There is clear value to being a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.
It’s no big mystery why a 16 seed has never upset a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It is the only match-up that is truly a mis-match. No. 2s have lost to No. 15s, No. 3s have lost 14s and plenty of 4s have lost to No. 13 seeds.
So for Carolina, the value of playing outclassed Texas Western in its 2017 opener is that it’s basically a warm-up game. Years ago, No. 1 seeds received a first-round bye and in many cases, for example UNC and Penn in 1979, lost to the winner of the 8-9 game, which had the advantage of playing one hard-fought opener.
You saw it in the ACC Tournament this year. Duke benefited from missing the double-bye to Thursday by beating a tough Clemson team in the second round. In the quarterfinals, the Blue Devils used the momentum they had from that game to rally over Louisville, which had not played since the previous Saturday. Carolina shook off a slow start vs. Miami, which had beaten Syracuse the day before, and finally blew out the Hurricanes after halftime.
That’s why top seeds are prohibitive favorites to make it through the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Carolina will use the one-sided Texas Southern game to shake off the cobwebs and any hangover from losing to Duke in the ACC semifinals and will be ready for the winner of the Arkansas-Seton Hall game on Sunday.
The same goes for the other three top seeds. Kansas is a sure winner over UC-Davis, which beat N.C. Central in the play-in game and just doesn’t have the horses to compete with the Jayhawks in the Midwest. Gonzaga will run South Dakota State off the court in the West, and Villanova is just too grizzled and experienced against Mount St. Mary’s in the East.
While upsets can occur in the round of 32, and some top seeds have lost, the odds are long after the “ones” have played their warm up games. Wisconsin and Virginia Tech will have a battle royale, and the winner won’t have enough left to beat ‘Nova over 40 minutes. Likewise for Northwestern and Vanderbilt, which both play the same type of ball as Gonzaga, but just not as well. Kansas could have a tougher time with tournament-tested Michigan State or Miami, but KU still figures to win and also advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
That is the inherent advantage No. 1 seeds have earned.