On Saturday night, Alabama basketball locked up its season-long stranglehold on the SEC by clinching the regular-season conference title. The championship is the ninth in Crimson Tide program history, and Alabama's overall conference record of 15-2 under second-year coach is nothing short of impressive.
In the vast majority of brackets issued by bracketologists, Alabama is almost a guaranteed lock as a No. 2 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. With only one last regular-season game at Georgia and next week's SEC Tournament separating them from the Big Dance, Crimson Tide basketball fans can rest easy knowing that their team — for the first time in what seems like decades — is not a bubble team this season.
Even if Alabama were to lose at Georgia and then in its first game of the SEC Tournament, the odds of Alabama falling out of one of the top two spots of their respective bracket is slim to none. That being said, what are the odds that Alabama might rise even higher?
According to TeamRankings.com, the Crimson Tide's most likely tournament seeding is indeed No. 2 with a 55.8-percent likelihood. Second-highest chance is a No. 1 seed at 26.9 percent — the highest odds of any team outside the top four teams currently projected as No. 1 seeds, and only one percent shy of 1-seed Illinois.
Looking at each of the current top seeds' remaining schedules, there is a path for Alabama to make it to the NCAA Tournament as a top seed. Let's start first with the things that the Crimson Tide can control.
In order for Alabama to be a No. 1 seed, it must first do one thing and one thing only: win. While a loss at Georgia on paper seems unlikely considering that the Crimson Tide scored 115 points against them during their last meeting, beating a team twice in the same season is no easy task.
In the past, we've seen the selection committee look fondly on teams that have won both the regular-season title along with their respective conference tournament. Should Alabama's defense continue to play at the level that it has over the last couple of games and its offense find its rhythm that has seemingly been lost since January, winning the SEC Tournament is definitely not out of the cards for this Crimson Tide team.
Now, let's look at the other teams.
Let's be honest here: Gonzaga is not falling from its place as a 1-seed. The Bulldogs are the only undefeated team remaining in college basketball, sitting pretty with a 24-0 record. Gonzaga has already concluded its regular season and is gearing up for the West Coast Conference Championships — a tournament it should have little to no trouble blazing through.
The other three No. 1 seeds are where things get interesting. Illinois still has one game left this season, playing on the road against a tough Ohio State team that's ranked seventh in the AP Top 25. For Michigan, it has back-to-back games against Michigan State before the Big Ten Tournament — the Spartans being the team that beat Illinois 81-72 back on Feb. 23. While the Wolverines are still a favorite as a No. 1 seed, they'll have to get through the Spartans unscathed in order to maintain that status.
The Big Ten Tournament will certainly have an impact on the top seeds of March Madness, and Alabama is in a perfect position to take advantage. Either Michigan or Illinois is guaranteed a loss — they will have to play each other at one point if either is to win the conference crown. Combining the end of their regular-season schedules and a conference tournament loaded with talented teams like Ohio State and Michigan State gives both teams plenty of opportunities to stumble late.
The final projected No. 1 seed is Baylor. The Bears are coming off of a big 94-89 road win at No. 6 West Virginia, but the win also came following a rough 71-58 road loss at then-No. 17 Kansas — similar to Alabama's road loss to Arkansas last Wednesday. Baylor still has two regular-season games left to play, and neither will be easy. The Bears host No. 17 Oklahoma State on Thursday and then No. 16 Texas Tech on Sunday. Combine that with the Big 12 Tournament, and multiple losses would certainly impact Baylor's seeding. That being said, Kansas is Baylor's only loss of the season, so a drop from a 1-seed is unlikely barring an undeniable collapse.
So there you have it. The path to Alabama being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is still lit before it. While the Crimson Tide certainly have no control over how the other top seeds will finish out their respective seasons, it has a big opportunity to help its own case with how it finishes its own.
The ultimate way for Alabama to make it is to simply win and then sit back and watch how everything else unfolds. With teams inevitably beating each other up in the Big Ten Tournament along with Baylor having a less-than-optimal conclusion to the regular season, the Crimson Tide have a big opportunity should the right circumstances occur.
Should things not play out, a 2-seed is hardly disappointing. But when a 1-seed remains an option, wouldn't it be nice to see this Alabama team enter the Big Dance with its highest seeding in program history?