What the tournament selection committee SHOULD look at
College Basketball Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There are very few straight lines in college basketball. The geometry of the sport involves sharp cuts, obtuse angles, lateral movements followed by horizontal sprints to the ball.
The game's symmetry is in its redirection. Its poetry is in its pivoting, its magic in its lack of fluidity. A season is not a collection of straight lines, if it were that simple, discussion over bubble teams and seeding would be moot. Rather, it is made up of avoiding obstacles, handling miscues, fighting through struggles and rising above dissension.
One head coach once told me, "This sport is all stopping and starting, both physically and mentally. If I wanted athletes, I'd coach track. I want basketball players, the guys with the best hips (to handle basketball's precise cutting) and the best minds."
Writers and fans many times get caught up in the running and jumping, but in actuality, basketball is rarely played in a dead sprint and high above the rim. It's played in spurts of exact physical science with momentum swings and mental tests at every turn.
That same coach told me, "I don't envy the men who decide who has the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament. The road from point A to point B is not a straight line. It's full of twists and turns, the sum (i.e. a team's resume) is pretty similar to each game of its whole."
So Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who also serves as the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee Chairman, has to sort through all of the ebb and flow. It's a tough job full of hand wringing beforehand and second- guessing after the ink dries on the finished product.
However, at least for this Monday, I'm here to help. These suggestions will give you an idea of a few principles and procedures used by the actual committee, and I'll reference many of the favorite computer numbers used and some I think should be utilized to more efficiency and efficiently wade through the "ebb and flow" to finally reach point B (a finalized bracket) from point A (a season's starting point).
Principles and Procedures
1. Slot teams as close to home as possible. Computer programs readily available to each committee member provide information on how far each team resides from a specific sub-regional and regional site. Geography plays a vital part in bracketing a field.
2. Teams from the same conference cannot meet until the regional final. That practice can be broken in the event of eight or more teams from the same conference making the final field (Hello, Big East).
3. The first four seeds in each region are known as PROTECTED seeds. They should not be placed at a home-crowd disadvantage. An example would be placing third-seeded Purdue in the Washington, DC sub-region against 14th-seeded George Washington if the Colonials were to win the Atlantic 10's automatic bid.
4. Rematches from the regular season and last season's tournament should be avoided when possible.
5. The new First Four has several logistical obstacles. For television purposes, two games will be played Tuesday and two Wednesday, with the two at- large contests split to mix with the two games featuring No. 16 seeds. The Tuesday winners, in a perfect world, would feed into Thursday sub-regionals and the Wednesday victors into Friday sub-regionals, with all four winners in Dayton not having long travel plans to the specific first-round site.
6. This tightrope act brings up a main point that should be used to answer questions like, "Why is Florida State a No. 10 seed when I think it warranted a No. 9 seed?" The answer is that the committee is allowed to move a team up or down one line from its "true seed" in order to accommodate bracket principles.
The entire list of procedures and principles is an interesting read for hardcore hoops fans that want a better understanding of the overall process. You can read the PDF version at the following link: http://www.ncaa.com/sites/default/files/files/finalfourprinciples.pdf.
1. Teams want the top overall weekly ranking like the plague after Duke became the third No. 1 team in consecutive weeks to fall. However, No. 1 seeds are historically important in the road to the Sweet 16. Once reaching the regional semifinals, all bets are off, but top seeds usually have shorter travel, a home-court advantage and weaker opposition compared to No. 2 or No. 3 seeds, so the jockeying for the coveted top-four spots continues.
2. As of this print, I put seven teams in the mix for the four spots: Kansas, Texas, BYU, Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Duke and Purdue. With Texas' late-season free fall, losing its second straight large lead in a Saturday setback to Colorado, the Longhorns' path to a top seed involves winning the Big 12 Tournament. The Jayhawks, despite the loss to the Longhorns earlier in the campaign, are in better overall position. They may be able to withstand a conference tournament loss and still claim a top seed. Kansas has the No. 1 RPI, sports the second-best rating according to Sagarin and third-best in KenPom.com's mind.
