The Atlantic Coast Conference accomplished a rare feat Sunday, as Duke (East), Virginia (South) and North Carolina (Midwest) received one-seeds in the NCAA tournament. The last time one conference received three one-seeds was in 2009, when three Big East teams (Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh) were on the top line.
Rounding out the quartet on the top line is West Coast Conference regular season champion Gonzaga (West), which received a one despite losing to Saint Mary’s in the conference tournament final.
So did the committee get these picks correct? In the case of the three ACC teams it’s difficult to argue against any of the three teams.
While Duke finished a game behind Virginia and North Carolina in the regular season standings, the Blue Devils winning the ACC tournament with a healthy Zion Williamson obviously made a impression on the selection committee. Mike Krzyzewski’s team is ranked third in both the NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) and Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, and it can be argued that the team’s loss to Gonzaga in the title game of the Maui Invitational was its only defeat with a complete roster.
Duke was 11-4 in Quadrant 1 games and 6-1 in Quadrant 2 games, with the 17 combined wins being one more than Virginia and North Carolina. Once Williamson showed no ill-effects from the time missed due to his knee sprain — and Duke won the ACC’s automatic bid — there was no justification for the Blue Devils to at the very least be a one-seed. And they’re the top overall seed in this year’s field, which comes as no surprise.
With regards to Virginia and North Carolina, as noted above both picked up 16 wins in Quadrant 1/2 games and they shared the ACC regular season crown. All three of Virginia’s losses, a regular season sweep at the hands of Duke and an ACC semifinal loss to Florida State, came in Quadrant 1 games.
Tony Bennett’s team is ranked first in both the NET and KenPom, and those numbers combined with an eight-point win over the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill likely placed the Cavaliers right behind Duke in the pecking order.
North Carolina’s case for a one-seed may call into question how much the emphasis the selection committee placed on the NET. The Tar Heels are seventh in the NET, four spots behind Duke and five behind Gonzaga. North Carolina is also sixth in KenPom, but ultimately the 16 wins against Quadrant 1/2 opponents and finishing atop the ACC proved to be too much to overlook. Also, North Carolina beat Gonzaga by 13 in mid-December.
Gonzaga, as has been the case in prior years in which the Bulldogs received a one-seed, are the most-debated choice. Mark Few’s team was dominant in the WCC until the conference tournament title game, and the Bulldogs did beat Duke without Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall. Gonzaga went 10-3 in Quadrant 1/2 games, with all three losses (Tennessee, North Carolina and Saint Mary’s) being Quadrant 1 defeats. And the computers favor Gonzaga, as the team was ranked second in both the NET and KenPom.
Based upon the committee’s ranking of the 68 teams Tennessee (South) was the biggest threat to Gonzaga for the final one-seed. The Volunteers, who were blown out by Auburn in the SEC title game Sunday afternoon, were ranked fifth in the NET and went 15-5 in Quadrant 1/2 games. While the impact of Sunday’s conference tournament finals on the bracket is debatable, it’s fair to wonder if Tennessee’s 20-point loss to Auburn gave the committee all the evidence it needed to keep Rick Barnes’ team off the top line.
Michigan State (East), ranked sixth on the committee’s seed list, was 19-6 in Quadrant 1/2 games (13 in Quadrant 1) and won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. The bigger problem for Michigan State than the seeding was the Spartans’ placement, as they’ve been paired with the tournament’s top overall seed in Duke. Rounding out the two seeds in order of their placement on the seed list were Kentucky (Midwest) and Michigan (West), with the Wolverines being paired with Gonzaga.
Bracketing principles may have been an issue, but the two-seeds (and where they’re headed) may be the bigger issue than which teams landed on the top line.