Cards look like solid No. 2 seed, but unlikely to go higher

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- A few hours before Louisville's basketball team tipped off against Virginia on Saturday afternoon in the KFC Yum! Center the NCAA Tournament selection committee released its fourth annual seedings preview, which included good news for the Cardinals.


The committee listed UofL as a No. 2 seed and seventh overall. By the time the afternoon was over, the Cards (21-4, 12-1 ACC) had strengthened their case with an 80-73 win over Virginia. Now, as they head into their last seven games of the regular season, the question is how far can they rise or fall by the time the real seedings are unveiled on Selection Sunday March 15?


You probably are curious to know what UofL coach Chris Mack thinks of his team's positioning, but don't bother asking. Unlike former coach Rick Pitino, who always had interesting opinions about the overall seeding and UofL's current and potential spot in the mix, Mack has stubbornly refused to speculate or offer an assessment.


"We don't worry about that," he said prior to the Virginia game when asked both about UofL's seed outlook. "We certainly look at the conference standings, but we looked at them after one game. Every game counts the same. You don't get more points because you beat a better team or it doesn't count as much. Every game gives you the opportunity to win a conference championship. As far as the seeding for the big tournament we don't care about that."


The players have repeatedly expressed the same sentiments, adhering to the company line of focusing on the next game only, which in this case is Georgia Tech (11-13, 5-8) Wednesday night in Atlanta.


If Louisville remains on the No. 2 line or climbs to No. 1, the Cards have an excellent chance of playing close enough to home to attract a huge fan following. Most convenient would be the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis, in which case UofL would probably play the first two rounds in St. Louis.


That's the route ESPN bracketologist guru Joe Lunardi has mapped out for the Cards. Kansas is expected to be the No. 1 seed in the Midwest. However, ESPN's Andy Katz predicts a South Region slot and the Houston Regional, where Baylor would probably be No. 1 and possibly the No. 1 overall seed.


While, as Mack noted, the only thing that matters in the ACC standings is wins and losses, the NCAA seeds take into account a number of factors with a quadrant system that rewards road wins, a solid non-conference and overall strength of schedule and victories over teams ranked in the top 50 of the NCAA's NET ratings.


The NCAA evaluation matrix replaced the RPI in the 2018-19 season as the primary seeding tool for seeding, and the bracket reveal clearly showed that the NET will be the most important component the committee uses.


Louisville is seventh in the NET and seventh in the overall seeds. The top four teams in the NET -- Baylor, Kansas, Gonzaga and San Diego State -- are also the No. 1 seeds. Furthermore, all of the first nine teams on the seed list are in the current NET top 10 and only two of the 16 have NET rankings below  15 -- No. 18 Villanova and No. 25 Oregon.


Here are the committee's rankings, in order:


No. 1 seeds--Baylor (21-1), Kansas (19-3), Gonzaga (25-1), San Diego State (23-0).


No. 2--Duke (20-3), Dayton (21-2), Louisville (21-3), West Virginia (18-5).


No. 3--Maryland (19-4), Florida State (20-3), Seton Hall (18-5), Villanova (17-6).


No. 4--Auburn (21-2), Oregon (18-6), Butler (18-6), Michigan State (16-8).


The semi-bad news for Louisville is that it is highly unlikely the Cards can climb into a No. 1 seed and a relatively strong possibility that the Cards could fall to a No. 3 seed. They can think the weak ACC for that predicament.


Of their remaining opponents, only one -- Florida State at No. 13 in the NET -- would rank as a quadrant 1 win, although Virginia (52nd) could be in that category by the time the two teams meet in Charlottesville, Va., on March 7. The Net ranking of Louisville's other five foes are: Syracuse 65; Virginia Tech 79; Georgia Tech 81; North Carolina 89; and Clemson 101, meaning that a loss to any of those teams would be significantly damaging.


UofL has just two wins over teams in the NET top-50, Duke (6) and Michigan (32), but owns six victories against the next 50 -- Notre Dame (51), Virginia (52), NC State (62), Pittsburgh (78) twice and Georgia Tech (81). Also, its three losses have come against teams in the top-25 -- Florida State (13), Texas Tech (20) and Kentucky (22).


Another major factor for the Cards is their 6-1 record in true road games (they are 1-1 at neutral sites). All 16 teams boast at least three road wins. Poor or middling road/neutral records probably hurt Arizona (2-4, 0-0); Ohio State (3-4, 4-5); Iowa (3-4, 5-6); and Kentucky (3-2, 4-4).


In two of the three years, the NCAA has been releasing an in-season top 16 seeds, the final seedings have varied little from that list. Fifteen teams in 2017 retained their top-four seeds in March and 13 in 2018. Only 11 teams held on last year because several of the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds slumped later in February and dropped down the bracket.


Kevin White, athletics director at Duke, is chairman of the 10-person selection committee composed of Division 1 ADs and administrators. He said on the CBS March Madness preview show Saturday that the four No. 1 seeds were unanimous and that "there was a bit of a separation between 4 and 5, quite frankly."



Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

 

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