Why the race for the NCAA tournament's No. 1 overall seed doesn't matter

UConn is the team no one wants to draw, a dominant reigning champ with the ideal combination of NCAA tournament-hardened veterans and hungry newcomers.

Purdue boasts the nation’s most unstoppable player and most impressive resumé, seven top-tier wins against teams ranked in the NET’s top 16.

Houston is an analytics darling, a team whose No. 1 ranking in predictive metrics is validated by its grip on first place in the sport’s strongest conference.

That seems like the ideal setup for a spirited three-way sprint to the finish line to try to secure the NCAA tournament’s No. 1 overall seed on Selection Sunday. The only problem is that this is the rare year when it truly doesn’t matter who gets it.

The big advantage of being the No. 1 overall seed is typically the opportunity to pick your path to the Final Four, but the most geographically favorable routes for UConn, Purdue and Houston don’t seem to overlap. Each school presumably would want different site assignments.

UConn’s preferred path in pursuit of a repeat national title figures to be first- and second-round games in Brooklyn before traveling to the East Regional in Boston. Purdue’s preferred path in pursuit of March redemption would likely be Indianapolis to the Midwest Regional in Detroit. And Houston’s preferred path in pursuit of a second Final Four appearance in four years seemingly would be Memphis to the South Regional in Dallas.

The No. 1 overall seed hasn't won it all since 2013. (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The No. 1 overall seed hasn't won it all since 2013. (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Unless the No. 1 overall seed goes off the rails and submits an unexpected request, everyone should get their wish.

Securing the No. 1 overall seed theoretically also comes with the competitive advantage of a slightly easier draw, but recent history suggests that doesn’t mean a whole lot. The last No. 1 overall seed to win the national title was Louisville in 2013. Since then, only four No. 1 overall seeds have even reached the Final Four. The 2018 Virginia team didn’t even survive the first round.

Though the NCAA tournament brackets won’t be released for another 10 days, it’s very unlikely that the race for the No. 1 overall seed will involve more than three teams. UConn, Purdue and Houston have made fools of anyone who claimed college basketball lacked a dominant team this season. They’ve opened an overwhelming gap between themselves and everyone else with just one regular-season game and conference tournaments remaining before Selection Sunday.

At 27-3 overall after Tuesday’s Big Ten title-clinching road win at Illinois, Purdue has the sport’s best overall record, a national-best 11 Quadrant 1 victories and zero losses outside the top quadrant. The Boilermakers boast seven wins over teams that made the Selection Committee’s in-season top 16 on Feb. 17, a list that includes a sweep of Illinois and single victories over Arizona, Tennessee, Alabama, Marquette and Wisconsin.

UConn (27-3) kept pace with Purdue on Wednesday night with its 11th Quadrant 1 win of the season, a hard-earned road victory at Tyler Kolek-less Marquette. The only discrepancy between the Huskies and Boilermakers is that the list of top-tier teams that UConn has beaten isn’t quite as long. Only North Carolina and Marquette made the in-season top 16, though Creighton would likely join them if the committee re-ranked teams today.

Houston (27-3) has closed the gap on Purdue and UConn since the committee anointed the Cougars the third No. 1 seed in its in-season top 16. Not only has Houston not lost a game since then, the Cougars have bolstered their resume with victories over NCAA tournament-bound Texas, Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma. They’ve now also amassed 11 Quadrant 1 victories after surviving a road game at UCF on Wednesday night.

Tennessee, Arizona and North Carolina are among the teams in the running for the final No. 1 seed, but that’s about as high as any of them can climb. None have more than Tennessee’s eight Quadrant 1 victories. Each also has at least one loss outside the top quadrant.

In many ways, it would be serendipitous if Arizona landed the final No. 1 seed, just like the Wildcats did last month when the committee released its in-season top 16. You’d have a team from the West, East, South and Midwest on the top seed line.

The order wouldn’t matter whatsoever.

Each of their roads to the Final Four wouldn’t take them far from home.