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Bracketology: Who ends up on the top line?

In 2012, there was a clear No. 1 overall seed, Kentucky, the squad that happened to win the national championship. This season, the top nod, and the entire one line on the seed list for that matter, is not quite so clear cut. Making things more interesting the geographical proximity of two contenders to the Midwest Regional site.

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On Saturday, Indiana, the Big Ten regular season champion, lost to Wisconsin in the Big Ten semifinal in Chicago. Hours later, Big East regular season co-champion Louisville, which shared the honor with Georgetown and Marquette, routed Syracuse to claim the Big East tournament title. Speculation abounded on Twitter that the Cardinals might have just passed the Hoosiers for the top spot on the seed list and earned the right to be No. 1 in the Midwest Region, which will take place in Indianapolis. You know, the city happens to be about an hour from Indiana's campus ... but also is the closest regional site to Louisville.

Might this actually happen? Looking at the data, it's very close and I think the Cardinals have a slight advantage.

  • The Cardinals' RPI is three spots higher than the Hoosiers' (3rd vs. 6th).
  • Their strength of schedule is also higher (5th vs. 15th).
  • Their average RPI win is higher (109 vs. 118).
  • Their average RPI loss is lower (22 vs. 28).
  • They have a slightly better Top 50 record (10-5 vs. 9-6).
  • They have a better Top 100 record (15-5 vs. 11-6).

Both didn't do the greatest job in scheduling out of conference, the team's exempt events notwithstanding. The Hoosiers went 2-1 against Top 25 non-conference opponents: beating Georgetown, a three seed at worse, on a neutral floor and North Carolina at home, but falling to Butler in Indianapolis. On the other hand, the Cardinals went 1-1, losing to Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis without Gorgui Dieng by five and beating Memphis on the road. Indiana's third best non-conference win is a home win was over North Dakota State, while Louisville defeated Missouri in the Bahamas and Kentucky at home. Plus, the Cards defeated another Top 100 foe, Northern Iowa at that Bahamian event. In other words, Louisville went 4-1 against respectable non-conference foes, with the loss coming without a significant player (by a four-point margin), while Indiana went 3-1.

The Cardinals won four more games away from home than the Hoosiers (14-4 vs. 10-4), but Indiana won three games away from home against Top 20 Big Ten opponents (Michigan State as part of a season sweep, Ohio State and Michigan, again as part of a sweep). Louisville won just one, at Syracuse. Each also has its share of disappointing conference road losses -- Notre Dame and Villanova for the Cardinals and Illinois and Minnesota for the Hoosiers. Both managed to go 6-4 against the Top 50 during the regular conference season, but the Cardinals were able to pick up three more quality wins in New York, compared to the one the Hoosiers earned in Chicago.

Might that be the difference? I think it might be. I'm tabbing the Cardinals as No. 1 oveall.

As for the two teams that will join Louisville and Indiana on the top line, it's possible that Duke will be dropped to a No. 2, even after considering the absence of Ryan Kelly for an extended period of time and the Blue Devils' overall profile. Duke is at the top of both the RPI and strength of schedule tables, which in most seasons would guarantee a top seed. However, history tells us that a snub would not be unprecedented for a team in such a position. Four times since the year 2000, a team boasting such a profile has been passed over for a top seed. The last was the 2009 edition of the Blue Devils, which earned a two seed after winning only the ACC Tournament championship. The 2013 version won't even get a chance to play for that honor. Note that as I wrote a few weeks ago ...

Of the 20 teams to earn a No. 1 seed over the past five seasons, 17 of them earned at least a tie for their respective regular season league crowns.

Since 2008, 12 teams finished with at least a share of a regular season championship and a league tournament title in a traditional Big Six conference. Ten of those 12 squads went on to earn a No. 1 seed -- the only exceptions were Wisconsin in 2008 (a three seed) and Ohio State in 2010 (a two).

Duke won't fit in either one of those groups, though I suspect they might have claimed an ACC crown with a healthy Kelly in the lineup. However, the Blue Devils didn't, so I expect them to be the No. 2 seed in the East.

Gonzaga, Kansas and New Mexico did claim double titles, however, and Miami may join that group tomorrow, if the Hurricanes win the ACC championship. Here are my thoughts on each team's case.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are in prime position to be passed because even though they completed a 18-0 run through both the West Coast Conference regular season and tournament. The problem for Gonzaga is their schedule, especially since the WCC didn't have a great season. Mark Few's club has a Top 50 record of 6-2 and a 12-2 Top 100 mark with just two Top 25 wins. As I run through the other contenders, you'll see why the Zags' profile may not hold up tomorrow. However, you can't really argue with conference perfection when a team has a target on its back every night, especially in cozy WCC gyms.

Kansas: The Big 12 double champion Jayhawks should be a lock for a top seed, thanks to 13 Top 50 wins and a 15-4 record against the Top 100. However, they also have by far the worst loss of the contenders a seven point defeat at TCU, currently ranked 237th. It's not unprecedented for a team with such a bad loss to earn a No. 1 seed, as Duke lost to 225th ranked Davidson in 2002 and Michigan State fell to another team with that exact ranking, Wright State, in its 1999-2000 National Championship season, but it's been awhile. Still, I think the double titles and overwhelming number of quality wins elevates the Jayhawks.

New Mexico: The Lobos are a staggering 19-5 against the Top 100, with 10 wins against the RPI Top 50 and no bad losses. However, I'm not sure that the Mountain West, where 12 of those wins were earned, will be respected by the Committee. New Mexico's best two non-conference wins came against Big East opposition -- Cincinnati and Connecticut -- both away from Albuquerque. That doesn't compare to even Gonzaga, which defeated Kansas State (albeit in Seattle) and Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Miami: The Hurricanes have two late losses to teams well outside of the Top 100 -- Georgia Tech at home and Wake Forest away. Unlike their early questionable losses to Indiana State (without Reggie Johnson) and Florida Gulf Coast (without Durand Scott), the pair of late setbacks can't be chalked up to injuries. Only 11 teams have earned a top seed with two such losses since the year 2000 -- and three of them accomplished the feat in 2002. This season isn't quite as strange as that one. On the plus side for Miami, it did go 15-4 against the Top 100 with seven Top 50 wins. Still, the two losses loom large.

After all that, my top seed picks are Louisville in the Midwest, Indiana in the East, Kansas in the South and Gonzaga in the West. As for the two line, I figure Duke, New Mexico, and two from the trio of Georgetown, Miami and Ohio State will be there when all is said and done tomorrow. The Selection Show is this at 6 p.m. ET on CBS.

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