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Seeding is Believing | Metrics buoying Illinois' chances

Jan. 26—Sign up for our daily basketball newsletter here

Men's college basketball and Illini beat writer Scott Richey projects his top-four seeds for each region of the NCAA tournament. This week? Advanced metrics, not wins, keeping Illinois' shot at a top seed alive. For now.

MIDWEST

➜ 1. Purdue

➜ 2. Kansas

➜ 3. Kentucky

➜ 4. Dayton

Dayton opened last season as a preseason top 25 team, got off to a 3-4 start and fell out of ranking consideration the rest of the season. A 22-12 season that ended in the Atlantic-10 tournament. This year's Flyers didn't have those same kind of expectations but have won 13 straight games, should win the A-10 and have one of the best bigs in the country in DaRon Holmes II. The two-way star is averaging 19.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.2 blocks.

WEST

➜ 1. Tennessee

➜ 2. North Carolina

➜ 3. Marquette

➜ 4. Baylor

This is the North Carolina team most everyone thought last year's highly-touted team could be. That group went from preseason No. 1 to not even making the NCAA tournament. A reworked supporting cast and an emphasis on veteran guard RJ Davis being the guy — a role he's thriving in by averaging 21 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists — has the Tar Heels on a nine-game winning streak and unbeaten in the ACC with a two-game lead in the standings.

EAST

➜ 1. Connecticut

➜ 2. Arizona

➜ 3. Illinois

➜ 4. Creighton

Illinois would be on a four-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances had the 2020 version not been wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of the Illini's seeds in that span have been in the top four, including a No. 1 in 2021. Illinois is trending that direction again this season as long as its advanced metrics hold and the committee weighs them favorably. The Illini are tied for the fifth-most Quad I wins in the Big Ten with just two at this stage of the season.

SOUTH

➜ 1. Houston

➜ 2. Auburn

➜ 3. Wisconsin

➜ 4. Duke

Kelvin Sampson has another of what's become his standard Houston team this season. The Cougars have the No. 1 defense in the country, per both Ken Pomeroy and Bart Torvik's metrics, and they're using that hyper efficiency on the defensive end to hold their opponents to nationally-leading 51.9 points per game. Houston forces a ton of turnovers — nearly 17 per game — and is holding its opponents to 34 percent shooting and 28 percent from three-point range.