While many teams are fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament from the bubble, another key part of the bracket is still being determined.
A No. 1 seed carries with it not just prestige, but also a decisive advantage history wise to advance to the second weekend of the Tournament. A No. 1 seed has never lost its first game and has more often won the national title (18 times) than it failed to reach the Sweet 16 (13).
As many as 10 teams could be in the running for one of the four No. 1 seeds. Some teams would have to collapse to lose a spot on the top line (Arizona, Florida and Wichita State) while others may need a major break to get to that top spot (Wisconsin, Michigan).
Here’s a look at how the race for the No. 1 seeds is playing out:
Arizona (27-2, 14-2 Pac-12)
The case for a No. 1 seed: Arizona is No. 1 by the RPI, KenPom and Sagarin. The Wildcats are 10-1 against the RPI top 50 and faced a schedule ranked sixth in the country. Arizona’s resume includes four RPI top 25 wins away from Tucson against Duke in Madison Square Garden and Michigan, San Diego State and UCLA on the road. Neither of Arizona’s losses should harm the resume (No. 28 Arizona State and No. 53 Cal, both on the road).
The case against a No. 1 seed: Not much. The selection committee has shown it will taken into account a late-season change in personnel, such as the season-ending injury to Brandon Ashley. However, Arizona has won four in a row without him. Arizona likely would have to lose to Oregon State and lose its first game in the Pac-12 tournament to fall off the top line. Arizona may be closer to claiming the overall No. 1 seed than falling to a No. 2.
Duke (23-6, 12-4 ACC)
The case for a No. 1 seed: The Blue Devils are ranked eighth in the RPI and third in KenPom. Duke has three top 26 wins, including Syracuse, Virginia, Michigan and UCLA. The Blue Devils have ample opportunities for more high-profile wins with North Carolina to end the regular season plus potential matchups with Syracuse and/or Virginia in the ACC Tournament.
The case against a No. 1 seed: Home-cooking. Duke has only two RPI top 100 wins away from Cameron Indoor Stadium (at Pittsburgh, UCLA in Madison Square Garden). Of course, all that can change in Greensboro.
Florida (27-2, 16-0 SEC)
The case for a No. 1 seed: Florida has dominated the SEC and may be the first team to go 18-0 in league history (other teams have gone 16-0 with a shorter schedule). The Gators’ only losses came early in the season on the road with a shorthanded roster against Wisconsin and Connecticut, the latter on a buzzer-beater by Shabazz Napier.
The case against a No. 1 seed: The SEC. Florida may have to lose to South Carolina on Tuesday and lose its first game in the SEC Tournament to slip to a No. 2. Both would qualify as bad losses.
Kansas (22-7, 13-3 Big 12)
The case for a No. 1 seed: Kansas played the toughest schedule in the country with 19 games against RPI top 50 teams. The team that played the No. 2 schedule (Wisconsin) faced 11 top 50 teams. The Jayhawks took their losses early in the season, but they may end up the regular season and tournament champion of the top conference in the RPI.
The case against a No. 1 seed: Seven losses is a lot for a No. 1 seed. In the last 10 seasons, only 2011-12 Michigan State was a No. 1 seed with seven losses. Like Kansas, the Spartans played the toughest schedule in the country that season. An eighth loss for this year’s Kansas team, though, may push the Jayhawks to a No. 2. Worth keeping in mind: Kansas has shut down star freshma Joel Embiid (back) for the last two games of the regular season.
Michigan (21-7, 13-3 Big Ten)
The case for a No. 1 seed: The Wolverines have a two-game lead in the Big Ten, rank ninth in the RPI and have eight top 50 wins.
The case against a No. 1 seed: Like Kansas, Michigan has seven losses, two of which are Charlotte and Indiana. Kansas may have a better shot at a No. 1 seed with eight losses than Michigan would if it wins out.
Syracuse (26-3, 13-3 ACC)
The case for a No. 1 seed: Syracuse started 25-0, defeating teams like Villanova, Duke and North Carolina along the way. The seven RPI top 50 wins for Syracuse is more than anyone else in the ACC.
The case against a No. 1 seed: Everything that happened since the 25-0 start. A home loss to a Boston College team ranked 177th in RPI would be toxic for most teams vying for a No. 1 seed. Road losses to Duke and Virginia, both in the top three in KenPom and in the top 10 in the RPI, aren’t deal breakers. But Syracuse has hardly looked like a team that’s has lost its last game before Selection Sunday.
Villanova (26-3, 14-2 Big East)
The case for a No. 1 seed: The Wildcats built plenty of clout in the Battle 4 Atlantis, defeating Kansas and Iowa. Those wins contributed to a No. 4 ranking in the RPI despite ranking 26th in strength of schedule, but not as much as no losses outside of the top 10.
The case against a No. 1 seed: Creighton. The Bluejays swept Villanova by a combined 49 points. A 4-3 record against the RPI top 50 may not be No. 1 seed material unless Villanova can atone for its regular season losses to Creighton in the Big East Tournament.
Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC)
The case for a No. 1 seed: The Cavaliers opened a three-game lead in the ACC by defeating Syracuse on Saturday. Virginia’s only loss since the New Year is by four on the road against Duke. Tempo-free analytics love the efficient Cavaliers as they rank second in KenPom.
The case against a No. 1 seed: The unbalanced ACC schedule and non-conference losses. The Cavaliers will play Duke, Syracuse and North Carolina once apiece before the ACC Tournament. The Cavaliers also lost in the non-conference schedule to Tennessee and Green Bay, both on the road. Winning the ACC Tournament is a must.
Wichita State (31-0, 18-0 Missouri Valley)
The case for a No. 1 seed: Have you heard? Wichita State is 31-0 and will be favored to get to 34-0 in the Missouri Valley Tournament. Banishing an undefeated team to a No. 2 seed, no matter the strength of schedule, would be a bold call. The Shockers are sixth in the RPI.
The case against a No. 1 seed: Wichita State’s strength of schedule is ranked 100th by the RPI. The Shockers’ best win — on the road against Saint Louis — might not look as impressive after the Billikens lost to Duquesne at home last week. At most, Wichita State will get to Selection Sunday with only three wins over teams with NCAA at-large credentials (BYU, Saint Louis, Tennessee).
Wisconsin (24-5, 11-5 Big Ten)
The case for a No. 1 seed: Wisconsin’s wins over Florida and Virginia are even more impressive than they were back in November and December. After a cold streak early in the Big Ten schedule, the Badgers have reeled off seven consecutive wins. Despite those losses, Wisconsin is fifth in the RPI and second in strength of schedule.
The case against a No. 1 seed: The Badgers’ midseason slump included losses to Indiana and Northwestern, the latter at home. The five losses puts Wisconsin at second in the Big Ten despite a head-to-head win over Michigan. Another in the Big Ten Tournament might be needed.