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Battling for a #1 seed

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Last night's win officially puts our destiny in our hands. I know we're probably getting ahead of ourselves, but with just five regular season games remaining it is hard not to think about our chances for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. All told, we have at minimum six and at most eight games left before selection Sunday. I think if we make the final of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis the result of that game will not matter in the seeding. It seemed not to make much difference last year, as I felt we would get a four based on our win and we were slotted with a bad five. Therefore, I am throwing that game out unless it is a gross aberration of a matchup (i.e. we face an 11th seeded Penn State in the final and they beat us for the auto-bid).

With that in mind, I think we are competing for a #1 seed with five other teams at the moment. There are a handful of teams that can still climb into the discussion, but they would need help in the way of multiple losses by some of these teams. Here are my six #1 seed contenders as of right now:

Kansas (25-1)

Kentucky (25-1)

Syracuse (24-2)

Villanova (22-3)

Purdue (22-3)

Duke (22-4)

Now, let's look at the positives and negatives of each, along with their overall profiles, starting with Purdue:

Purdue Boilermakers (22-3, 10-3 Big Ten) RPI: 9

Top 25 RPI wins: #5 West Virginia, #13 Wake Forest, #15 Wisconsin, #18 Tennessee (neutral court), at #24 Michigan State.

Top 50 RPI wins: at #42 Ohio State

Losses: at #15 Wisconsin, #42 Ohio State, at #90 Northwestern

Positives: Diversity of wins (Top 25 wins are across four different conferences), 6-2 in true road games (4 wins at top 100 teams)

Negatives: The Big Ten is weak after the top 5, #43 SOS, lowest RPI of six contenders, weak remaining schedule

Remaining schedule: #69 Illinois, at #80 Minnesota, #24 Michigan State, #208 Indiana, at #207 Penn State

Verdict: I think if the tournament began today it would be a very close battle between Purdue and Villanova for the final #1 seed. The Wildcats may have a slight edge based on a much tougher schedule and their three losses are better than Purdue's three losses thanks to Northwestern. Next Saturday's game at Syracuse is huge for both squads. I think Purdue still has some work to do, but is in a very good shape as long as they win the next five. Finishing with two sub.-200 teams and a likely sub.-100 team in round one of the Big Ten Tournament will hurt, but it cannot be helped.

Kansas Jayhawks (25-1, 11-0 Big 12) RPI: 1

Top 25 RPI wins: #11 Baylor, at #12 Temple, at #17 Texas A&M, #21 California

Top 50 RPI wins: #27 Texas, #38 Missouri, #43 Texas Tech

Losses: at #18 Tennessee

Positives: Only one loss and it is far from bad, leading a major conference with an unbeaten record, Diversity of wins.

Negatives: None, really.

Remaining schedule: #132 Colorado, #93 Oklahoma, at #32 Oklahoma State, #7 Kansas State, at #38 Missouri

Verdict: Kansas is more than safe at this point. They could likely suffer two losses in these last five games and still cruise to a #1 seed, so long as those losses aren't to Colorado and Oklahoma in Lawrence. The one loss is slightly bad because Tennessee wasn't at full strength, but the Volunteers are still playing good basketball. The top 50 wins are all great, and they have an excellent chance to get at least three more against a tough finishing stretch. I think Kansas would almost have to try to not get a #1 seed at this point.

Kentucky Wildcats (25-1, 10-1 SEC) RPI: 3

Top 25 RPI wins: #16 Vanderbilt, #18 Tennessee

Top 50 RPI wins: #48 Connecticut (neutral floor), #30 Louisville,

Losses: at #76 South Carolina

Positives: Only one loss, and it isn't an awful one, Several dominant wins

Negatives: Lowest SOS of contenders (49), near loss to #175 Stanford

Remaining schedule: at #16 Vanderbilt, #76 South Carolina, at #18 Tennessee, at #96 Georgia, #60 Florida.

There is no question that Kentucky is an excellent basketball team. Unfortunately, they have barely played anyone. Some of their better wins by name, such as Stanford and North Carolina, aren't as good now as they were then. Syracuse, unfortunately, is suffering from the same problem. It is hard to judge a team with a lot of wins if those wins have come over inferior competition. They don't have great chances to finish with better wins because they still have to play their two best wins again. They do get a shot to avenge their lone loss. Purdue was successful in its two avenging games, but will not get a second chance at Northwestern. Ultimately, If Kentucky finishes the regular season with just one loss, or even two, it will get a number one seed. Their real test will come in the tournament.

