Searching for No. 1 seeds

Originally Published: February 22, 2004
By Jay Bilas | Special to ESPN.com

I don't care what the RPI says. Stanford and Saint Joseph's deserve to be No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament -- even if both teams get clipped before Selection Sunday.

The only two undefeated teams in Division I are at least half the answer to the first question the selection committee should ask in handing out the four coveted No. 1 seeds is: Who are the four best teams in the nation?

And, while it seems like a simple enough question, if the answer is unclear as to the other two teams on March 14, the committee must go to those sheets of paper in front of each member and assess which team has demonstrated it is deserving by answering the next two questions:

Whom did you play?

Whom did you beat?

Of course, the teams being debated today as potential No. 1 seeds could each fall out of the conversation over the next three weeks to Selection Sunday. But it's more likely that more than four teams will have strong enough cases for a top seed.

Barring a collapse by the frontrunners, and those behind them running the table the rest of the way, I believe that the first three No. 1 seeds should go to Stanford, Saint Joseph's and Duke.

While I understand Duke has played the toughest slate of the three, great credit has to be given to St. Joe's and Stanford for remaining unblemished to date. It may be tougher to go through the ACC with just the two losses the Blue Devils' have suffered, but it is still tough to go through the Atlantic 10 and the Pac-10 without having a single flat tire. Yes, I believe both Saint Joseph's and Stanford would have lost a game or two if either played in the ACC or the SEC. But it doesn't change the fact that each deserves a No. 1 seed.

As for the fourth No. 1 seed, it's a tougher call. I think you have to consider Mississippi State (despite Saturday's loss to Alabama), Oklahoma State, Kentucky, Gonzaga and Pittsburgh.

I find it hard to believe that the RPI ranks Pittsburgh outside of its top 10 with just two losses to date. The Panthers hardly played a tough slate heading into Big East play, but it wasn't a Georgetown schedule, either. Pitt defeated Alabama, Florida State and Georgia, and lost at Connecticut by a single possession and at Seton Hall in double overtime.

Oklahoma State is in the same boat as Pittsburgh, having navigated its schedule successfully yet not being rewarded by the RPI rankings. These Cowboys are a typical offering from Eddie Sutton. OSU is solid on the defensive end, runs the floor very well in transition, and then makes you guard in the halfcourt. Although John Lucas and Daniel Bobik can shoot 3s, the Cowboys really want to get out in transition after forcing teams into a bad shot. That's how they win, and that's how they have a chance to make it to San Antonio.

Of course, the team with talent and wins worthy of a top seed that is most likely to get jobbed by the RPI is Gonzaga, which can only watch its numbers go down toward the end of the season as the Zags beat up on one West Coast Conference team after another. Never mind the fact that Gonzaga has beaten Maryland, Missouri, Washington, Washington State and Georgia. The Zags probably will not get a No. 2 seed -- even if they do take 20 straight wins into Selection Sunday.

The only two losses suffered by Spokane's "Few and the Proud" were to Saint Joseph's and Stanford -- each coming by seven points. And, remember, Gonzaga did not have a healthy Rony Turiaf when it lost its season opener in New York to St. Joe's.

Now, being a No. 1 seed doesn't guarantee a trip to the Final Four. So, if you are looking for some sleepers to make it to San Antonio, consider Wisconsin, Wake Forest, Texas, Providence, Illinois and Memphis.

Of course, each of these teams can get sent home in the first weekend, but that is true for almost any team that makes up the field of 65 this year. Only a few teams have shown such high-level consistency as to eliminate doubts about their chances.

Wisconsin has a signature star in Devin Harris, a player who can hang 30 on the board in any given game. Harris and the Badgers started off the season shooting the ball poorly but winning anyway. Now the Badgers are knocking down more shots, although their performances on the road (see: losing at Michigan on Sunday) are a cause for pause.

Still, the Badgers' unorthodox style, which posts every player at one time or another and limits turnovers, gives Wisconsin a chance to beat most anyone. The only problem for Wisconsin ... no Alando Tucker, who is out for the season, and no Brian Butch, who chose to redshirt his freshman season and could have been a real help up front at this point of the season.

Wake Forest went through a two-week pity party in which the Deacons questioned themselves and suffered a crisis in confidence. Eric Williams worked (not "shot" or "waited patiently," but "worked") his way out of it, as did his teammates. The Deacons are now secure in who they are and whom they can beat ... which is anyone.

The resurgence of Justin Gray, the standout sophomore guard, was thanks in large measure to his being late. Gray was tardy for a team function and was made to run as a reminder to be on time. He played well, and now has the coaches make him run extra every day to stay sharp.

Texas is as mentally tough as any team in the nation, and it is learning how to play without a true point guard. Kenton Paulino has done a nice job as a scoring point, and Royal Ivey has the ball in his hands at the end of games. The Longhorns defend, rebound, and get out and run, and they could be in San Antonio.

Providence is the team that most resembles Syracuse of last season, with Ryan Gomes playing the role of Carmelo Anthony. With Rob Sanders back, Tim Welsh has another long athlete who can defend and rebound -- and provide great energy. Fear the Friars with the right draw.

Illinois is starting to play the kind of ball we expected at the start of the year, and that is in large part because of Williams, the sophomore point guard who knows how to play. The Illini are not a group of great shooters, but they have athletic wings and good guards, which gives them a chance.

