As of Wednesday, March 11, the 2020 NCAA tournament is scheduled to go forth as planned. At any second, of course, that could change. Such is life in a world grappling with the coronavirus. But for now, March Madness will still be March Madness. Selection Sunday will still be Selection Sunday. And this now-annual column will help inform your Sunday rooting interests.
Because no two NCAA tournament draws are equal. Not even on the same seed line. The selection committee, bless its collective heart, assesses the past. We are here to assess what the past can tell us about the future.
And what it tells us this year is that there are seven teams, from a top seed to a bubbler, who your school should hope to avoid on Sunday. Let’s get right to ’em.
Look, we know what you’re thinking: Duh. Kansas. Best team in the country. Of course nobody wants to play the Jayhawks.
But let’s be very clear about how good they are, and how unfavorable a draw they’d represent. They are the undisputed No. 1 overall team by just about any metric. The fourth of the No. 1s will likely be either Dayton or San Diego State. And, if we’re going by Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency metric, the difference between Kansas and San Diego State? It’s about the same as the difference between San Diego State and Purdue.
Purdue, in related news, probably won’t even make the NCAA tournament.
So if a No. 1 seed is in your path, pray to the basketball gods that it isn’t the Jayhawks.
Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State continues to expose the irrelevance of November-February in a sport where the grand prize is awarded to the winner of a 68-team tournament in March and April. On Feb. 15, the Spartans were 17-9, 9-6 in the Big Ten, and unranked. A month later – the only month that matters – they look like a top-five team in America. Cassius Winston looks like the best point guard in America. Xavier Tillman looks like the best defensive big man in America. Tom Izzo is Tom Izzo.
But looking at their trajectory – from preseason No. 1 to out of the top 25, and now very much back in it at No. 9 — they needed time to figure themselves out and realize their potential, so they’ll be an underseeded menace below the top line.
The Wolverines lost 12 games because they played an absolutely murderous schedule, the nation’s toughest. The sheer quantity of defeats will bump them down to the No. 5 or 6 seed range. This team’s quality, however, belongs elsewhere. They’ve beaten Creighton, Gonzaga and Michigan State – and Iowa, Rutgers twice, Purdue twice, and so on. Juwan Howard’s team is not as talented as John Beilein’s best Michigan teams, but they absolutely are talented enough to make noise on the second weekend.
There is so much to love about BYU. And there’s nowhere else to start than with the 3-point shooting. The Cougars lead the nation at 41.9 percent from deep. Five players are north of 45 percent. Every single member of the rotation is above average from 3. That they’re able to do this from beyond a longer 3-point arc – now 22.2 feet, back from 20.8 before this season – is a massive plus. The effect of the new distance, coach Mark Pope told Yahoo Sports, is that “you’re purchasing so much more space, to not only finish at the rim but also keep your dribble alive and create havoc off the bounce.” The result is a two-point field goal percentage that also ranks among the country’s top 20. Any team with this prolific of an offense is dangerous.
They’re the reigning champs. They’ve won eight in a row. They beat Duke and Louisville in the span of a week. They’ve got a top-five coach in college basketball. And they’re going to be ... roughly a 6 seed. Enough said.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
They’re the reigning national runners-up. They played Kansas twice and never lost by more than four. They played Baylor twice and never lost by more than five. They’re 0-4 in OT, a record that includes defeats to Kentucky and Creighton. So don’t let their overall record or their likely No. 9 seed fool you. This is a Red Raiders team on the cusp of another tourney run.
Purdue Boilermakers – if they get in
The Boilermakers need at least one win – over Ohio State on Thursday – to get in. And maybe a second over Michigan State on Friday. But here’s the thing: They’re the rare bubble team that’s capable of getting those. KenPom’s numbers say they’re better than 25-6 Kentucky. Most of us wouldn’t go that far, but Purdue could easily be favored over a No. 5 or 6 seed if it sneaks into the Dance as an 11 or 12.
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