Here’s Who Gets A One Seed

By: Jack Henkels

We’re at that point in the year where NCAA tournament seeding is starting to shape up. Power Five teams have a game or two left on their regular season slate before they shift gears and look toward their respective conference tournaments. Here, I’m going to look into my crystal ball, save you some time, and just tell you the one seeds almost two full weeks before they’re announced on Selection Sunday.

Hmm, where to should I start? Ok, let’s look at North Carolina, who made the jump to the one-line on many prognosticators’ brackets on Monday morning. Well, they just lost to UVA in Charlottesville Monday night. There’s a hit to their chances. The Tar Heels will beat Duke Saturday night and enter the ACC tournament as the top seed.

Staying in the ACC, I think the only other contender for the top line is Louisville. They’re 23-6, but they’ll certainly defeat Wake Forest and Notre Dame this week, rolling into Brooklyn as the second seed in the ACC tournament.

Looking elsewhere, the Pac-12 is a three-horse race for the ages. Arizona, UCLA, and Oregon will each beat-up on whatever Pac-12 cellar-dwellers they happened to draw this  week and waltz into the Pac-12 Tournament as the top three seeds.

Also out West, Gonzaga looms. We all know what I think about Gonzaga. Their conference tournament starts this weekend and finishes up early next week. Gonzaga will cruise to the final, that’s a given. In the championship game, they’ll draw either St. Mary’s or BYU. I think St. Mary’s upends BYU in a clash-of-contrasting-styles matchup, and advances to fight the Zags in the Final. Sure, it’s hard to beat a team three times in one year, but not for Gonzaga. Zags roll and enter selection Sunday at 32-1.

In the Big Ten, there is nothing. A barren landscape devoid of any one-seed promise.

Big Blue nation, sitting at 24-5, are still holding out hope for that top line. They’ll beat Vanderbilt at home Tuesday night, but they’ll fall in College Station to the Aggies on Saturday, falling to 25-6 entering the SEC tournament in Nashville. You know, the funny thing about Nashville is that Rupp Arena isn’t located there. Kentucky will falter. I think to Florida in the Championship Game. This ousts Kentucky from any one-seed contention.

Then, well, there’s Kansas who has played more close games this year than any team at any level of basketball in the history of the sport. But, credit to them, they win a lot of them. They currently sit atop the AP Poll at 27-3, but they’ll lose on Saturday to Phil Forte and Oklahoma State. They’ll still slide into the Big 12 tournament as the top seed, and they’ll run through the bracket. Monte Morris and Iowa State will give them a scare in the Final, but a Frank Mason III dagger three ices the game with a minute and a half left. Kansas finishes at 30-4 and will be both Big 12 regular season and tournament Champions (again).

Villanova will struggle with the Hoyas in DC on Saturday, but eventually brush them aside behind strong 2nd half point guard play from Jalen Brunson. Because Isaiah Whitehead doesn’t still play for Seton Hall, The Cats will walk through the Big East Tournament at the Garden and return to the Main Line at 31-3 in time for Selection Sunday.

Okay, so those are the options. Kansas and Villanova have cemented themselves on the top line. There will be a donnybrook over who the top overall seed should be, but I’m leaning toward Villanova after they decimate Butler on national television in the Big East final. Butler isn’t beating Nova three times. So, as it stands now:

#1 Villanova – East

#1 Kansas – South

#1 ???? – Midwest/West

#1 ???? – Midwest/West

Ok, so with Kentucky out of the picture, we’ve got UCLA, Arizona, Oregon, Gonzaga, Louisville, and North Carolina fighting for those final two spots.

Here’s what happens in the Pac-12 tournament: Oregon, thanks in large part to Dillon Brooks’ continuous regular season heroics, nabbed the one seed and will sleep walk to the Pac-12 Final. Arizona and UCLA withstand the quarterfinals and face-off in the semifinal adjacent to Oregon. With the season series split 1-1 and both teams winning on the road, UCLA and Arizona will be one of those games we look back at in mid-April and say “you know, that game was actually better than any of the actual March Madness games.”

