Heading into the conference tournaments, it is unclear who will take the top four spots in the men's NCAA basketball tournament. The committee officially uses RPI as a guide, and by that measure, Villanova, Kansas, Louisville and North Carolina are in the top four spots.
As at least one of those teams will fail to win its conference tournament (Louisville and North Carolina can’t split the ACC), it is unlikely that those four teams will be remain at the top. Utilizing ESPN’s Basketball Power Index and Strength of Record metrics, we can project the top contenders for a top seed. Using those projections, we can take a look at which team’s conference tournament performance is most important for capturing a No. 1 seed.
According to the projections, the teams with a better than 20 percent chance to get a top seed are Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Baylor, Kentucky and Louisville. While Villanova and Kansas are near locks for top spots (both have a 99 percent chance to grab a top seed), the rest, to some extent, need to win to edge out the competition.
North Carolina (3rd in BPI, 3rd in SOR)
Having lost to Virginia and then finishing the regular season with a win against Duke, UNC has the top spot in the ACC tournament, and after the top two, the best chance to grab a top seed, at 58 percent.
The ACC bracket, however, is not their friend, as they will likely have to face either Louisville or Duke in the semifinals. Given the bracket, UNC has a 27 percent chance to win it all, and Virginia -- who faces a smoother path to the finals despite playing more games -- also has a 27 percent chance to win. Winning the ACC tournament would solidify UNC’s No. 1 seed, but provided they make the finals -- meaning Louisville does not -- they should still be in a good position.
Gonzaga (2nd in BPI, 4th in SOR)
Gonzaga was in a great position to lock down a No. 1 seed until they lost to BYU. They now have a 46 percent chance to get the top seed, but cannot really afford to lose in the WCC tournament. They have a 57 percent chance to be conference champs, and their toughest opponent, of course, is Saint Mary’s (14th in BPI). A loss to Saint Mary’s probably loses them their top spot, thanks to the loss to BYU.
Baylor (15th in BPI, 5th in SOR)
Baylor, with the third seed in the Big 12, has to go through West Virginia and Kansas to win the conference tournament, and BPI gives them only a 16 percent chance of pulling that off. But they do have a 31 percent chance of grabbing a top seed.
The top seed hinges on not necessarily winning, but getting to the finals of their conference tournament, which would likely mean beating West Virginia. If they can do that and have at least a strong showing against Kansas, they could sneak into the top four.
Kentucky (10th in BPI, 7th in SOR)
BPI gives Kentucky a 40 percent chance to win the SEC tournament, which is needed for them to grab a top spot. They currently have a 26 percent chance to earn a top spot, meaning that even an SEC tournament crown might not be enough for them to get into the top four. They would likely need help in the form of a Gonzaga or UNC loss for a spot to open up for them.
Louisville (6th in BPI, 6th in SOR)
Louisville has a 22 percent chance to grab a top seed and a 14 percent chance to win the ACC tournament. They can get a one seed if they win the ACC tournament, which would knock out UNC, or even if they just get to the finals. If UNC does not get to the finals and/or Gonzaga and Baylor stumble, Louisville could still find its way into the top four.