Earning the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament creates a huge advantage for four of the nation’s top teams. There’s virtually no chance of a second-round exit, but that doesn’t mean the tournament will be a cakewalk to the Final Four.
Every No. 1 seed in the tournament will be faced with some tough matchups in its quest for the national championship. We don’t know exactly how each region will play out, but a little prognostication and educated guesswork leaves us with a pretty clear picture.
In a vacuum, the most difficult matchup for any top-seeded team would pit it against another No. 1 in the Final Four, but there is a scenario for each team prior to the Elite Eight that could present the potential for a huge upset early in the tournament.
With that in mind, we’ll break down a matchup for each No. 1 seed in the first four rounds of the bracket that could spell disaster for the nation’s top four teams.
Toughest Potential Matchup: Sweet 16 vs. Saint Louis
Louisville earned the top seed in the tournament by posting a 29-5 record in the regular season with some quality wins to its name. Finishing the season with 10-straight wins and a Big East tournament championship was enough to earn the favor of the tournament selection committee, but escaping the Midwest Region won’t be an easy task.
A second-round matchup against NC A&T won’t be much of an issue and neither Colorado State nor Missouri present any serious matchup problems. However, a potential Sweet 16 contest with Atlantic 10 champion Saint Louis could be a trap game in Louisville’s quest for a title.
The Billikens boast a number of big regular-season victories, including three against Butler, two over VCU and a 14-point drubbing of New Mexico early in the season. The Cardinals may be next on their list.
With the No. 16 scoring defense in the country (58.1 PPG), Saint Louis has the ability to shut down any offense in the country. It held 11 of its last 15 regular-season opponents under 60 points, winning all but one of those contests.
Louisville has a potent offense (73.6 PPG), but it shouldn’t expect to roll through the Billikens should the two squads meet in the Sweet 16. With the way the bracket is set up, Oklahoma State is the only team that could prevent this matchup from taking place.
Like many of the top teams in the tournament, the Cardinals lack depth and suffer from inconsistent shooting at times. In order to escape the Sweet 16, shots will have to drop and junior guard Russ Smith will have to play his best basketball.
Toughest Potential Matchup: Sweet 16 vs. Wisconsin
Every Big Ten team in the tournament has the potential to make a deep run. After a brutal schedule that pitted Wisconsin against some of the best teams in the country on multiple occasions, the Badgers have the experience to play the upset role as a No. 5 seed.
Gonzaga hasn’t gotten the respect it deserves after finishing the season 31-2 and a perfect 16-0 in the WCC. The Bulldogs played the games on their schedule and came out on top, but lacking wins over elite competition has undoubtedly raise some questions.
Both of Gonzaga’s losses came to tournament teams (Illinois and Butler), and its path to the Final Four is arguably the toughest in the tournament. The West Region is loaded with talent from top to bottom.
Wisconsin could be Gonzaga’s first real test of the tournament should the teams meet in the Sweet 16. The Badgers lost twice to Ohio State late in the season, but they proved they can beat any team in the country with multiple wins over both Indiana and Michigan.
The Badgers don’t have an elite scorer on their roster, but balance, depth and quality defense make them a scary team in the tournament. Gonzaga hasn’t played a more well-rounded team this season, and this could be an eye-opener for the Bulldogs.
Toughest Potential Matchup: Round of 32 vs. North Carolina
Kansas deserved a No. 1 seed this year and it wasn’t even close. The Jayhawks are easily one of the best teams in the country with talent at every position on the floor.
Wins over Ohio State, Kansas State (three times) and Oklahoma State prove Kansas can hang with any team, but equally disappointing losses to Baylor, Oklahoma and TCU down the stretch raise questions about the consistency of Bill Self’s squad.
Making a deep tournament run will come down to getting hot, staying hot and avoiding long stretches of inconsistent play. It seems oversimplified, but the formula works. As the Jayhawks have shown at times this season, it’s not always that easy.
If the inconsistency bug strikes in the third round, the Jayhawks could be in for an early exit, especially if North Carolina is awaiting them in the round of 32.
North Carolina made a valiant run at the ACC title this year, falling to Miami in the championship game. The Tar Heels aren’t a powerhouse, but they strung together some impressive wins in the regular season against some good ACC teams.
A Sweet 16 matchup against Michigan or VCU would present a bigger problem for Kansas, but it will have to get through North Carolina first.
Toughest Potential Matchup: Round of 32 vs. NC State
Indiana is the most enigmatic No. 1 in the tournament. When the Hoosiers are playing well, they are far and away the best team in the nation. When they run into a tough defensive squad and Victor Oladipo disappears, all bets are off.
The Hoosiers bowed out of the Big Ten tournament with an ugly loss to Wisconsin on March 16 in which they scored just 56 points. Oladipo went cold with just 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting, and the same inconsistency resulted in a loss to Ohio State on March 5.
Short of an Elite Eight matchup with Miami, there aren’t any big trap games on Indiana’s bracket, but NC State can’t be overlooked in the Round of 32.
The Wolfpack has shown it can put up a lot of points in an extremely efficient manner. With an offense that produces 77.5 points per game on 49.4 percent shooting, NC State will be dangerous in the tournament, especially if forwards C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell get hot early.
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