Now, the committee does not normally use the final two computer-based efficiency models to determine seeding (although both are at their disposal), but the Jayhawks have six RPI Top-50 wins and both of their losses are considered "quality" defeats to members of the RPI Top 30. The Longhorns have lost two of three, fallen below the top rung in the RPI and would need help to earn a top seed without conference tournament hardware.
BYU has a clear path after disposing of San Diego State for the second time this season. If the Cougars run the regular-season table and take the conference tournament title, they will be on the top line when the brackets are announced. The Cougars have a staggering eight victories over the RPI Top 50.
After BYU and Kansas, I look at either Ohio State or Purdue for the third top spot. Ohio State is second in the RPI with Purdue holding down the ninth position, but the two teams split during the regular season, and the winner of the third meeting (if there is one) would have a decided advantage. The Boilermakers need to win the conference tournament to jump the teams above them, but four straight wins, including three over the RPI Top 40, put them in the right mindset entering the conference tournament. As of this print, I'd select Ohio State on overall merits, but trends point toward the possibility of a reversal when the smoke clears.
The fourth top seed comes down to Duke or Pittsburgh. The Panthers play in the much tougher league, but the computer and efficiency numbers still love the Blue Devils. At this point, after each lost this weekend, I'd tab Duke as the final top seed, but it may come down to whichever club goes further in the conference tournament. And in the event that both win their conference tournament, the reputation of the Big East would push the Panthers over the top.
Bracket Movers and Shakers
1. St. John's: I had the Red Storm on the inside of my mental bracket projection before discussing what they needed to accomplish to make the field in last week's column. After a week that included another eye-opening win at Villanova, St. John's' RPI is soaring through the roof, and so is its seeding. If the season ended today, I argue the Red Storm are a No. 3 seed on the S- curve with 11 conference victories and eight wins over the RPI Top 50. St. John's likely will get to 13 conference wins, placing it in protected seed territory no matter how it fares in the conference tournament.
2. North Carolina: With Duke's loss at Virginia Tech on Saturday, North Carolina has the ACC regular-season title in its hands. If the Tar Heels finish out the last week of the regular season with wins at Florida State and over the Blue Devils, they will finish 14-2 and win the league outright. That distinction, coupled with a rapidly advancing RPI (right now sitting at 11th) would put the Tar Heels into top-3 seed territory.
3. Xavier: Can the Atlantic 10 champion slide into a protected seed? Right now, most bracketologists have the Musketeers in the No. 6 seed range, but with two more conference victories, they will finish 15-1 in the league. However, their only solid non-conference win came over Butler, with failed opportunities against Cincinnati, Florida, Gonzaga and Old Dominion. That is too many losses against tournament-worthy teams for my taste, so even with a conference tournament title, I see a No. 5 seed as Xavier's ceiling baring a partial collapse from the teams above them.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee looks at teams individually, not as a part of a certain conference, and vehemently contends the selection members do not base choices on how many teams from a certain league make the field.
With that said, here are several points I'd have in my head if I were a member of the selection committee when discussing teams as they pertain to certain conferences.
1. The Big East is loaded with 11 teams in the RPI Top 50. With such a mediocre contingent of mid-major choices and a dearth of quality resumes from the Big 12 and ACC, no member should hold their nose at including all 11 teams in the final field. Each of the 11 teams is one of the best 37 at-large possibilities, including Marquette, which finally claimed the signature road victory it needed last week at Connecticut.
2. Don't be fooled. Conference USA has manipulated the bottom part of the RPI Top 50. Memphis, UAB and Southern Mississippi all are stationed between 30 and 40 in the RPI, but look closely because each team's profile is void of substance. Memphis' best non-conference victory came against Miami-Florida way back in November and it lost to two teams outside the RPI Top 150. The Tigers' calling card is season sweeps of both UAB and Southern Miss, not necessarily eye-opening victories. UAB's best win (in terms of the RPI) came against Kent State and the Blazers don't have a single victory over the RPI Top 50. Southern Mississippi's best non-conference win came at Cal and its lone RPI Top 50 win came against, you guessed it, UAB. None of these three teams is at- large worthy.
