Usually, when a team vying for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament loses late in the regular season, there is cause for concern. But that concern can be alleviated when all the other teams looking for No. 1 seeds also happen to lose.
That’s exactly what happened last week.
With its loss to Purdue on Sunday, No. 2 Ohio State (26-2, 13-2 Big Ten) was able to maintain its grip on a top tournament seed last week because No. 3 Kansas (26-2, 11-2 Big 12), No. 4 Pittsburgh (24-3, 12-2 Big East) and No. 5 Texas (24-4, 12-1 Big 12) lost. This allowed fifth-ranked Duke (25-2, 12-1 ACC) to jet to No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Jerry Palm, bracketology expert and owner of CollegeRPI.com, said the Blue Devils’ ascension in the rankings isn’t necessarily deserved.
“Duke went from No. 5 to No. 1 because the four teams ahead of them lost,” Palm told The Lantern, “not because Duke’s better.”
One of Duke’s losses came to Florida State (19-7, 9-3 ACC), whom the Buckeyes beat, 58-44, Nov. 30 on the road. Duke’s other loss came Jan. 30 to then-unranked St. John’s (17-9, 9-5 Big East).
OSU’s two losses came to No. 12 Wisconsin (20-6, 10-4 Big Ten) and No. 8 Purdue (22-5, 11-3 Big Ten).
In Palm’s most recent bracket, Pittsburgh, OSU, No. 6 San Diego State (27-1, 12-1 Mountain West) and Kansas are all No. 1 seeds with Texas and Duke right on the cusp. He said Pittsburgh and OSU clearly have the best résumés at this point in the season.
Despite losing to No. 7 BYU (25-2, 11-1 Mountain West) on Jan. 26, San Diego State remains a viable contender for a top seed, even though it plays in the lesser-known Mountain West Conference.
Behind leading scorer and rebounder Kawhi Leonard — who’s averaging a double-double with 15.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per game — the Aztecs are in a better position for a No. 1 seed now than anyone could have anticipated. They get a rematch against BYU on Sunday in a game that could solidify their position.
Palm said that of the top four teams to lose last week, the Longhorns’ loss to Nebraska (18-8, 6-6 Big 12) was “the worst” loss of the group. The Cornhuskers are fighting for a chance at an at-large bid, and the loss dropped Texas to No. 5.
The Buckeyes will be favored in each of their three remaining regular season games — against Indiana (12-15, 3-11 Big Ten), on the road against Penn State (14-12, 7-8 Big Ten) and the rematch game against Wisconsin — and they need a solid showing in the Big Ten Tournament to warrant the No. 1 overall seed in the Big Dance, Palm said.
“It’s a grind,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “I’m glad I’ve chosen the attitude I’ve always had in my approach to coaching — I’m not looking back.
“Every day in college basketball is survival mode; there’s no doubt about that.”
The other most likely contender for the top overall seed is Pittsburgh, which will have to face a gauntlet of Big East teams finishing off its regular season and in its conference tournament. The Big East is arguably the best conference in college basketball.