March Madness: Who Are the Favorites to Be This Year's 1 Seeds?
Selection Sunday is just three-and-a-half weeks away, and the wide-open nature of the 2015-16 season means there's still plenty to decide before we can confidently determine who the 1 seeds in this year's bracket will be.
That doesn't mean there aren't some candidates more deserving than others.
The following list of teams was ultimately determined subjectively from a mixture of factors, but the criteria believed to be most-relied upon by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee were most strongly considered.
The tables in each team capsule below will list the team's RPI, strength of schedule, wins against the RPI top 25 (T25W), top 50 (T50W), and top 100 (T100W), as well as any losses against teams outside the RPI's top 100 (100+L).
We'll also look at what's still ahead in the remaining weeks of the regular season and what each team needs to do to fortify or improve upon their current standing.
One more note before we get started: because of the parity seen this season, it's still very possible that a team outside of this group of eight could make a run to become a more serious contender for a 1 seed by early March. Hopefully, that covers any fans of Maryland, Miami, or Michigan State who were about to get really angry.
The 2 Seeds
Best Wins: at Arizona, home/away sweep of Utah
Worst Loss: at UNLV
Oregon leads the nation in wins against the top 25 and the top 100 and is tied for the lead in a conference that could send seven or eight teams to the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks have already beaten each of their top competitors in the Pac 12 at least once and have non-conference wins over Alabama and Valparaiso. The thing keeping Oregon from being a 1 seed at the moment is their six losses, three of which of came against teams currently outside of the RPI's top 70 (Stanford, Boise State, and UNLV). If Oregon can win at least a share of the Pac 12 regular season title and win the Pac 12 Tournament, it's possible that the quality of wins on the Ducks' resume could be enough to sneak them onto the 1 line.
Best Wins: vs. Maryland, at Syracuse
Worst Loss: at Northern Iowa
North Carolina is many analysts' choice for the team with the most talent and/or highest ceiling in college basketball. However, with just three top-50 wins at this point in the season, the Tar Heels haven't done enough to outdo their chief competition for a top seed. The good news for UNC is, while any team can reasonably say there's still a lot of basketball left to play at this point, that statement rings truest for the Tar Heels. Carolina still has five top-50 opponents left on their schedule, including a trip to Virginia and a pair of games against Duke. And that's not even counting the additional high-profile opportunities UNC could get in the ACC Tournament. While the Heels' resume lags the field a bit right now, the next month will give Roy Williams' bunch no shortage of opportunities to play and win against top competition.
Best Win: vs. Dayton (neutral), vs. USC (neutral)
Worst Loss: vs. Georgetown
Xavier's resume compares pretty closely to North Carolina's, but the Musketeers hold a slight edge at the moment because of their five top-50 wins and zero losses against teams with an RPI greater than 100. Xavier still has chances for quality regular season wins against Providence and Seton Hall, but no game looms larger than their rematch with Villanova, where they will look to avenge their 31-point road loss on New Year's Eve. Xavier could win out and still not top Villanova for the regular season title in the Big East, so they may need to run the table and win the conference tournament to make a serious play for the top line.
Best Win: home/away sweeps of Michigan State and Purdue
Worst Loss: at Indiana
Iowa's resume is headlined by their regular season perfection against Michigan State and Purdue, but the Hawkeyes' profile is also remarkably blemish-free. All five of their losses have come on the road or on a neutral court, all against teams inside the top 35. Iowa's a bit short on top-100 wins at the moment, but the Hawkeyes' one-game lead in the Big Ten standings paired with their remaining schedule give them the inside track to finish atop the Big Ten standings. Additional wins against the likes of Maryland or Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament could be enough to put Iowa over the top.
The 1 Seeds
Best Wins: vs. Xavier, at Saint Joseph's
Worst Loss: vs. Providence
Villanova, currently ranked first in the AP poll, features a deep resume with 12 top-100 wins (only Oregon and Kansas have more) and, like Iowa, no losses outside the top 50. The Wildcats are two games ahead of Xavier in the Big East standings and have the schedule edge down the stretch. Villanova has popped up as the number one overall seed in some bracket projections this week, but their lack of top-25 wins could hold them back when we get to Selection Sunday. To avoid being passed by a team like Iowa or North Carolina, Villanova's best chance is to beat Xavier two more times: once next week and one more time in the Big East Tournament.
Best Wins: vs. Villanova, vs. West Virginia (neutral)
Worst Loss: at Virginia Tech
Virginia's skid in early January, which saw the Cavaliers lose three of four to opponents currently outside the top 50 of RPI, may ultimately cost them a 1 seed if they don't deliver in the ACC Tournament. But for now, the highlights of Virginia's resume are too strong to deny. Four losses outside the top 50 did make a bit tough to put Virginia over Villanova, but five top-25 wins and the head-to-head victory over the Wildcats in December give them a slight edge for now. Virginia could have as many as eight top-25 wins before the postseason if they win their last four regular season games.
Best Wins: vs. Villanova (neutral), vs. West Virginia
Worst Loss: at Kansas State
When the first-ranked team in RPI makes up half of your losses, you know you've probably got a pretty stellar resume. Oklahoma failed to get even with Kansas this past weekend but still boasts wins over Villanova on a neutral court, West Virginia, Iowa State, and Texas. If Oklahoma falls short in the regular season standings but wins the Big 12 Tournament, there is a strong certainty that both the Sooners and Jayhawks will earn 1 seeds. In order to pass Kansas on the S-curve, it's possible that Oklahoma could have to draw Kansas as an opponent in the Big 12 Tournament and make sure that the third time's a charm.
Best Wins: home/away sweep of Oklahoma, vs. West Virginia
Worst Loss: at Oklahoma State
Kansas' regular-season sweep of Oklahoma has the Jayhawks in pole position for the number-one overall seed. With a win of the Big 12 regular season title or conference tournament, it's all but certain that Kansas will get one of the 1 seeds. Whether they can stay ahead in the race for first overall seed will depend on how they close against a tough remaining schedule. Three of Kansas' last five regular season games are on the road, and their finale is against the only team in the Big 12 they haven't beaten yet: Iowa State.