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Andy Wittry | | February 17, 2021

The Big Ten could join this exclusive club if two of its teams earn No. 1 seeds

Where all 12 (!) March Madness hopefuls from the Big Ten stand

In Andy Katz's latest NCAA tournament bracket projections (which reflect games played through Feb. 7), Ohio State joined Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan on the No. 1 seed line, which means the Big Ten could earn two of the top four overall seeds.

Such an accomplishment by one conference is certainly not uncommon, but recent NCAA tournament fields might skew just how difficult it can be for a conference to claim at least two No. 1 seeds in the same season.

In the 35 NCAA tournaments since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been 13 seasons in which multiple No. 1 seeds were from the same conference. Three of those seasons have come in the last four NCAA tournaments, including the 2019 NCAA Tournament, which was one of two occasions in which three of the four No. 1 seeds hailed from the same conference.

Here's the elite group that the 2021 edition of the Big Ten could join if two of its schools earn a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday.

Conferences with 3 No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament


Conference: ACC
Schools: Duke, North Carolina, Virginia
Tournament finishes: National champion (Virginia), Elite Eight (Duke), Sweet 16 (North Carolina)

In the most recent NCAA tournament, the ACC pulled off something that only the previous iteration of the Big East had accomplished: earning three No. 1 seeds. Duke was the No. 1 overall seed and got swept in the regular season by North Carolina, which also earned a No. 1 seed, as did eventual national champion Virginia, whose only regular-season losses came against Duke.


Conference: Big East
Schools: UConn, Louisville, Pittsburgh
Tournament finishes: Final Four (UConn), Elite Eight (Louisville, Pitt)

Cue talk about the "old" Big East. Until the 2019 NCAA Tournament, the Big East was the only conference that had ever had three of its teams earn a No. 1 seed in the same NCAA tournament. Two of those schools, Louisville and Pitt, now play in the ACC. Neither has earned a No. 1 seed since leaving the Big East, although both programs have earned a No. 1 seed since 2009 (with Louisville's No. 1 seed in 2013 later being vacated).

Conferences with two No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament


Conference: Big East
Schools: Villanova, Xavier
Tournament finishes: National champion (Villanova), second round (Xavier)

Xavier won the Big East regular-season title in 2018 and earned a No. 1 seed for the first time in program history, but it was overshadowed by Villanova, which also earned a No. 1 seed and won its second national championship in three seasons. Meanwhile, Xavier was upset in the second round by No. 9 seed Florida State, which Xavier had upset in the previous NCAA tournament when the Musketeers were a No. 11 seed and the Seminoles were a No. 3 seed.

This was the first time since the Big East's membership restructuring that the conference earned two No. 1 seeds.


Conference: ACC
Schools: North Carolina, Virginia
Tournament finishes: National runner-up (North Carolina), Elite Eight (Virginia)

Remarkably, both North Carolina and Virginia faced another ACC opponent in their respective Elite Eight matchups in 2016, with the Tar Heels blitzing No. 6 seed Notre Dame and the Cavaliers falling to upset-minded No. 10 seed Syracuse. Virginia defeated North Carolina in its only regular-season meeting by five points, then the Tar Heels beat the 'Hoos in the ACC tournament by four points.

North Carolina and Virginia ended a six-year drought of NCAA tournaments in which the four No. 1 seeds played in four different conferences.


Conference: Big East
Schools: UConn, Villanova
Tournament finishes: Elite Eight (UConn, Villanova)

Villanova represented the best-seeded opponent for 2006 national champion Florida, which had previously beaten No. 14 seed South Alabama, No. 11 seed Milwaukee and No. 7 seed Georgetown, before beating No. 11 seed George Mason and No. 2 UCLA in its final two tournament games. Meanwhile, UConn fell to that George Mason squad 86-84 in overtime, which was the Huskies's second overtime game in a row after they needed five extra minutes to defeat No. 5 seed Washington in the Sweet 16.


Conference: ACC
Schools: Duke, North Carolina
Tournament finishes: National champion (North Carolina), Sweet 16 (Duke)

The 2005 NCAA Tournament marked the second time since the NCAA tournament's expansion to 64 teams that the two Tobacco Road rivals earned a No. 1 seed in the same season. While North Carolina won the national championship – its first since 1993 – Duke lost in the Sweet 16 to No. 5 seed Michigan State, which later met North Carolina in the Final Four. The Tar Heels beat the Spartans by 16.