Lonzo Ball goes off for 9 points, 6 boards, and 5 dimes in the first half as UCLA opens up a 12-point halftime lead. At halftime, Lonzo’s father LaVar Ball will drunkenly stagger onto the floor, take the microphone from the little girl who is singing “God Bless America,” and threaten Magic Johnson to select Lonzo with whatever pick the Lakers get in the draft. The little girl gets scared, but instead of crying, she kicks LaVar in the leg and sends him crumbling to the ground. She snatches the microphone and finishes God Bless America, all while LaVar gets dragged off the floor by security. Lonzo, who is well on his way to a triple-double, hears this news in the locker room and loses his head. Well, he says he’s fine. He tells teammate Bryce Alford that he’s ok, but Bryce knows something’s up. Sure enough, Lonzo comes out and turns the ball over on the first 4 possessions. He then misses his first five shots. Arizona chips away at the lead, until eventually Lauri Markkanen buries a go-ahead three with 2:20 left. Lonzo, who has since picked up his 4th personal foul and has yet to log a positive statistic in the second half, re-enters the game, and tosses a lob to TJ Leaf, who jams it home, putting the Pac-12 Final on Marc Zumoff’s seesaw with under 2 to play. Trier bangs a 3, to put the Cats up 2. Lonzo ties it with a step-back elbow jumper. Trier cans another three with 15 seconds left. Coach Alford calls a timeout. He draws up a play for his son, Bryce, who single-handedly kept his team in the game while Lonzo was suffering a mental breakdown. Lonzo nods and agrees in the huddle, but when the ball gets inbounded, he goes rogue, blows off the play which included Bryce Alford running off a screen for a three, and calls for a high screen. TJ Leaf, who is confused at why Lonzo has disregarded their coach, stumbles up to set the screen. Markkanen switches onto Lonzo. Lonzo takes a hard dribble to his left before stepping back for three. Four ticks remain on the clock. Lonzo jumps back, getting his feet behind the line, and throws a mean pump-fake, getting Markkanen in the air. He then contorts and hoists himself into Markkanen’s body, and launches a prayer at the rim as the whistle blows signaling a shooting foul. The shot banks in, with a second and a half on the clock and a potential go-ahead free throw looming for Lonzo.

At this point, LaVar has moderately sobered up, and he sits in a nearby jail cell listening to the game on the security guard’s transistor radio. He leaps for joy when he hears his son Lonzo is a free throw away from sealing the Pac-12 Title on a remarkable 4-point play. LaVar trembles as he listens to the announcer mutter “And the free throw is good! the Bruins have the lead! Arizona is out of timeouts!”

Markkanen inbounds to Trier, who launches from 75 feet. It banks in. Arizona moves on to face Oregon in the Final.

The next night, Arizona looks flat-out dead from their dog fight with the Bruins. Oregon quacks to a Pac-12 title.

From Vegas to Brooklyn, where the ACC Tournament is taking place. Notre Dame/Duke in the 4/5 ACC quarterfinal doesn’t disappoint, as Matt Farrell bangs a game-winner, sending the Irish to face North Carolina in the semis. On the flipside, Louisville thumps Florida State in a matchup of “let’s see who can play the most 7-footers at once”. That leads to a Louisville/UNC ACC Championship Game.

