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February 13, 2012
Mizzou's road to a top seed
Missouri continues to dodge questions about a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and the possibility of playing in St. Louis in the Sweet Sixteen and beyond. That is understandable. There are six games to go in the regular season, plus conference tournaments across the country that can change things.
But for fans and media, it's a fair time to start looking at post-season possibilities.
What we know is that the Tigers are going to play in the NCAA Tournament. Even if it were to lose every game the rest of the way, Mizzou would enter Selection Sunday at 23-9 with seven wins over current top 50 RPI teams. That's good enough to be in. So a bid isn't in question.
But most Mizzou fans are now wondering if the Tigers are worthy of a No. 1 seed. While there are plenty of games to be played and nothing in major college basketball is a gimmie-though Mizzou's schedule does feature a couple of games that should be nearly automatic-this seemed a good time to take a look at what the Tigers would have to do to lock up a top seed.
Kentucky and Syracuse seem near-locks for a top seed. Both could probably lose at least once more and still be on the tournament's top line. The Orange are destined for the Boston regional, as there is no other team in that area of the country in serious consideration.
The Wildcats would fit in either St. Louis or Atlanta. Lexington is 336 miles from St. Louis and 382 from Atlanta. Neither spot gives the Cats a huge geographic advantage over the other.
The major issue facing anyone in contention for a No. 1 seed is that someone has to play third and fourth round games as a top seed in Phoenix. There isn't a team west of Lawrence, Kansas that has any chance to land a No. 1.
The competition for the spots in Atlanta and St. Louis come down to the following teams:
Mizzou, Kansas, Ohio State, Michigan State, Duke, North Carolina. That's it. Six teams for two spots, with one of them being sent out West as a consolation prize. The fourth No. 1 is likely Arizona bound.
Here is a quick rundown of every team's resume as it stands today (RPI ranking and records, as well as strength of schedule are from statsheet.com). Bad losses are defined as those to teams below 100 in the RPI:
As we said above, a lot can change. This season has proven that you can't start writing down wins just yet. The six teams on our list all have at least one (and quite possibly two) game against each other remaining. The outcome of those games will have a major impact on which two teams get the top seeds. And none of them can really afford a stumble in a game they are supposed to win.
For Missouri, the Tigers have an edge on everybody else as far as high quality wins, but their schedule will be ranked by far as the weakest among teams in consideration. Mizzou can probably least afford to drop a game to the likes of Texas A&M or Kansas State and still hope for a one seed. But Mizzou's 9-0 record against top 50 RPI teams (they have at least two such games still to go and Kansas State is currently at #51) stands out among the list.
If the seeding were done today, Missouri would likely be the top seed in St. Louis. Even with a loss at Kansas, the Tigers would make a solid case to get a one seed, either in St. Louis or Arizona.
The road to a No. 1 seed for Mizzou is relatively simple: Win at least five of the last six games, and hope Michigan State splits with Ohio State and Carolina splits with Duke. If those things happen, the Tigers should be a No. 1. The only question then would be where the committee would send them.
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