Still to this day, Duke and North Carolina have never met in the NCAA tournament.


Conference: Big 12
Schools: Oklahoma, Texas
Tournament finishes: Final Four (Texas), Elite Eight (Oklahoma)

Despite Kansas earning a No. 1 seed on 11 occasions since the Big Eight was renamed the Big 12, the conference has only had one season in which two of its schools earned a No. 1 seed in the same season and ironically, that was in 2003, when neither of those schools was named Kansas. Instead, Oklahoma and Texas earned a spot on the top-seed line, with Kansas earning a No. 2 seed and advancing to the national championship game.

The same team dispatched Oklahoma and Texas from the 2003 NCAA Tournament. Can you name it?

Hint: it was the same team that beat another Big 12 foe, Kansas, in the national championship game. It was Syracuse.

This was the final year in a four-season stretch in which two No. 1 seeds hailed from the same conference.


Conference: ACC
Schools: Duke, Maryland
Tournament finishes: National champion (Maryland), Sweet 16 (Duke)

In the history of's database, which dates back to the 2001-02 season, just one school has finished a season ranked No. 1 in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. That was Duke in 2002, which had a roster featuring Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Dahntay Jones and Chris Duhon.

Yet it was Maryland that won the national championship, as the Terrapins defeated No. 5 seed Indiana in the national championship game after the Hoosiers knocked off the Blue Devils by one point.


Conference: Big Ten
Schools: Illinois, Michigan State
Tournament finishes: Final Four (Michigan State), Elite Eight (Illinois)

A year after Michigan State won the national championship under coach Tom Izzo, the Spartans earned a No. 1 seed in the next season's NCAA tournament and made it back to the Final Four as they attempted to win back-to-back national championships. But they fell 80-61 to Arizona, one round after Arizona knocked off Illinois 87-81.

The Wildcats lost to Duke in the national championship game.


Conference: Pac-10
Schools: Arizona, Stanford
Tournament finishes: Second round (Arizona, Stanford)

The first year of the new millennium was the only time that the Pac-10, now the Pac-12, has earned two No. 1 seeds in the same men's NCAA tournament. That year, three of the four No. 1 seeds lost before the Elite Eight, including Arizona and Stanford both falling in the second round to No. 8 seeds. Wisconsin toppled Arizona and North Carolina knocked off Stanford, and both No. 8 seeds advanced to the Final Four.


Conference: ACC
Schools: Duke, North Carolina
Tournament finishes: Final Four (North Carolina), Elite Eight (Duke)

For just the third time since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams, two teams from the same conference earned a No. 1 seed in the same season and this time, the two sides were archrivals. Duke had already won two national championships under Mike Krzyzewski, and his Blue Devils had lost in the national championship three other times. North Carolina was in its first year of Bill Guthridge's tenure after he replaced Dean Smith after Smith had won two national championships.

Duke finished atop the ACC standings by two games in 1998. The Blue Devils went 15-1 in conference play, two games better than North Carolina, which won the ACC tournament. In the regular season, North Carolina won the first meeting in Chapel Hill by 26, then Duke won in the regular-season finale by two points.


Conference: Big Ten
Schools: Indiana, Michigan*
Tournament finishes: National runner-up (Michigan), Elite Eight (Indiana)
*Michigan's participation in the NCAA tournament was later vacated

Michigan was ranked No. 1 in the preseason before the 1992-93 season. But Indiana won the Big Ten regular-season title by going 17-1 in the conference, two games better than second-place Michigan. The Hoosiers swept the Wolverines in the regular season, beating them by one point in both Ann Arbor and Bloomington. That was the difference in Indiana winning the Big Ten and there being a shared conference championship, or even one won outright by Michigan.

But it was the Wolverines that advanced further in the NCAA tournament, making it to the national championship game, where they lost to North Carolina. Michigan's NCAA tournament participation was later vacated.


Conference: Big East
Schools: Georgetown, St. John's
Tournament finishes: National runner-up (Georgetown), Final Four (St. John's)

In the first-ever 64-team NCAA tournament, two teams from the same conference earned No. 1 seeds and met in the Final Four: Georgetown and St. John's. But it was another Big East team, No. 8 seed Villanova, that won the NCAA tournament after the Wildcats' unlikely tournament run was capped off with a 66-64 win over Patrick Ewing and mighty Georgetown.

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