Finally, Memphis is flying way too low on the national radar and could wind up shocking people in March, when it shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Antonio Burks is as quick from end to end as any point guard in the nation (including Raymond Felton of North Carolina and Mitchell Baldwin of Charlotte), Sean Banks is one of the most productive freshmen in the country -- right up there with Kris Humphries (Minnesota), Luol Deng (Duke), Chris Paul (Wake Forest), Leon Powe (California), Shannon Brown (Michigan State) and Paul Millsap (Louisiana Tech).

Memphis defends, runs the floor and really competes. When the Tigers take good shots, they are tough to beat.

The same can be said of at least a dozen teams at this point of the season, which makes picking not only a fourth No. 1 seed but also the teams who'll wind up in the Final Four so difficult this year. But it also will make finding out so much fun in March.

Let them play!

Give St. Bonaventure a chance in Dayton. The NCAA hit St. Bonaventure hard for its recruitment of a player with a welder's certificate and the administration's lack of institutional control. Although I have no problem with probation, the loss of postseason opportunities and the loss of money, I do have a problem with the reduction in scholarships and the possibility that St. Bonaventure will not be allowed to play in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

If the Bonnies were to win the A-10 tournament in Dayton, which is unlikely, it makes perfect sense to give the automatic bid to the second-place team. It's pretty simple. But the denial of the opportunity for these kids to compete in the conference tournament is unfair, given that the team was given the right to play during the regular season, which affected seeding in the tournament.

Don't get me wrong, I think that the Bonnies should be hit hard for what they did, but let's not hamstring the kids now, and the program for years. I don't believe that it is proper punishment in collegiate athletics to take away scholarships. Whether it is St. Bonaventure, Minnesota, or any other school, the answer does not lie in taking away educational and athletic opportunities from other student-athletes.

If you want to ban a program from postseason play, fine. If you want to fine it a certain amount of money, that's fine, too. But if a team is allowed to compete, let it compete with a full complement of scholarships.

Nothing positive comes out of the denial of opportunity. Look at Minnesota. Clem Haskins made a mess there, and Dan Monson came in to clean it up. Monson has been saddled with a reduction in scholarships and severe recruiting restrictions, and everyone in the state of Minnesota seems to be calling for his head. Is that what we want? Putting an honorable man and a good coach in the position of having to worry about his job while he tries to fix the problems that were created by someone else?

Reasonable minds can differ, but I think that postseason bans and money sanctions are enough. Leave the scholarships alone.

Candidates for St. John's to consider

I am on record that I disagreed vehemently with the firing of Mike Jarvis so early in the season, which effectively ended any chance of the Johnnies having a meaningful and successful year. This is not pro basketball, and his dismissal before the end of the year for no real reason other than a personality conflict -- and the fact that his parting with the university was inevitable -- was, in my judgment, wrong.

Now that it is done, and the season has turned into an absolute disaster by any reasonable measure, St. John's should give proper consideration to the following candidates for the coaching vacancy: Tim Welsh of Providence, Jim Baron of Rhode Island, Phil Martelli of St. Joseph's, Bobby Gonzalez of Manhattan, former Notre Dame and North Carolina head coach Matt Doherty, and Bob McKillop of Davidson.

With the exception of Martelli, who is a Philly guy, all have the requisite New York ties, and every guy on that list can really coach. McKillop has not been mentioned prominently but is an outstanding prospect for St. John's. He is a New York guy, a man of unquestioned integrity and an outstanding bench coach. He has a strong New York background, and he is very well connected in Europe in the recruiting of foreign kids.

St. John's would be making a major mistake if it didn't give each of these coaches a good look.

Fan behavior

I believe that fans should strive to show more restraint and dignity to preserve the best atmospheres in sports. College basketball is the country's best game, and nothing rivals the excitement and passion exhibited during the regular season and in the NCAA Tournament. But the ritual of storming the court has become almost passÚ and expected after every meaningful win, and it is becoming dangerous and almost boring.

Television outlets bear some of the responsibility for glorifying the practice, as every highlight seems to end with the crowd spilling out onto the floor in "celebration." The argument for storming the court is that it is part of the game. Well, it is not. This may sound insensitive, but as much as they feel they are, fans are not a part of the game. The players, coaches and officials are a part of the game. Fans are a part of the atmosphere, and there is a distinct difference.

Think about the great crowds in college basketball ... you immediately think of the Cameron Crazies, the Izzone, the crowd at Allen Fieldhouse, Mac Court in Oregon, and many others. What comes to mind is how loud and passionate the crowd is and what it does during the game, when the crowd is in the stands where it belongs, rather than storming the court after a game.

Storming the court is not part of the game because the game is over. Not only can someone get hurt, but it almost seems to be an everyday occurrence now. The main thing is for the players, coaches and officials to get off the floor safely.

I cannot imagine that the thrill of victory would be reduced by limiting this ritual. Remember, nobody storms the court at the Final Four, and that is a pretty special feeling that lasts a long time.

Jay Bilas is a college basketball analyst at ESPN and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Click here to send Jay a question he might answer in his weekly mailbag on ESPN.com.

Jay Bilas

College Basketball analyst

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