The NCAA selection committee made it clear in last weekend’s top-16 seed reveal that both Kentucky and Purdue were still very much in the mix for the final No. 1 seed among the four given on Selection Sunday, alongside front-runners Gonzaga, Arizona and Auburn. That set up a battle down the stretch between Kansas, Baylor, Kentucky and Purdue for the final top-line spot.
After Saturday’s chaos, it’s safe to say that Baylor arose as the obvious winner in beating Kansas for a nation-leading 11th Quadrant 1 (top 25 home, top 75 road) victory on its NCAA Tournament resume. It’ll now go down to the wire in the coming weeks between Auburn, Kansas, Baylor and maybe Kentucky.
Purdue’s likely out of that race, though. The Boilermakers (24-5, 13-5) were outmuscled by a hungry Michigan State team in a 68-65 road loss on Saturday. “I still think they’re the best team in the league, but we earned the win,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo told reporters after the game.
Purdue has seven Quadrant 1 (top-25 home, top-75 road) wins on its profile but is fighting off a NET score of 11 and non-conference strength of schedule in the 200s. Saturday’s missed opportunity to acquire another Q1 victory means it’ll be extremely difficult now to vault ahead of Baylor or Kansas, two programs with double-digit Q1 wins and much better NET scores.
Kentucky (23-6, 12-4 SEC), meanwhile, still has a shot to snatch the final No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday. But Saturday’s 74-70 road loss to Arkansas just opens up the door more for KU or Baylor. UK’s Oscar Tshiebwe had 30 points and 18 rebounds in Saturday’s loss.
Wildcats fans will point to UK’s Jan. 29 road win over Kansas in a head-to-head matchup, but the selection committee was clear in its top-16 reveal that it is examining the full body of work – where Kansas (10 Q1 wins, country’s third best strength of schedule) is just better than Kentucky (seven Q1 victories, top-12 SoS).
Kentucky closes out its season at Florida, one more chance to obtain a Quadrant 1 win. That’s a must-win if the Wildcats want to stay in the conversation with Kansas and Baylor. Purdue closes out the regular season Tuesday at No. 12 Wisconsin and at home against rival Indiana on Saturday. Both are Quadrant 1 opportunities and likewise must-wins.
Gonzaga and Arizona are virtual locks for a No. 1 seed at this point, but Auburn and Kansas are less secure. Baylor is definitely No. 1 seed material at this point, too.
Saturday’s defeats for UK and Purdue weren’t bad losses by any stretch considering they were both on the road against strong NCAA tournament-caliber opponents. But considering credentials are so close for elite teams and every outcome is under a microscope, it’s important to note Kentucky and Purdue are playing closer to the No. 2 seed line at this point.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.
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