NCAA tournament bracketology: Alabama zeroing in on first-ever No. 1 seed

Star freshman Brandon Miller has Alabama on track for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. (Vasha Hunt/AP)
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There could be some new faces on the top line of the NCAA tournament come March.

Yes, usual suspects such as all of last year’s No. 1 seeds — Arizona, Baylor, Gonzaga and Kansas — still harbor plausible hopes of replicating the feat. Kansas has the second-most appearances ever as a No. 1 seed with 15. Arizona has seven, tied for fifth with Virginia (which could play its way into the conversation for its first appearance on the top line since 2019).

But North Carolina (17 all-time)? The Tar Heels won’t end up as a No. 1 seed this year. Ditto for Duke (14) and Kentucky (12). It’s an uphill climb for Illinois, a top seed two years ago, and Michigan (another 2021 No. 1 seed) would be fortunate to play its way into the field of 68.

So it could be a different look at the top when the field is unveiled in a little less than six weeks, with seven candidates who have not been No. 1 seeds in the 21st century (if ever).

Duke’s post-Mike Krzyzewski era is off to a rocky start in season one

Alabama (Never): Three times a No. 2 seed (1987, 2002 and 2021) under three different coaches, the Crimson Tide is unbeaten in SEC play. Alabama arguably has the best chance of anyone at becoming a first-time No. 1 seed behind star freshman Brandon Miller.

Kansas State (Never): The Wildcats won’t win every close game they’re in this year (Iowa State made sure of that last week), but they’re still 18-3 and have the comeback player of the year in Keyontae Johnson leading an impressive revival. K-State’s seeding peak is a No. 2 (the Jacob Pullen-led 2010 team). It isn’t far off that, though there’s plenty of work left in the grueling Big 12.

Marquette (Never): The Golden Eagles have never landed anything more than a No. 3 seed, and that is probably the neighborhood they’ll end up in this season. Yet they’re 8-1 since Christmas, and Tyler Kolek is one of the country’s finest table-setters. If they get into the barn with just one or two more losses, a No. 1 seed isn’t out of the question (depending on how others fare, of course).

Tennessee (Never): A three-time No. 2 seed (2006, 2008 and 2019), the Volunteers own the nation’s most efficient defense according to and dispatched Texas by 11 over the weekend. They don’t have as deep of a set of victories as some teams in the No. 1 seed mix, but the SEC will provide enough opportunities to rectify that between now and mid-March.

TCU (Never): The Horned Frogs haven’t reached back-to-back tournaments since 1952-53 (a feat they’re closing in on), so landing on the top line is hardly the expectation around Fort Worth. They’re the most unlikely of this bunch to get there, especially after dropping four of seven, but they won’t be lacking chances to pad their profile in the coming weeks.

Houston (1983): The Cougars haven’t been a No. 1 seed since the days of Phi Slama Jama. Even with a loss earlier this month to Temple, ending that drought is in play. Led by guard Marcus Sasser, Houston possesses a miserly defense and a sharp (if less heralded) offense.

Purdue (1996): The Boilermakers were a No. 1 seed three times under Gene Keady (1988, 1994 and 1996) but have topped out on the No. 2 line under Matt Painter (2018). They’ve also been at least a No. 5 seed in every tournament since 2016. With Zach Edey providing an every-game mismatch in the post, Purdue is poised to end its No. 1 seed drought after 27 years.

Field notes

Last four included: West Virginia, Texas A&M, Penn State, Nevada

First four on the outside: Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Arizona State

Next four on the outside: Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Seton Hall, Oregon

Moving in: Cornell, Fairleigh Dickinson, Furman, Maryland Eastern Shore, St. Louis, Siena, Southeastern Louisiana, Southern California, Southern Mississippi, Tennessee Martin, Texas A&M, UNC Asheville, Utah Valley, Vermont, West Virginia, Youngstown State

Moving out: Arizona State, Iona, Longwood, Marshall, Milwaukee, Morgan State, Nicholls, Ohio State, Princeton, St. Francis (Pa.), Samford, Seattle, SIU Edwardsville, U-Mass. Lowell, VCU, Wisconsin

Conference call: Big Ten (9), SEC (7), Big 12 (7), ACC (6), Big East (5), Mountain West (4), Pac-12 (3), American Athletic (2), West Coast (2)

Bracket projection: South vs. West; Midwest vs. East

South Region

Purdue looks more and more like a clear-cut top overall seed, for the moment, anyway. Alabama’s loss over the weekend to Oklahoma solidified that. … Connecticut dips another line after last week’s loss to Xavier. The Huskies have lost six of eight since their 14-0 start but have a chance to get well this week at DePaul and Georgetown. …

Maryland men get back to .500 in the Big Ten by dismantling Nebraska

While some of the borderline Big Ten teams have stumbled in the past few weeks, Maryland’s three wins in four games have helped solidify its standing. The Terrapins are good across all metrics and have no bad losses. … The metrics still favor Arkansas, but the Razorbacks are scuffling. They’ve lost six of nine heading into Tuesday’s home game against Texas A&M.

West Region

After a road sweep of the Washington schools, Arizona is up to the No. 1 line. The Wildcats are 7-2 in Quadrant 1 games — they have more victories than any team other than Purdue. … College of Charleston saw its 20-game winning streak end Saturday with a loss to Hofstra, leaving Pat Kelsey’s team with its first loss outside of Quadrant 1. …

One of the most valuable opportunities of the week is Providence’s visit to Xavier. The Friars are already tied for the Big East lead and are 3-4 in Quad 1 games, but a victory would easily be the best result away from home this season for Ed Cooley’s bunch. … A Rick Barnes/Clemson reunion? There would be a lot of orange in Greensboro if Tennessee happened to face the Tigers.

Midwest Region

Iowa is 5-5 in Quad 1 games, with plenty more chances to come during the back half of Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes get Northwestern and Illinois at home this week. … Indiana has won five consecutive conference games for the first time since 2016, when it won the Big Ten regular season title. The Hoosiers have a tricky week, visiting Maryland on Tuesday before playing host to Purdue on Saturday. …

Feinstein: Billy Packer never pulled his punches. It’s what made him so great.

The only noteworthy things on Kentucky’s résumé are a win at Tennessee and a loss at home against South Carolina. And that might not change much. Only four of the Wildcats’ last 10 games are against projected NCAA tournament teams, and just one of those (March 4 at Arkansas) is on the road. … Eastern Washington is one of six teams remaining that are undefeated in conference play, joining Alabama (SEC), Colgate (Patriot), Florida Atlantic (Conference USA), Oral Roberts (Summit) and St. Mary’s (WCC).

East Region

North Carolina faces an pivotal stretch over the next two weeks: Pittsburgh at home, trips to Duke and Wake Forest, and then Clemson and Miami at home in a three-day stretch. The Tar Heels have a real chance to improve their seeding. … Rutgers got swept by Iowa but is 6-2 against the rest of the Big Ten and still has two games against last-place Minnesota, one at home against 13th-place Nebraska and another at home against a Michigan team that has struggled away from Ann Arbor. The Scarlet Knights shouldn’t have to sweat this time around on Selection Sunday. …

Texas A&M (won at Auburn and at home against Vanderbilt) and West Virginia (won at Texas Tech and at home against Auburn) enter the field after 2-0 weeks. … Southern California earned an impressive victory over UCLA, then watched over the weekend as Utah lost once and Arizona State fell twice. For the purposes of both the standings and bracketing, the Trojans are clearly the No. 3 team in the Pac-12 for now.