Biggest Takeaways from 2023 Men’s NCAA Tournament Top 16 Reveal Show

Biggest Takeaways from 2023 Men’s NCAA Tournament Top 16 Reveal Show

Brandon Miller and the Alabama Crimson  Tide are the No. 1 overall seed right now.

Brandon Miller and the Alabama Crimson Tide are the No. 1 overall seed right now.Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images

After spending several days in Indianapolis arguing about big wins, bad losses and other resume what-have-yous, the selection committee for the 2023 men’s NCAA tournament released its annual Top 16 on Saturday afternoon, providing a snapshot of how it would seed those teams if the season ended today.

They are as follows:

No. 1 Seeds: 1. Alabama, 2. Houston, 3. Purdue, 4. Kansas

No. 2 Seeds: 5. Texas, 6. Arizona, 7. Baylor, 8. UCLA

No. 3 Seeds: 9. Tennessee, 10. Virginia, 11. Iowa State, 12. Kansas State

No. 4 Seeds: 13. Indiana, 14. Marquette, 15. Gonzaga, 16. Xavier

Before we start to point out some observations specific to this year’s reveal and try to spin those forward into applications for the next few weeks of bracketology, let’s take a glance backward at previous Top 16 reveals to see how well those predicted the final bracket.

The NCAA selection committee has been doing these Top 16 reveals since February 2017. Excluding the 2019-20 season that ended without a tournament, that leaves us with five reveals to compare to five final brackets.

For starters, the No. 1 overall seed in the Top 16 reveal has gone on to earn the No. 1 overall seed on Selection Sunday all five times. While that doesn’t mean we can lock in Alabama as the top team three weeks from now, it does bode well for the Crimson Tide.

In each year, three of the four (but never all four) teams projected for No. 1 seeds ended up earning No. 1 seeds. Of the five who didn’t land on the top line when it actually mattered, four ended up on the No. 2 seed line, while 2016-17 Baylor—which went 4-4 overall after the reveal—finished as a No. 3 seed.

Of the 40 teams that were in the Top Eight of a reveal, 39 ended up in the Top 13 on Selection Sunday. The lone exception was 2020-21 Villanova, which was No. 6 in the reveal before collapsing down the stretch, going 3-4 with three losses to teams that finished .500 or worse overall. Those Wildcats still ended up at No. 18 overall.

Moreover, of the 40 teams that earned No. 1 or No. 2 seeds on Selection Sunday, every one appeared in the Top 16 reveal. There were a couple of close calls—Duke was No. 16 overall in the 2017 reveal and finished at No. 7; Iowa similarly went from a projected No. 4 seed to an actual No. 2 seed in 2021—but history says all of the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds that you’ll see in the bracket will come from these 16 teams.

Lastly, all 16 of these teams will make the tournament. We are 80-for-80 in that department, though 2017-18 Oklahoma sure did make things interesting by losing eight of its final 10 games and plummeting from No. 16 overall to No. 40 overall.

Now, on to our biggest takeaways from this year’s Top 16.

Per Usual, NET Is Important, But It Isn’t Everything

Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis

Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-DavisMichael Reaves/Getty Images

At no point during the reveal did this year’s selection committee chair, Bradley’s VP of intercollegiate athletics Chris Reynolds, explicitly say anything about a team’s NET.

For instance, the justification for Houston at No. 2 overall wasn’t, “Well, they’re No. 1 in the NET, so they were automatically a No. 1 seed.”

But it is abundantly clear that NET ranking is important near the top of the field.

Of the teams that appeared in the Top 16, 14 entered the day ranked in the top 17 of the NET, with NET No. 20 Kansas State (No. 12 overall seed) and NET No. 26 Xavier (No. 16 overall seed) as the exceptions.

If we factor in the four teams that Reynolds mentioned as others that were under consideration—Creighton, Miami, St. Mary’s and UConn—and infer that those probably would have been the No. 5 seeds, now you’re looking at every team in the top 17 of the NET landing in the top 20 of the overall seed list.

