Inconsistencies Call NCAA Tournament Selection Process Into Question

Upon arriving home from a four day road trip late Sunday night, a friend in his 40s who follows college hoops religiously, emailed me with respect to the just-released brackets:

“I am sure you agree with me that this year has more inconsistency logic than I can ever remember in terms of seedings.”

Indeed I do.

To be fair, in sports, few have harder short-term jobs than the NCAA tournament committee. So when I pen the words below, realize I understand the difficult logistics of so-called “bracketology,” yet still think improvements can be made.

There are a myriad of areas to grouse about, but for me, the so-called bubble teams are unnecessary to cry over since 80% of those teams consistently don’t make it out of the first round, and well over 90% don’t make the Sweet 16 or deeper. This year, as commented upon by many, they are weaker than ever.

However, an area I do feel is botched year after year is how the committee treats conference tournaments.

I am personally for abolishing them completely as it only hurts good mid-majors who’ve played well all season and rewards mediocrity from the BCS conferences. But I am also cognizant that these events are necessary evils — just like bowl games — since they make money; therefore, as long as they exist, let’s at least be consistent about how they’re judged, as far too many schools are rewarded or punished injudiciously. This year was really, really bad.

The following lists are not intended to be exhaustive:

These teams were rewarded for good conference tournament play

Georgetown:

The Hoyas are a very talented team that could lose in the first or second round or make the elite 8. They had a roller coaster year with some good wins and really bad losses. That said, they were an 8 seed in the Big East tourney, needing, in the minds of many, at least one win to solidify a spot in the Big Dance, yet they won two additional games and jumped all the way up to a three seed.

tubby-smith-minnesotaMinnesota:

Illinois was the Big Ten bubble team most of the season with the Gophers out of consideration prior to the conference tourney, yet a win over Michigan State followed by a thumping of Purdue and a blow out loss to Ohio State gets Tubby Smith’s team in with 13 losses and a .500 conference record. They also get to play in Milwaukee, just a 4 hour drive from campus.

Georgia Tech:

7-9 in a weak ACC, 12 losses overall, but apparently beating N.C., NC State, and Maryland over three days is good enough.

Notre Dame:

The Irish were rewarded for a flourish at season’s end – without their best player for most of those — and two wins in the conference tourney.

Yet these teams were not rewarded for good conference tournament play

Temple:

29-5 overall, 14-2 in a very good A-10, plus conference tourney title gets them just a 5 seed? And a matchup with a very good Cornell squad. Had they not won the A-10, would they have been a 7 or 8? New Mexico lost in their tourney semis and still got a 3.

San Diego State:

At worst the Mountain West is the 6th best conference and the Aztecs (25-8) won the tourney, yet got an 11 seed and will play 3,500 miles from home.  UNLV, who they beat in the finals, and had an identical record to, grabbed an 8.

Butler:

They did everything the tourney asked and more all season, including being the only team to go undefeated in conference, having ZERO bad losses, yet they are given a five seed. Four years running the committee has screwed over the Bulldogs in seeding or draw.

Illinois:

They beat Wisconsin and took one of the best teams to overtime in the conference tourney, but that did not help their cause.

Ohio State:

Arguably the hottest team in the land, wins the conference tourney, yet still cannot crack the one line. Look at their resume vs. Duke’s.

West Virginia:

See OSU, including a comparison with Duke. Why did the Mountaineers give their all in the Big East tourney when it didn’t help their seed one bit?

These teams were punished for subpar conference tournament play

Purdue:

Even with the semifinal loss to Minnesota, Purdue has the resume of a 2 seed at worst: 27-5, a slew of high quality wins, a Big Ten regular season title, ranked top 5 most of the season, etc. They’re being punished for one game and the “potential” to lose early. They also play the best 13 seed in years (Siena).

Virginia Tech:

10-6 in conference yet lost early and are out completely. What’s three games difference in the ACC? A one seed and the easiest path to the final 4 (Duke) vs. out completely (Hokies).

Michigan State:

Apparently, the past means nothing, which is fine. But MSU won the Big Ten, then lost in OT early in the conference tourney, therefore they fall to a 5 seed — and are sent to Spokane.

Gonzaga:

An overrated team to be sure, but they went from a 4 to an 8 with one bad loss — in the WCC finals to a very strong team. Pretty punitive.

Tennessee:

Third place in the SEC, yet a blowout loss in conference semis to a one seed (UK) drops them to a 6? Mystifying.

