Xavier or Kansas: Which team is more deserving of a No. 1 seed in the Midwest?
Whether you're talking Bracketology, Bracket Watch, Bracket Tracker, Bracket Breakdown or any other kind of regular feature that tracks and predicts the possible make-up of the NCAA Tournament bracket, following along — sometimes on a daily basis — is one of the more fun things about March.
At least the early portion of the month.
Wondering, predicting, weighing cases and making guesses is almost as fun as filling out a complete bracket itself. And as NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday draws near — we're now just nine days away — the look of this year's bracket is really starting to take shape.
So what does that mean for Kansas? Well, it's not quite as dramatic as what it means for teams like Texas, Nebraska, Baylor and others, who sit firmly on the bubble and are trying desperately to make that one last move to convince the committee that they belong in the field.
But there is still a fair amount of intrigue surrounding the sixth-ranked Jayhawks.
Kansas is in. We know that. But where will the Jayhawks be seeded and where will their potential road take them?
Most people, if not all people, believe that Virginia and Villanova are locked in as No. 1 seeds in the South and East regions. Sounds good. Two terrific teams and both are very deserving of those spots.
That leaves the 1 seeds in the Midwest and West still to be sorted out.
Most years, if KU is in the conversation for a 1 seed, it almost always has a beat on the Midwest region, which often keeps Kansas close to home for as long as possible.
This year, however, the Midwest is one of the hottest regions in the country, with Kansas, Michigan State, Purdue and Xavier all in the conversation for a 1 seed.
KU coach Bill Self said on Thursday that there were as many as eight or nine teams worthy of consideration for the four No. 1 seeds, with Kansas being one of them. So sorting out which of those four schools listed above — Cincinnati might also have an outside shot of playing its way into the mix — deserves the No. 1 seed in the Midwest is a challenging endeavor.
For the past couple of weeks, ESPN's Joe Lunardi, in Bracketology, has given the nod to Xavier and put Kansas as the No. 1 seed in the West.
That makes sense because KU is closer to Los Angeles than Xavier — although not close by any means — and Xavier, in Lunardi's eyes anyway, is the third No. 1 seed and Kansas the fourth, which means the Musketeers get the edge in terms of geographic priority.
On Thursday, however, Michael Beller, of SI.com's Bracket Watch, officially made the switch and gave Kansas the No. 1 spot in the Midwest and sent Xavier out West.
His reasons and breakdown were interesting and basically came down to KU having a slightly better strength of schedule than Xavier and Kansas having nearly twice as many “Quadrant 1” wins.
Here's a look at Beller's breakdown:
"Differentiating between the Jayhawks’ and Musketeers’ resumés is really splitting hairs, but that’s part of the Selection Committee’s job description. Xavier has a better RPI (No. 2 vs. No. 5) but Kansas is superior in every other category. Kansas has the No. 3 strength of schedule, while Xavier’s is No. 5. The Jayhawks own 11 Quadrant 1 wins, while the Musketeers have six. Kansas beat Kentucky on a neutral floor and won at TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia. Xavier beat Cincinnati at home and won at Creighton, Seton Hall and Butler. That gives Kansas the edge in best wins, too. The Jayhawks do have one unsightly loss, dropping a game to Oklahoma State at home, but that isn’t quite enough for Xavier to draw even, let alone pull ahead. For now, Kansas has the inside track to Omaha, but Xavier—and for that matter, Michigan State—are not far behind."
Let's take this a step further.
Xavier enters the weekend at 26-4 overall, with losses to Villanova (twice), Providence and Arizona State.
Kansas enters the weekend at 24-6 overall, with losses to Washington, Arizona State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
On paper, Xavier's losses look slightly less offensive in large part because there are fewer of them and because they don't have that bad loss on the resume. Xavier's worst loss — at Providence — came to a team currently ranked No. 42 in the RPI rankings (which the committee uses a great deal, right or wrong) and KU has three losses to teams with an RPI ranking lower than 42 — Baylor (51), Washington (56) and Oklahoma State (92).
But that's losses. How about wins?
KU's best wins are far better than Xavier's best wins.
KU, to date, has five Top 25 RPI wins, over Kentucky (16), Texas Tech (22), Texas A&M (23), TCU twice (19) and two more over West Virginia, which currently sits at No. 29 in the RPI rankings, giving Kansas eight victories against the RPI Top 40.
Xavier has just one Top 25 RPI victory — over No. 11 Cincinnati — and just five Top 40 RPI victories.
Both teams could pick up a couple of more key victories in the next week, but, because of the strength of the Big 12, doing so would merely add to KU's advantage in this area.
What it really seems to come down to is whether the committee values more good wins or fewer "bad" losses.
It should be interesting to see how it plays out. But both teams still need to take care of business to ensure that they're even in the conversation a week from now.
If they are, putting Kansas in the Midwest, as a No. 1 or even a No. 2 seed, likely would be deemed ideal in the eyes of the KU fan base because getting tickets and making the trip would be much easier if KU is in Omaha rather than in Los Angeles.
But this is all contingent, of course, on KU advancing to the Sweet 16, which the Jayhawks have done in each of the past two years but failed to do during the two tournaments before that.
A case also could be made that this year, more than any other, would be a good year for the Jayhawks to go far away because this team has been so good on the road and not quite as good at home.
But since none of the games will be played in Allen Fieldhouse that probably does not mean quite as much. And Self said it meant absolutely nothing.
“I think locations are way overrated,” Self said Thursday. “I mean, it would be nice to stay closer to home in Wichita (for rounds 1 and 2) or whatnot. But last year we had an opportunity and we didn't make the most of it, and we'll never have a better home court opportunity than we did last year playing (the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight) in Kansas City. But I also think sometimes when that happens and you're not playing well, it can also add pressure and stuff. So, to me, wherever it is, doesn't make any difference.”
And that makes sense. Self is going no matter where the games are played — Omaha, Los Angeles, the moon, wherever.
It's the fans who have more fun — or is it stress? — tracking these sorts of things. And for the group that prefers their Jayhawks to play closer to home, the Xavier-KU breakdown is one to watch in the next week.
As for the first two rounds, the Jayhawks are pretty much a lock to be headed down to Wichita for Rounds 1 and 2 and it doesn't get much closer to home than that.
With the regular season finale coming Saturday and the conference tournaments to follow, plenty still can change when it comes to how the committee carves out this year's bracket.
But the Jayhawks do appear to have an inside edge on a No. 1 seed and the best way for them to keep it — Midwest or otherwise — is to just keep winning.