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Breaking down the No. 1 seeds

By: Chris Jeter

In a perfect world, every single year the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament would be the four No. 1 seeds. That is how it is set up, that the four best teams in the country should be the last four standings. But that is why the NCAA Tournament is love so much. It’s an imperfect process where the four best teams by the end of the tournament are not necessarily the four best teams that a group of people sitting in a closed room thought were.

History shows that the chances of all four No. 1 seeds make it to the final four is very slim. The last and only time that all four top seeds reached the Final Four was in 2008. It just goes to show how hard it is to win four-straight games against staunch competition in a single elimination environment.

As great as all four of these teams are right now, they all have flaws, all have different strengths and match up with different teams in different ways. Let’s take a look at them now.

Villanova Wildcats

The defending national champions picked up right where they left off last year. The Wildcats earned the No. 1 overall seed this year and sit atop ESPN’s BPI rankings and the AP Poll. They also have one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, ranking fifth in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions). The defense, while not the cream of the crop, was not too shabby, ranking 33rd in defensive ratings (points allowed per 100 possessions). Unlike another team on this list, there are not too many questions about their strength of schedule, as they played in the toughest non-Power Five conference, the Big East.

On their end of the bracket, eighth-seeded Wisconsin could give them trouble. The Badgers rank 19th in defensive rating and are 41st in field goal percentage defense. That could be Nova’s second round opponent. The Wildcats may also have to worry about Virginia, which slows down the game to a crawl, or Florida in the Sweet 16. Then they still potentially have the always dangerous Duke Blue Devils in the Elite Eight. The committee made things tough for Villanova, but still, they have enough talent and experience to reach the National Championship game once again.

Kansas Jayhawks

Led by star guard Frank Mason, Kansas ended the season ranked third in the AP poll and bludgeoned opponents with their 3-point shot. This year they ranked 10th in the country in 3-point field goal percentage. Kansas was a good offensive team overall, ranking 18th in offensive rating, though that number is the lowest of the No. 1 seeds. Head coach Bill Self’s group did not take the easy path to their 28-4 record. They had the third toughest strength of schedule this year.

As good as Kansas was on offense, they were not as impressive on the other end of the court. The Jayhawks ranked 118th in the country in defensive rating. While far from terrible, that ranking is the lowest among the one seeds. With six teams in their corner of the bracket ranked in the top 50 in offensive rating play better defense than Kansas (Michigan, Oregon, Purdue, Oklahoma State, Creighton, Louisville), any one of those teams could do them in if Kansas has a slow night shooting the three.

North Carolina Tar Heels

The Tar Heels have a pretty good balance on offense. Four players average at least 12.3 points per game, with junior forward Justin Jackson leading the pack. The Tar Heels prefer to bully teams on the offensive glass (best in the nation) and get to the free throw line (54th in attempts). This helps add up to an offense ranked eighth in offensive rating. On top of the offensive boards, the Tar Heels run the 59th quickest pace in the country, the reason why they lead the country in two-point attempts and are second in overall field goal attempts. Even with the quicker pace, North Carolina ranked 131st in points allowed per game, which is middle of the pack. Their points allowed per 100 possessions is more impressive, ranked 52nd.

That said, the Tar Heels might face the toughest challenges on the road to the Final Four. They will likely breeze through Texas Southern and the Arkansas/Seton Hall winner. However, potential matchups with UCLA or Kentucky in the Elite Eight present potential problems for them, assuming they advance. The Bruins sport the best offensive in the country per 100 possessions and are led by the potential No. 1 overall NBA pick Lonzo Ball. Kentucky ranked in the top 40 in offense and defensive rating and have their usual array of top talent, led by freshman guard Malik Monk. Both teams have the talent and depth to send the Tar Heels home early.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

Another year, another dominant season by the Zags. The Bulldogs went 32-1 in the regular season, with a Feb. 25 loss to BYU being their only blemish. With seven players averaging at least 7.6 points per game, the Zags finished second in offensive rating and field goal percentage. The dominance extended to the defensive end, they had the best defensive rating in the country.

But the same questions about Gonzaga remain in the quality of their competition during the regular season. Outside three ranked opponents (Iowa State, Saint Mary’s and Arizona) the Bulldogs face ho-hum at best competition. Their strength of schedule ranked just 105th in the country, easily the worst of all the top seeded teams. While the strength of schedule is not everything, it is telling that the Zags have only two Elite Eight trips in 19-straight tournament appearances, with the first one being at the start of the run in 1999.

Still, Gonzaga should not have any issues until the Sweet 16. They might benefit from having the easiest path of the four No. 1 seeds, but even still, it would be no shock if a team like (after Arizona) Notre Dame, West Virginia, Florida State, or even Saint Mary’s end Gonzaga’s title hopes before they reach Glendale.

 

 

Each of these No. 1 seeds are the overwhelming favorites to reach the final four. However, history is against all four of them advancing and one of them may even stumble even earlier than imagined. Besides, what would be the fun in all the favorites reaching the Final Four? It’s called March Madness for a reason.

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Chris Jeter

Staff Writer
Chris has always had a love for sports. He inherited his affinity for them from his New York Yankees-loving dad and grandad, even if they gave his beloved Orioles a hard time during their 14 years of futility. Chis grew up an Orioles, Ravens, Maryland Terrapins and Chicago Bulls fan. His love for the local teams can from his mother. His love for the Bulls came from Michael Jordan and his favorite color being red. As a youth, Chris played basketball, baseball, and soccer with varying degrees of success. He always wanted to play for a team in one of those sports when he grew up, but once he quickly realized that, that was probably not going to happen, Chris wanted to be a part of sports in some other way. Eventually, Chris settled on becoming a sports writer. A year after transferring to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he took Media & Communications Studies with a Journalism Minor, he began writing for The Retriever, initially as a contributing writer and eventually as a staff writer for sports. After several months writing for The Retriever, he began writing for So Much Sports, covering various college sports and as a columnist, writing about a variety of national sports topics.

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