March Madness: Which 1 Seed Has the Toughest Road to the Final Four?
Most would agree that the Gonzaga Bulldogs are the best team in the country.
They're the number one team in the final AP Top 25, and that's backed by their top status in numberFire's power rankings, KenPom, and BartTorvik. There's a good reason why they're the most popular championship pick on ESPN.
But what about their path to the Final Four? Does the chalk pick have a potential cakewalk ahead of them? Or will they have to work their way through a boss rush of daunting opponents?
After all, matchups matter! Even the best teams in the country can have their championship hopes dashed against the wrong opponent. And conversely, a weaker top seed could sneak through if they face a cupcake schedule.
So, with that in mind, let's look -- through our nERD metric (which measures the number of points we'd expect a team to win by against an average one on a neutral court) -- at which of the 1 seeds has the scariest, toughest journeys to the Final Four this year.
4. Kansas (Midwest Region)
Out of the four top seeds, the Kansas Jayhawks have the easiest road -- and it might not be all that close.
While all three other 3 seeds are top-15 teams in our nERD power rankings, Wisconsin trails way behind them as the 31st-best squad.
Providence's seeding is arguably even more egregious. They're 41st by our numbers, and every other 4 seed cracks the top 20. In fact, the Friars are a candidate to be upset in the first round by South Dakota State.
Due to Providence's over-seeding, it wouldn't be surprising if the Jayhawks are up against Iowa in the Sweet 16 instead.
The Hawkeyes are the tournament's second-best 5 seed, and they fall just outside the top 10 in our rankings. Frankly, they would've made for a far more deserving 4 seed than Providence.
But outside of that opponent, Kansas is projected for an 80% win probability or better against any other possible team in their first three games.
Finally, with Wisconsin being such a meh 3 seed, Kansas' toughest potential Elite Eight opponent would be the 2 seed, Auburn.
According to nERD, the Tigers are the nation's 7th-best squad, making them the second-best 2 seed. KenPom also ranks them as a top-10 team. Our model gives Kansas a 53.73% win probability against Auburn if this matchup comes to pass.
Overall, though, the Jayhawks may not need to sweat much to make a deep run -- particularly if Auburn or Iowa gets knocked off early.
3. Gonzaga (West Region)
Not only is Gonzaga our highest-rated team, but they don't face a single top-10 squad in our rankings. Despite being the trendy pick, perhaps they aren't an automatic fade this year.
That being said, while the West Region isn't top-heavy -- outside of, you know, Gonzaga -- there aren't really any blatantly over-seeded teams like the Midwest. According to nERD, Duke (13th), Texas Tech (12th), Arkansas (18th), and Connecticut (17th) are all top-20 opponents.
But let's be honest. It's going to be incredibly difficult for any of these teams to best the top overall seed. Our model gives Gonzaga above an 80% chance of defeating every potential opponent they could face in the region outside of Duke and Texas Tech who both (barely) fall under that threshold.
While the Blue Devils are hardly a bunch of scrubs, they do rate as the weakest 2 seed. Still, they have the country's fourth-best adjusted offense, per BartTorvik, so they should be able to put up a fight.
Texas Tech is actually better than Duke by the numbers, and they shake out as the tourney's second-best 3 seed.
KenPom actually ranks them as the ninth-best team and BartTorvik has them even better at fifth, so it's possible that nERD isn't giving the Red Raiders enough love. They boast the nation's top adjusted defense and could shake out as Gonzaga's toughest potential hurdle in the Elite Eight.
Our model still sees the Bulldogs steamrolling the competition on their way to the Final Four -- but that has more to do with Gonzaga's dominance than anything else.
2. Arizona (South Region)
Despite being a 5 seed, the Cougars rank fifth overall on numberFire, fourth on KenPom, and second on BartTorvik. Houston ranks top 10 in both adjusted offense and adjusted defense, per BartTorvik.
Any way you slice it, this is bad news for Arizona. Our model gives the Wildcats just a 59.26% chance of beating the Cougars, which is just something you don't expect to see in a 1-versus-5 game.
Arizona should be happy if they face the 4 seed, Illinois, instead. The Fighting Illini may be the second-best 4 seed, but they would be an easier opponent, ranking 16th in our power rankings.
Villanova -- the Big East champ -- closely mirrors Arizona, as both teams are top 10 in adjusted offense and top 30 in adjusted defense.
Meanwhile, Tennessee might be even tougher to knock off as the highest-rated 3 seed in the tournament. They have one of the best defenses in college basketball and just enjoyed a strong run to the SEC title, which included a win over an elite Kentucky squad.
The Wildcats could have their work cut out for them. Arizona is the second-best team in numberFire's rankings, though, and they still have the second-best overall odds of making the Final Four (36.96%).
1. Baylor (East Region)
Not only are the Baylor Bears the worst 1 seed (6th in our rankings), but their section is stacked pretty much from top to bottom. This is pretty much the opposite of Kansas' Midwest Region, as the East is filled with underrated teams.
On the low end, that includes the highest-rated 10 seed (San Francisco), 11 seed (Virginia Tech), and 12 seed (Indiana). Even if this section of the bracket gets busted by these lower seeds, Baylor would have to contend with worthy opponents.
But it's the other top seeds in the East that could really cause the Bears problems.
Not only is Kentucky the best 2 seed, but they arguably should've been a 1 seed. They're the fourth-best overall team, according to nERD. If Baylor faces Kentucky in the Elite Eight, they would only have a 48.04% shot at the win.
The 3 seed? That would be Purdue, which doesn't carry as high an overall ranking (14th) but may very well have the most lethal offense in the tournament. Per BartTorvik, the Boilermakers rank first in adjusted offensive efficiency, which includes being fourth in both effective field goal percentage and three-point percentage.
If those two teams weren't enough, UCLA rates as the nation's ninth-best squad, making them easily the top 4 seed.
There are major roadblocks ahead for the defending champs no matter how their region plays out. Our model only gives them the sixth-best chance of advancing to the Final Four (25.61%), easily the worst odds among 1 seeds.