Once again, we have a Duke vs. North Carolina argument on our hands.
The No. 1 seed in the South Region was awarded to North Carolina despite the fact that the Blue Devils have a better résumé when it comes to their hated rivals.
Winning the ACC by two full games, as North Carolina did, is certainly impressive, but the Blue Devils can counter with more top-25 wins than any team in the country (eight) and more top 50 wins than anyone (13) while Duke also owned a 2-1 advantage in the head-to-head matchup with the Tar Heels. Eight of Duke’s 13 top 50 wins and six of their eight top 25 wins came away from Cameron Indoor Stadium.
That said, a No. 1 seed has also never had eight losses before, and the Blue Devils suffered the worst loss of any potential No. 1 seed when they fell at home to N.C. State.
None of Duke’s accomplishments ultimately mattered when it came time to deciding the No. 1 seeds. It was explained by Mark Hollis of the selection committee after the bracket reveal that the Blue Devils were a No. 4 seed as of Wednesday. The committee uses a process they call a “seed scrub” as the week moves on, which essentially means they compare teams to the team above them and see which profile they like better.
As Duke started piling up impressive wins in New York this week, they kept ascending up the seeding chart until they reached Arizona. Since the committee decided that the Wildcats had a stronger case than Duke, that is where the Blue Devils stopped in the seeding debate.
Duke, a team who could have easily been a No. 1 seed, was never even compared to the other No. 1 seeds. Based on Duke having five more top-25 wins than Arizona this season, the committee dropped the ball on that one.
The only other No. 2 seed who won their conference tournament was Kentucky in the SEC.
The Wildcats have been playing better ball lately. They have an impressive 18-4 mark against the top-100 teams, but they only have two top-25 wins on the season. Kentucky may have the talent of a No. 1 seed but they aren’t as proven against elite teams as the No. 1 teams the committee decided on.
This season’s No. 1 overall seed had the unique advantage of being able to pick where they played the opening weekend, the top spot took on even more meaning this season. After a strong season that included a Big East championship in both the regular season and conference tournament, Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed as the Wildcats are the best defending champion college basketball has seen since Florida went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.
In a Championship Week where No. 1 seeds like Kansas and North Carolina dropped games early in conference tournaments — and Gonzaga only won the two-bid WCC — Villanova getting the No. 1 overall seed comes as no surprise given their overall body of work and conference-tournament title. With a 17-3 record against the top 100, the Wildcats have the most impressive record among the No. 1 seeds when it comes to facing quality competition as they’ll be a major factor in the East Region.
The selection of Gonzaga as the No. 1 seed in the West comes with minimal surprise after the Bulldogs took care of business in the WCC Tournament. With six top-25 wins and a head-to-head win over West Region No. 2 seed Arizona, Gonzaga had a stronger case than any of the Pac-12’s premier trio of teams this season to be a No. 1 seed.
Skeptics will always remain when it comes to Gonzaga being a top seed, but they have double the top-25 wins of Arizona, Villanova and UCLA while also having more top-25 wins than Oregon and North Carolina. If the Zags had gone unbeaten they might have been the No. 1 overall seed.
Midwest Region No. 1 seed Kansas might have dipped out of the Big 12 Tournament early with a shocking loss to TCU but it ultimately didn’t hurt the Jayhawks too much. Many considered Kansas to be the No. 1 team in the country before that loss to the Horned Frogs as the Jayhawks potentially cost themselves the No. 1 overall seed by losing in Kansas City.
With a 16-4 top-100 record and six top-25 wins, Kansas was as impressive as any team in the country when it came to quality wins as the Jayhawks won the Big 12 regular season once again.
But back to the point, the way Duke’s seeding was ultimately handled signifies that the committee really valued what teams did in the regular season with regards to conference championships. All four No. 1 seeds won their leagues by multiple games and that seemed to be something the committee respected a great deal.
Since Big Ten regular-season champion Purdue also received the league’s best seed as a No. 4 — despite an early quarterfinal loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament — that theory would seem to hold some weight. The Boilers getting a top-four seed after the Big Ten was shut out of February’s seeding reveal is proof that winning a regular-season title matters.
Arizona being seeded higher than Duke means the same thing. Since the Wildcats won the Pac-12 regular-season title (and also conference tournament title) the committee clearly liked that Arizona had handled business in their own conference.
With seven losses during ACC play, that ultimately left Duke out of the No. 1 seed discussion based on the committee’s values.
The Duke and North Carolina debate is what is going to ultimately drive the No. 1 seed discussion over these next few weeks since the committee had three relatively easy selections.
You can make a strong case for either of the Tobacco Road rivals to earn a No. 1 seed this season, but the committee at least had a pattern that they followed when it came time to pick the No. 1 seeds. Selection Sunday taught us that conference regular-season championships still hold a lot of weight despite the excitement of winning a conference tournament.