Syracuse Orange (24-2, 11-2 Big East) RPI: 4

Top 25 RPI wins: at #5 West Virginia, #8 Georgetown, #21 California

Top 50 RPI wins: #48 Connecticut, at #50 Cincinnati

Losses: #14 Pittsburgh, #30 Louisville

Positives: Two current top 10 wins, chance for two more, Leading Big East, undefeated on road, no bad losses.

Negatives: Both losses have been at home

Remaining schedule: at #8 Georgetown, at #110 Providence, #6 Villanova, #81 St. John's, at #30 Louisville

Verdict: Syracuse has a tough remaining schedule, but if they survive it they should have a number 1 seed with ease. They can avenge one of their two losses by winning at Louisville, and that would be realtively equal to Purdue avenging their loss to Ohio State. A sweep of Georgetown would also be a major bonus. Because of the tough schedule, however, Syracuse could still easily lose three of its final five. Louisville would love to have a sweep of the Orange on their resume, and Georgetown and Villanova can certainly beat them. That makes their last five a high risk/high reward scenario.

Villanova Wildcats (22-3, 11-2 overall) RPI: 6

Top 25 RPI wins: #8 Georgetown, at #5 West Virginia,

Top 50 RPI wins: at #30 Louisville, #36 Dayton (neutral floor), #49 Mississippi

Losses: at #12 Temple, at #8 Georgetown, #48 Connecticut,

Positives: Won an excellent early season tournament in Puerto Rico, no bad losses

Negatives: None really

Remaining schedule: at #14 Pittsburgh, #56 South Florida, at #4 Syracuse, at #50 Cincinnati, #5 West Virginia

Verdict: Villanova easily has the toughest remaining schedule with all five games left coming against current top 60 teams. Because of that, I think a perfect run gives them a top seed. The key game is the game at Syracuse that will likely go a long way in deciding the Big East title. This is a team with no bad losses and solid guard play. It will be interesting to see what would happen if they played a team with a dominant big man, but that is down the road a bit. South Florida and Cincinnati are bubble teams to watch out for.

Duke Blue Devils (22-4, 10-2 ACC) RPI: 2

Top 25 RPI wins: #20 Gonzaga (neutral floor), #13 Wake Forest,

Top 50 RPI  wins: #48 Connecticut (neutral floor), #37 Maryland, #28 Georgia Tech, at #35 Clemson, #35 Clemson, #40 Florida State,

Losses: at #8 Georgetown, at #128 NC State, at #28 Georgia Tech, at #15 Wisconsin

Positives: Lots of good wins, undefeated at home, comfortably leading a major conference.

Negatives: Not a good road team, worst loss of the group

Remaining Schedule: #47 Virginia Tech, #71 Tulsa, at #109 Virginia, at #37 Maryland, #79 North Carolina

Verdict: This is probably the weakest overall profile here. Duke has the fewest elite wins of the six teams, they have a truly bad loss (NC State), and they have struggled in their big road games. In fact, they are just 1-3 on the road against top 50 teams. They still have some hop though if a few teams above them stumble. There isn't a lot of heft left in the remaining schedule either. An upset this weekend by Virginia Tech means they may not even win the ACC.

Final analysis: If the season were to end right now I think we have two clear number ones in Kansas and Kentucky. They can survive multiple losses at this point as long as they are the right kind of losses. Then you have the last two number one seeds being divided among Purdue, Syracuse, and Villanova. I would honestly give a slight edge to the two Big East schools right now, but the Syracuse-Villanova game will be a big one. The loser will have a tough time holding off Purdue if the Boilers win their last five games.

At that point, it probably does come down to the conference tournaments. Assuming Purdue and the Syracuse-Villanova loser wins their remaining games, the team with the deeper run in their tournament would get the #1 in my book. Again, this is where the Big Ten Tournament final coming on Selection Sunday hurts. The Big East finished Saturday night, possibly with another Syracuse-Villanova game. If Purdue plays someone like Wisconsin in the final it may not factor in much because it is so late. Also in consideration is that you're often splitting very close profiles when looking at that fourth #1 seed. Right now, our loss at Northwestern is a small, but noticeable, difference between us and the profiles of Syracuse and Villanova.

So as you see, we still have a lot of work to do, and we probably still need some help.