Being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is not only prestigious, but also a competitive advantage. In the first rounds, a top seed faces one of the four bottom teams in the field and a one never has lost its opening-round game. A top seed wonât face a Top 25 team until the Sweet 16.
Each week weâre looking at the race for the No. 1 seeds, the focus is as much on what lies ahead for these teams as what theyâve accomplished. These are the teams with the best chance to finish with a top seed based on talent, schedule, performance and forecast.
1. Gonzaga (28-0, 16-0 WCC) | RPI: 7
The Zags did not get much love from the selection committee when it revealed its top 16 on Feb. 11, coming in as the fourth overall No. 1 seed. Gonzaga has the best chance of being a No. 1 seed because it has the best chance of winning out. Unlike the other teams on this list, the Bulldogsâ regular season ends this week with games at San Diego and vs. BYU in Spokane.
2. Villanova (26-3, 13-3 B-East) | RPI: 2
The home loss to Butler on Wednesday night knocked them out of the overall No. 1 spot in the bracket, but the Wildcats still have the second-best chance to wind up on the top line. Their rÃ©sumÃ© includes nine top-50 wins, four on the road. They have not lost to a team that is not in contention for a tournament spot and are at least a step better than the rest of the Big East, even if Butler has their number this season. Villanovaâs chances of winning out (vs. Creighton on Saturday; at Georgetown on March 4) remain pretty good.
3. Kansas (25-3, 13-2 B-12) | RPI: 1
Stop me if you have heard this one before ... Kansas won the Big 12. The Jayhawks have now won a record-tying 13 consecutive regular-season conference titles. They also passed Villanova for the overall No. 1 seed in the bracket, but because the Jayhawks face a possible third game vs. Baylor, Villanova still has a better chance to finish as a No. 1 seed. At this point, however, it would take a major upset for the Jayhawks or the teams above them on this list to not finish as a No. 1 seed.
4. North Carolina (24-5, 12-3 ACC) | RPI: 3
The Tar Heels have separated from the rest of the ACC with a two-game lead over four schools (Duke, Florida State, Louisville, Notre Dame). Beating Louisville 74-63 at Chapel Hill on Wednesday moved the Heels up to the top line of the bracket. They also demolished Virginia 65-41 last Saturday. They visit the Cavaliers on Monday and, of course, still have a game vs. Duke remaining, but it is looks like UNC is up for those challenges. Then the fun begins: the ACC tournament. They would need a little help, but if UNC wins all the way out, it could make a charge at the overall No. 1 spot.
5. Baylor (23-5, 10-5 B-12) | RPI: 5
The Bears just cannot finish the job against Kansas. If they could, they might be the overall No. 1. Baylor might get another shot at Kansas in the Big 12 tournament, and probably needs it because it doesnât have as good a chance at being a No. 1 seed without it. Regardless, the Bears need to win out to reach that point, and their play has fallen off the past few weeks.
6. Arizona (25-3, 14-1 Pac-12) | RPI: 9
The Wildcats are the Pac-12âs leading contender for a No. 1 seed because they have beaten quality teams away from home and have only lost to Gonzaga, Oregon and Butler. Arizonaâs problem might be the number of quality wins it can pile up from here because the Pac-12 doesnât have many good teams. The Wildcats still have games left with UCLA and Southern California before the conference tournament. They were behind Oregon in the committeeâs bracket largely because of the head-to-head (85-58) disaster and cannot get to atone for that until the conference tournament.
7. Oregon (25-4, 14-2 Pac-12) | RPI: 4
The Ducks were ahead of Arizona in the committeeâs bracket, despite a worse record against a similar schedule, because they beat the Wildcats by 27 at home. Oregon will not play any of the Pac-12âs better teams until the conference tournament, so if it hopes to challenge for a No. 1 seed, it needs to win out. The Ducks were lucky to escape Cal 68-65 on Dillon Brooksâ last-second 3 Wednesday night, but should not be challenged like that again in the regular season (at Stanford on Saturday, at Oregon State on March 4).
8. Louisville (22-6, 10-5 ACC) | RPI: 6
The Cardinals have a decent number of quality wins, but they are an elite home-court hero. Wins over Duke, Kentucky and Purdue are great, but all were at the Yum Center. In fact, the only top-50 team the Cardinals have beaten away from home is Wichita State. They must win the ACC tournament to land a No. 1 seed, and that would require beating some very good teams away from home.
9. Duke (22-6, 10-5 ACC) | RPI: 12
The preseason No. 1 Blue Devils looked like they were finally starting to round into form, but then Syracuseâs John Gillon banked in a shot from 25 feet to end their seven-game winning streak. Realistically, Duke has to win out -- including the ACC tournament -- to have any shot at a No. 1 seed. If it were any other team, that fact would be enough to exclude them from this list, but Duke has the talent to pull it off. The question is whether they have the form to do it.