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Ben Billman’s NCAA Basketball Top 16

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Florida Gators guard Kasey Hill (0) drives to the basket in front of Oklahoma Sooners guard Jordan Shepherd (13) during the first half at Lloyd Noble Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

On February 11, the NCAA men’s basketball selection committee will reveal the top 16 teams up to this point in the season. This has never been done before, and it should provide a look into the facts and figures that matter in ranking the top teams. It will give many teams and conferences a good gauge of where they stand with just over a month to go in the regular season. With this in mind, I present my top 16 teams broken down by region. The overall rank of the team is in parenthesis.

East Region, New York City

  1. Villanova (1) The Wildcats are currently my No. 1 team in the nation. They are 23-2 with a 10-2 record in the Big East and have 15 wins against teams in the top 100 of the RPI. Their two losses were by a combined 10 points in road conference games. There is a real chance that Villanova repeats as national champions.
  2. Florida State (8) The Seminoles are currently tied for the lead in the ACC. They boast a 9-1 record against teams in the top 50 of the RPI. The only blotches on their schedule are losses to Temple and at Georgia Tech.
  3. Kentucky (9) After a great start to the season, Kentucky has hit a rough patch. The Wildcats are just 2-3 in their past five games. They have five losses overall, but they are all to teams in the top 50 of the RPI. They need to get back on track if they want to stay in title contention.
  4. West Virginia (16) Coach Bob Huggins has led West Virginia to wins over Big 12 leaders Kansas and Baylor. The Mountaineers have five losses, and their strength of schedule is not as high as some other teams. Overall, this is a scary team that plays aggressive defense.

Midwest Region, Kansas City

  1. Kansas (2) Kansas was shocked at home last week by Iowa State, but That shouldn’t affect their seeding too much. The Jayhawks are 21-2 since a season-opening loss against Indiana. They once again look like the favorite to win a very deep and talented Big 12 Conference.
  2. Arizona (7) Arizona is a team to keep an eye on. The Wildcats are 22-3 overall with an 11-1 record in the Pac 12 Conference. They have only played seven teams in the top 50 of the RPI with a record of 4-3 in those games. A few late season wins could propel this team to a No. 1 seed if they also win the conference tournament championship.
  3. Virginia (10) This should have been a down year for Virginia. Last year’s senior-laden team advanced to the Elite Eight before losing a heartbreaker to Syracuse. Coach Bennett has done a remarkable job getting this team back into contention. The Cavaliers have five losses, but all the games were close and they swept two games against a tough Louisville squad. They have a tough schedule ahead as they face North Carolina twice and Duke once.
  4. Wisconsin (15) The Badgers are the Big Ten’s best team. The biggest problem for Wisconsin is that their schedule lacks marquee wins. They have only played five games against teams in the top 50 of the RPI, and they are 2-3 in those games. They have three losses overall, and they very well could enter the NCAA Tournament with 30 wins.

West Region, San Jose

  1. Gonzaga (3) Gonzaga is the last undefeated team in the nation, and it is very possible they stay that way for a while. They have a lot of talent, but their schedule has been fairly bland up to this point. The Bulldogs probably won’t face stiff competition until they enter the NCAA Tournament, and this could be their downfall.
  2. Louisville (6) The Cardinals are through the toughest part of their schedule, and they only have five losses overall. While they don’t have many quality wins, they also have no bad losses. There is a strong possibility that the easier schedule down the stretch could lead to a regular season ACC championship.
  3. UCLA (11) The Bruins have been a surprise this season. Lonzo Ball is a great player with a bright professional career ahead of him. UCLA has a gaudy record, but they only have three wins against teams in the top 50 of the RPI. Their best win came at Kentucky in December. They have a very manageable schedule down the stretch, and they are still in contention for a No. 1 seed.
  4. Cincinnati (14) Cincinnati has quietly put together a 22-2 record and is still undefeated in the American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats have only played 10 teams in the RPI top 100, and they have an 8-2 record in those games. There will be a lot of unknowns about this team because of a weak strength of schedule and a conference that is down from last season.

South Region, Memphis

  1. Baylor (4) The Bears have been a pleasant surprise this year and are challenging Kansas for the Big 12 title. They have 10 wins against teams in the RPI top 50 and only three losses overall. Other than a home game against Kansas, their remaining schedule is rather weak.
  2. North Carolina (5) The ACC is brutal this season, and North Carolina is feeling the effects. The Tar Heels are a national title contender, but they already have three conference losses. They have a tough road ahead as they play Virginia twice, Louisville once, and Duke once.
  3. Oregon (12) The Ducks began the season with two early losses, but they have been dominant since then. They sit at 10-2 in a top-heavy Pac 12 Conference, and both losses came on the road. They have six games remaining in the regular season all against teams currently outside of the RPI top 25. A conference title and possible No. 1 seed are both strong possibilities.
  4. Florida (13) The Gators are quietly putting together a strong season. They have five losses overall, but they were all in close games to top competition. Their strongest win came a week ago against Kentucky. The SEC is very weak, and Florida is in good shape to run the table the rest of the way.

There are two teams that just missed out on my top 16. Duke and Purdue both had impressive wins over rival teams this week. They are both on the verge of breaking into the top 16, and very well could be there when then committee releases their list this weekend. It should be fun to get a glimpse into the process as selection Sunday approaches.

By Ben Billman

Ben Billman is currently a doctoral teaching assistant at the United States Sports Academy. He lives in Mobile, Ala. with his wife Jennifer and son Derrick. He is originally from Indiana, and therefore has a deep love for the game of basketball. Reach him at bbillman@ussa.edu

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