After Baylor’s race to catch up against West Virginia and the fact that Illinois would do without Ayo Dosunmu in Michigan, it looked like we were going to get off Tuesday night with a pretty good performance of the top three 1-seeds and an a wide open race around fourth place in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Illinois had other ideas.
The Fighting Illinois had one of the surprisingly impressive performances of the season, hitting Ann Arbor, beating Michigan by 23 points, despite Dosunmu missing his third straight game with a facial injury. Andre Curbelo was great for Dosunmus while Trent Frazier took the lead with 22 points. The Fighting Illinois kept Michigan to the fewest points in one half (22 in the first half) and limited the Wolverines to two 3-pointers and five offensive rebounds.
Illinois entered the night as the theoretical fourth 1-seed, so the Fighting Illinois should feel like they are firmly in the top row for the moment. Michigan was the second 1-seed before losing, but the Wolverines are unlikely to have fallen enough to completely fall off the line. Baylor bounced back from his first overtime loss to West Virginia at Morgantown, cementing his 1-seed and likely pushing him just behind Gonzaga # 1. And of course the undefeated Zags are not going anywhere.
So are the 1 seeds blocked for another 12 days until selection Sunday? Right now, yes, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t gate crashers willing to pounce if something goes wrong.
Let’s play some scenarios.
The most likely candidate is the state of Ohio, which entered the 2-line after three straight losses in the week. The Buckeyes will meet Illinois in Columbus on Saturday and have already beaten the Fighting Illinois once this season. If the state of Ohio wins on Saturday, scores a 4 or 5 seed win in the Big Ten tournament, and then finishes top seed Michigan in the conference tournament semifinals, the Buckeyes won’t play for one in the Big Ten title game 1-seed next weekend?
The state of Ohio has seven Quadrant 1 wins and zero losses less than Quadrant 2. The Buckeyes are in the top 8 record strength of ESPN, BPI, KenPom, and Sagarin – and they would own a sweep of Illinois and beat Iowa (beat the Hawkeyes on February 4th) and Michigan when the above scenario plays out.
Speaking of Hawkeyes, can Iowa come out on top? They have won five of their last six games and finish the regular season with home games against Nebraska and Wisconsin. Wins there would secure the 3-seed in the Big Ten tournament, which means they could get a shot at Illinois in the semifinals.
Their marquee wins aren’t as strong as Ohio State’s, but they do have a win over the Buckeyes and have some big chances in the Big Ten too. Iowa also has top 5 finishes in BPI, KenPom, and Sagarin. The Hawkeyes love the metrics.
Don’t count Alabama either. The Crimson Tide has already won the SEC regular season title, and we’ve seen the selection committee consider the teams that win both the regular season and conference tournament titles. Alabama is linked to Illinois for the most combined quadrant 1 and 2 wins of any team in college basketball, and the Crimson Tide is fifth in record strength from ESPN resuming action.
The last possible option to get to the top could be Houston. It’s a long shot, but the Cougars are No. 3 in BPI, No. 4 in KenPom, and No. 6 in Sagarin. The Cougars don’t have the top wins that the rest of the contestants do, but they’re number 4 on the NET and would have a badass record on Sunday’s selection.
If there’s chaos in the other conference tournaments – we’re talking about Purdue vs. Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, an early Baylor exit in the Big 12, and Alabama heading out for a conference tournament early in the SEC – Houston would win the title things make it interesting.
I agree that the four 1-seeds look pretty solid after Tuesday night’s action, but I don’t think we are able to say yet that they are still set in stone. Baylor answered a few questions with Tuesday’s win, but are the bears officially back on the break? It wouldn’t be a shock if they lost to Oklahoma State or Texas Tech this week.
And what about what we saw in Ann Arbor on Tuesday night? How are Michigan and Illinois doing this weekend?
There are still questions to answer for the last week and a half of the season – and teams are ready to jump to the top as openings arise.