There will be 67 teams ending their season with an NCAA tournament loss, so it’s not exactly a difficult math problem to find five that will avoid that fate, but there are a number of top seed that have critical flaws that allows us to take them out of consideration while filling out brackets.
Here are those five:
No. 1 Virginia (Midwest): The Cavaliers may have gotten a top seed, but I’m not so sure the committee did them any favors. Assuming Virginia avoids the first-ever upset to a No. 16 and then gets past either Texas Tech and Butler, both of which have big wins on their resume, then it’s off to Chicago. There they’ll face what will likely feel like road games. If it’s Iowa State in the Sweet 16, the Cavaliers will be tasked with one of the midwest’s best traveling fanbases who are just a very drivable five hours away. Plus, there’s a healthy ISU alumni base in Chicago. That alumni base, however, pales in comparison to what either Purdue or Michigan State (the likely Elite Eight opponent) can boast in the Windy City, the biggest Big Ten hub there is. As good as Virginia is, winning virtual back-to-back road games against that level of competition is a tall order.
No. 2 Oklahoma (West): A truly elite 3-point shooting team, the Sooners are converting 42.6 percent of their shots from distance. Three-point shooting, however, is a notoriously fickle thing. The old adage of “Live by the three, die by the three,” is probably over-simplifying an over-reliance on 3-point shooting, especially in a post-Golden State world, but the issue for the Sooners is diversification. Nearly 40 percent of their points come from beyond the arc, which ranks as the 12th-most in the country. The problem is that the Sooners aren’t very good on 2-point shots, converting a paltry 48.1 percent of those attempts, ranking outside the top-200. Those revolutionary Warriors in the NBA? They ranked second during their championship season in 2-point percentage (51.1) and are even better this year (52.8). The Sooners are great 3-point shooters, but if that fails, there isn’t much of a backup plan.
No. 2 Xavier (East): In two recent losses to Seton Hall, Xavier showed a weakness against teams with exceptional guard play who can force turnovers. Well, in the Sweet 16 the Musketeers are certainly going to be faced with that in a major way if West Virginia makes it to the second week. Jaysean Paige is extremely difficult to deal with off the bounce while Tarik Phillip, Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles can be problems of their own. And that’s to say nothing of the Mountaineers’ unpredictable full-court trapping defense that creates live-ball turnovers and easy opportunities the other way by the boatload. If it’s Notre Dame Xavier meets, the Irish are going to present a challenge with their ultra-slow yet ultra-efficient offense. Notre Dame could struggle to get stops, but they could control the tempo enough to take Xavier out of rhythm.
No. 2 Villanova (South): Are we sure we know how good Villanova is? The Wildcats have no doubt had a fantastic year, but it wasn’t exactly a banner season for the Big East. In fact, Villanova hasn’t defeated a top-25 KenPom team since 2015, when it downed Xavier on New Year’s Eve. The weight of recent history also isn’t in the Wildcats’ favor as they haven’t made it out of the first weekend since the 2009 Final Four trip. The draw doesn’t help their cause either as they have a potential tricky second-round matchup against Iowa, a one-time top-five team who has fallen on hard times, not to mention Kansas, the No. 1 overall seed, would potentially be blocking their path in the Elite Eight.
No. 4 Duke (West): We all know about the Blue Devils’ depth. Yes, Duke won a title last season with a thin bench, but this year’s group is thinner and doesn’t quite have the star power that powered them past Wisconsin in last year’s title game. UNC-Wilmington is emerging as a trendy first-round upset pick, but it’s Baylor in Round 2 that will truly present a challenge with all their length and an amoeba-like zone on just a one-day turnaround. And that’s to say nothing about the West’s No. 1 seed Oregon or a bottom half of the region with plenty of firepower. The road is just going to be too tough this year for Duke.