3. The second tier of the Big 12 will welcome a lively debate in the selection room. Missouri plays like a protected top-four seed at home, but the Tigers' 1-6 conference road record will give the committee pause. One of the main indicators of tournament success is winning away from home, whether it is in hostile territory or on a neutral floor. The Tigers have accomplished neither, which could affect their seeding a line or two on Selection Sunday. The stigma against Texas A&M is suspect guard play that gets exploited against the nation's best. The Aggies have lost twice handily to Texas, and a large barometer of their tournament staying power will come Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse. How the Aggies equate themselves against Kansas could go a long way when their name is brought up in the selection room.
From now through Selection Sunday, I will dissect two at-large candidates' profiles to determine which (at the time of publication) is more worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid. If you agree or disagree, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll include the best entries in the next column.
This week will look at two teams with very different portfolios. Baylor has withstood a barrage of distractions, many coming off the basketball court, and carved out an up-and-down resume that improved with Saturday's home victory over Texas A&M. Alabama's stock plummeted over the weekend when it laid an egg at Ole Miss, dropping its third conference game with already little margin for error. Below, I delve into each team's resume for at-large candidacy.
Record: 18-10 (RPI 84, SOS 65, KenPom 61)
Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-4
Profile Dissection: The Bears' problem is two-fold. First, a laughably weak out-of-conference schedule includes five victories over teams with an RPI above 200, wins that hold zero weight with the selection committee. Second, the Bears didn't play a team in the RPI Top 50 until a January 17th setback at Kansas and their only two RPI Top 50 wins came against Texas A&M. Baylor passes the eye test, however, which intrinsically helps you in the selection room. The Bears are long, athletic and talented, but those three traits may need to pull through in the season finale against Texas in Waco.
Record: 19-9 (RPI 80, SOS 139, KenPom 39)
Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-2
Profile Dissection: Alabama has a handful of "bad" losses to St. Peter's, Iowa and Providence, but it also has a home victory over Florida and a road win at Tennessee. The Crimson Tide have stockpiled 11 conference victories in what Jeff Sagarin computes as the seventh-best conference nationally. So, 11 SEC wins don't stretch as far as they normally would, and the Crimson Tide have taken advantage of the unbalanced conference scheduling by playing in the weaker SEC West. Alabama's out-of-conference schedule outdid Baylor's with seven victories over teams with an RPI over 200. Also like the Bears, Alabama passes the eye test, rated by Ken Pomeroy as the third most efficient team in the SEC. The question remains whether the selection committee can turn its head on a team with 12 victories in a power conference.
Selection: Alabama. The Crimson Tide didn't do itself any favors on Saturday, but have a week to prove their worth with games against Florida and Georgia. Baylor also has a statement opportunity in the regular-season finale against the Longhorns. Right now, 11 conference victories outweigh a profile dearth of any significant wins save the two over the Aggies. The Crimson Tide did beat Kentucky and Tennessee and its overall efficiency, which I believe is an important gauge of tournament worth, puts them ahead of the Bears on the selection ladder at this point.
Thoughts Before Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket
Below is an excerpt from my just-released book, "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket." You can purchase it at Amazon.com or in a variety of formats at www.99-series.com. I will publish a tip during each column to prepare you for bracket madness.
#42. Rank Each Region
Survey each region for top teams, upset-minded squads, and even an overall difficulty of a #1 seed's trip through the bracket. Map out the voyage of the first three seeds through the tournament, looking for matchup problems and potential pitfalls. Next, rank the regions for hardest to easiest. This will prove vital when second-guessing your Elite Eight and Final Four picks.
1. Ohio State (27-2): As Jared Sullinger sat on the bench mired in foul trouble on Sunday versus Indiana, I realized how equipped the Buckeyes are for March. Granted it was against the Hoosiers, but Ohio State didn't miss a beat with its prodigal big man on the bench. That's a good sign of a confident team.
2. Kansas (27-2): Talk about deep. With Tyshawn Taylor suspended and in head coach Bill Self's doghouse, Elijah Johnson stepped in and ran the Jayhawks offense without skipping a beat. The sophomore scored 15 points in a victory over Oklahoma State, which matched his scoring output in the six previous games combined.
3. Pittsburgh (25-4): The Panthers were late getting out on Louisville's shooters on Sunday, which was an anomaly in effort for an outfit that pushes itself to the limit. Pittsburgh can't fuss around this week, as it is losing its grasp on a top seed.
