NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Preview Analysis

By Gary Mills
Published on February 12, 2018
March Madness Basketball Court

In what is becoming a new tradition, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Selection Committee has released the four top seeds in each of the four regions of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Just to be clear, these are not where they think each team will be in March when the real selections are made, this is where each team would land if the season ended right now.

This is a fun little preview that is intended to hype everyone up and get some national attention for college basketball now that football season is officially over. It also gives us a good idea of which teams the committee is valuing this year, and which teams they think still have more work left to do.

If you dig deeper, you can even see what it is the committee is valuing the most this season. Are they favoring teams with lots of big wins out of conference? How about conference record? Bad losses? Tough scheduling? RPI? Kenpom? The committee takes many things into account, and by taking a hard look at these previewed rankings, you can see which of those metrics matter the most to the committee this year. With no further delay here are the rankings!

  • 1 Virginia (22-1) (RPI 1) (Kenpom 1) (1)
  • 2 Cincinnati (22-2) (RPI 10) (Kenpom 4) (8)
  • 3 Michigan State (24-3) (RPI 14) (Kenpom 6) (11)
  • 4 Tennessee (18-6) (RPI 13) (Kenpom 12) (13)
  • 1 Villanova (23-2) (RPI 3) (Kenpom 2) (2)
  • 2 Duke (19-5) (RPI 8) (Kenpom 5) (7)
  • 3 Texas Tech (21-4) (RPI 11) (Kenpom 8) (10)
  • 4 Ohio State (22-5) (RPI 17) (Kenpom 11) (14)
  • 1 Purdue (23-4) (RPI 12) (Kenpom 3) (4)
  • 2 Kansas (19-6) (RPI 9) (Kenpom 14) (6)
  • 3 North Carolina (19-7) (RPI 6) (Kenpom 10) (12)
  • 5 Arizona (20-6) (RPI 19) (Kenpom 24) (15)
  • 1 Xavier (23-3) (RPI 2) (Kenpom 13) (3)
  • 2 Auburn (22-3) (RPI 7) (Kenpom 9) (5)
  • 3 Clemson (20-4) (RPI 4) (Kenpom 15) (9)
  • 4 Oklahoma (16-8) (RPI 21) (Kenpom 30) (16)

What The Committee Got Right

With Virginia as the number one overall seed, the committee absolutely nailed it. The Cavaliers are number one in RPI, number one on Kenpom, and have the best record in the country. They hold big wins over Rhode Island, North Carolina, Clemson, and Duke.

Their two losses on the year came at West Virginia, one of the toughest places to play in the country, and in their last game to a sneaky good Virginia Tech team that will certainly be playing meaningful games in March.

For my money, the ACC is the best conference in the land, and the Cavaliers are basically running away with it, currently holding a two-game lead over Clemson and a three-game lead over Duke. The Cavs have a pretty soft finish to the end of the season, at least by ACC standards, and I see them as the only real lock for a number one seed at this point.

I think the committee did a great job on the one line.

You can’t argue against the results of Villanova and Purdue, even though both teams recently lost games they shouldn’t have. The body of work is there, and they both deserved to be on the top line.

As far as Xavier goes, you could have swapped them with either Auburn or Cincinnati, but I think they deserve to be on the top line right now. Xavier is a little light on big wins, but so is Auburn, and while Cincinnati has a great body of work, they have a head to head loss to Xavier, so it would be hard to argue they should be ranked above them.

They did a great job on the top line!

What The Committee Got Wrong

Ranking over 300 basketball teams can’t be an easy thing to do, but when you look a little deeper at these rankings, the committee clearly missed on a few. Oklahoma making the cut for a top-four seed is borderline laughable at the moment. I get that Trae Young has all the star power in the world and that this team is fun to watch, but they have lost six out of their last eight games!

The Sooners are ranked just 21st in the RPI and 30th in Kenpom! Oklahoma doesn’t even have a winning record in Big 12 league play. I like Oklahoma, a lot, but they shouldn’t be ranked nearly this high right now considering their recent struggles.

Ohio State at a four seed seems mighty low to me.

