A week from Sunday, we will finally know the full 68-team field of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Until then, schools still have plenty of work to do. This weekend is a huge one for most major conference teams, as they wrap up the regular season and finalize seeding for the conference tournaments, which will run all of next week. Every year there are teams that go on deep runs and bolster their NCAA Tournament resumes, and teams that fall back due to subpar performances.
While there is usually some separation at the top, the March Madness No. 1 seeds are very much in play. The major conference tournaments could go a long way towards deciding which teams claim those coveted spots come Selection Sunday.
A small group of teams have separated themselves as No. 1 seed contenders. Here is our best guess as to how things will shake out on March 13.
East Region No. 1 Seed - Villanova Wildcats
Big East Record: 15-2
RealTime RPI Rank: 2
Strength Of Schedule Rank: 8
The NCAA Tournament has not been kind to Villanova in recent years. After making a Final Four run in 2009, 'Nova has fallen in the first weekend of March Madness in every year since; aside from 2011-12, when it missed the tournament altogether after a disappointing 13-19 record.
That being said, Jay Wright's team has been consistently great in the regular season, and in terms of NCAA Tournament seeding, that's all that matters on a year-to-year basis. This season has been no different. The Wildcats have run up a gaudy 26-4 record, with some very nice wins. They topped Philadelphia rival St. Joe's, currently No. 1 in the Atlantic 10, 86-72 on the road; they destroyed Xavier early in Big East play 95-64; they have won their Big East games by more than 12.5 points per game, on average.
">February 8, 2016
Their resume is not perfect, however. 'Nova has not fared nearly as well against the top teams it has faced. During non-conference play, Villanova lost to two other No. 1 seed contenders, Oklahoma (78-55) and Virginia (86-75). Xavier, Villanova's main competition in the Big East, rebounded from its conference opening loss to beat the Wildcats at home 90-83 on Feb. 24. Plenty of fans will jump at the chance to take a No. 8 or No. 9 seed over Villanova when the brackets are released, and they may be right to. As of now, though, Jay Wright's squad is on track to clinch a second- straight No. 1 seed. If they do, they will have the chance to play the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in Philadelphia, in front of what would likely be a partisan crowd. That is a big 'if,' of course.Next: Midwest Region No. 1 Seed >>>Midwest Region No. 1 Seed - Michigan State SpartansRecord: 24-5
Big Ten Record: 11-5
RealTime RPI Rank: 14
Strength Of Schedule Rank: 57We may be going out on a bit of a limb here, but it is March, which is no time to count out a team coached by Tom Izzo. Early in the year, MSU looked like the team to beat. They ran out to a 13-0 record to start the year, led by Denzel Valentine, who established himself as a National Player of the Year favorite. At midseason, Valentine missed four games after undergoing minor knee surgery. The Spartans went 3-1 in that stretch with a loss to Iowa, but had to claw out an overtime win against Oakland and played a bad Minnesota team close. Even after Valentine's return, Michigan State did not look right. From Jan. 14 - Jan. 20, the team lost three straight games to Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska.Since that rough patch, Michigan State looks every bit the national championship contender that it did back in November. The team's only loss came by one point in overtime to Purdue on Feb. 9. Valentine is in good form as well, averaging 21.8 points, 8.4 assists, and 7.7 rebounds since the losing streak. Oklahoma's Buddy Hield is the likely winner of the Naismith Award, but Valentine could make a run at it with a big conference tournament.
">March 2, 2016
With Indiana topping Michigan State in the Big Ten regular season, the Spartans will likely have to win the Big Ten Tournament to claim the fourth No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Even then, the ACC, Big 12, and Big East will have an argument to land multiple top seeds. If MSU wins the Big Ten, however, it will have won 13 of its last 14 games, and obviously a conference title to add to the resume. That's pretty hard to argue against. Again, never bet against Izzo in March.
South Region No. 1 Seed - Kansas Jayhawks
Big 12 Record: 14-3
RealTime RPI Rank: 1
Strength Of Schedule Rank: 6
For a few weeks, it didn't seem like anyone wanted to win the Big 12. The league has had a crazy, topsy-turvy season, with Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia all looking like real contenders at times. And in the end, as usual, it is the Kansas Jayhawks that have captured the league's regular season, and enter March as one of the favorites to make it to the Final Four.
">March 1, 2016
Winning the Big 12 is just what Kansas does. Bill Self has led the Jayhawks to 12 straight regular season titles, and the Jayhawks are peaking at the perfect moment with the conference tournament on the horizon. Kansas has won 10 straight games, knocking off SEC power Kentucky, rival Kansas State twice, Top 10 West Virginia and Oklahoma teams, and ranked Baylor and Texas in that stretch. Earlier in the year, the Jayhawks struggled away from The Phog. Now, they have five straight road wins in some intimidating environments. With an incredibly balanced roster led by forward Perry Ellis and the talented guard triumvirate of Frank Mason III, Wayne Selden Jr. and Devonte' Graham, KU looks built for March.Kansas is the regular season champion of the best conference in America, and even without a tournament title, should be a No. 1 seed. At this point, the Jayhawks should be the top overall seed, and we have them making the trip to Louisville for the South Regional, if they make it to the second weekend. Chicago, which is about an equal distance from Lawrence, is also a possibility, depending on how the last few No. 1 seeds shake out. No matter where they are sent, expect thousands of Kansas fans to follow.Next: West Region No. 1 Seed >>>West Region No. 1 Seed - Virginia CavaliersRecord: 23-6
ACC Record: 12-5
RealTime RPI Rank: 3
Strength Of Schedule Rank: 9Tony Bennett has built Virginia into a legitimate ACC power, but the Cavaliers haven't been able to break out in March, because Michigan State is always right around the corner. As a No. 1 seed in 2014, Virginia fell to No. 4 seed Michigan State in the Sweet 16. Last year, Virginia clinched the No. 2 seed in the East, and lost to No. 7 Michigan State, which made an unexpected run to the Final Four. In our scenario, these two wouldn't meet before the national semifinals, and that's great news for the 'Hoos. Virginia currently sits behind North Carolina and Miami in the ACC standings, but their resume is quite strong. UVA has just six losses on the year, all coming on the road, and four of the six came by a single possession. It has also won at Ohio State and at home against West Virginia, Villanova and Cal in three straight games. The Mountaineers and Wildcats will both be very high seeds on Selection Sunday, and Cal is a talented tournament-bound squad. In ACC play, Virginia has knocked off Notre Dame, Miami, Clemson, Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville, and North Carolina—all tournament locks or teams on the bubble.To take home the No. 1 seed, Virginia will likely need a deep ACC Tournament run, probably further than North Carolina goes. Based on how the teams are playing now, we like the chances of that. Virginia ranks No. 10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, per Ken Pom. UNC can get out and run, but struggle to shoot the ball and can be scored on by good teams. Some may not like Bennett's pack-line defense and methodical offense, but it is effective, and it will get his team far in the tournament one of these years. With a No. 1 seed, 2016 may be it. And when it comes to style in college basketball, beauty is really in the eye of the beholder.
">March 2, 2016
Other No. 1 Seed Contenders:
We're not exactly soothsayers, and as we said before, there is a ton of work to be done before the No. 1 seeds are truly hashed out. A number of other programs are still real contenders there.
The Tar Heels are incredibly talented and have great depth down low. Whether Roy Williams is utilizing it as well as he can is up for debate, but North Carolina is very hard to deal with. Outside shooting is an issue, and they can be caught on an off night. If the Heels win the ACC Tournament, they're probably a No. 1 over Virginia.
The Sooners spent plenty of time at No. 1 in the polls, and have one of the nation's best and most exciting players in Buddy Hield. The depth of the Big 12 has caught up with them a bit lately, and they've lost four of eight games. A Big 12 championship should put them back onto the one-seed line, though.
After getting throttled by Villanova to open Big East play, the win at the Cintas Center a few weeks ago was huge, and thrust the Musketeers into No. 1 seed contention. 'Nova has a slight edge in terms of resume, but Xavier is playing great ball. If they outlast Villanova in the Big East Tournament, they could steal the top seed from their conference rival.