Now under a week until the 2020 March Madness bracket reveal, the race for the final No. 1 seed has tightened up.
San Diego State — since roaring out to a 26-0 start to the season — sat comfortably in its spot as the projected East No. 1 seed. A shaky couple weeks, though, have left things up for grabs.
The Aztecs dropped their first game of the season at home against UNLV — a Quad-3 opponent — on Feb. 22 and haven’t looked the same since. SDSU had close calls against Colorado State and Nevada to finish the regular season, trailed Air Force by eight in the Mountain West quarterfinal and Boise State by 16 in the semis, and then blew a 27-11 lead against Utah State on Saturday thanks to Sam Merrill’s game-winning 3-pointer.
Even though SDSU owns one of the strongest resumes in America with two wins over automatic bid Utah State, a road win at BYU, a 31-point blowout victory over Creighton on a neutral site and another away-from-home win over Iowa, bracketologists are quick to knock Brian Dutcher’s team.
Sunday’s BracketMatrix.com bracketology update pegged Dayton as the final No. 1 seed for the first time all season. The Flyers’ average seed of 1.36 slightly edged out SDSU’s 1.68. Of note: Kansas, Baylor and Gonzaga are No. 1 seeds in each of the 99 brackets submitted to the matrix.
This isn’t the case of a blue-blood team breezing past a hard-earned mid-major this time. Dayton, out of the Atlantic 10, wasn’t even a top 2 pick in its league’s preseason poll in October. Since then, superstar forward Obi Toppin and the 29-2 Flyers used a strong Maui Invitational showing to propel themselves towards the top of the AP poll as one of the most consistent (and dominant) teams in the country.
Dayton is all the parts of a national title contender. Anthony Grant’s team leads the country in effective field goal percentage and is second in offensive efficiency thanks to Obi Toppin’s Naismith-like campaign. The supporting cast isn’t too shabby either behind a trio of 3-point snipers in Jalen Crutcher, Rodney Chatman and Ibi Watson and formidable forwards Trey Landers and Ryan Mikesell. It’s not often one can say a non-power conference team has all the pieces to cut down the nets in April, but this team has all the pieces.
But if there are concerns about San Diego State’s worthiness as a No. 1 seed, there should be even more posed towards Dayton.
As of Sunday night, Dayton has yet to record a NET top-30 win all season. The Flyers’ best victory of the season is a December triumph over Saint Mary’s, a team that is currently slotted as a No. 8 seed on BracketMatrix and a No. 9 seed on Sunday’s updated Heat Check bracketology. Dayton’s next best wins are at Richmond — the last team in on both BracketMatrix and Heat Check — and a sweep against a Saint Louis squad that is likely headed to the NIT if it can’t win the Atlantic 10 tournament.
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Sure, the Flyers are the only team in the country that hasn’t lost in regulation, suffering both of their defeats in overtime against Kansas and Colorado. Had Dayton won either of those games, this would be a completely different story.
If the selection committee goes ahead and slots Dayton into the East No. 1 seed, it would be historic. Since the tournament field expanded to its current format in 1985, every No. 1 seed has recorded at least one victory against a top-5 seed that given season. This includes ridiculed Gonzaga teams out of the WCC, 2014 Wichita State from the Missouri Valley and even the PCAA/Big West UNLV squads. Even those non-power schools managed to record a true signature win en route to the No. 1 seed line.
If Saint Mary’s can somehow beat BYU in Monday’s WCC semifinal and likely Gonzaga in the title game for the second year in a row, maybe the Gaels have an outside chance of sneaking onto the No. 5 line. It still would be highly unlikely given SMC’s current 2-4 Quad-1 record and sub-100 losses to Pacific, Winthrop and Santa Clara.
There are two more wrinkles to the San Diego State vs. Dayton debate as well. The first one incorporates geography, where several pundits have argued that the Aztecs would be better off as the West No. 2. Under this circumstance, SDSU would play second weekend games in Los Angeles as opposed to in New York as the East No. 1 against a likely Big East or ACC opponent in a de-facto road environment.
The second, which might not carry as much weight but is still relevant, is based around recency bias. Because of a construction trade show happening in Las Vegas this week, the Mountain West chose to bump up its tournament a week earlier, crowning its champion eight days before Selection Sunday. The Atlantic 10 and remaining power conferences still have yet to tip off their league tournaments, and you can bet there will be an uproar if Dayton wins an A-10 championship just hours before the bracket is announced on Sunday and the Flyers check in as a No. 2 seed.
As is the case every March, there is an enormity of complexities to seeding and team selection for the bracket. Whether the committee sides with San Diego State or Dayton (It can only be either one of them, right?), we can already count on there being at least one angry fanbase after Sunday’s bracket reveal.
Eli Boettger is a college basketball writer and founder of HeatCheckCBB.com. He has previously worked for Sporting News, DAZN and USA TODAY SMG.
Boettger’s content has been featured by Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Yahoo Sports, Athletic Director University, Washington Post, Illinois Law Review and Notre Dame Law Review, among other publications. Boettger is also a current USBWA member.