Now that the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics are in the rearview mirror, the next premier event to draw the attention of the sporting world is the NCAA tournament.
For one month, college basketball will take center stage as everyone fills out their brackets, predicts the upsets and takes in the madness. With only a handful of regular-season games and the conference tournaments remaining before Selection Sunday, it’s time to start talking about who the four No. 1 seeds will be.
Let’s dig into a discussion on just that topic.
Note: Strength of schedule numbers are courtesy of CBS Sports rankings as of Monday.
Other contenders for now: Arizona, Duke and Louisville.
It’s not just the fact that Wichita State is the only unbeaten team in the country that will eventually land it a No. 1 seed. It’s that there isn’t even another squad in the land with fewer than two losses.
Assuming the Shockers go undefeated, they will clinch one of the four coveted spots atop a bracket.
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall discussed the possibility of finishing undefeated with Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports earlier in the year:
It's unlikely but not impossible. Winning in the Valley is brutally difficult, but we have to embrace the challenge every night. I've always said you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Right now, we're not thinking about eating the entire elephant. We're thinking about our next meal.
It’s easy to deride Wichita State’s No. 103-ranked schedule, but it counts victories over BYU, Tennessee, Alabama and a Saint Louis team that ranked No. 8 in the latest USA Today Coaches Poll to its resume.
The last team to finish an entire regular season undefeated was Saint Joseph’s in the 2003-04 campaign, which underscores just how difficult that task is in any conference. Plus, it’s not as if Wichita State is an unheralded team that simply emerged from a weak league this year. It went to the Final Four last season and almost knocked off eventual national champion Louisville when it got there.
The Shockers' perfection will be rewarded on Selection Sunday.
Despite the recent loss to Duke, the road map for Syracuse to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament is fairly straightforward: win.
If the Orange win their last three games and at least reach the semifinals of the ACC tournament, they will get a No. 1 seed. Beating Georgia Tech and Florida State should not be a problem, which means it comes down to the March 1 game at Virginia for the right to the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.
The guess here is that Jim Boeheim’s suffocating defense will slow the Cavaliers' offensive attack enough to pick up a critical road win.
If Syracuse does that and finishes atop the regular-season ACC standings, even a loss to Duke, North Carolina or even Virginia in the league’s tournament won’t be enough to keep it off the No. 1 seed line come Selection Sunday.
For those wondering why Wichita State gets so much flack for playing in the Missouri Valley but Florida escapes criticism for playing in the not-much-better SEC, look no further than the Gators' nonconference schedule.
Florida played the likes of Wisconsin, Florida State, Connecticut, Kansas and Memphis. It beat the Tigers, Seminoles and Jayhawks and lost heartbreakers to the Badgers and Huskies. What makes that even more impressive is the fact that Billy Donovan’s team was far from full strength because of early-season suspensions.
All the Gators have done since is run rampant through the SEC.
There isn’t a team in this conference that has the talent to beat Florida on paper outside of Kentucky, and the Wildcats already lost in their first chance. The rematch is in Gainesville.
Look for Florida to finish undefeated in conference play and earn the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The argument between the Big Ten and the Big 12 for the title of best conference in America is intriguing, but there are no serious contenders from the Big Ten for a No. 1 seed.
That means Kansas will be rewarded for winning the most difficult league (in contention for a top seed) on Selection Sunday.
The Jayhawks count victories over Duke, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas on their resume and have dominated the Big 12 race. This year marks the 10th consecutive season that Kansas won at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title, which is frankly incredible.
Andrew Wiggins and company have the difficult portion of the conference schedule behind them, so expect a few more wins to come between now and the NCAA tournament, ensuring a No. 1 seed.
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