GENARO C. ARMAS, AP Sports Writer
Conference tournaments will give the nation’s best teams opportunities to boost their credentials to claim one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
There is one big, blue exception.
Unbeaten Kentucky has virtually locked up a top seed no matter what happens in the Southeastern Conference tourney this week in Nashville. The unanimous No. 1 team in the Top 25, the Wildcats are looking to become just the eighth squad to stay atop the poll wire to wire.
After Kentucky, ACC powers Virginia and Duke appear to be in good shape for top seeds, though an early slip in the conference tournament for either might cloud the outlook.
Much will depend on what happens with other contenders during this frenzied week in college basketball. Villanova, Arizona and Wisconsin are among teams that could improve their resumes for a top seed — even though some coaches aren’t ready to look ahead to Selection Sunday.
“I don’t know. I know Johnny Appleseed,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said after his team’s 72-48 victory this weekend at Ohio State. “I don’t look at that. We always turned the channel at home when they start talking seeds.”
A No. 1 seed for Villanova could carry extra weight for the Big East, two years after a high-stakes shuffle left the league without marquee programs Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
The Wildcats could make a league-wide statement by winning the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
“From my perspective, without question, I think they are deserving of a No. 1 seed,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said Monday. “I think they would have earned the right to have that opportunity given how strong our league has performed out of conference.”
A look at candidates for No. 1 seeds:
BIG BLUE LOCK: Kentucky (31-0, 18-0). RPI, 1; Strength of schedule, 26: The only surprise here would be if the Wildcats are not the No. 1 overall seed come Sunday.
Duke (28-3, 15-3). RPI, 5; Strength of schedule, 12: Winners of 11 straight, the Blue Devils could lock up a top seed by winning the ACC tournament.
Virginia (28-2, 16-2). RPI, 6; Strength of schedule, 22: See Duke, above. The Cavaliers and Blue Devils are 1-2 in the ACC tournament. If the bracket holds through Saturday’s championship game, it may be just a matter of which team ends up atop which NCAA region. The South region final is in Houston; the East region final is in Syracuse.
That leaves the West, where the regional final will be held in Los Angeles. Each contender likely needs to win its league tournament to have the best shot at a No. 1 seed. Teams listed in order of Top 25 ranking:
Villanova (29-2, 16-2). RPI, 3; Strength of schedule, 27: Wildcats could assure themselves of defining top seed by taking Big East tourney crown in New York. Unbeaten in six Top 25 games.
Arizona (28-3, 16-2 Pac-12). RPI, 7; Strength of schedule, 34: Getting to final in league tourney and beating third-seeded Utah, which has a better RPI and strength of schedule then second-seeded Oregon, would help.
Wisconsin (28-3, 16-2 Big Ten). RPI, 4; Strength of schedule, 11: Likely lock for No. 2 seed. If they don’t get a top seed, the Badgers could face being placed in the Midwest as the second seed to Kentucky. That could set up a potential rematch of last year’s Final Four game won by the Wildcats, 74-73, in a regional final to be played in Big Ten country.
Gonzaga (30-2, 17-1 West Coast). RPI, 8; Strength of schedule, 81: A loss to BYU on Feb. 28 left Gonzaga needing the most help among potential No. 1 seeds. Likely needs to win conference tourney and have other contenders lose early.
Kansas (24-7, 13-5 Big 12). RPI, 2, Strength of schedule, 1: Jayhawks are 3-3 since Feb. 16 going into the conference tourney as Big 12’s top seed. Like Gonzaga, Kansas needs help to move up a seed line in the NCAAs, though a tougher schedule may give Jayhawks more consideration.
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