- Joe Lunardi, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
You go 68-for-68 in a crazy season, getting all of the key seeds correct, and suddenly people think you're clairvoyant. So let me be the first to say that's far from correct, that I'm no more clairvoyant than the tarot card reader at the circus.
What I am, necessarily, is a student of history. The NCAA tournament, the selection committee and various data sources leave a trail of bread crumbs every season. If you gather them in the right order, you'll find clues to future events. That is the essence of bracketology, and the identity of the 67th or 68th team in a given season becomes a little less random.
Seeding is another story, especially at the top of the bracket. Nothing makes me crazier than being asked, "Who's your Final Four next season?" First, it's impossible to pick a Final Four without an actual bracket (as some of the teams you like could be bracketed together). Second, the tournament comprises just three to four weeks of results, an incredibly small sample size in which upsets -- perhaps you've noticed -- are the rule.
Seeding, on the other hand, is supported by three to four months of outcomes. I would argue that it's a more impressive feat to earn a No. 1 seed in the tournament than to win a region. Not more lasting -- nothing lasts longer for a program than NCAA success, obviously -- but harder to achieve. In many cases, we're talking sustained excellence versus the hot team.
So when asked the question -- "Who's your Final Four?" -- I typically pivot and say, "You mean, who are my No. 1 seeds?" Because that can be an intelligent conversation at any point of the season or offseason.
A year ago at this time, we forecast Indiana, Louisville, Kansas and Kentucky as the most likely No. 1 seeds for the 2013 tournament. I'll let you decide if getting three of them right was enough to overcome one team (Kentucky) missing the tournament altogether.
For 2014, I again feel really good about three teams at the top of the bracket: Kentucky, Michigan State and Arizona. Kentucky isn't likely to lose its best player to injury two seasons in a row. The Spartans have a veteran nucleus and a tournament-tested coach. And Arizona is loaded with the kind of talent, especially in the frontcourt, that could result in a truly dominant team in the West.
At this early stage, I don't think there's a clear-cut choice for the fourth No. 1 seed. So, once again, we look to recent history for answers. Since 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams, there are some really helpful patterns at the top of the bracket.
Take a look at the list of teams and conferences receiving the most No. 1 seeds during that period:
North Carolina (11)
Michigan State (5)
Ohio State (4)
Big Ten (21)
Big 8/12 (18)
Big East (17)
The numbers confirm what your brain is thinking. Duke, North Carolina or Kansas is most likely to emerge and grab a No. 1 seed next season. I'm eliminating the Jayhawks, reluctantly, due to a pending challenge in the Big 12 from Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State. That leaves a pair of rivals -- Duke and Carolina -- to fight it out for another ACC title and probable No. 1 seed.
My initial instinct was to go against the grain and tab North Carolina for a big rebound season. But the loss of Reggie Bullock could hurt the Tar Heels, so the default selection of Duke is also the wisest.
Surely there are other candidates -- including Louisville and Michigan, our most recent NCAA finalists -- but all have holes to fill or questions to answer. It's not as if the Blue Devils aren't in a similar position. It's just that history tells us they do the best job of reloading.
So write it down. At least two or three of these teams -- Kentucky, Michigan State, Arizona and Duke -- will top the bracket on Selection Sunday next year. Just don't call it clairvoyance.
This time last year, Joe Lunardi correctly projected three of the four No. 1 seeds for the 2013 NCAA tournament (although his fourth pick, Kentucky, missed the tournament altogether). Now, he's giving his predictions for the top line of the 2014 tourney.