March Madness 2019: Predicting Top Four Seeds and Championship Favorites

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 15, 2019

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 14: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts against the Syracuse Orange during their game in the quarterfinal round of the 2019 Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Spectrum Center on March 14, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The race for the four No. 1 seeds at the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament received an unexpected twist on Tuesday.

With Gonzaga unable to complete the regular season and tournament sweep in the West Coast Conference, the door opened a bit for North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky and others to strengthen their respective cases to be top seeds.

Virginia appears to be the only team that should feel 100 percent safe about its shot at a No. 1 seed, but the Cavaliers have one important piece of business they'd like to care of before Selection Sunday.

As for the other three No. 1 seeds, the selection committee's job will be a bit easier thanks to results in the ACC and SEC tournament semifinals, but picking out the four best resumes is still going to be a tough task.


No. 1 Seed Predictions


The only blemishes on Virginia's resume are two losses to Duke.

Other than that, Tony Bennett's team doesn't have many flaws, which makes it such a strong candidate to earn a No. 1 seed.

The Cavaliers looked every part a No. 1 seed in the second half of their ACC tournament quarterfinal against NC State on Thursday, during which they scored 49 second-half points to earn a 20-point victory.

As ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf noted, Virginia looks scary good when it's as locked in as it was in that second half:

Myron Medcalf @MedcalfByESPN

Virginia is scary when they press the button.

In addition to looking like the best team in the country for long stretches, the Cavaliers possess an 8-2 record against ranked foes, with six of those victories coming in conference play.

The only other team you could make a case for to earn the No. 1 overall seed over Virginia is Duke, but given the Blue Devils' recent losses, they would have to beat the Cavaliers for a third time to be in the mix for that title.



It's easy for us to evaluate Gonzaga's resume to be a No. 1 seed based off its West Coast Conference tournament final loss to Saint Mary's.

But in reality, we need to look at Gonzaga's overall body of work when determining if it deserves to be on the top seed line.

The prized possession on Gonzaga's resume is a win over Duke, which could prove to be valuable in the eyes of the selection committee if the Bulldogs are compared directly to the Blue Devils.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 12:  Josh Perkins #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs brings the ball up the court after stealing the ball from Tanner Krebs #00 of the Saint Mary's Gaels during the championship game of the West Coast Conference basketball tournament at
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Mark Few's Bulldogs should be rewarded for their well-rounded resume that includes a 16-0 WCC regular-season record and nonconference victories over Duke, Washington and Creighton.

The Zags also pass the eye test when it comes to evaluating top seeds, as they have one of the best lineups in the nation, with Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke leading the group.

Gonzaga was already one of the deepest teams in the country, and now it has Killian Tillie back at the right time, as he played in the final two games of the WCC tournament.

If the Zags play up to their full potential, they could challenge any of the top programs in the nation for the national championship.



It's going to be hard to deny Duke a No. 1 seed after the show it put on against Syracuse in the ACC tournament quarterfinals on Thursday.

With Zion Williamson back in the lineup, the Blue Devils looked like the unstoppable force they did for the majority of the season before the freshman's injury.

Since three of Duke's losses came without Williamson, the selection committee may be willing to value those games less, especially if Mike Krzyzewski's team avenges its two defeats to North Carolina in Friday's ACC tournament semifinals.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 14: Teammates Zion Williamson #1 and Tre Jones #3 of the Duke Blue Devils react after defeating the Syracuse Orange 84-72 during their game in the quarterfinal round of the 2019 Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Spectrum
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

A win over the Tar Heels with a healthy Williamson in tow should boost Duke's credentials for a No. 1 seed. The Blue Devils' resume already includes two wins over Virginia and nonconference wins over Kentucky and Texas Tech.

Just like Virginia and Gonzaga, Duke passes the eye test as one of the top four teams in the country, and it's looked the part on occasion without Williamson thanks to the play of R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones.

One of the few factors going against Duke would be three losses to North Carolina, but based off the way the Blue Devils played Thursday, it's hard to imagine that will factor into the case presented to the selection committee.



If Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke are deemed as locks by the selection committee to earn No. 1 seeds, the discussion for the fourth team could be incredibly difficult.

Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and possibly LSU, if it doubles up on SEC titles, are in the mix, and you could even throw Michigan State in there if it wins the Big Ten tournament.

The committee will go over each resume at length in the coming days, and we believe the end result will be Kentucky earning a No. 1 seed.

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - MARCH 09:  Keldon Johnson #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball in the second half against the Florida Gators at Rupp Arena on March 09, 2019 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

If the decision comes down to Kentucky and North Carolina, you would have to think the Wildcats' head-to-head win on a neutral court in December carries some weight.

In total, John Calipari's team has five victories over ranked foes and zero bad losses, as all five of its defeats could come to NCAA tournament teams if Alabama makes the field of 68.

North Carolina and Tennessee can also claim they have zero bad losses, but if the Wildcats beat the Volunteers in the SEC tournament semifinals, they would own head-to-head advantages over both teams.

The Wildcats haven't been talked about as much as they have been in past years, but they boast a solid core, led by PJ Washington and Tyler Herro, that is capable of wreaking havoc on any defense.


Championship Favorites

According to VegasInsider.com, Duke, Gonzaga and Virginia have the best odds—9-4, 9-2, 6-1, respectively—to win the NCAA tournament. 

Based off recent history, at least one of the No. 1 seeds has a good chance of making the national championship, as North Carolina and Villanova won titles as top seeds in the past two years.

In fact, the last time a No. 1 seed wasn't involved in the national championship was 2014, when UConn defeated Kentucky.

Unfavorable matchups and weird occurrences that only happen in March could derail some of the No. 1 seeds, but it would be wise to put money on at least two of them making runs to the Final Four. 


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.