INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kentucky has held the No. 1 spot all season. Apparently, the NCAA Tournament selection committee concurs.
Chairman Scott Barnes acknowledged Wednesday that Kentucky heads into this weekend as the top overall seed, something that may not change regardless of the results in this week’s SEC tournament.
“I think given the circumstances, as of today, that’s certainly a good read on the situation,” Barnes said when asked directly if Kentucky was locked into the top spot.
It’s a rare admission from a committee head.
Usually, they try to shroud even the clearest-cut decisions by discussing a team’s full body of work or referring to the principles and procedures used to select teams for Sunday night’s release of the 68-team bracket.
This year just isn’t the same.
Kentucky (31-0) is trying to become the first team since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers to complete a perfect season. Since then, three other unbeaten teams have made the tourney field. None of those was able to win the title. Larry Bird’s Indiana State team came closest, losing to Michigan State in the 1979 title game to fall to 33-1.
No other major conference team has fewer than two losses, making the Wildcats’ the clear favorite to get the top overall seed.
“There’s going to continue to be jockeying for positions,” Barnes said. “In my five years, this is unique in that there seems to certainly be some separation there.”
Sure, things could change if the Wildcats were to sustain a significant injury, something committee members can take into account.
But what makes this tourney field even more unusual is that it’s not just Kentucky separating itself at the top.
Most analysts believe ACC champion Virginia, ACC runner-up Duke, Big Ten champ Wisconsin, Big East champ Villanova and Pac-12 champ Arizona have already earned a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, regardless of what happens between now and the end of the conference tourneys. Big 12 champ Kansas and West Coast tourney champ Gonzaga are also in the mix.
After that, things could get messy and intense as the committee tries to distinguish between, say, ACC foes Louisville and Notre Dame, which look relatively even on paper. That is what Barnes believes the committee will spend the bulk of the next five days trying to sort out.
“When you look at the seed lines, for instance, three to five, six to nine, I think we’re in for a lot of work,” he said. “I think there will be some challenges in coming to decisions on that group of teams.”
The debate, which formally began Wednesday afternoon in Indianapolis, isn’t going to be any clearer when it comes to the bottom half of the draw.
Teams such as Indiana and Temple are still trying to play their way into the tourney, and with some conference tournaments wrapping up until Sunday afternoon, the committee could be forced to wait on some key decisions.
Plus, regular-season conference champs who did not win their conference tourneys, such as Murray State of the Ohio Valley and Iona of the Metro Atlantic Athletic, also will be considered for the precious at-large bids.
What is clear? That Kentucky is No. 1 and everybody else is playing for No. 2.
“In my five years I can’t remember it being quite as clear as it is in terms of the teams that might populate those two lines,” Barnes said. “Certainly, that’s the perspective of today. There are more games to play. But it is one thing that seems to be shaping up.”
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