The teams that earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament are few and far between. Well, four out of 68 to be exact. Those are not good odds.
But for the teams who are given one of those coveted No. 1 seeds, it is the culmination of a season’s worth of hard work and, most importantly, wins.
Selection Sunday is one of the most important days of the basketball season, not just for bubble teams, but for top teams as well. Being selected as one of the best teams in the country makes the month of March significantly easier.
A No. 1 seed has never lost its first-round matchup with a No. 16 seed in the history of the NCAA tournament. Those teams often have the easiest road to the Final Four and a national championship.
In deciding what teams have earned the coveted first seeds, the committee looks at everything from strength of schedule to early season tournaments. Late-season games also play a crucial role.
Some teams have had a great season from beginning to end. Others, however, have faltered either early on or recently.
So which teams still have a shot at being chosen as one of the best four teams in the NCAA tournament? Let’s take a look.
The Kentucky Wildcats are the No. 1 team in the country. Kentucky has a 25-1 record, with its lone setback being a one-point loss to the Indiana Hoosiers on Dec. 10.
Since then, the Wildcats are 18-0 and ripping through the SEC.
Kentucky has a tough schedule to finish up conference play, traveling to Starkville to play the Mississippi State Bulldogs as well as taking a trip to Gainesville for a matchup with the Florida Gators. Kentucky must also play the Vanderbilt Commodores at home before the SEC Tournament.
Yes, the Wildcats might lose a game or two before the NCAA tournament. But even so, their body of work thus far should still be enough to earn the team a No. 1 seed.
Kentucky boasts wins over the Kansas Jayhawks, North Carolina Tar Heels, Louisville Cardinals and Florida Gators.
The Wildcats are led by freshmen, but coach John Calipari does not recruit ordinary freshmen.
Anthony Davis has obliterated almost every school and the conference blocks record, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist dominated the first few months of the season, and Marquis Teague is finally learning how to run a team without scoring.
Kentucky’s combination of talent and fundamentals makes them one of the best teams in the country and puts them at the head of the pack.
The Orange began the season by winning 21 straight games. Their only loss came against a surprisingly competitive Notre Dame team when the team was playing without Fab Melo.
Syracuse has an absurdly deep bench and can go 10-deep if need be. Dion Waiters might be the best sixth man in the country, and Jim Boeheim has coached every player on his team to complement each other perfectly.
Syracuse also plays in the Big East, arguably college basketball’s toughest conference from top to bottom. The team has been tested and has responded. In close games against the Georgetown Hoyas and Louisville Cardinals, Syracuse simply took over when it counted.
The team will be tough for anyone to face in March because of its great passing ability, depth and shooting. Syracuse does everything very well and, as one would expect of a Boeheim-coached squad, is well-versed in fundamentals.
The Orange must play Louisville once more and then has the Big East tournament to contend with. But realistically, Syracuse probably won’t lose more than one game before the tournament.
Of all the teams on this list, Syracuse is the best positioned for a No. 1 seed. If the Kentucky Wildcats slip up and the Orange hang on, they could easily be awarded the first overall seed.
After Lance Bowers went down with a torn ACL before the season even started, most teams, coaches, media pundits and anyone else involved in college basketball wrote off the Missouri Tigers.
After all, the team did not have one player over 6’8”, was playing in a loaded Big 12 Conference and had a new head coach.
So how did Missouri respond? By winning its first 14 games, beating the ballyhooed Baylor Bears twice and knocking off a perennial Big 12 power in the Kansas Jayhawks.
The Tigers are 25-2 on the season and have responded to just about every test they have faced so far.
Marcus Denmon and Kim English lead Missouri’s high-scoring attack, Ricardo Ratliffe anchors the middle despite being severely undersized and Phil Pressey runs the offense beautifully.
Missouri does not have a cakewalk to the end of the regular season, however. The team must face the Kansas State Wildcats—who beat them earlier in the year—and have a rematch with the Jayhawks in Lawrence.
The Big 12 will likely have just one No. 1 seed in the tournament, which means that it might come down to Missouri’s matchup with Kansas to decide on the conference’s representative.
If the Tigers can keep winning, though, the No. 1 seed will be theirs.
The Kansas Jayhawks were supposed to be in for a semi-rebuilding year. Both of the Morris twins had gone on to the NBA, leaving Thomas Robinson to anchor the middle.
Turns out that Robinson, guard Tyshawn Taylor and the rest of the Jayhawks were more than up to the task. Kansas has even looked more dominant this year than last, completely outplaying opponents on a number of occasions.
The team lost a few early-season games thanks to a brutal non-conference schedule, but regrouped to emerge as its usual dominant self in the Big 12.
Three of the Jayhawks' five losses this season came to teams ranked in the Top 5—the Kentucky Wildcats, Duke Blue Devils and Missouri Tigers.
Kansas dismantled a Baylor team that was supposed to be its toughest competition in the conference and showed why no one should ever count them out—not just of their conference championship, but national dominance as well.
If Kansas can beat Missouri in the two teams’ rematch this week, it will be in the driver's seat for a No. 1 seed come tournament time.
The Jayhawks have only gotten better as the season has progressed, and are definitely peaking at the right time.
