No, not #1 in the polls which - while nice to talk about - has about as much to do with winning a national championship as the color of my socks (insert derogatory shot at BCS). No, this is about being number 1 in the NCAA tournament or more precisely being one of four #1's.
It's been awhile since Cat fans could look forward to March with an excellent shot at a #1 seed - 5 years in fact. In 2005 UK earned a #2 seed in the tournament, but had their shot at a #1 headed into the final two weeks. That year two late losses to Florida likely prevented the Cats from obtaining a non-crooked number next to their name.
This year the Wildcats are one of about 7-8 teams with the opportunity to be a top seed in the tournament. The Cats have entered the most difficult stretch of their season, so I thought it would be good time to check on their competitors and see how the remaining schedules compare.
At this point in the season the teams that can take a #1 seed have pretty much separated themselves from the rest of the pack. To this end, I'm only looking at the consensus top 8 teams based on the myriad of bracket projections available online. These are the teams that can potentially earn a number 1 seed without needing help - i.e. without needing other teams to lose.
These teams are (in order of RPI ): Kansas, Duke, Syracuse, Kentucky, West Virginia, Kansas St, Villanova, and Purdue.
Note: All RPI and records are current as of
Wednesday, Feb 17. Tuesday, Feb 16.
Update: Despite what baseline stats has listed on the site, I don't think their RPI has been updated since Tuesday as UK's win over Mississippi St isn't included.
First let's look at these teams based on the Nitty Gritty report used by the NCAA selection committee and provided by Baseline Stats. The teams have been organized according to their consensus seeds in the most recent bracket projections.
In my opinion, UK's hold on their #1 seed is the most tenuous of their group, due to the lack of top flight teams they have played. Part of that is due to their conference schedule being backloaded and part of it is due to unexpected struggles by some of their traditional non-conference opponents. It's not UK's fault, but the fact of the matter is they have only played two games against RPI Top 25 teams and everyone else has played at least 4. They don't make up ground either as their 3 games against RPI 26-50 teams is par for the course as are their 6 games against RPI 51-100 teams.
"Ah!" you say "But the Cats have games against Vandy and Tennessee coming up! That will change things in their favor!" Well, let's see:
Remaining regular season schedule breakdown:
|School||Games||rSoS||avg rRPI||med rRPI||Road||T25||T26-50||T51-100||High||Low|
|Kansas||5||0.6529||62.8||43||2||1||2||1||Kansas St (6)||Colorado (143)|
|Syracuse||5||0.6667||43.4||32||3||2||1||2||Villanova (7)||Providance (99)|
|Kentucky||5||0.6583||49.8||58||3||2||0||3||Vandy (13)||Georgia (90)|
|Villanova||5||0.744||24.8||12||3||3||1||1||West Virg. (5)||South Fl. (55)|
|Duke||6||0.6892||67.8||71.5||3||0||2||4||Maryland (40)||Virginia (95)|
|West Virginia||6||0.6486||44.5||48||3||2||2||2||Villanova (7)||Providance (99)|
|Kansas St||6||0.6533||65.2||64.5||3||1||2||2||Kanas (1)||Nebraska (123)|
|Purdue||6||0.5855||108.5||77.5||3||0||2||2||Ohio St (31)||Penn St (227)|
What I have here is the remaining games, the combined win percentage of the opponents, their average and median RPI rank, number of road games, games against RPI Top 25, 26-50, and 51 - 100 and their highest and lowest rated opponent.
First off lets dispense with Purdue: the Boilermakers are having a fine season and have a good team, but they have no shot at a #1 seed without help. On the other side is Villanova which has a brutal schedule over their last 6 games - their lowest rated opponent is better than the average for 4 of the other teams.
Notice that every team has about the same number of road games remaining and most everyone has 4-5 games remaining against teams ranked in the top 100 of the RPI. Basically, there is very little schedule advantage for any team, although Villanova has a shot at putting a stranglehold on a #1 seed.
What does this mean for Kentucky? I don't think the Cats can afford to lose more than 1 more game the rest of the season if they want to earn a #1 seed. There simply isn't enough substance in their profile to raise them past the other teams if they lose two or more times. Ultimately I think UK will get a #1 seed because they can dominate a decent SEC while the Big East teams beat up each other and Kansas takes care of Kansas St. - but it'll be a lot closer than popular opinion might think.