At the risk of being too conciliatory and deferential to those in Husky Nation, a question looms that the committee must seriously consider: Does losing to Connecticut really count?
Or more to the point: Should a team really be penalized for losing to the Huskies? As long as UConn remains this dominant, it stands to reason that clubs should just get bonus credit based on how long they stay in the game, but not be penalized for ultimately succumbing to UConn's relentlessness.
To this point, the voters for The Associated Press (media) and ESPN/USA Today (coaches) rankings seem to have taken that position. Oklahoma is the consensus No. 2 team in the country -- and the Sooners lost to the Huskies by 28 points. More recently, Louisville also lost by 28, but dropped just one spot in the coaches' poll. The writers actually moved the Cardinals up a spot. In the world of bracketology, Louisville was more of a consideration for a top seed this time around than before it played UConn.
And that is where this really counts: the battle for the other No. 1 seeds. After Oklahoma, this is an airtight race. Right now, the battle between six teams for the final pair of No. 1 seeds is packed so tightly a piece of paper wouldn't fit between any two of them. Cal, Duke, Louisville, Texas A&M, Baylor and Auburn come in at three through eight on this week's S-curve. Determining those teams wasn't difficult (although Maryland, North Carolina and Stanford might have something to say on that subject before season's end). What's hard is figuring out the order in which they should be placed.
Some seasons, that order isn't really that monumental outside of grabbing another one of the top seeds. But most of the time, a No. 2 seed is a No. 2 seed as long as the matchups along the way are decent. That's not true this season -- and that's where this comes back to the Huskies. Each coach of the aforementioned teams vying for a No. 1 seed will be hoping to avoid being placed at the eighth spot on the S-curve, which translates into being placed in the same regional as UConn and, for all intents and purposes, basically eliminates a realistic shot at the Final Four.
That's why the unbelievable closeness of those remaining teams makes this so difficult. This week, that dreaded eighth position goes to Auburn. The Tigers would have been a No. 1 seed had they not lost to Georgia. Instead, Auburn falls to No. 8 in the pecking order, merely a whisker behind Baylor. That the Tigers should be ahead of the Lady Bears, or even Texas A&M or Louisville, will be a popular argument. But for now, the résumé points to the No. 8 spot.
The line is so fine yet immensely crucial to the tournament fate. Given the quality and number of teams involved, it appears unlikely to clear up that much by season's end.
So while losing to UConn might not matter much in the regular season, no one wants to put themselves in that position for it to happen in March.
A last reminder: Cal is one of those teams that moved into a No. 1 seed this week, and it might look odd to see the Bears in the Raleigh Regional instead of Berkeley. But by rule, Cal can't play in the Berkeley Regional. No team can play the regionals on its home floor, though it is allowed in the first two rounds, when a host school must play at home. This is just something to keep in mind as Cal keeps popping up in the field everywhere except Berkeley.
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.