Here, both teams struggle from the get go and Louisville enters the Barclays Center locker room with a 25-22 lead. Justin Jackson and Joel Berry combine for 2/14 from the field in the first half, but Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell has missed 7 threes of his own. In the second half, ESPN hopes that the offenses wake up and stop doing their best Virginia impressions,  but much to the network’s dismay, the Tar Heel and Cardinal defenses continue to dominate. With Louisville up 50-49 under a minute remaining, Louisville guard Quentin Snider throws one of his trademarked lobs to fellow guard Donovan Mitchell, but Mitchell jumps so high that his pants drawstring gets caught on the rim. This sends the ball caroming off the backboard and Mitchell dangerously falling to the deck. This ignites a fast break for North Carolina, which is finished by a Justin Jackson flush to put them up by one. Louisville, who is out of timeouts, quickly inbounds, but realizes that Mitchell is still prone under the basket. The clock ticks under 20, and it appears Louisville is either going to have to commit a turnover to stop the clock and get a sub, or try and get a bucket shorthanded. Roy Williams, realizing this, signals for his team to double the ball around half court. The backline of the UNC press sneaks up a bit, taking away the first pass and forgetting about Mitchell, who hasn’t moved since the drawstring fall. Suddenly, someone in press row catches Mitchell’s eye. As he lies on the floor, he winks at the reporter, calmly and silently staggers to his feet, and points up toward the basket. North Carolina, who has no defender inside the arc because they’re all defending one-pass-away from the half court trap, turns around in pure astonishment. Snider, who has been dodging the press for the better part of ten seconds, glances up, sees Mitchell on his feet, and throws another lob. This time, Mitchell snatches it, and throws it home with the power of 1000 daggers. UNC, who is also out of timeouts, inbounds the ball with 3 seconds left. It’s stolen by Mitchell, who punts the ball into the crowd as time expires. Louisville wins the ACC.

With all that said and done, let’s re-look at our one seed leaderboard.

#1 Villanova – East

#1 Kansas – South

#1 ???? – Midwest/West

#1 ???? – Midwest/West

Well, well, well. Two top seeds still remaining. Conference tournaments over. Here are the applicants’ resumes:

Louisville: 28-6 (ACC Champs)

North Carolina: 28-7

Oregon: 30-4 (Pac-12 Champs)

Arizona: 29-5

UCLA: 29-4

Gonzaga: 32-1 (WCC Champs)

Had UNC beaten UVA in the last week of the regular season in Charlottesville, the committee might have been able to overlook their ACC heartbreaker to Louisville. Instead, the Cardinals resume is just a bit better, and the Pac-12 teams have significantly fewer losses. North Carolina is eliminated.

Next, we must look at the Pac-12, where all three teams are so, so evenly matched. Oregon, however, who won the conference and finished with the best record of the three despite playing a part of the season without their best player Dillon Brooks, stands a nose above the other two.

So, Oregon has separated themselves from Arizona and UCLA, and UNC has been demoted to the 2-line. Now we must compare conferences. Does Louisville fall among the Oregon ranks? Or do they belong among the UCLA/Arizona debate? And then – there’s the wild card. Where the hell does Gonzaga fall into all of this?

(For the next bit, I’m the fly on the wall in the committee room right before 6 o’clock on Selection Sunday)

The committee decides that Gonzaga’s quality wins aren’t quality enough to put them in that one-seed discussion. They beat an Arizona team without Trier and Jackson-Cartwright, and the Florida and Iowa State wins just don’t hold up. Gonzaga is eliminated.

The committee determines that the Pac-12 was actually a bit overrated this year (at least, that’s what they’re telling everyone). Oregon going 30-4 and winning the conference is enough to shoot them a nose above the other two, but Arizona and UCLA are sent packing to the 2-line.

No one on the committee really wants to admit this, but the “Pac-12 is overrated talk” sounded a lot more like “how do we justify not having the winner of the best conference in America as a 1-seed?” So, in lieu of Louisville, the committee, who is obligated to make ESPN happy, is forced to nudge the Wildcats and Bruins. The Cardinals, after winning the ACC by Donovan Mitchell’s drawstring, snag the last one seed.

So, here are your one seeds, in order:

#1 Villanova – East

#1 Kansas – South

#1 Oregon – West

#1 Louisville – Midwest

Alright. I have now told you everything that’s going to happen. There is officially no reason to watch basketball now until the first weekend of the madness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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