Tennessee lost at Baylor. Baylor lost at Connecticut. Connecticut lost at Stanford. Stanford lost at Tennessee. A vicious cycle of road troubles, and these are the nation's best teams.
In a season in which winning away from home has proved to be especially difficult -- Stanford lost by 22 at DePaul and then the Blue Demons, just five days later, lost by 13 at Arizona State, a team that the Cardinal would then beat by 47 at home -- scoring some occasional success on the road will prove to be a difference maker in seeding or even inclusion in the NCAA tournament. This isn't groundbreaking news, for sure. The tournament committee has used road/neutral records as one of its chief criterion for years. And why not? There is no better measuring stick for a team's abilities come March because, at least after the first two rounds, that's exactly what the tournament is. And for most, the opening rounds are, at best, neutral site games.
The difficulty of getting some of these victories in the regular season seems to be what makes this season different. Teams that put together even just a couple of quality road wins are going to have a happier Selection Monday than those that don't. In many cases, the slimmest of differences between similar résumés will be a road victory or two.
That's exactly how it played out in this version of Bracketology.
Let's start right on the bubble. The last team in was LSU. The first team out was Dayton. They've each had similar seasons to this point. The Flyers have one "bad loss" to Illinois-Chicago, but the Lady Tigers' schedule hasn't been quite as good. So what's the difference between LSU's inclusion and Dayton's waiting for the first installment of WNIT Bracketology? They each have one good road victory: LSU won at UCLA; Dayton topped BC in Chestnut Hill. That's a nice win for the Flyers. LSU is better, though. Thus, the Lady Tigers in and the Flyers out. The margin is that small. At least it is now, and it could very well be that slim come mid-March.
Just as winning on the road is key, taking care of the home base counts, too. Home losses hurt, perhaps not quite as much as road victories help, but it's still best to, as they used to so flippantly chant in those Under Armor commercials, "protect this house."
This example comes from near the top of the S-curve. The final two No. 2 seeds came down to three teams: Xavier, West Virginia and UCLA. At this stage of the season, throw a blanket over all three and they appear fairly equal. For this bracket, Xavier is separated slightly by a more difficult schedule and more victories against tournament-type teams -- clubs either in the field or under strong consideration for it. That leaves the Mountaineers and Bruins each with just one loss. UCLA has the best road win, while West Virginia captured two solid neutral-site victories at the Paradise Jam. The nod goes to West Virginia because UCLA's loss (versus LSU) came at home to an inferior opponent, while the Mountaineers' loss (Marquette) came on the road.
But before the Bruins fill Pauley Pavilion for a pep rally crucifying this idea, take a good, hard look: West Virginia's reward as the No. 2 is a potential second-round game against Penn State in Happy Valley, while the Bruins are living la vida neutral in Salt Lake.
Road success has almost everything to do with Georgia's ascent and the reason for No. 6 seed Ohio State's tumble (the Buckeyes actually came in at 28 on the S-curve, but had to be moved one seed line per allowed bracketing procedures to account for their status as a host school).
Although the Huskies lost at Stanford, part of what makes UConn so great was perfectly illustrated in its ability to get victories at Notre Dame and North Carolina in the last 10 days.
The road is exactly why the jury is still out to some degree on the likes of Maryland, Miami and Texas Tech. We just haven't seen enough games in uncomfortable environments to absolutely know what these teams are. Even Notre Dame, which has gone on the road but largely fallen short, has something to prove in conference play. Fortunately, the Big East, ACC and Big 12 generally take care of that for us.
Nothing is more difficult in college basketball than winning on the road -- and this season nothing might be more important.
Remember, rankings don't matter
Every season, this question or a facsimile thereof arises about rankings: "How can you have Team X seeded No. 8 if it is 20th in the polls? Doesn't that make it a No. 5 seed?"
And every year, the answer is the same. So before we get too deep into Bracketology this season, and instead of answering this topic as a one-off in a chat or e-mail, let's just do it right here.
The easy answer is that the polls -- from both the coaches and writers -- are not used by the committee (and thus, not by me, either) as part of the criteria in determining inclusion or placement in the field. Sure, the committee members look at the rankings. We'd be naïve if we thought otherwise. But they are not part of the official process.
Yet, that's still only the black-and-white version of the answer. Understanding the "why" should limit how many more millions of times that question or criticism rolls in. Asking that question assumes that the polls are the basis for all evaluation. But that means putting the polls ahead of real analysis and objectivity and using that as the jumping-off point. If you are thinking that way, then your logic is backward -- or you simply aren't applying logic at all.
The polls are a weekly vote by coaches and writers who often don't -- or frankly, can't -- see enough of any teams except the ones on their schedule or on the schedule of the teams they cover. In some cases, the coaches aren't even really doing the voting (we've all heard those stories mostly as it pertains to football).
The committee members spend countless hours watching numerous games, analyzing data and discussing all of the teams under consideration for the field. I do much the same on a condensed level -- a committee of one.
That brings us back to the question above. It doesn't even make sense.
The far more logical view is, "If Team X is a No. 8 seed, how in the world could the polls have it ranked 20th?"
Remember, the committee room is where the work is being done. Not the weekly voting.
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.