The Duke Blue Devils are 22-4 on the season and posing a serious challenge to the North Carolina Tar Heels, the consensus No. 1 team in the country at the beginning of the season.
Duke is finally learning how to integrate freshman Austin Rivers with de-facto star Mason Plumlee and junior stud Seth Curry. Mike Krzyzewski has done his usual outstanding job of teaching his players the concept of team basketball.
After an embarrassing loss at the beginning of the season to the Ohio State Buckeyes, many wrote off the Blue Devils.
But the team responded by going 9-2 in the ACC. The Blue Devils also got their most impressive win of the season with a buzzer-beating win over UNC, giving them the head-to-head edge in securing a No. 1 seed in the tourney.
Unfortunately for Duke, the road ahead is full of difficult tests. The team must face the Florida State Seminoles, a team that knocked them off with their own last-second three earlier this season.
Then the Blue Devils must take on the Tar Heels in their last game of the regular season.
If Duke can win out and make some noise in the ACC Tournament, it should be enough to get them one of the coveted No. 1 seeds in March. But that is a big if.
It is hard to say that a team is underachieving when it has a 22-5 record and is ranked sixth in the country.
But that may be the case for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Star power forward Jared Sullinger decided to forgo the NBA Draft and return to college for his sophomore season, and was joined by point guard Aaron Craft and emerging threat William Buford.
The Buckeyes were expected to dominate, much like the team did last season, and build on their Sweet 16 finish.
However, while Ohio State has looked dominant at times (most notably in routing the Duke Blue Devils), the team has also appeared inconsistent and vulnerable.
The Buckeyes have lost to good teams, though, and, make no mistake, Ohio State can be great. It is simply that more was expected of them.
Despite all of their ups and down, the Buckeyes are very much in the race for a No. 1 seed.
If the team can knock off the Michigan State Spartans and the Wisconsin Badgers, then beat a few squads in the Big 10 Tournament, Ohio State could easily be ranked in the Top 4.
The Michigan State Spartans were victims of a particularly brutal non-conference schedule. The team opened the season by losing back-to-back games to the Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils, but proceeded to rattle off 15 straight wins and put themselves back in the national title picture.
Draymond Green is the heart of the team and is averaging a double-double for the season. Despite a size disadvantage, Green will body up with any player in the country and, more often than not, come away victorious.
Keith Appling has finally gotten comfortable running the point and has the offense running smooth as ever.
If Michigan State can sweep the Ohio State Buckeyes (the Spartans won the first meeting between the two) and beat the Indiana Hoosiers convincingly, the team would be positioned well to make a run at a No. 1 seed.
The Spartans are a team that could benefit from some upsets of higher ranked teams.
If conference battles in the ACC and Big 12 knock off a few squads above them, Michigan State could jump up the polls before the season is over.
The North Carolina Tar Heels were the consensus No. 1 team in the country at the beginning of the season and the presumptive favorite to win a national championship.
While the Tar Heels have played well this season, there have also been a few setbacks for Roy Williams’ squad.
The first was a loss to the then-unranked UNLV Rebels just a few games before the team’s showdown with the Kentucky Wildcats.
The most upsetting loss, though, was a 33-point thrashing at the hands of the also then-unranked Florida State Seminoles.
When every player is performing up to his potential, the Tar Heels are an incredibly tough team to beat. However, they have nights where they seem to be disengaged and could care less about the outcome of the game.
But despite their four losses on the season, North Carolina is still in position to grab one of the No. 1 tournament seeds it seemed assured of at the beginning of the season.
If the Tar Heels can knock off rival Duke in the last game of the season, it could easily become the ACC’s representative in the upper echelon of the tournament teams.
Don’t sleep on the Georgetown Hoyas. The team has flown under the radar most of the season, but has continued to win games.
It is unlikely that Georgetown can run the table and pick up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, but not impossible.
The Hoyas are 20-5 this season and boast wins over some pretty good teams.
Georgetown also lost by just three points in overtime to the Syracuse Orange and will face two more ranked teams before the season is over.
For Georgetown to even have a shot at a No. 1 seed, the team must win its remaining games and probably get to, if not win, the finals of the Big East Tournament.
But again, there are a number of chances for teams ranked higher than the Hoyas to suffer a few losses before conference tournaments begin.
All Georgetown can do is keep winning and cross their fingers that everyone ahead of them loses.
No matter if they shoot up in the rankings or not, though, the Hoyas will be an incredibly tough team to face in March.
Okay, so the Murray State Racers almost certainly will not be a No. 1 seed in the tournament this year. But how cool would it be if they were?
Fresh off a Bracket Busters win over the No. 16 St. Mary’s Gaels, the Racers are 26-1 on the season and, despite popular opinion, have actually played some pretty good teams.
If Murray State can finish the season without losing another game, then win the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, who knows what might happen?
Sure, the entire college basketball world would probably have to blow up before the Racers receive a No. 1 seed over, say, the Baylor Bears. But what if?
Fortunately for Murray State, no matter its seeding in the tournament, the team will have a great chance to prove that it does belong among college basketball’s elite.
If the Racers become this year’s Butler or VCU, perhaps the team will be given more respect in the future.
Next year could be the year Murray State grabs that No. 1 seed. Just maybe.