2024 NCAA Tournament: Why North Carolina earned final No. 1 seed over Iowa State in March Madness bracket

2024 NCAA Tournament: The Rationale Behind North Carolina Clinching the Final No. 1 Seed Over Iowa State

Iowa State Cyclones made a remarkable push for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their strong performance, including a decisive win over the Houston Cougars in the Big 12 Tournament Championship, showcased their potential. However, the final No. 1 seed went to the North Carolina Tar Heels, despite their loss in the ACC Championship Game to NC State.

The debate between UNC and Iowa State for the coveted seed was significant. As a result, Iowa State was placed as a No. 2 seed, facing a challenging path in the East regional, led by the top seed, UConn. The Cyclones might also encounter Illinois, a No. 3 seed and recent Big Ten Tournament champion, in a potential Elite Eight matchup.

UConn, the defending national champions, entered the tournament with an impressive record, having won 21 of their last 22 games. This sets a daunting journey for the Cyclones, who had dominated the Big 12 Tournament with three consecutive victories against strong opponents.

The Selection Committee’s decision seemed to undervalue Iowa State, primarily due to their weaker non-conference schedule. Charles McClellan, the selection committee chair, emphasized the importance of evaluating the entire season, including non-conference games. He stated that after considering all factors, placing Iowa State on the two line was deemed appropriate.

Iowa State’s non-conference schedule was ranked 351st by KenPom, highlighting a significant difference compared to North Carolina’s 36th-ranked schedule. The Tar Heels secured victories over notable teams such as Tennessee and Oklahoma but faced defeats against UConn, Kentucky, and Villanova. Iowa State’s notable non-conference win was against a team that did not make the NCAA Tournament, and they suffered losses to Virginia Tech and Texas A&M before conference play.

Kansas was the only Big 12 team with a non-conference schedule in KenPom’s top 100, leading to criticism from other conferences about the Big 12’s scheduling practices. Critics argue that Big 12 teams have inflated their metrics by defeating weaker teams in the early season rather than facing tougher opponents. Despite this, eight Big 12 teams made the tournament field, underscoring the conference’s strength.

Interestingly, the committee’s discussion about the fourth No. 1 seed seemed to focus more on Tennessee as a contender rather than Iowa State. Tennessee had a strong season and was even considered for a No. 1 seed before a loss to Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament. This loss impacted their standing, and they entered Selection Sunday as a No. 2 seed.

This analysis sheds light on the complexities and debates surrounding the NCAA Tournament selection process, particularly the importance of strength of schedule and the impact of conference and non-conference games on seeding decisions.