Once you get down closer to the bubble, NET isn’t quite as important. Last season, we saw two NET top-40 teams left out of the field while NET No. 77 Rutgers got a bid. There could be a similar situation this year with Wisconsin (NET No. 76) getting in while Utah State (NET No. 37) misses the cut.

If you want to be a top-four seed, though, you’d better either have a really good NET ranking or a really good reason to be considered. For Kansas State, that really good reason is six Quad 1 wins, including great road wins over Texas and Baylor. For Xavier, it’s four wins against the top half of Quad 1 and 10 total wins against Quad 1 plus the top half of Quad 2.

Having said that, NET Nos. 7 Saint Mary’s and 8 Connecticut were both left out of the Top 16, the latter somewhat surprisingly.

Road Record Is Important, But a Bit Inconsistent

Connecticut head coach Dan Hurley

Connecticut head coach Dan HurleyGreg Fiume/Getty Images

During the No. 1-seed conversation, Reynolds mentioned road wins often.

“That win at Houston put [Alabama] over the top.”

“[Houston is] undefeated on the road with an impressive win at Virginia.”

At a certain point, though, that emphasis on playing well on the road seemed to fall by the wayside.

Iowa State getting the No. 11 overall seed despite a 2-6 road record (4-7 overall away from home, including neutral-site games) was surprising. Same goes for Kansas State and Indiana landing at No. 12 and No. 13, respectively, with a combined 7-12 road record (11-13 overall away from home).

What’s important, though, is the quality of those road/neutral wins.

As mentioned, Kansas State won at Texas and Baylor. The Wildcats also have a nice neutral-site win over Nevada. Iowa State’s two road wins came at TCU and Oklahoma, plus the neutral-site win over North Carolina. And Indiana won at Xavier, Illinois and Michigan.

Translation: All three teams picked up three Quad 1 wins away from home. And that’s huge.

However, beating both Alabama and Iowa State on neutral courts and winning at Florida wasn’t enough to get No. 8 Connecticut into the Top 16.

Basically, the committee’s lack of respect for the Huskies was baffling.

If You’re Going to Emphasize Metrics, Focus on KPI and SOR

Kansas State's Markquis Nowell

Kansas State’s Markquis NowellJohn E. Moore III/Getty Images

There are six computer metrics on each team’s tournament resume: NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET), Kevin Pauga Index (KPI), Strength of Record (SOR), Basketball Power Index (BPI), (KP) and Sagarin (SAG).

NET is the primary sorting metric. KPI and SOR are the “resume” metrics. BPI, KP and SAG are the “predictive” metrics.

And while most fans will cite NET and KenPom when arguing about where a team should be seeded, it’s pretty clear that KPI and SOR reign supreme.

Take the average of each team’s KPI and SOR rank, put them in ascending order, look at the top 20 and ta-da, there’s your Top 16 reveal plus two of the four teams mentioned as strongly under consideration.

Moreover, there is a 100 percent overlap between the selection committee’s top nine overall seeds and the top nine teams in the resume metrics.

Lastly, Kansas State is 20th in NET, 25th on KenPom and 34th in both BPI and Sagarin, and yet the Wildcats are presently the No. 12 overall seed with a resume-metrics ranking of 14.5.

Now, of course, there’s more to it than that. A strong resume-metrics ranking of 13.5 wasn’t enough to get NET No. 18 San Diego State even into the conversation. And despite checking in at 10th in the resume metrics, Gonzaga barely cracked the Top 16 at No. 15.

You still have to get down into the weeds and see that those two teams (and Connecticut) each has a sub-.500 record against Quad 1, as well as a home loss to an opponent that likely (or definitely) would not make the NCAA tournament today. That’s enough to knock a team down quite a few pegs from where its resume rankings suggest it should be slotted.

As a rule of thumb, though, please factor in a team’s resume metrics when making your arguments. Those are way more important than KenPom and the other predictive metrics—where Connecticut, Creighton and Saint Mary’s have average ranks of 6.7, 12.0 and 13.7, respectively, and still missed the cut.

Kerry Miller covers men’s college basketball and Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @KerranceJames.

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