Yet these schools were not punished for poor conference tournament play

Vanderbilt:

Lost to a non-tourney team in conference semis, yet still keeps the 4 seed.

Maryland:

Like Duke, Maryland has precious few impressive wins, and they lost in the ACC first round, yet still got a 4? When you have a large fan base with money to travel…

Villanova:

I think they still deserve a 2, but they didn’t even win one Big East tourney game.

Pitt:

See Villanova. There is no punishment for some teams when they fail in the conference tourneys.

Clemson:

A bubble team (9-7 in conference) who lost to one of the conference’s worst teams in the ACC tourney’s first rounds, yet gets a 7 seed. A 7 seed? Above Gonzaga and 28-4 Northern Iowa, four above SDSU, five above 27-4 Cornell, just one below Tennessee, two below Temple and Butler…. gosh, imagine had the Tigers won a game or two. Maybe a 3 or 4 seed?

Wake Forest:

See Clemson. Apparently a 21 point opening round loss to the conference doormat (Miami) does not affect seeding when you’re Wake.

Wisconsin:

Lost first game of big ten tourney, yet unlike MSU, the committee ignored it.

MISC

ncaa-tournament-selection-processThen there’s Duke, who I calmly noted last week did not deserve a one seed based upon their paucity of road victories, but there are so many more reasons. Not all are sold on Coach K’s squad either.

Not only did the Blue Devils somehow get a one seed, but they got the best and easiest road to Indianapolis. Amazing for a team without a signature win who struggled to beat ACC bottom feeders all year.

As Jerod noted in his preview last night:

“If my bracket comes to fruition, Duke will have to beat a #16 seed, a #8 seed that many people felt should be a bubble team, a #4 seed playing without its best player, and an unheralded #7 seed to make the Final Four.”

{It’s indeed good to be Duke — who has only played two good teams the past two months and lost to them both —  or anyone from the overrated ACC in 2010…unless you’re Virginia Tech, who seems to be one of the last teams out every March.}

Lastly, on the whole, sure it’s an open tournament, but Kansas is clearly the best team. They have been dominant all year, moreso than even Kentucky and Syracuse. They’re not UNC of 2009, but they are the favorite, so ignore the mainstream media blabbering on about how “it’s anyone’s to win.” Yes, it always is, but KU is the clear-cut favorite. Too bad the Committee feels Duke is, as KU somehow has to go through arguably the best two seed (Ohio State) to reach Lucas Oil Stadium April 3.

Dan Guerrero, this year’s Committee Chair, did say yesterday that his group wouldn’t weigh teams’ performances in their last 12 games as heavily as in the past. Wake Forest benefited from that decision, but others did not: Mississippi State, Illinois, Rhode Island, etc. (Not to mention all the aforementioned that were punished for subpar conference tournament performance)

Andy Katz, in his column for ESPN this morning, pondered: “How closely the committee toed that line, however, was still in question.”

I agree. It’s not just in question, it’s a matter of selectivity, which is worse than inconsistency. Coaches will apparently have to guess year by year not only whom to schedule non-conference (unless you’re Duke or Kentucky, which means schedule 98% home games against nobody, win a neutral site game versus a mediocre team or two, and lose your 1-2 road tilts, and no one will notice), but how hard to play in the conference tourney. Apparently, a win or loss during Championship Week only matters for some, not all.

(And lastly, no, please do not expand the tournament. Let me be very clear that I am surely NOT arguing for that in this essay.)

**********

* – Tubby Smith photo credit: Double the Post

* – Coack K photo credit: TalkingProud.com



About AJ Kaufman

A former schoolteacher and military historian, A.J. is now in public relations. As an MSF columnist since 2009, he supports anything baseball-related. Raised in San Diego, A.J. has since resided in numerous parts of America, including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio and Washington. After departing the coasts in 2005, he's traveled the backroads of 49 states and prefers the Heartland. Married to Maria, A.J. has authored three books and enjoys reading presidential biographies.

Comments

  1. I agree with much of this rant but you have to be careful pulling a few pieces of data and assuming the committee was inconsistent. Biggest case in point is Virginia Tech and getting punished for the ACC tourney. You can no longer look at conference record and assume it means what you think. All ACC teams play 5 teams twice and six teams once. VT somehow had all five of their teams they played twice were the 5 worst teams in the conference (plus a 3rd game against Miami). With a "regular" ACC schedule, they are likely 8-8 with no good out of conference wins. Georgia Tech on the other hand had the opposite situation, having to play Duke, FSU, Clemson and Wake 2x.
    Would also say that you can't cry about Purdue getting a 4 seed at the same time say saying how easy Duke's road is. As a Duke fan, I am thrilled to see Purdue on the 4 line b/c I think without Hummel they are the weakest 4. Committee isn't penalizing them for a bad conference tourney, they are just not as good without one of their 3 studs.
    As I said, agree with much of what you said but the point that I agree with most is that Temple got screwed with a 5 seed and a tough first game.

