Records can be deceiving at this point in the college basketball season.
Perennial powers Duke and Kansas each have four losses. Virginia has five losses despite coming into the season as a popular pick to surprise with what appeared to be one of the best frontcourts in the country. North Carolina, ranked 11th in preseason, is out of the rankings in what has been a wildly inconsistent season.
It’s too early, though, to count any of those teams out of making a run in March. Just look at their strength of schedule and it’s easy to see why the won-loss totals aren’t more impressive.
Duke lost its first two games to teams then in the top five, followed by road struggles at Notre Dame and Clemson. Three of Kansas’ losses have come against teams now ranked in the top 10.
Virginia lost three of its games to teams that were ranked at the time, and the other two on the road.
North Carolina had inexplicable early-season losses to Belmont and UAB and is now on a three-game losing streak early in the Atlantic Coast Conference season. But would anyone be surprised if the Tar Heels got hot at the right time and made a run come tournament time?
It’s happened before. Last year, Minnesota went 20-12 with the fourth-hardest schedule in the country. The strength of schedule might have helped the Gophers get in the tournament as an 11-seed, and they blew out sixth-seeded UCLA 83-63 in the round of 64.
Illinois and North Carolina also had double-digit losses with schedules that were among the 10 most difficult. They won their first round games.
This season, these four schools might get the benefit from their strong schedules:
North Carolina (10-6, 0-3 ACC)
Nonconference losses to Belmont and UAB and a home loss to Texas may come back to bite the Tar Heels. Three consecutive losses to start conference play aren’t promising, either. But the Tar Heels have the 17th-toughest schedule, according to ESPN, and a strong finish down the stretch should make their case for tournament inclusion. With 15 games left, a 20-win season is still within reach and getting there should lock them in.
BYU (11-7, 3-2 WCC)
The Cougars’ first three losses were to ranked teams, and then they lost four straight, all on the road, between Dec. 14-30 in what is the sixth-hardest schedule in the country. They’ve turned it around, though, with a four-game winning streak that featured all double-digit wins. Don’t be surprised if the high-scoring Cougars, who average 87.1 points a game, sneak into the Big Dance.
Kansas (12-4, 3-0 Big 12)
Barring an unforeseen collapse, the Jayhawks won’t be a borderline tournament team. But KU’s seeding might get a bump by having played the toughest schedule in the country. KU lost three of four in late November and early December, and then suffered a rare loss at Allen Fieldhouse to San Diego State. Those losses will become a footnote if Kansas wins a 10th straight conference title.
Florida State (12-4, 3-1 ACC)
The Seminoles lost three out of four early in nonconference play, and then opened the ACC with a 12-point loss to Virginia. FSU appears to have gotten back on track with three wins by at least 10 points, and having the 14th-hardest schedule in the country should help it get a more favorable seed come Selection Sunday.
Three games to watch
Projecting the top seeds