outside Quadrant 1. Marquette (26-6) doesn’t have enough big wins. Texas (23-8) will have an outside shot if it wins the Big 12 Tournament, but that’s the only realistic scenario.
Otherwise, it is a three-team battle for two spots. Two of Alabama, Purdue and UCLA will land on the No. 1 line. Others will have to settle for number 2.