4. Duke (26-3): Kyrie Irving is "optimistic" about a return, but save the wishful thinking, the Blue Devils are what they are, a perimeter-oriented club that relies on penetration and long-range shooting. The fragile nature of that reliance on jump shots is when the well goes dry like it did to the tune of 4- of-20 from three-point territory against Virginia Tech on Saturday.
5. BYU (27-2): This is why rankings don't correlate to seeding. As I stated above, BYU would ride its eight RPI Top 50 wins to a top seed if the selections were made today. However, I'd still take Pittsburgh or Duke on a neutral floor despite the positive showing from Jimmer Fredette's supporting cast in Saturday's waxing of San Diego State.
6. Purdue (24-5): Lost in the numbers posted by JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore is a very disciplined defensive team. Only one of Purdue's last eight opponents have reached 70 points and it swarmed the Spartans on Sunday in East Lansing. Michigan State made just 33 percent of its shots and 1-of-11 from long range.
7. Texas (24-5): Losing a 22-point lead is never a positive sign, but the way the Longhorns allowed the Buffaloes to slice and dice their defense in the second half is downright startling. Colorado did most of its damage off dribble-drive moves with passes to open wing shooters. It's a recipe other teams will try to mimic down the stretch.
8. Notre Dame (23-5): Winning is all that matters, and the Fighting Irish have adapted on the fly as of late. Notre Dame is an extremely efficient offensive team (ninth nationally) and can play at various tempos, winning a tortoise test against Seton Hall and withstanding Marshon Brooks' 52-point barrage in a rabbit race against Providence. The Fighting Irish don't play to a scheme, but rather on a court without proverbial boundaries.
9. San Diego State (27-2): "The Show" came out in full force on Saturday. The Aztecs student section dressed like Mormon missionaries, and one sign read, "I have mom(s)." It's too bad the players didn't follow suit and bring their "A" game against the Cougars. At least they forced Jimmer's friends to beat them this time.
10. Wisconsin (22-6): You know it's tough sledding on the road when you need a freshman to bank in a three-pointer at the buzzer to survive against Michigan. Unlike the Fighting Irish, I feel Wisconsin has limitations that could hinder its ability to advance deep into the tournament, but then again, Bo Ryan hasn't had a point guard this good since Devin Harris. The regular-season's final road test in Columbus is a big barometer game.
11. North Carolina (22-6): This isn't your typical Roy Williams-coached team. Yes, the Tar Heels like to run when the opportunity presents itself, but what makes them so different is a long frontline that disrupts shots and forces opposing offenses far away from the hoop. North Carolina is second nationally in defensive efficiency, and that more than anything is the reason for its 2011 turnaround.
12. Louisville (22-7): Losing Rakeem Buckles for the season to a torn ACL hurts the Cardinals' depth, as head coach Rick Pitino normally plays nine guys nearly 15 minutes a game to match an up-tempo philosophy. Maybe the coach can bring in the male cheerleader who chucked the basketball high into the air with time still remaining in an OT victory over Pittsburgh. His quick trigger fits in well with the Cardinals' philosophy.
13. Syracuse (24-6): After losing six of eight from mid-January through mid- February, the Orange's 2-3 zone has returned as an asset. Three of their last four opponents haven't broken 64 points.
14. Arizona (23-6): That was not a good showing in Westwood, but the Wildcats' body of work still warrants this position. However, their guard play continues to be inconsistent, and (if you've read my book) you know shaky guard play spells doom in the NCAA Tournament.
15. Connecticut (21-7): The Huskies threw a home game away against Marquette, but responded with a workmanlike performance on the road at Cincinnati. They continue to evolve without Walker; meaning if the dynamic guard ever returns to November-like numbers this team is a Final Four sleeper.
Trexler is the author of "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out
Your Hoops Bracket." Click
HERE to purchase the Kindle version...and stay tuned on
an updated hardcopy edition this winter! Trexler also wrote "Penn State
Football: An Interactive Guide To The World of Sports", a detailed look at the
Nittany Lions' storied football history. It can be purchased HERE.