  2. Bucket Head says:

    Temple's ranked 12/13 and gets a 5 seed? Not once in the A-10 tourney were they losing. Complete dominance. Beat Nova and lost by 1 to G-Town (with a poor ref call at the end).
    Nearly the same thing with Butler- ranked 11/8 and they are a 5.
    Vanderbilt (who? I haven't heard a thing about them all season) get a 4?
    Baylor, ranked 19/21 is a 3 seed?
    Florida not only isn't ranked, but they didn't get ONE vote in either poll and they are a 10 seed?
    I love Nova, but how are they a 2 seed and how are they still ranked top-10?
    I really am not in love with the match-ups this year. However, there could be some interesting 1v8/9 second round games: Kentucky v. Texas (if Texas plays to their potential). Syracuse could go down to Gonzaga. I could easily see Louisville beating Duke (I don't know if I'll pick that, but I could see it). Not to mention, I know it isn't the same players, but Winthrop has some impressive Tournament history over the last 5 years. If they win on Tuesday, Duke might have a game on its hands.

    • AJ Kaufman says:

      Well said, though you cannot look solely at rankings. Have to look at RPI. Still, you're more correct than incorrect, andI agree with you.

  3. AJ Kaufman says:

    Very fair points. Just the first year I can recall a team being seeded on potential rather than body of work. Two weeks ago, Purdue was a one seed. They lost 2 of 5 games (gosh, most teams do that once per year easily) and they're a 4 seed. Sure, they have 4 seed talent now, but they should have been rewarded for their season.

    Duke has he easiest road because Nova is the worst 2, Baylor the worst 3 and perhaps Purdue is the worst 4. How on earth does that happen to a team that in the views of many, should not have even been a one seed? At the very least, KU should have the easiest road. Instead, they get OSU. It's a joke, but considering Duke hasn't beaten a team seeded better than fifth in the nine years since their last championship. There is no explanation for that other than inherent bias twrd Duke.

  4. AJ Kaufman says:

    Also from here:

    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/362879-duke-lu

    Villanova, the two seed, lost five of its last seven games. Typically the strongest two seeds are paired with the weakest one seed. In this case West Virginia was the strongest followed by Ohio State. Yet the committee inexplicably put OSU in Kansas' bracket and WVU in Kentucky's.

    The three seeded Baylor Bears have lost to the likes of Alabama and Colorado and don't exactly strike fear into the top tier teams. This is especially the case when you compare Baylor to legit three seed threat's Georgetown and Pittsburgh.

    Four seeded Purdue is a shell of it's self due to the torn ACL of star Robbie Hummel. They were last seen barely squeaking out a win over Northwestern and getting hammered by 27 to Minnesota. Considering Maryland, Vanderbilt, and Wisconsin were the other four's—Purdue is clearly the weakest. Oh and Duke lost to the Terps and the Badgers.

    Texas A&M is slotted as the fifth seed. Another stretch that just so happens to be in the Blue Devil's region. Michigan St, Temple and Butler all have better resumes as the other five seeds

  5. What about the inconsistency in the draw that Kansas (top overall seed) compared to Syracuse (supposed fourth #1)?

    Since 1999, the Jayhawks' 2-5 draw (Ohio State, Georgetown, Maryland, Michigan State) have made ten Final Four appearances. In that same span, Syracuse's 2-5 draw (Kansas State, Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt, Butler) have been past the Sweet 16 just once.

    I know that teams have to be judged on this year's performance instead of what they've done historically. However, I still think Kansas' draw is much tougher.

  6. It's a joke how weak Duke's bracket is. Here's hoping Baylor can get through the first weekend and make it to the Final 8 with the regional finals in Houston. Of course Coach K will probably complain that Baylor has some unfair advantage playing in Houston…as if the NCAA doesn't give Duke enough unfair advantages.

    Florida's terrible. As is Wake Forest (although they at least have a bit of legit pro talent).

    No reason Temple and Cornell should be facing off first round.

    End of day it's Kansas' tourney to lose. Hardest game for them may come in Round 2 against N. Iowa as they will slow down the pace big-time.

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