The Selection Committee released its top 16 seeds on Saturday (where teams would stand if the tournament started that day). Some initial reactions:
- Gonzaga as the fourth No. 1 seed is an absolute joke, but being disrespected is nothing new for the Zags
- Butler not only being a No. 4 seed, but the top No. 4 seed is a head-scratcher. The Bulldogs naturally lost to Providence just hours after the top 16 was revealed.
- No Big Ten teams in the top 16? Good! As I’ve said time and time again, the conference is trash this year. Wisconsin and Purdue might be the two teams with gripes, but their best wins are over Big Ten teams. The best wins in the non-conference for the Badgers and Boilermakers are Marquette and Notre Dame, respectively. I thought to myself that both teams would likely have to win out to move up a seed line, and then Wisconsin promptly lost at home to a Northwestern team missing Scottie Lindsey.
Ultimately the top 16 release was pretty pointless, as it became outdated information pretty quickly.
This is the team that no one wants to play. Despite all the turmoil, all the distractions, the Blue Devils are just a game behind North Carolina in the ACC standings. Grayson Allen’s return to form along with the emergence of Jayson Tatum has made Duke’s offense a pick-your-poison proposition for opposing defenses. And that’s not even mentioning ACC Player of the Year front-runner Luke Kennard, who is putting up insane 53/46/85 shooting splits. Defensively, Matt Jones has embraced the role of stopper–holding future first round pick Jarron Blossomgame to 3-12 shooting on Saturday. Harry Giles and Marques Bolden are still developing and working back to being 100 percent, but with every additional minute of court time the big men are becoming better and better. This is the Duke team we expected.
Mike White has his Gators playing fantastic defense, boasting the fifth-best adjusted defensive efficiency in the country. The crown jewel of Florida’s six game winning streak is of course the 22-point drubbing of Kentucky on February 4. In that game, Florida was +25 on the boards and imposed its will from the start. The stranglehold that we anticipated Kentucky having on the SEC title this year seems loose at best, and the Gators’ hot streak is a big reason for that. Of the three SEC contenders (including South Carolina), Florida has the toughest remaining schedule–meaning it absolutely needs to win games at Auburn and Mississippi State this week.
After an impressive 20-1 start, the Bears have come back down to earth by losing three of five. The most recent loss was at Texas Tech, where three Baylor players fouled out and the Bears allowed Texas Tech to shoot 43 free throws. Manu Lecomte picked up a technical right after he was whistled for his fourth personal foul with 8:28 left, and the Bears never recovered. Baylor is a team whose identity is based around its defense, and if opposing offenses are having as much success as the Red Raiders’ motion sets, the Bears don’t have enough offensive firepower to keep up. The schedule doesn’t get any easier, as Baylor will host Kansas on Saturday.
A lot of people may not realize that Arizona is still alone in first in the Pac-12, simply because its one conference loss to Oregon was such a doozy. The Wildcats cooled off red-hot Cal on Saturday behind a valiant defensive effort that held Ivan Rabb to just four points on 2-7 shooting. Next up is the easiest possible road trip a Pac-12 team can face this year: games at Washington State and Washington.
The Ducks could have played their way onto the one seed line had they swept UCLA and USC on the road last week, but ended up blowing a 19 point lead in Pauley Pavilion. Once UCLA committed to getting back on defense and attacking the glass, Oregon didn’t have enough to overcome a remarkably balanced scoring attack. Five Bruins scored in double figures, and seven scored eight or more points. The good news for Dana Altman is that his team was able to bounce right back and pick up its best road win of the year in convincing fashion over the Trojans. A No. 1 seed could still be attainable for Oregon, but it would likely take running the table all the way through the Pac-12 tournament. The Ducks have their final two home games this week (against Utah and Colorado) before playing its final three contests on the road.
5. North Carolina
Can’t really fault UNC for losing at Cameron Indoor, especially without Isaiah Hicks. Even without Hicks, it’s fairly troubling that Duke was able to win the rebounding battle–almost as troubling as the Blue Devils’ 13 made threes. The Tar Heels still sit alone at the top of the loaded ACC, but any margin for error has all but disappeared. A huge Saturday matchup against Virginia highlights Roy Williams’ week.
Louisville has toughed out back to back wins over Miami and Syracuse. Seldom-used Ryan McMahon was the difference against the Orange, scoring all seven of his points in overtime. His offensive rebound (one of 15 for the Cardinals) and putback tied the game when it looked like Syracuse had some momentum, and the Cardinals controlled the game the rest of the way. When Louisville is at (or close to) full strength, there might not be a better team in the country.
Duke’s 2001 comeback against Maryland has been dubbed the “Miracle Minute”, but Kansas pulled off its own miraculous comeback against West Virginia. The Mountaineers dominated for much of the game, leading 64-50 with 2:58 to go and by seven with about a minute to go. But West Virginia ironically wilted against Kansas’ full-court pressure, allowing the Jayhawks to send it to overtime and eventually collect the win. With Baylor losing yet again, now it seems pretty safe to say Kansas will keep its incredible streak of Big 12 titles alive. An equally incredible statistic: with the win over West Virginia, Bill Self has now played 106 home and home series while at Illinois and Kansas without being swept a single time.
Jay Wright earned his 500th career victory on Saturday by knocking off a banged-up Xavier team. Kris Jenkins busted out of his mini-slump with four three-pointers, and the Wildcats held Xavier to just 35 percent shooting. Besides Gonzaga, no one has a better shot of locking down a No. 1 seed than Villanova. Both of the Wildcats’ most challenging remaining games are at home, and they’ll close out this week with a trip to Seton Hall.
It’s asinine that people continue to insist that Gonzaga is overrated or doesn’t play anyone. A simple eye test should be all you need to see the Zags’ prowess, but if you’re still skeptical the stats will lead you to the same conclusion. Gonzaga is the only team in the top nine in both offensive and defensive efficiency (the Zags are third in the country in AdjO and fourth in AdjD), metrics that are adjusted based on strength of competition. Now that St. Mary’s is in the rearview mirror, the toughest remaining game for the Zags is probably the season finale against BYU.