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Monday, February 12, 2024

Bracketology: Breaking Down the Top-16

Tristen Newton & Tyler Kolek are battling for 1-seeds in the NCAA Tournament
 Photo by Patrick McDermott | Getty Images

A year ago, the Selection Committee ignored the results between the Super Bowl and Selection Sunday in revealing their mid-season Top-16. With that in mind, our expectation is that this upcoming Saturday's reveal will likely come closer to what we see right now than whatever results occur between now and then. With that in mind, we have a new S-Curve and bracket, but will focus on those Top-16 teams today.

1-Seeds: Purdue, UConn, Houston, Arizona

Purdue is a lock for the top overall seed with an 8-2 Q1 record, 15 Q1+2 wins, and a perfect 7-0 record against Q1A teams. The order could be debated for UConn and Houston, but the Huskies have one more Q1 win and Houston doesn't have any wins over the top-16 while UConn has a win over North Carolina. Arizona edges Kansas for the last 1-seed due to far superior metrics and one more Q1 win. There will be a 5-loss team on the 1-line, and there's a case to be made for Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, or Marquette as that team, but we're going with Arizona.

2-Seeds: Kansas, North Carolina, Marquette, Tennessee

All of these teams could make a push over the next month for the last 1-seed. Kansas is closest for now due to their 5-2 Q1A record and three wins over teams on the top-two seed lines. North Carolina edges Marquette due to slightly better metrics and one more Q1 win. If bad losses mattered as much as good wins, Marquette's lack of any losses outside the first two Quadrants (Arizona, Kansas, and UNC all have a Q3 loss) would matter more, but what they really need to do is increase their Q1 win totals, particularly in Q1A. Winning at Butler and UConn would be a massive start. Tennessee has hurt themselves with recent losses, but there is still a significant gap between the last 2-seed and the first 3-seed.

3-Seeds: Iowa State, Baylor, Alabama, Duke

Iowa State's non-con left questions as to whether they were just beating up on bad competition, but wins over Houston, Kansas, and both Texas and TCU on the road have diminished those criticisms. Had Baylor won at Kansas there would've been an argument for them to be in the last 1-seed discussion, but for now their metrics and lack of really standing out keeps them on the outside. Alabama will be an interesting test case as they have every metric edge on Duke, but their 3-6 Q1 record is atypical for a team in the 3-seed discussion. If any of these fall to the 4-line, it's more likely Alabama than Duke despite their S-Curve placement. The Blue Devils are here largely because of their 5-2 Q1 record and the Committee's historic valuing of Q1 wins over Q2+3 losses (Duke has 3, more than any other team in the top-3 lines). If anyone crashes the 3-line, it is most likely Wisconsin, who despite their recent swoon still has a 6-5 record against Q1.

4-Seeds: Wisconsin, Auburn, Clemson, South Carolina

The Badgers lead the way here due to that 6-5 Q1 record and solid computer numbers. That could even push them to the 3-line, though 8 total losses is more than anyone else on the top-6 seed lines, so the Committee could also leave them out for that entirely. Auburn's computer numbers indicate they should be a 2-seed, but they are the only team in our top-16 with fewer than 2 Q1A wins, so they get knocked down a couple lines for that. Clemson rocketed up our list from 32 to 15 thanks to adding a Q1A win over North Carolina. The Tigers have been a yo-yo team up and down the seed list, but they have true road wins over UNC and Alabama while non-con wins over TCU, South Carolina, and Boise State have aged well. Speaking of South Carolina, they round out our top-16. The Gamecocks are a bit of a reach here due to weak predictive metrics, but they have a 3-2 Q1 record backed up with a win at Tennessee and they are tied for the lead in one of the traditional power leagues. The Committee has rewarded teams with strong resume metrics but weak predictives on the 4-line in past reveals (Providence and Wisconsin in 2022) so we put them here despite not having typical 4-seed numbers.

Also Considered: Creighton, Illinois, Dayton

The Committee always gives us hints by mentioning the next few teams, and these are the three whose names will either surprise us by showing up in the top-16 or be mentioned as contenders. All three have strong enough metric numbers but lack the signature wins to be among the elite. Creighton's best win is over Alabama at home, but they have no other wins against single-digit seeds. Illinois' best win is probably FAU on a neutral, but they are 0-3 against the protected seeds. Dayton has respectable numbers and no losses outside Q1, but they also don't have a single win against a projected at-large team.

Let's dig into the full S-Curve and bracket:

Multibid Leagues

Big 12: 9

SEC: 9

Big 10: 6

Mountain West: 6

ACC: 5

Big East: 4

Pac-12: 3

Missouri Valley: 2

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