Ranking the Most Likely No. 1 Seeds in the 2014 NCAA Tournament

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent IMarch 13, 2014

Ranking the Most Likely No. 1 Seeds in the 2014 NCAA Tournament

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    Although plenty of teams around the country will be thrilled just to get a spot in the 2014 NCAA tournament, the nation’s elite have higher hopes for Selection Sunday. With four No. 1 seeds up for grabs, the most successful teams in the country know that the easiest path to the Final Four goes through the top line on the bracket.

    One longstanding favorite for one of those coveted slots has been the Arizona Wildcats, who ran away with the Pac-12 title in the regular season. A loss to streaking Oregon did put a dent in the Wildcats’ mystique, but will it be enough to cost Aaron Gordon’s team a top seed?

    Read on for a look at Arizona’s chances, along with nine more teams who are still in the running for a No. 1 spot from the selection committee.

10. Virginia

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    In most years, the ACC's regular-season champs would be heavy favorites for a top seed, but Virginia’s awful loss to Maryland at the end of the regular season did serious damage here.

    Despite Tony Bennett’s attempt to put a positive spin on it in the postgame press conference—“Not that we felt we’re invincible, but now we know we aren’t”—the Cavaliers probably cost themselves a spot on the top line of the bracket with that game.

    That said, an ACC tournament title would still force the committee to give Malcolm Brogdon and his mates a long look. Anything less, though, and the Cavaliers’ bad losses (including a 35-point pasting by Tennessee) will overwhelm their impressive overall record and drop them to a No. 2 or No. 3.

9. Syracuse

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    The Orange will get some allowances for the injury to Jerami Grant (now healthy again), whose absence contributed heavily to their season-ending collapse.

    However, they’re also among the many teams who will have to win it all in the ACC tournament to have a serious shot at a No. 1.

    After all, losses to sub-.500 Georgia Tech and Boston College will loom large when stacking ‘Cuse up against other leading top-seed contenders. With plenty of stronger candidates available at this stage, even a runner-up finish in Greensboro won’t be good enough.

8. Kansas

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    Kansas’ inability to win on the road finally caught up with Bill Self’s team in March, as Oklahoma State and West Virginia both scored upset wins over the Jayhawks.

    Those stumbles knocked a team that appeared to have zeroed in on a No. 1 seed down to a No. 2 by most estimates—for now.

    If the Jayhawks can rally in spite of Joel Embiid’s back injury, they might be able to prove to the committee that they’re still top-seed material even without their precocious center.

    However, anything short of a Big 12 tournament title will be insufficient to make that case (unless Embiid’s prognosis improves dramatically by Sunday).

7. Michigan

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    One bad loss (to Charlotte in nonconference action) is all that’s standing between Michigan and being a favorite for a No. 1 seed. Luckily for the Big Ten’s regular-season champs, they still have a shot to overcome that defect.

    If the Wolverines can sweep the regular-season and tournament titles in the Big Ten, they’ll have a strong case for a spot on the top line (even in spite of what's been a down year for the league).

    It’s no guarantee, and a loss in the B1G tourney would end any hope for Nik Stauskas and company, but they would certainly be in the running.

6. Duke

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    Almost guaranteed to be in this conversation every year, Duke may have shot itself in the foot with a late-season loss at Wake Forest.

    That game, coupled with head-to-head defeats against both Arizona and Kansas, is likely to leave the Blue Devils on the outside looking in, but they’re not entirely sunk yet.

    As with the rest of their ACC rivals, Coach K’s boys can give themselves a huge boost with a conference tournament title.

    If they beat both Syracuse and Virginia en route to a trophy in Greensboro, it could give them just enough momentum to sneak onto the top line.

5. Wisconsin

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    It’s hard to argue with Michael Beller’s contention for Sports Illustrated that the Badgers “would have been [a No. 1 seed] had they won at Nebraska on Sunday.”

    Bo Ryan’s team has one of the strongest nonconference resumes in the country, featuring wins over two potential top seeds (Florida and Virginia) as well as Saint Louis.

    It’s not over yet for Traevon Jackson and company, because a Big Ten tournament title would make them tough to overlook.

    Of course, getting to that title is far from trivial, and if the Badgers slip up against Michigan State or Michigan in the B1G tourney, they’ll have squandered their last chance at a top spot.

4. Villanova

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    With a 28-3 record and a six-game winning streak to close the season, ‘Nova would have its top seed locked up if not for one small problem.

    The Wildcats haven’t come close to beating Creighton in two tries, and a third game with the Blue Jays is almost inevitable in the Big East final.

    Assuming that Doug McDermott continues to scuttle Jay Wright’s team, the Wildcats will surrender their spot to one of the lower-ranked contenders on this list. However, if the Wildcats finally figure out how to handle the Jays, they’ll stay put as a No. 1 seed.

3. Arizona

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    Wins over both Duke and Michigan in nonconference play will serve Arizona well on Selection Sunday.

    Even with three disappointing losses since Brandon Ashley broke his foot, the Wildcats had already done enough to keep them on the top line, barring further missteps.

    As long as Arizona makes it to the championship game in the Pac-12 tourney, it should be set as far as landing a No. 1 seed. Only Syracuse had a stronger start to its season, and the Orange weren’t playing quite so impressive a schedule at the time.

2. Wichita State

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    Yes, there are complaints to be raised about the weakness of the Missouri Valley Conference in the post-Creighton era, but Wichita State’s results still speak for themselves.

    The Shockers aren’t just the only remaining undefeated team in the nation—they’re the only team to get this far without a loss since UNLV in 1991.

    An unremarkable nonconference schedule will probably keep WSU from being the No. 1 overall seed, but that’s about the worst one can say about this team. There’s no conceivable scenario in which the MVC champs don’t wind up somewhere on the top line.

1. Florida

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    No matter what happens in the SEC tournament, Florida’s 18-0 regular-season run in conference play has locked up a top seed for the Gators. What Billy Donovan’s team is playing for now is the No. 1 overall seed.

    If the Gators make it to the SEC finals (and it’s tough to imagine them doing any less), they should be secure as the top team in the brackets, meaning they’ll get to stay close to home in the South regional.

    Even if they do somehow lose before that game, though, a No. 1 seed of some description is still in the bag for Scottie Wilbekin and his mates.