Looking at how seedings were determined, several experts said that the conference tournaments didn’t matter. Here were some of the surprises.
Life on the Bubble
Indiana (20-13) was rewarded for beating another bubble-team, Michigan, and top-seeded Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament. Where was the reward, though, for Texas A&M (23-12)? The Aggies beat Florida, top-seeded Auburn and Arkansas, the last convincingly.
The non-conference schedules were similar. In fact, the Aggies and Hoosiers both beat Notre Dame and lost to Wisconsin. Perhaps the biggest difference was Texas A&M’s non-conference win over Butler. Looking at combined Quad 1 and Quad 2 records, the Aggies were 9-10 to Indiana’s 8-12. They were better on the road, too (5-5 versus 3-8).
Bracketologists forecasted Michigan going to Dayton, if in the tourney at all. At 17-14, the preseason top-10 Wolverines had a disappointing year, with frustration boiling over as coach Juwan Howard struck a Wisconsin assistant in the head after a lopsided defeat. Howard served a five-game suspension, returning to coach one game (a loss to Indiana) in the Big Ten tournament. Michigan played a top-50 strength of schedule. It lost to Arizona and Seton Hall, but beat San Diego State. Still, it’s weird not seeing them in the First Four set of games.
To that tune, Rutgers (18-13) is heading to Dayton. The Scarlet Knights beat the other eight Big Ten teams who earned berths, though the wins were mostly at home. Rutgers was 4-9 on the road this season, and without a strong non-conference schedule. Still, they seemed worthy of avoiding Dayton, perhaps in favor of Michigan.
Perhaps the biggest head scratcher was Duke’s two-seed over Tennessee, the latter winning the SEC Tournament. Tennessee was posted as a three-seed. The team sheets really aren’t comparable as the Volunteers (26-7) beat Duke (28-6) in several categories: NET, 7-12; KPI, 4-14; strength of record, 36-11; BPI, 5-11; Sagarin, 7-11. Tennessee had a combined Quad 1 and Quad 2 record of 16-7 to Duke’s 12-5.
One of the things that bore out was how soft the ACC was in terms of production this season. Both the SEC and Big Ten were stronger, with the tournament field representing that.
Meanwhile, the Mountain West Conference had a seeding mishap of its own, or so it seems. Colorado State (25-5) swept Boise State during the regular season, but lost to San Diego State in the semifinal of its tournament. The Broncos (27-7) won the tournament, earning a No. 8 seed in the West. Perhaps the biggest difference in being placed two seed lines better (five spots total) was the Rams (No. 6 in South) beating both Creighton and St. Mary’s.
Gonzaga, Arizona, Kansas and Baylor are the top four seeds in this year’s field, in order. Both the Zags and Bears were in last season’s national championship game-won by Baylor-and have reloaded. Gonzaga features likely top-5 NBA Draft pick Chet Holmgren along with vets Drew Timme and Andrew Nembhard.
The second seeds are Kentucky, Auburn, Villanova and Duke. It will be Mike Krzyzewski’s final tournament with a Blue Devil team that features likely lottery pick Paolo Banchero. They’re as good as any team, but have lacked consistency.
The three-seeds are Texas Tech, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Purdue, which is as competitive a group as the two’s. The four-seeds are UCLA (Final four last season), Providence, Illinois and Arkansas.