INDIANAPOLIS — Duke, Tennessee, Virginia and Gonzaga would be the top seeds if the season ended today, according to the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, which conducted its annual selection orientation meeting at NCAA headquarters this week. For the third consecutive year, the meeting included the selection, seeding and full vetting of the top 16 teams, which were unveiled this afternoon on CBS.
The No. 2 seeds would be Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina and Michigan State, while Purdue, Kansas, Houston and Marquette were voted as the No. 3 seeds, and Iowa St., Nevada, Louisville and Wisconsin rounded out the field.
According to committee chair Bernard Muir, there was a strong consensus among the top seven teams on the seed list, while some of the lengthier deliberations centered around the back end of the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 lines.
“There was considerable discussion about the order of the top seven schools, but certainly those teams separated themselves from the others at this time,” said Muir, the director of athletics at Stanford. “
Duke and Tennessee were essentially 1 and 1a; it was that close. A slight edge in some of the metrics was the difference in Duke getting the overall top seed. Virginia was a solid No. 3 team on the top line, and Gonzaga got the fourth No. 1 seed based largely on the teams they’ve beaten and the quality of the opponents they’ve lost to.”
Kentucky, with three wins away from home in the upper half of Quadrant 1, had an advantage as the best of the No. 2 seeds, while Michigan’s head-to-head win over North Carolina slotted the Wolverines at No. 6 on the seed list followed by the Tar Heels seventh.
“The final spot on the 2 line came down to Michigan State’s eight Quadrant 1 wins, five of which have come away from home,” said Muir. “While Kansas has a similar number of Quadrant 1 wins as the Spartans, we thought Kansas’s performance on the road, along with the unfortunate season-ending injury to Udoka Azubuike, kept the Jayhawks behind Purdue. At the same time, the abundance of quality wins kept Kansas in front of Houston.
“The debate over which team should also be seeded third came down to Marquette, Iowa State and Nevada. The tipping point for the committee was Marquette’s victories in the upper half of Quadrant 1, particularly against teams that made our top 16 list. Iowa State’s four victories in the first quadrant included three road wins, giving them an edge on Nevada, and Louisville’s considerable success on the road put the Cardinals solidly on our 4 line. While a handful of teams were considered for the final spot, it eventually turned into a two-team race between Wisconsin and Villanova, and the Badgers ended up getting more votes based on having six Quadrant 1 wins, including four away from home.”
Using existing bracketing principles, the committee assigned Duke to the East regional, which will take place in Washington, D.C. Tennessee was sent to the South regional in Louisville, while Virginia was assigned to the Midwest regional in Kansas City, Missouri, and Gonzaga was sent to the West regional in Anaheim, California.
Because teams from the same conference seeded on the top four lines can’t be placed in the same region, and because the top No. 2 seed can’t go to the same region as the overall No. 1 seed, Kentucky could not go to the two closest sites. Therefore, the Wildcats were assigned to their next closest site in Kansas City.
Michigan was assigned, initially, to the closest available site, which is Louisville. That, however, changed later in the bracketing process, thanks to a unique set of circumstances. With four ACC teams in the field of 16, those schools had to go to separate regions. Duke and Virginia were already assigned to the East and Midwest regions, and Louisville is not permitted to play on its home court, meaning the fourth- seeded Cardinals would have to go West and North Carolina had to go to the South. That movement led Michigan going to the East region, while Michigan State was assigned to the West.
The bracketing for the four No. 3 seeds went smoothly, with the committee avoiding various bracketing obstacles: Purdue went to Louisville, Kansas was sent to Kansas City, Houston was assigned to Washington, D.C., and Marquette went to Anaheim. However, the committee tries to achieve competitive balance within the four regions by adding up the true seed list number of each of the four teams in each region. The committee considers a balanced bracket to have no more than a five-point separation between the highest and lowest total among the four regions. After bracketing the fourth line and not achieving the desired balance, the third line featured shifting that resulted in Kansas heading West, Houston going to the Midwest and Marquette slotting in the East. While regional competitive balance is a goal, the biggest bracketing priority is to keep the integrity of the seed lines and avoid moving a team up or down a line other than in the most unusual of circumstances.
Just as Louisville had to be sent West, Wisconsin had to be sent to the Midwest because it was the only region without another Big Ten team. Iowa State was originally sent to the South as it was the closest site but then was switched to the East, with Nevada going to South, for balance purposes. It left the regions as follows:
East (Washington, D.C.): (1) Duke, (2) Michigan, (3) Marquette, (4) Iowa State.
South (Louisville): (1) Tennessee, (2) North Carolina, (3) Purdue, (4) Nevada.
Midwest (Kansas City): (1) Virginia, (2) Kentucky, (3) Houston, (4) Wisconsin.
West (Anaheim): (1) Gonzaga, (2) Michigan State, (3) Kansas, (4) Louisville.
Muir said that it was a good exercise to go through, particularly with three first-year committee members, but cautioned that plenty could change between now and March 17.
“There are more than 1,000 games left in the season so there’s no telling what our top four lines will look like come Selection Sunday,” he said. “Last year, 13 of the 16 teams we revealed in February remained in the top 16, and two of the three teams that fell out were on the 5 line. In 2017, 15 of the 16 teams remained the same. At the same time, there are teams dealing with significant injuries while others are getting healthy and improving. A lot can happen. I know all of us are looking forward to the stretch run of the regular season.”
Muir is joined on the committee by vice chair Kevin White, director of athletics at Duke; Mitch Barnhart, director of athletics at Kentucky; Tom Burnett, commissioner of the Southland Conference; Janet Cone, director of athletics at the UNC Asheville; Bernadette McGlade, commissioner of the Atlantic 10 Conference; Mike O’Brien, director of athletics at Toledo; Jim Phillips, director of athletics at Northwestern; Chris Reynolds, direct of athletics at Bradley; and Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West Conference.
The actual bracket will be unveiled on CBS at 6 p.m. Eastern time Sunday, March 17. March Madness tips off March 19-20 with the First Four in Dayton on truTV. First- and second-round games will take place Thursday and Saturday, March 21 and 23 in Des Moines, Iowa, Hartford, Connecticut, Jacksonville, Florida, and Salt Lake City; and Friday and Sunday, March 22 and 24 in Columbia, South Carolina, Columbus, Ohio, San Jose, California, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. First- and second-round games will air on TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV.
The South and West regionals will be played March 28 and 30, while the East and Midwest regionals will take place March 29 and 31. The 81st Men’s Final Four will be played in Minneapolis April 6 and 8 on CBS.