With every other bracketologist releasing their weekly NCAA Basketball rankings, I decided to break the brackets down a little bit more. So, instead of initially giving my 68 teams, I will break the teams down into seeds while also projecting who the teams will play.
My first foray will look at the contenders for the No. 1 seeds. With about six weeks left before the NCAA Basketball Selection Sunday, I believe there are about six serious contenders for the tournament’s top seeds. In reality, four teams stick out, and they are listed below.
1. Purdue Boilermakers 19-1
Purdue owns the nation’s second-most NCAA Basketball D-I wins and second-highest winning percentage, behind Charleston (20-1). The Boilermakers have won six in a row after squeaking out a 58-55 home victory over a game Maryland squad on Sunday behind Zach Edey’s 16th double-double of the season as he finished with 24 points and 16 caroms along with two blocks.
Purdue is an impressive 10-0 in road/neutral games. They are 7-1 in Quad I games, with their only loss coming by one point to Rutgers on a 3-pointer with 14 seconds to play.
The Boilermakers, who own the Big Ten’s stingiest defense, commit the fewest fouls and allow the least free throw attempts in the nation. They also rank 12th in the country in points allowed, holding opponents to 60 or fewer nine times.
As the projected No. 1 overall seed, Purdue will play the worst 16 seed. According to my projections, that would be the winner of the Northeast Conference representative and the winner of the automatic berth from the SWAC. St. Francis, PA, and Fairleigh Dickinson are the top two seeds in the NEC, while Southern and Alcorn State are tied at the top of the SWAC standings.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide 17-2
Alabama has won nine straight games, including seven straight SEC contests, by an average of 21 points. The Crimson Tide hosts Mississippi State on Wednesday.
Alabama is 6-2 in Quad 1 games, with big victories over North Carolina, Houston, and Arkansas. The Tide’s two losses were to Gonzaga and Connecticut by double figures on a neutral court.
Bama, an athletically gifted squad, is one of the top-scoring teams in the country at 84 points a game though the Tide need to improve their efficiency. Shot selection and free throw shooting are their biggest issues. They are an excellent offensive-rebounding team.
The Crimson Tide are solid defensively. The Tide rank second in DI in field goal percentage, fourth in 3-point percentage, and second in 2-point percentage. They lead the nation in defensive boards per game and 16th in blocks.
The Crimson Tide got good news as reserve guard Nimari Burnett returned to action against Missouri on Saturday after missing more than a month due to a wrist injury. As the projected second-best No. 1 seed, Alabama will face the winner of the second play-in game between No. 16 seeds.
By my projection, the play-in game would be from the MEAC and the Southland. Five teams are tied atop the MEAC standings (Howard, Norfolk State, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Morgan State, and North Carolina Central), while Nicholls and Southeastern Louisiana are in a tie for first in the Horizon.
3. Houston Cougars 18-2
Houston is the third No. 1 seed in my inaugural bracketology projections after getting upset by Temple 56-55 at home on Sunday. However, if the Cougars can win out or lose no more than one more conference game – a very good chance— they will likely get the top seed or at least be awarded the second No. 1 seed. The Cougars have lost seven NCAA Basketball AAC games, including in the conference tournament, since the beginning of the 2021-22 campaign.
Houston’s loss to Temple snapped a nine-game winning streak and was the Cougs’ second home loss, falling to Alanna by six in early December. The Cougars are 7-0 away from home, 5-0 in true road contests, and have won three of four Quad I games. Their quality victories are over Saint Mary’s, Kent State, and Virginia.
Houston, known for its defense under Kelvin Sampson, ranks in the top five in the nation in offensive and defensive efficiency. The Cougars’ defense ranks in the top 5 nationally in points, field goal makes, field goal percentage, 2-pointers made, 2-point percentage, and 3-point percentage.
As the third No. 1 seed, Houston is projected to face No. 64 ranked team in the field. At this time, that would be the winner of the Ohio Valley Conference. SIU Edwardsville is the top-ranked OVC, but the Cougars are in a six-way tie for first with Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee Tech, UT Martin, Morehead State, and Southern Indiana at 5-3.
No. 4 Tennessee Volunteers 17-3
Tennessee gets the nod here, as they have three losses despite having a partial complement of players the whole season. Defensive stalwart Josiah James-Jones has missed eight games, and leading scorer Santiago Vescovi has missed three contests. Starting center Uros Plavsic sat out Saturday’s win over LSU with a leg injury, and his status is uncertain going forward.
This says a lot about the depth and quality of the team. The Vols own one of the best records in the country and sit near the top of the standings in a tough SEC. Tennessee uses a nine-man rotation and gets regular contributions from everyone, including six players averaging nine points and nearly three rebounds a game.
Tennessee is 3-1 in Quad I and 5-2 in Quad 2 games. The Vols have a big win over Kansas, a solid victory over USC, and a shaky loss to Colorado. But their mettle will undoubtedly be tested with games against Texas, Auburn (2), and Alabama.
As the fourth No. 1 seed, Tennessee will face the No. 63 team ranked in the field. By my calculations, Tennessee opens the NCAA Basketball Tournament with the Horizon League Champion. Milwaukee and NKU are tied for first in the conference at 8-2, with Youngstown State and Cleveland State a game behind the leaders at 7-3.
Other No. 1 seed contenders:
I have UCLA (17-3) and Kansas State (17-2) as the other top contenders for the No. 1 seeds on January 24 in NCAA Basketball. After those two squads (in no particular order), I have Virginia and Texas next in line.