The Buckeyes do have five losses on the season, but they are to Clemson, Gonzaga, North Carolina, Butler, and Penn State. All of those teams will be dancing in March, so nothing to hang your head about there. And when you look at some of the wins they have been able to produce, against the likes of Michigan State, Purdue, Michigan, and Maryland this team has proven it can beat any team in the nation.

They are also red-hot right now, winners of seventeen out of their last nineteen games. The committee always cries about soft scheduling and this Buckeye team went out and played everyone in the non-conference, and to me, I feel like they are being punished because of it.

Who Got Snubbed

Anytime you have a ranking like this there are always going to be deserving teams that get left out. The most glaring snub on this board is the fact that Gonzaga is left out of them! The Zags went all the way to the National Finals last season and are off to another great season this year. Mark Few’s team has a bunch of good wins. They beat Ohio State, Texas, Creighton, and St Mary’s.

The loss to San Diego State wasn’t a great one, but the Aztecs always protect their home court well, so it was somewhat forgivable. I could see Gonzaga switching places with Oklahoma, Arizona, or even Tennessee as their body of work matches up very well to all of those teams. Kenpom has the Zags at number seven, they certainly should have made the top sixteen here.

The two other teams that could have a gripe here are St Mary’s and Rhode Island.

As is almost always the case these small schools don’t get nearly as much love as they deserve in the rankings. The Gaels have been great this season and are tied with Michigan State for the most wins in the country this year, at twenty-four.

They did just drop a tough game to Gonzaga at home in their last game, but at number eleven in the AP Poll and seventeen in Kempom, you could make a case for the Gaels making the cut.

For Rhode Island, they own the nation’s longest current win streak at fifteen games and have completely run away with the Atlantic 10 regular season title. Unfortunately for them the A-10 is a bit down this season and could end up being a one-bid league.

Personally, I think the Rams have a little more work left to do, but they could very easily run the table and enter the tournament at close to thirty wins. If they finish that strong, it would be hard to deny them a top-four seed.

What The Committee Cares About This Year

When you look at how these rankings played out you can get a decent idea of what the selection committee is really valuing this year. One of the things that the committee always seems to value is being a big program, playing in a major conference. The Zags, St. Mary’s, and Rhode Island all got left out.

Cincinnati would certainly be a one seed if they played in the ACC or Big 12, the fact that they are playing in the American appears to be hurting them some. It’s not always something a program can control, but teams do occasionally move to better conferences. Recent moves from Wichita State, VCU, and BYU prove that if you don’t like playing in a tiny conference, you can always move to a better one. And clearly, it matters to the committee.

Another thing that sticks out to me as a difference maker was a team’s ability to win big games out of conference. All four top seeds hold big non-conference wins. Villanova beat Gonzaga and Tennessee, Xavier beat Cincinnati, Virginia beat Rhode Island, and Purdue beat Arizona and Louisville.

These out of conference wins seemed to matter even more than the league plays games as teams like Ohio State, Auburn, and Texas Tech had most of their success in conference play and suffered as a result.

What The Committee Doesn’t Care About This Year

League play! We illustrated that above by showing all the teams that have dominated their league and didn’t see themselves ranked all that high. And on the flip-side, a couple of these teams have really struggled in conference games, and it seemingly didn’t matter. Oklahoma is 6-6 in Big 12 play. Arizona lost league games to Colorado, Washington, and UCLA. Tennessee has four Sec losses, and the Vols are two full games back of Auburn for the regular season title.

Winning big in league play doesn’t seem to be enough and losing a lot in your own conference hasn’t seemed to matter either. It’s almost like the committee completely ignored conference basketball this year. That should change though as the conference tournaments are just around the corner and should provide lots of opportunities for teams to pick up wins that matter.

Wrap Up

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is the greatest sporting event in the world. Giving us a sneak preview of what they are thinking right now is a great way to get a national conversation started on college basketball and to make sure that everyone is primed and ready for the conference tournaments and the big push to the Big Dance.

I hope you enjoyed the sneak preview as much as I did, and I can’t wait for the greatest day of the sports year, Selection Sunday, just one month away!

An Analysis of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Selection Preview
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An Analysis of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Selection Preview
In what is becoming a new tradition, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Selection Committee has released the four top seeds in each of the four regions of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Here we will break down what they got right and who got snubbed.
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