The No. 1 seed is that rare "bracketological" distinction that holds both practical utility and symbolic meaning.
For the columnist on deadline, a top seed contains narrative implications—either about redemption or arrival or sustained excellence. For the realist, it represents the easiest possible path to a Final Four appearance.
For us—the fans—it's a welcomed antidote to bracketology's unholy fascination with teams that probably won't survive the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Below we'll survey the landscape of Internet mock brackets to see what the cognoscenti are saying about the race for No. 1, and who, right now, has a shot to make the top line.
In that pursuit, I've highlighted the assessments of six bracketologists. They are:
— BE (Brad Evans of Yahoo! Sports)
— JP (Jerry Palm of CBS Sports)
— JL (Joe Lunardi of ESPN)
— DE (Daniel Evans of Rush the Court)
— AG (Andy Glockner of Sports Illustrated)
— KM (B/R's own Kerry Miller)
I've also consulted the excellent work done by the folks over at The Bracket Project, whose Bracket Matrix compiles and analyzes over 75 online brackets to create average seeds for each potential tourney entrant.
Duke (27-4, 14-4)
Bracket Matrix Average Seed: 1.00
Has Duke No. 1: BE, JP, JL, DE, AG, KM
Has Duke No. 2: None
Has Duke No. 3 or Lower: None
The Blue Devils are undefeated when senior forward Ryan Kelly plays, and their weekend win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill seems to have left a powerful impression on the bracket makers.
Given its current position, Duke probably doesn't need to win the ACC tournament to secure a No. 1 seed as long as the loss is close and to a worthy foe.
And if that is indeed how it all unravels, the Blue Devils would be the first team to earn a No. 1 seed without winning either a regular-season or postseason conference title since Pittsburgh in 2009.
Indiana (26-5, 14-4)
Average Seed: 1.00
Has Indiana No. 1: BE, JP, JL, DE, AG, KM
Has Indiana No. 2: None
Has Indiana No. 3 or Lower: None
By claiming the outright Big Ten championship on Sunday with a win at Michigan, Indiana solidified its place on the top line.
Then again, not much solidification was needed. Tom Crean's Hoosiers have been at or near the top of mock brackets all season long.
It's hard to envision a scenario where the team that won America's toughest conference ends up with anything less then a No. 1 seed, but just to be sure, Indiana ought to avoid any unsightly losses in the early stages of the Big Ten tourney.
Gonzaga (31-2, 16-0)
Average Seed: 1.12
Has Gonzaga No. 1: JP, JL, DE, AG, KM
Has Gonzaga No. 2: BE
Has Gonzaga No. 3 or Lower: None
Finally, some dissension!
Whether Gonzaga ends up on the top line depends almost entirely on what happens outside Spokane.
The Bulldogs wrapped up the WCC title with a Monday win over chief challenger St. Mary's, but Gonzaga already had two victories over the Gaels this season. The third, while impressive, won't dramatically alter the committee's calculus.
The question, then, is whether Gonzaga could lose its top seed based on what happens elsewhere in the conference tournament carousel.
The answer is yes, depending on if Kansas finds its footing or a second team from the Big Ten rises up to challenge Indiana.
Louisville (26-5, 14-4)
Average Seed: 1.24
Has Louisville No. 1: BE, JP, JL, KM
Has Louisville No. 2: DE, AG
Has Louisville No. 3 or Lower: None
On the strength of a seven-game winning streak, Louisville has slid past Georgetown in the Big East pecking order.
That's significant if only because the Big East has had at least one representative on the top line in each of the past four brackets.
Louisville's place here, however, is by no means assured. At a bare minimum, the Cardinals need to fare better than Georgetown in the conference tournament. To feel safe, they probably ought to at least make a title-game appearance.
Kansas (26-5, 14-4)
Average Seed: 1.80
Has Kansas No. 1: BE, AG
Has Kansas No. 2: JP, DE, KM, JL
Has Kansas No. 3 or Lower: None
Kansas' weekend drop to the second line was more perfunctory than anything. The Jayhawks looked awful against Baylor, and the mocks responded by dutifully docking them a seed. Consider it Bracketology's version of timeout.
All will be forgiven, however, if Kansas romps through the Big 12 tournament. The general consensus is that Bill Self's team is the league's best. Prove it this week, and a No. 1 seed shall be the Jayhawks' reward.
Georgetown (24-5, 14-4)
Average Seed: 1.92
Has Georgetown No. 1: DE
Has Georgetown No. 2: BE, JP, JL, AG, KM
Has Georgetown No. 3 or Lower: None
Georgetown found out the hard way that a win over Syracuse—no matter how convincing—isn't worth much these days. A loss to Villanova, however, can cause some damage.
Georgetown is also handicapped by the fact that it's a host institution for the East Regional, meaning the Hoyas have only three No. 1 seeds available to them.
Then again, if Georgetown wins the Big East tournament, all the hand-wringing is moot. Out-perform Louisville in New York City and John Thompson III's team is a likely No. 1 seed.
Michigan State (24-7, 13-5)
Average Seed: 2.41
Has Michigan State No. 1: None
Has Michigan State No. 2: BE, JP, DE, KM
Has Michigan State No. 3 or Lower: JL, AG
Like their rivals in Ann Arbor, the Spartans need a Big Ten conference title to entertain notions of a No. 1. And even then, it has to be a pretty convincing run.
Michigan State's most obvious stumbling block is the "seven" squatting in its loss column. None of the current No. 1 seeds have more than five defeats, meaning any move by Tom Izzo's Spartans would be on the strength of the Big Ten's reputation.
Not impossible given how good the league has looked this year, but also not a given. Michigan State's best possible final record is 27-7.
Michigan (25-6, 12-6)
Average Seed: 2.49
Has Michigan No. 1: None
Has Michigan No. 2: JP, DE, AG, KM
Has Michigan No. 3 or Lower: BE, JL
The Wolverines earned the fifth seed in the Big Ten tournament, but are still within sniffing distance of a top seed thanks to both their conference's overall strength and the well-documented wackiness of this 2012-13 college basketball season.
Any top-line scenario for Michigan begins with winning the Big Ten tournament, and even then, John Beilein's team likely needs help from either Kansas, Louisville, Gonzaga or all three.
To give you an idea of what Michigan is up against, I couldn't find a single No. 1 seed in the past decade that finished worse than third in regular-season league play.
Miami (24-6, 15-3)
Average Seed: 2.51
Has Miami No. 1: None
Has Miami No. 2: BE, JL, AG
Has Miami No. 3 or Lower: JP, DE, KM
Miami won the ACC outright and nearly scored a road win over Duke in Ryan Kelly's first game back from injury. No team has come closer to beating the Blue Devils at full strength.
If they can tack on a win over Coach K's team in the ACC tournament final, the Hurricanes are at minimum a solid No. 2, with a chance to jump higher if other dominoes fall.
On the Fringe: Ohio State, Florida, New Mexico, Marquette, Kansas State
Note: This article has been modified to reflect results and changes in Bracket Matrix data as of March 12.