For the first time in NCAA men’s basketball history, the selection committee gave fans an in-season look at the current top 16 teams in their rankings.
“I said, ‘Put it in marker, in permanent marker,’” UK Coach John Calipari said of the seeding after Saturday’s win at Alabama. “Because, you know, there are times in this season I’d say we deserve it. There were times maybe we were a little bit better than that. But there have been times I’d say, ‘Really?’ That’s never happened to me before: when they’ve given us a seed better than we should have.”
The committee had Louisville, fourth in both polls, at seventh overall.
Both UK and Louisville would be placed in the East Region — along with overall No. 1-seeded Villanova and UCLA — as the committee teased the possibility of a Cats-Cards matchup in the Sweet Sixteen.
There are still four weeks and plenty of games to be played before the official bracket is announced on Selection Sunday, which is March 12.
“It doesn’t really matter right now,” UK’s Dominique Hawkins said after Saturday’s game. “Whatever seed we are, we’re going to be ready to play. That’s a long way from now. We’re not really worried about that.”
Villanova, the defending NCAA champions, was joined by Kansas, Baylor and Gonzaga as No. 1 seeds.
At this point, “the ones are clearly ones,” said Mark Hollis, Michigan State’s athletics director and the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s chairman. “There was nobody really that was close. None of the 2s were really in the conversation on the 1 line.
“Those four teams are having tremendous seasons, but as we know in college basketball things can change quickly. There are more than 1,300 games left before Selection Sunday, so how these teams are seeded and where they will ultimately be sent to play in the tournament remains a mystery.”
North Carolina was fifth overall in the early rankings with Florida State, Louisville and Oregon rounding out the rest of the No. 2 seeds.
The No. 3 seeds, in order, were Arizona, Virginia, Florida and Kentucky. The four No. 4 seeds would be Butler, West Virginia, UCLA and Duke.
The Selection Committee’s announcement got a mixed review from fans and coaches, but count Calipari as a fan.
“I like the transparency,” he said. “I know there are some coaches who didn’t like it. ‘Ah, it puts more pressure on it.’ No, no, no, no, no. There’s transparency now. If somebody moves in, we’ll all know why they moved into the top four. If somebody moves out, you will be able to write why they moved out.”
The Cats entered Saturday’s play 11th in the RPI, and Louisville was fifth.
One conference that was left out of the early seedings: The Big Ten.
Hollis said Purdue and Wisconsin — along with Cincinnati and Creighton — were close to the top 16, but just missed the cut.
“Those teams are really in the mix of everything we’re talking about here, teams that are very close,” Hollis said. “We don’t have the data points to really make those lines of separation. We’ve listed the 16, but we still have a long way to go.”