Although most of us have remained faithful throughout the season, I think even the most diehard Purdue fan thought a #1 seed was unlikely once Rob went down. We figured we could still get a three somewhere, maybe a two if things went really well, but a top seed was a stretch.
Here we are on March 2nd though in the discussion as teams keep falling by the wayside. San Diego State has been exposed a good team, but they haven't beaten the best on their schedule. Texas is in the middle of another Rick Barnes patented breakdown. Michigan State, considered a mortal lock before the season, abstained courteously.
With four number one seeds out there I think at least two are spoken for. Ohio State may lose Sunday to Wisconsin and could lose in the Big Ten Tournament, but even if both happen I think they are safe. Kansas is another safe #1 seed because both losses are to teams in the top 25 of the RPI. That leaves two others in discussion. Can Purdue steal one?
What Does Purdue Need to do (Current RPI: 6)?
You may ask what the difference is. It can be huge. As a #1 you're most likely guaranteed at least one easy win over one of the six worst teams in the tournament. A 15 seed can be fiesty, but your 16's are often the bottom of the barrel teams or bad teams that got hot and stole an automatic bid. Of course, the last time we were a #1 seed, we damn near became the first one to lose to a 16 when Westtern Carolina missed two wide open three-pointers in the last 10 seconds to let us escape with a two point win. That means I should stop talking right now. It also means an easier round 2 game against a middling major conference team or a good mid-major. Both are the types of teams we've handled with the exception of Richmond.
First, we need to keep winning. Losing at Iowa eliminates any discussion. Anything short of reaching the Big Ten Tournament final will also knock us out. Reaching the final possibly gives us a second win over Wisconsin, while the final likely could be against Ohio State. If OSU beats the Badgers to claim the Big Ten outright, but loses to us in Indy would it be enough to push us to the top line?
Bear in mind, if we win the Big Ten Tournament we would finish 10-0 in our last 10 games with seven of those ten victories coming against the top 50 in the RPI. That is a hell of a run. We would also have two wins in that stretch over the current #1 team in the nation and possible #1 overall seed. Few teams will have that finishing kick. The lowest rated game will be at Iowa (currently 184 in the RPI).
Competition for the #1 seeds:
BYU - 27-2 - RPI: 1 - The Cougars have been rock solid all year long, but will they get the Robbie treatment for dismissing Brandon Davies? He is averaging over 11 points and six rebounds per game for the Jimmer Freddette show. The two losses are to UCLA (acceptable) and New Mexico (RPI: 92). They have four top 25 wins and are 9-1 against the top 50. That is definitely top-seed worthy, but they have just one regular season game and the Mountain West Tournament to prove how they will function without Davies. If they lose a game I bet they drop at least one seed line.
San Diego State - 26-2 - RPI: 4 - The Aztecs have only two top 25 games and they lost them both to BYU. They have five top 50 wins, but they are against UNLV (twice), Colorado State, St. Mary's, and Wichita State. Good teams all, but far from the Murder's Row we have run of late. Only UNLV is a solid tournament team from that batch. That makes them 2-2 against NCAA locks, while we (assuming we win the Big Ten Tourney as stated) Would have two over OSU, two over Wisconsin, two over Illinois, Two over Michigan State, one over Oakland (the hands down favorite in the Summit League), and Bubble wins over Michigan, Va Tech, and Valpo. I think we have to have the edge, especially if SDSU loses to BYU yet again in the Mountain West Tourney.
Duke - 26-3 - RPI: 5 - I would give the Blue Devils the third #1 seed right now. None of their three losses are terrible. They lose at Florida State a lot, but they are a possible tournament team. Virginia Tech is the same (though it is nice to have won where Duke couldn't). The St. John's loss isn't a bad one, either. Their worst loss (Va Tech) is just slightly worse than our worst loss (Richmond) as the Hokies are 62 and the Spiders are 61. Our next worse loss (Minnesota) has the caveat of facing the Golden Gophers when Al Nolen was healthy. Duke has just two top 25 wins (Kansas State and North Carolina) but could still have two games against the Tar Heels. They host Clemson tonight on Senior Night, a.k.a. a lead pipe lock victory. If they win both UNC games (and likely the ACC Tourney with them) There is no way Duke isn't a #1 seed.
Pittsburgh - 25-4 - RPI: 7 - All hail the mighty Big East, where Pittsburgh currently leads a conference with 11 possible NCAA Tournament teams. It is so hard to truly evaluate the Big East when everyone plays everyone else only once for the most part and the conference tournament lasts longer than a Middle East coup attempt. The Panthers are 8-4 against the top 50 in the RPI, and the worst loss was on a neutral floor against Tennessee. Their best win is over Georgetown, whom by some miracle is 8th in the RPI with eight losses. Texas and Tennessee are the best non-conference opponents, but the next highest is Rhode Island. They play at South Florida tonight and finish against another highly overrated team in Villanova this weekend. Wins in both would give them the Big East regular season title.
Notre Dame - 24-5 - RPI: 9 - I include the Fighting Irish here because they still have a chance of winning the Big East regular season title. If they win at UConn this weekend and Pitt drops one of the next two, ND will tie them and have the tiebreaker of a head-to-head win. While a loss would likely drop Pitt from the discussion then, it would elevate Notre Dame as Big East champs. Notre Dame's lone non-conference loss was to Kentucky, but they have top 50 non-conference wins over Wisconsin and Georgia. Their worst loss is to #53 Marquette, but the other four are to forgivable top 25 RPI teams. They have a season split with St. John's who has a ton of great wins. Overall, their profile is very, very similar to Purdue's: #2 team in a great conference with lots of excellent wins and no awful losses. I would give them a slight edge because our loss to Minnesota is looking worse and worse, while Richmond is right on the Bubble. Notre Dame likely hasn't lost to a non-NCAA team.
T-Mill's Order Of #1 Seeds as of right now:
- Ohio State (locked)
- Kansas (locked)
- Duke (can slide with a loss to UNC and ACC Tourney loss)
- BYU (I want to see them without Davies)
- Pittsburgh (Will move up with regular season title and no bad BET loss)
- Notre Dame (Will pass Pitt with a Pitt loss)
- Purdue (Must win Big Ten Tourney over OSU
- San Diego State
What to cheer for:
- Purdue to beat Iowa and win the Big Ten Tournament over Ohio State in the final.
- BYU to stumble without Davies and have the Robbie factor kick in.
- Pitt to lose to Villanova or USF
- Duke to lose to UNC and early in the ACC Tourney
- Notre Dame to lose to UConn and early in the Big East Tourney
- SDSU to lose to BYU again if they play.
In all likelihood we're going to be a #2 seed unless we really screw things up Saturday or in Indy. I am fine with that. I would like a 1 seed because it means at best a 4 seed in the sweet 16 (Louisville, Connecticut, Florida, St. John's in the latest projections) instead of a 3 seed (Syracuse San Diego State, Wisconsin, North Carolina). More importantly, it is an easier road out of the first two games as opposed the 3-4 route that can be a minefield. We could also be the beneficiary of early round upsets that happen in those 3-14, 4-13, 5-12, 6-11 games all the time.
More importantly, let's just keep winning. That answers all questions.