As of now, the Big Ten leaders are out of the NCAA’s top 16. Barely.
If the NCAA tournament started next week, Wisconsin would not be among the top 4 seeds in any region, the tourney selection committee announced Saturday in a special “bracket preview show” broadcast on CBS.
It’s the first time the organization has teased its 68-team bracket on television in advance of Selection Sunday. The top four seeds and their destinations — as of this moment — for each region were unveiled by selection committee chair Mark Hollis, the athletic director at Michigan State.
The final bracket will be revealed in full on March 12.
The Badgers (21-3, 10-1 Big Ten) were revealed as a projected 5 seed in the South region by CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm later in the program, against 12-seed Valparaiso and in a pod with Butler (4) and Akron (13).
“Gaudy record,” Palm said on the show when asked about Wisconsin. “Not much behind it.”
If the top 16 seed lines hold over the next month, it would be the first time the Big Ten didn’t place a school among the top 4 seeds in any region since 2004, when Illinois was slotted as a 5 and Wisconsin a 6.
“I think the Big Ten champion could be as high as a 3,” Palm said. “They’ve got to find consistency, in Purdue’s case, or quality wins, in Wisconsin’s case.”
The committee’s “working” seed for the Badgers wasn’t too far off the thinking of some of the internet’s more trusted bracketologists.
ESPN.com’s late Friday afternoon bracket projection by Joe Lunardi listed the Badgers as a 3 seed in Milwaukee paired initially against Bucknell (14), in a pod that also featured rival Marquette (6) and Saint Mary’s (11).
CBSSports.com’s bracket projection on Monday by Palm had slotted Wisconsin as a 4 seed — also in Milwaukee — matched up against New Mexico State (13) and in a pod with Butler (5) and Illinois State (12).
The Badgers’ aggregate seeding on BracketMatrix.com as of Saturday morning, which pooled 97 online mock brackets, was a 4 — and the highest of the respective ‘4’ seeds (average seeding: 3.84, just behind UCLA’s 3.78).
While a 4 seed wouldn’t seem to necessarily mesh with a Wisconsin team ranked No. 7 and No. 5 in the latest AP and coaches polls, respectively, regular-season polls and tourney seedings are sometimes entirely separate animals. Schools are judged for the Big Dance on a case-by-case basis based on metrics such as strength of schedule, quality wins and Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) rank, then slotted to try and balance out respective regions within that year’s bracket.
In that sense, Wisconsin’s metrics profile, on the surface, places it clearly among the best 16 programs available — but less of a lock to land among the top 8. The Badgers went into the weekend with a 8-3 road/neutral record but with a 2-3 record against the CBSSports.com RPI top 50. The Badgers are 18-0 against every opponent outside the top 50 with no “bad” losses on the resume.
Wisconsin’s only three defeats are all to RPI top 25 schools: No. 4 North Carolina (neutral) on Nov. 23; No. 16 Creighton (away) on Nov. 15; and to No. 20 Purdue (away) on Jan. 8. But those games weren’t close, with losses that came by an average margin of 12.7 points.
Wisconsin was ranked No. 12 nationally by KenPom.com with a schedule ranked No. 43 in the country as of late Friday afternoon. Longtime statnik Jeff Sagarin ranked the Badgers 11th — just ahead of No. 12 Purdue — with a strength of schedule ranking of No. 33. Wisconsin is 7-3 vs. Sagarin’s top 50 schools but 0-3 vs. his top 25.
By comparison, Kansas, West Virginia, Baylor and Florida State each have five wins vs. Sagarin top 25 programs, which speaks to the transitional year of the Big Ten’s more traditional powers this winter compared to peer schools in the ACC and the Big 12. Among Big Ten programs, only Purdue, Indiana and Iowa have more than one win over Sagarin top 25 schools as of early Saturday afternoon.
The Badgers host Northwestern (18-6, 7-4, No. 31 KenPom) Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET at the Kohl Center in Madison.