Purdue’s No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament bracket preview reveals one important thing — big wins matter most

Not even a couple hours after the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s 2024 bracket preview was complete, one of the 16 teams mentioned among the top four seeds made the case for its dismissal from that club by losing an overtime game. So we all quickly were reminded this only was an exercise.

Even though it doesn’t count, though, it does matter.

While those of us in the media can use history and knowledge of the bracket rules and points of emphasis to project what the field might be, the membership of the committee changes annually, with multiple members rotating on and off the board and a new chair appointed each year. And each person is free to interpret the information and data as they see fit. So the preview gives us an idea of what each committee values.

And what matters now is big wins.

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The No. 1 team in the polls, Connecticut, was rated the No. 2 team overall by the committee. The No. 1 team in the most prominent performance metrics, Houston, was No. 3 overall. The overall No. 1 team was Purdue, which owns more of the most difficult victories – known as Quadrant-1 wins – than any other team.

Player of the Year Zach Edey and the Boilers have defeated six of the other 15 teams on the committee’s list – and only one of those victories was earned at home. Connecticut has beaten two. Houston? None. Arizona, considered the fourth overall No. 1, also has two such wins.

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There is no great reward for being No. 1 overall. Each of the four top seeds fits comfortably into their assigned regions: Purdue in the Midwest at Detroit, UConn in the East at Boston, Houston in the South at Dallas and Arizona in the West at Los Angeles.

The committee’s seed list went as follows:

  • No. 1: Purdue, UConn, Houston, Arizona
  • No. 2: North Carolina, Tennessee, Marquette, Kansas
  • No. 3: Alabama, Baylor, Iowa State, Duke
  • No. 4: Auburn, San Diego State, Illinois, Wisconsin

The preference for teams that have earned elite wins is reflected throughout the committee’s work.

Led by veterans Armando Bacot and RJ Davis, North Carolina has accumulated six Quad-1 wins, including over projected No. 2 seed Tennessee and No. 3 seed Duke. That allowed the Tar Heels to occupy the most prominent position on the No. 2 seed line even though they’ve dropped games to lesser opponents Syracuse and Georgia Tech.

More to the point, Auburn and big man Johni Broome, 20-5 and averaging a No. 5 ranking in performance metrics (NET, KenPom, BPI), were placed on the No. 4 seed line by the committee. Why? Because they own just two Quad-1 wins: against No. 3 seed Alabama at home and on the road against Ole Miss, which is considered by analysts to be a bubble team.

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That also showed up in Wisconsin’s inclusion. The Badgers were No. 20 in the NET and No. 18 in KenPom, figures that would have suggested a seed line lower, but the committee honored its 6-4 record against Quad 1 that included a win over Marquette, as well as one against likely tournament selection Virginia and a sweep of Michigan State.

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The Badgers probably gave up that No. 4 seed, though, when they lost just a few hours later at Iowa.

The committee does not show its work on the bottom of the bracket – the bubble – where so many fans are focused at this time of year. But we can surmise they might have thought highly of Seton Hall, which is only 68th in the NET rankings but is the only team other than the three No. 1 seeds to have beaten multiple teams from Saturday’s bracket preview.

That doesn’t mean the Pirates can relax. They’ve got a road game Sunday against fellow bubble team St. John’s. Perhaps they could sleep more comfortably the night before.

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