Five quick takeaways from the NCAA men’s basketball selection committee early seeding reveal Saturday:
1. The Atlantic Coast Conference is poised to continue its big 2018-19 sports season. Fresh off Clemson’s dominant national championship in football, the ACC has two NCAA tournament No. 1 seeds five weeks before Selection Sunday: Duke, the overall No. 1, and Virginia. Those two powers play each other Saturday night, about 4 1/2 hours after the early seeds went public, in a rematch of a game the Blue Devils won in Durham last month.
The league also has surging North Carolina as a No. 2 seed, and surprise contender Louisville as a No. 4. Selection chair Bernard Muir also mentioned Virginia Tech (18-4 heading into Saturday’s action) as one of the teams lurking close to the top 16. Most early bracket projections put at least eight ACC teams in the field of 68.
The rest of the conference breakdown in the top 16: The Big Ten has four teams; the Big 12 two; the SEC two; and the Big East, Mountain West, West Coast and American Athletic conferences all have one.
“There was considerable discussion about the order of the top seven schools, but certainly those teams separated themselves from the others at this time,” said Muir, the director of athletics at Stanford. “Duke and Tennessee were essentially 1 and 1a; it was that close. A slight edge in some of the metrics was the difference in Duke getting the overall top seed. Virginia was a solid No. 3 team on the top line, and Gonzaga got the fourth No. 1 seed based largely on the teams they’ve beaten and the quality of the opponents they’ve lost to.”
2. Two notable omissions from the top 16: the defending champions and the entire Pac-12.
Villanova (19-4) was not listed in the early reveal, though Muir noted that the Wildcats are in fact No. 17 at the moment. ‘Nova has surged after a shaky start, reeling off 11 wins in a row and racking up a 10-0 Big East record heading into a showdown with Marquette on Saturday. Villanova’s overall résumé is hurt by upset losses to Penn and Furman in the early going, and a blowout home loss to Michigan.
The Pac-12 is having a 2018-19 season every bit as bad as the ACC’s is good, at least in the glamour sports of football and men’s basketball. After again being shut out of the College Football Playoff, it’s unclear whether the putative Power Five league will get more than one team in the Big Dance. Washington, the runaway leader of the Pac-12 at 19-4 overall, 10-0 in the league, only ranks 25th in the NCAA NET ratings, and no other Pac-12 teams are higher than 70th in the NET heading into Saturday’s games.
3. Tennessee and Kentucky have two meetings in the next three weeks — and more than Southeastern Conference supremacy will be on the line.
The two rivals also could be battling to see who goes to fan-friendly Louisville, site of the South region. As of now, the committee gives that location (and the No. 1 seed in the region) to the Volunteers. But the committee also gives the Wildcats the top No. 2 seed, which means they are lurking just off the top line. A sweep of Tennessee almost certainly would reverse that order, depending what the teams do in the rest of their games.
If one of those teams takes a No. 1 seed and gets Louisville — just 77 miles from the UK campus and 246 miles from UT — the other will be shipped elsewhere, quite likely out of convenient driving range. As it stood Saturday, the Wildcats were made the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, alongside No. 1 Virginia. Giving Kentucky a home-court advantage in Louisville as a No. 2 would be a disservice to the top seed, something the committee will try to avoid — not to mention keeping the Wildcats from a potential third matchup with Tennessee, which is one of the committee’s bracketing principles.
(The same goes for Kansas and Kansas City, site of the Midwest region. The Jayhawks, currently a No. 3 seed, would be unlikely to get that geographic advantage unless they are a No. 1 seed.)
4. The committee’s current top 16 gives Gonzaga the easiest path, despite the Zags being the lowest-rated No. 1 seed.
With only two top-16 teams west of the Rockies, the Bulldogs (22-2) are the clear choice for the No. 1 spot in the West. But they get an additional benefit (for now) by drawing the lowest-ranked No. 2 seed, Michigan State. The rest of the top four in that region is No. 3 Kansas and No. 4 Louisville.
The committee’s overall ranking of those four aggregates to 37, highest of the four regions. The next highest is the Midwest (35), with the East and South both at 32.
5. Houston has a chance for its highest seed since the Phi Slama Jama days.
The committee currently rates the Cougars (21-1) a No. 3 seed in the Midwest. It would be the program’s highest since being a No. 2 in 1984, when Houston lost in the championship game to Georgetown.
Other potential breakthroughs: Nevada, as a No. 4 seed, would have its highest seed in program history; Marquette, as a No. 3, would have its highest since the Dwyane Wade-led Final Four team of 2003; and Tennessee has never been a No. 1 seed.
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