With 10 days remaining until Selection Sunday, the race for the final No. 1 seed is in full swing.
While Gonzaga and Baylor are locks to secure top seeds and Michigan is likely one win from holding similar footing, Illinois’ recent emergence as a possible No. 1 seed may not hold.
The most dangerous contenders at the No. 2 seed line are also from the Big Ten in Ohio State and Iowa. SEC force Alabama has an outside shot to steal a No. 1 seed, as well.
The Buckeyes (18-7, 12-7) have seven Quadrant 1 victories, including a head-to-head win over Illinois, and a top-25 strength of schedule. However, they have lost three in a row. A home game vs. Illinois on Saturday could be the difference-maker.
The Hawkeyes (18-7, 12-6) have an interesting case because their NET score is 6. The NCAA implemented the NET to measure more in-game prowess. With national player of the year candidate Luka Garza in the middle, Iowa is a force in that regard. Right now, it’s the 260 non-conference strength of schedule that’s keeping Iowa out of serious contention.
BUBBLE WATCH: Michigan-Michigan State playing for more than bragging rights
The regular-season SEC champion Crimson Tide (20-6, 15-2) have seven Quadrant 1 victories and are a legitimate contender to be a top seed. One issue holding ‘Bama back is a Quadrant 3 loss to Western Kentucky at home. WKU is sitting at a 76 NET score. Should the Hilltoppers improve to be within the top 75 NET score, then it would show up as a Quadrant 2 loss on the Tide’s profile. Alabama won’t have as many opportunities for Quadrant 1 wins in the SEC Tournament as Big Ten teams will in their tournament, but it could benefit from Illinois, Ohio State or Iowa faltering.
While No. 3 seeds Florida State and Villanova haven’t played as many games and could conceivably ascend to the No. 1 line if there was more time or a fairer balance of games played in a season impacted by COVID-19, they’re unlikely to be positioned as a gate-crashing No. 1 seed.
On the bubble line, Michigan State vaulted into the field thanks to fellow bubble team Connecticut’s victory over Seton Hall, which bumped the Pirates out and the Spartans into the play-in No. 12 seed.
The NCAA Tournament tips off March 18.
No. 1 seeds
Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan, Illinois
Last four in
Boise State, Georgia Tech, VCU, Michigan State
First four out
Seton Hall, Duke, Syracuse, St. John’s
Next four out
Southern Methodist, Memphis, Utah State, Saint Louis
Others considered for at-large bids: Stanford.
On life support: North Carolina State, Dayton, Pittsburgh, Georgia, Ole Miss, Richmond, Indiana.
Multi-bid conferences: Big Ten (9), Big 12 (7), ACC (7), SEC (6), Big East (4), Pac-12 (4), Mountain West (3), Atlantic 10 (2), American Athletic (2), Missouri Valley (2), West Coast (2).
Leaders or highest NET from projected one-bid conferences – (20 total): America East – Maryland-Baltimore County, Atlantic Sun – Liberty, Big Sky – Eastern Washington, Big South – Winthrop, Big West – UC Santa Barbara, CAA – Northeastern, C-USA – Alabama-Birmingham, Horizon – Cleveland State, MAAC – Siena, MAC – Toledo, MEAC – Norfolk State, Northeast – Bryant, OVC – Belmont, Patriot – Navy, Southern – UNC Greensboro, Southland – Abilene Christian, SWAC – Prairie View A&M, Summit – South Dakota, Sun Belt – Texas State, WAC – Grand Canyon.
- Banned from participating: Alabama State, Alabama A&M, Delaware State, Auburn, Arizona.
- Transition schools, ineligible for the tournament: Cal Baptist, North Alabama, Merrimack, Dixie State, Tarleton State, Bellarmine, UC San Diego.
- COVID-19: Ivy League, Bethune-Cookman, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Howard, Maine.
NCAA Tournament language explainer:
- NET stands for the NCAA Evaluation Tool, which is the barometer for the selection committee. It includes game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin (capping at 10 points per game), and net offensive and defensive efficiency.
- Quadrant 1 wins: Home games vs. 1-30 NET teams; Neutral-site games vs. 1-50 NET; Away games vs. 1-75 NET
- Quadrant 2 wins: Home games vs. 31-75 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 51-100 NET; Away games vs. 76-135 NET
- Quadrant 3 wins: Home games vs. 76-160 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 101-200 NET; Away games vs. 136-240 NET
- Quadrant 4 wins: Home games vs. 161-plus NET; Neutral-site games vs. 201-plus NET; Away games vs. 241-plus NET
Note: Most statistical data is used from WarrenNolan.com. The NET rankings (NCAA Evaluation Tool) also are a reference point.
About our bracketologist: Shelby Mast has been projecting the field since 2005 on his website, Bracket W.A.G. He joined USA TODAY in 2014. In his eighth season as our national bracketologist, Mast has finished as one of the top three bracketologists in the past seven March Madnesses. He’s also predicted for The Indianapolis Star, collegeinsider.com and is an inaugural member of the Super 10 Selection Committee. Follow him on Twitter @BracketWag.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson