NCAA Release Top Sixteen Teams for March Madness

NCAAM - Top 16 Teams for March Madness

The NCAA men’s basketball selection committee released the top four seeds in each region this week, giving the fans a preview of the top sixteen teams in the committee’s point of view if the season were to end right now. The committee started releasing this February preview a couple of years back, and it does a great job of getting all the casual fans who have been focusing on football to switch gears and get ready for March Madness, which is just around the corner.

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As is always the case, these rankings have stirred up some controversy and have started a national conversation over what they got right, and what they got wrong. Which teams are ranked too high? Which teams are ranked too low? And who got snubbed altogether? In this article, we will be breaking down my thoughts on the seeding. Let’s get started!

The Seeds

First and foremost, let’s show you all the actual seeds, and where each team ranks 1-16.

  • 1. Duke (top overall No. 1 seed)
  • 2. Tennessee (second No. 1 seed)
  • 3. Virginia (third No. 1 seed)
  • 4. Gonzaga (fourth No. 1 seed)
  • 5. Kentucky (first No. 2 seed)
  • 6. Michigan (second No. 2 seed)
  • 7. North Carolina (third No. 2 seed)
  • 8. Michigan State (fourth No. 2 seed)
  • 9. Purdue (first No. 3 seed)
  • 10. Kansas (second No. 3 seed)
  • 11. Houston (third No. 3 seed)
  • 12. Marquette (fourth No. 3 seed)
  • 13. Iowa State (first No. 4 seed)
  • 14. Nevada (second No. 4 seed)
  • 15. Louisville (third No. 4 seed)
  • 16. Wisconsin (fourth No. 4 seed)

My first reaction here is that the ACC is certainly well represented as they have the number one overall seed in Duke, as well as four of the top sixteen, three of those coming the top seven.

In my estimation, the ACC is the best league in the land, so it makes sense that they are so well represented here in the rankings. The Big 10 is also getting a lot of love from the committee as they have four teams in the top sixteen, with Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, and Wisconsin all making an appearance.

What the Committee Got Right

Overall, I think the committee did a decent job ranking these teams. There is a lot of basketball to be played, but if I were to rank the teams, this wouldn’t be all that far off. Having Duke as the number one overall seed was a no-brainer as the Blue Devils are the class of the nation right now. I also agree that Tennessee and Gonzaga deserve to be on the top line.

Generally, the committee doesn’t give the smaller schools that don’t play in a power conference much love, but they did an okay job of sharing the wealth this year as we see Gonzaga (WCC), Houston (AAC), and Nevada (MWC) all in the top sixteen. I think you could make a case for Buffalo to sneak into these rankings somewhere as they are having a great season, but for the most part, the small conferences got a seat at the table this year.

What the Committee Got Wrong

Now, here is where the fun starts. I think we can all agree that three of the top teams were seeded correctly. I just don’t see much of an argument at all against Duke, Tennessee, and Gonzaga being top seeds, but after those three teams, you have plenty of room for debate. Personally, I don’t like seeing the Virginia Cavaliers on the top line.

Yes, the Cavs are very good, but they have two conferences losses, both to Duke, and they are long shots to win the ACC regular season title. If you can’t win your conference title, I don’t think you deserve to be on the one line. I think you can make a case for both Kentucky and Michigan to move up to the top slot, but after seeing what Duke did to Kentucky on opening night, beating the Wildcats by thirty-four points, I am going with Michigan as my final one seed.

The Big 10 is a very good league this season; I see them getting as many as eight teams into the NCAA tournament this year. But I don’t think Wisconsin should be in the top sixteen right now. I love me some Ethan Happ, the kid is amazing, but the Badgers are in fifth place in the Big 10, they don’t deserve a spot as a top-four seed.

Nevada at a four seed? Huh? Yes, I get it. The Wolfpack haven’t even played a quadrant one team so far this season, and they won’t the rest of the way out either. But at some point, the eye test must matter. This team is clearly very talented, and they returned basically everybody from a team that went to the Sweet 16 last year.

This team is packed with upperclassmen, and their 23-1 record suggests that they could be competing for a one seed. Yet, they barely make the cut at all in these rankings, coming in at number fourteen. The eye test rankings, the AP and Coaches Polls, have Nevada ranked at number seven and six respectively. That feels like a much truer ranking for the Wolfpack.

The analytics aren’t great for Nevada. Kenpom has them at seventeen, and the NET rankings, the NCAA’s replacement of the RPI, has them at thirteen. But this team is elite. Their one loss of the year, and it was a bad one, they got blown out by New Mexico, was avenged as they returned the favor last week and blew out the Lobos by twenty-nine points. If the committee got one thing way wrong, it was having Nevada ranked so low.

My Rankings

So, we have looked at how the committee ranked the top four lines, and we discussed what they got right, and what they got wrong. Here, I will rank my top sixteen.

Duke Blue Devils Logo

1. Duke (1 Seed)

The Blue Devils are the most talented team in the country. Their recent road win in Charlottesville against the Virginia Cavaliers by double-digits shows just how great this team can play. The Blue Devils still have some work to do as they have a home game against Louisville and a home game against hated rival North Carolina still left on the schedule, but you can pencil the Dukies in on the top line now.

Tennessee Volunteers Logo

2. Tennessee (1 Seed)

The Vols have one of the biggest wins of any team this year when they won a neutral site game against Gonzaga in December. They have two superstars in Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams, and their only loss on the year was an early season overtime loss to a Kansas Jayhawks team that was ranked number two in the country at the time. Tennessee still has to play Kentucky twice to decide which team wins the SEC regular season title, whichever team emerges from the SEC as champs, will occupy my top line.

Gonzaga Bulldogs Logo

3. Gonzaga (1 Seed)

This is the best team that Mark Few has ever had in Spokane. Their win over Duke in the Maui Invitational finals will hold up as a truly elite victory, and this team has talent to spare. Rui Hachimura is a national player of the year candidate, and Brandon Clarke might be the most underrated player in the country. The injury to Killian Tillie isn’t going to help, but the Zags have won without him all season long, and he is expected to rejoin the team in time for the postseason, so don’t let that distract you from the fact that this is a Final Four caliber team.

Michigan Wolverines Logo

4. Michigan (1 Seed)

The Wolverines were expected to be down over last year’s team that made a run to the national finals, but that just has not been the case. This team plays swarming defense, currently ranked number two on Kenpom, and Ignas Brazdeikis is a budding superstar. The two losses on the year were both understandable as they lost road games in Madison against the Badgers and at Hawkeye-Carver Arena against Iowa, both teams that are ranked in the top twenty-five nationally. Big Blue will still have to hold off Michigan State and Purdue for the Big 10 regular season title, but for my money, they are the best the league has to offer.

Virginia Cavaliers Logo

5. Virginia (2 Seed)

We have established that Virginia can’t beat Duke. Well, not many teams can, so it is hard to hold that against them too much. The Cavaliers are loved by the analytics as Kenpom has them at number two and the NET rankings have them at number three. They have a really good defense and a great head coach. The looming question for the Cavs is can Tony Bennet lead them to a Final Four? Bennett’s name is sitting atop the list of best coaches not to make a Final Four, and despite winning at least twenty-nine games in four out of the last five seasons, and winning ACC coach of the year three times, Bennet has never made it to the third weekend of the tournament. This could be his year.

Kentucky Wildcats Logo

6. Kentucky (2 Seed)

The Wildcats came into the season with the number two recruiting class and were ranked second in the nation in the preseason. But after they got annihilated by Duke on opening night, many wondered if we were rating them much too highly. But they have now won fourteen of their last fifteen games, including huge wins over North Carolina and Kansas, and they are threatening Tennessee for the SEC regular season title. We always knew this team had lots of talent, the question was could coach Cal get them playing together as a team by March. It looks like that answer is a definitive yes.

North Carolina Tar Heels Logo

7. North Carolina (2 Seed)

The Tar Heels had a similar start to the season as the Wildcats did, as they started out slow. But the Heels have certainly picked it up in ACC play, as they are tied atop the standings of the nation’s best league with Duke. The win over Gonzaga was a big one, and if the Heels can protect their home court with wins over Duke and Virginia in the coming weeks, they could slide up to the top line. Don’t be shocked to see this team run deep in March, they are loaded with upperclassmen talent, and they have a coach that knows how to win in the tournament.

Nevada Wolf Pack Logo

8. Nevada (2 Seed)

As I mentioned above, I think the biggest mistake the committee made was criminally underrating the Wolfpack. I know Nevada doesn’t have a strong resume of wins, but that is just because they haven’t played any great teams. The Martin twins are both NBA-level players, and Nevada has four players averaging double-digit scoring. The committee is sleeping on the Wolfpack; you shouldn’t.

Houston Cougars Logo

9. Houston (3 Seed)

I am a little more bullish on this Houston team than the committee is, as I keep them on the three line, but slide them up a couple of spots. The Cougars are 23-1 and have really turned it up recently. They beat a better than most people think UCF team on the road, and then followed it up by beating a ranked Cincinnati team at home last week. The Cougars also beat Oregon early in the season when the Ducks still had Bol Bol on the team and were ranked in the top twenty-five. Remember, this team lost by just one point to eventual finals team Michigan, last year in the tournament. The NET rankings have the Cougars at number seven, and they are in the top ten of both the AP and Coaches Polls.

Kansas Jayhawks Logo

10. Kansas (3 Seed)

I am also bumping the Kansas Jayhawks up a couple spots as well. Kansas started the season ranked number one, and many wondered if this was the best team that Bill Self has ever had at Kansas. And that is saying a lot for the former NCAA national coach of the year who has taken multiple teams to the Final Four, including winning it all in 2008. The Jayhawks have played the toughest schedule in the country this year, so even though they have more losses than most of the teams in the top sixteen, they deserve some love. They hold the lone victory over top-ranked Tennessee this year and also have wins over Michigan State, Villanova, Marquette, and Texas Tech. Nobody has more wins over elite teams than Kansas does this year.

Michigan State Spartans Logo

11. Michigan State (3 Seed)

The Spartans are another team that has played a murderer’s row of teams this season. But they just don’t have the level of big wins that the Jayhawks do, and they do have a head-to-head loss to Kansas, so I swapped them in the rankings. The loss of Joshua Langford for the rest of the season with an injury was a brutal blow that this team might not be able to recover from. The Spartans have lost three out of their last four games, including an absolute head-scratching loss to an awful Illinois team. This team is fading fast, and if they don’t turn things around quickly, they are going to drop significantly.

Marquette Golden Eagles Logo

12. Marquette (3 Seed)

The Golden Eagles could be fighting for an even higher seed if they didn’t have to play St. John’s this season. Marquette has just two Big East losses this year, both coming to the Red Storm. The Golden Eagles picked up a huge win in their last game against the defending national champion Villanova Wildcats and have quality wins over Wisconsin, Buffalo, Kansas State, and Creighton. Marquette plays at Villanova on February 27th in a game that should decide who wins the Big East regular-season title.

Villanova Wildcats Logo

13. Villanova (4 Seed)

And speaking of Villanova, I have them here as the top four seed. The committee left them out of these rankings altogether, but I feel that is an injustice for a team that has won two out of the last three national titles and sits alone atop the Big East standings in first place. The Wildcats are a little light on big wins this season, but Jay Wright has shown us that he is just too good of a coach to be disrespected like this.

Texas Tech Red Raiders Logo

14. Texas Tech (4 Seed)

The Red Raiders are another team that didn’t make the cut in the official rankings but show up in mine. The Red Raiders have the number one defense in the country, per Kenpom, and have a superstar in Jarrett Culver. Tech has wins over Nebraska, before Isiah Copeland got hurt, as well as wins over USC, Kansas State, Texas, TCU, and Oklahoma. This team went to the Elite Eight last season, and Chris Beard can flat out coach. This feels like a second-weekend team with all kinds of upside.

Purdue Boilermakers Logo

15. Purdue (4 Seed)

I dropped the Boilermakers down a line, but I can see why the committee was so high on them. Carsen Edwards is going to get a long hard look for national player of the year, and this team is getting hot at the right time as they have won eight straight games. That stretch includes wins over Michigan State, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. This team is a bit of a one-man show, but when that one man is as good as Carsen Edwards is, it might not matter.

Buffalo Bulls Logo

16. Buffalo (4 Seed)

For this final spot, you could certainly make a case for Louisville, Wisconsin, LSU, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Iowa, or even Maryland. But instead of taking a middle of the pack big conference school, I am going to show some love to the class of the MAC, the Buffalo Bulls. Buffalo blew out Arizona last year, a team that featured the number one overall draft pick DeAndre Ayton, before bowing out to Kentucky in the round of thirty-two and brings back everything this year. C.J. Massinburg is a superstar in the makings, and this team should still be playing during the second weekend of the tournament.

Wrap Up

And here they are folks, my top sixteen teams for the NCAA tournament if the season ended today. The committee has a tough job, and they are never going to get it exactly right, but overall, they did a great job.

Stay tuned for my daily betting picks over the next several weeks as the action starts to really heat up as the Madness is set to begin. Thanks for reading, and good luck betting the rest of the way out!

Patrick Carter / author