SportsPulse: Scott Gleeson looks at the current projections and the eight teams gunning for a No. 1 seed as well as two teams on the bubble that need to keep winning.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the latest NCAA tournament projections through games on Feb. 25.
A 64-49 defeat of rival Kansas State on Monday kept Kansas’ hopes of winning a 15th consecutive conference championship alive. With three games left, the Jayhawks will need to win out and get some help from others handing losses to K-State and Texas Tech to claim yet another regular-season crown.
Lost in that story line is what a chaotic and parity-filled Big 12 means for the seeding line of Kansas, Texas Tech and Kansas State. All three teams sit at the No. 4 line, and regardless of what the conference standings say (the committee won’t pay attention to that anyway) Kansas is best positioned to move up to the No. 3 line based on 10 Quadrant 1 (top-30 home, top-75 road) victories. Iowa State, another team that beat Kansas in league play, holds a No. 5 seed. But how does the country’s toughest conference not have a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed in the projected field of 68?
Much of that has to do with the NET, the NCAA’s new metric replacing the RPI this season. The tool’s biggest advancement is that it measures in-game statistics and gauges how good a team really is, instead of relying heavily on outcomes and data that drive the RPI. That’s been a godsend to a team like Gonzaga, which plays in the mid-major West Coast Conference and only has four Quad 1 wins on its profile. The Bulldogs own the nation’s No. 1 spot in the NET.
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The biggest team hurt by the NET this season is Kansas, which happens to own the nation’s best RPI. The Jayhawks hold a No. 20 ranking in the NET despite defeats of projected No. 3 seeds Michigan State, Tennessee and Marquette in non-conference play while also having the country’s No. 1 strength of schedule.
Assessing KU’s résumé is tricky since injuries come into play here (All-America-caliber big man Udoka Azubuike was ruled out for the season by early December) and the selection committee has to grade a team based on what its identity is on Selection Sunday.
But how the committee looks at KU could illustrate a major shift in how it analyzes teams. If the RPI were still really in play here, this 21-7 Kansas team would still be in the mix as a No. 2 seed.
A Kansas team that was far from Bill Self’s best reached the Final Four last year. If this year’s group has any chance of replicating that type of success, it’s important to recognize that the Big 12’s strength can often be misleading and that a worse-than-usual seed for KU would be both a result of a challenging year and the NCAA’s new metric not working in its favor.
► No. 1 seeds: Duke, Virginia, Gonzaga, Kentucky
► Last four in: Central Florida, Seton Hall, Minnesota, Alabama
► First Four out: Butler, Georgetown, Clemson, Utah State
• Others considered for at-large bid (in no particular order): Furman, UNC-Greensboro, Saint Mary’s
• On life support: Oregon State, Texas A&M, Miami (Fla.), UCLA, Connecticut, DePaul, Missouri, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Fresno State, Notre Dame, Boston College, Georgia, Liberty, Xavier, Saint Louis, San Francisco, Memphis, Southern California, South Carolina, Georgia State, East Tennessee State, Pittsburgh, Dayton, Northwestern, Arizona, Oregon, Providence, Creighton, Davidson, Arkansas, Nebraska, Indiana.
Multi-bid conferences: ACC (8), Big Ten (8), Big 12 (8), SEC (8), Big East (4), American (4), Ohio Valley (2), Pac-12 (2).
Leaders or highest RPI from projected one-bid conferences — (24 total): VCU (Atlantic 10), Vermont (America East), Lipscomb (Atlantic Sun), Montana (Big Sky), Radford (Big South) UC Irvine (Big West), Hofstra (CAA), Old Dominion (Conference USA), Wright State (Horizon), Yale (Ivy), Iona (MAAC), Buffalo (MAC), Norfolk State (MEAC), Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Nevada (Mountain West), St. Francis-Pa. (Northeast), Bucknell (Patriot), Wofford (Southern), Sam Houston State (Southland), Prairie View A&M (SWAC), South Dakota State (Summit), Texas State (Sun Belt), New Mexico State (WAC), Gonzaga (WCC).
- Transition schools ineligible to participate: Cal Baptist, North Alabama.
About our bracketologist: Shelby Mast has been projecting the field since 2005 on his website, Bracket W.A.G. He joined USA TODAY in 2014. In his sixth season as our national bracketologist, Mast has finished as one of the top three bracketologists in the past five March Madnesses. He’s also predicted for The Indianapolis Star, collegeinsider.com and is an inaugural member of the Super 10 Selection Committee. Follow him on Twitter @BracketWag.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.