Almost from the first Bracketology of the season back in November, it was obvious that where to place teams in the bracket was the far more difficult task than picking the teams or even how to seed them. Now that we've seen the bracket for the 2012 NCAA tournament, some answers about how the selection committee navigated its way through the process are becoming clear.
And of course, more questions have popped up. The answers might lie right in the bracket.
Stanford in Norfolk for the opening two rounds?
Where the Cardinal ended up was possibly the biggest dilemma for me all season. Because there were so few West Coast cities hosting the early rounds of the tournament, Stanford could go down only one of two paths, and both were going to look unusual. Either the Cardinal would have to travel to the East Coast -- three time zones away, which is typically something to avoid for any team, especially a No. 1 seed -- or they would have to potentially have a road game in the second round. All season, I leaned toward the committee going the route of reducing travel in this case as much as possible. Instead on Monday, the committee decided it was more important for a No. 1 seed to be protected from a road game than maximum travel. The result is Stanford in Norfolk, playing a non-Final Four tournament game on the East Coast for the first time in recent memory.
Miami opens in Spokane with Gonzaga looming
Let's get one thing clear. With Spokane/Gonzaga or Seattle/Gonzaga hosting -- as it has four years running -- some team, probably from an Eastern or Central time zone school, has to go there. Pittsburgh, Texas A&M, North Carolina, Iowa and Xavier have all done it in the past. Talk of it being unfair is senseless. What's worth discussing is how it is determined which school(s) that is (are). Contrary to popular belief, the committee is trying its best to be "fair" with this situation -- and that tells us something about the Hurricanes. Basically, it says Delaware was placed higher on the selection committee's board than Miami.
The Hurricanes were my No. 9 overall team, or the top No. 3 seed. With no conference conflicts getting in the way, and if the committee follows its policy on geographical preference, Miami would have gone to Little Rock in the Des Moines Regional, and the Blue Hens would have been Spokane-bound. Clearly, the selection committee went in another direction. Delaware gets to stay much closer to Newark, and Miami gets the frequent flyer miles with the always dangerous Zags as a potential second-round opponent.
That is, if Gonzaga beats Rutgers, which also was sent three time zones away. This is more just an unfortunate numbers squeeze for the Scarlet Knights. With eight total Big East teams in the field, the placement for each was limited. Oklahoma as a No. 6 seed was also serving as a host. Nebraska and Arkansas as No. 6 seeds probably rated higher than Rutgers. And with two other Big East teams as No. 7 seeds in the same bracket grouping, there was almost no choice but for Rutgers to be pushed out west.
Was Duke the lowest No. 2 seed?
The geographical placement within the regions would certainly indicate as much. On my board, the No. 2 seeds in order were Maryland, Duke, Tennessee, Kentucky. It looks as though the committee's order was Maryland, Tennessee, Kentucky, Duke. So with the committee saying it now places the higher seeds in the bracket -- putting each in the closest region available -- first priority went to the highest remaining team on the board.
As the top team on that line, Maryland has first geographical preference, so the Terps are headed to Raleigh. Fresno was the furthest distance for all the remaining No. 2 seeds, so Duke had to have received last priority. Since Des Moines is the next closest to Knoxville and Lexington, we can then assume the Lady Vols were next, followed by the Wildcats, who are in the Kingston Regional.
Either the committee did, in fact, rate Duke as the lowest No. 2, or the committee abandoned what we have been told is now the procedure for placing teams in the bracket, which some have referred to as the "G-curve." (As a side note, the committee did not apply the so-called "G-curve" in 2009 after essentially initiating it in 2008, and never really explained why.)
The lower No. 2 rating for the Blue Devils might also explain their opening-round placement -- in Nashville with Vanderbilt as the No. 7 seed. With Chapel Hill available since North Carolina didn't make the field, and attendance being a major concern for these games, sending Duke there would have seemed logical. But it isn't done as easily with the Blue Devils as the lowest No. 2. Had they been the No. 6 team overall, that kind of priority would have been warranted. Instead, merely because it fell two spots on the board, Duke is headed to Nashville, one of the tougher home courts in the country. This doesn't even address that Chapel Hill could have some real attendance issues with Georgetown, Georgia Tech, Fresno State and Sacred Hear. This one seems curious and could backfire.
Let's face it. There really weren't any, of consequence anyway. The teams in on my board that did not make the field were Virginia and Temple. Instead, Kansas and Michigan made it. No real problem here, but they are worth taking a look at.
• Virginia and Michigan: Their résumés do look similar. Neither accomplished a ton in the nonconference, but had some credentials there. Both were ordinary in conference. The metrics (RPI, SOS) were similar, although Michigan's were slightly better. Virginia finished better and had the best win among any of these teams mentioned, beating Tennessee. No other win was close. However, the committee might not have liked the fact that in the ACC's now unbalanced schedule, the Cavaliers played Duke, Miami and Georgia Tech only once apiece. That 9-7 record might not really be as good as Kansas' 8-10 record in the Big 12, where the Jayhawks played everyone twice, or Michigan's 8-8 in the Big Ten.
Michigan's best out-of-conference wins were over Florida and Iowa State, and the Wolverines also knocked off Ohio State and Nebraska in the Big Ten. All are tournament teams. That's good. But Michigan was a bad basketball team in the final few weeks, losing four of six games (and the wins over Indiana and Illinois hardly count to help tournament inclusion). I still would have left them out. Instead, Michigan is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001.
• Kansas: The Jayhawks are a more curious team to look at. In past years when Kansas was denied an invitation, the weakness of its nonconference schedule was a big factor. Well, that really didn't get any better in 2011-2012. That being said, the Jayhawks' overall profile might have been enough, but because of Carolyn Davis' knee injury, this isn't the same Kansas team that built that profile. The Jayhawks -- in the field for the first time since 2000 -- won two games without her, but also lost to Missouri and Oklahoma State at home. Davis, easily Kansas' best player, won't be playing in the tournament. Clearly, the committee didn't factor that in nearly as strongly as expected, and gave the Jayhawks credit for their entire profile (bad nonconference SOS notwithstanding) -- even though much of it was with a team different than they have now.
• Temple: The Owls' only complaint could be that it tried more than the rest in terms of scheduling. The Owls played Ohio State, Texas A&M, St. John's, Rutgers, Villanova and Duke. None of the aforementioned bubble teams came close to that level and depth of nonconference competition. While Temple didn't win any of those games, teams in the past have been rewarded for simply making the attempt to schedule up. Not this year. That schedule and the fact that Temple lost only one league game in a solid conference looked like enough. The committee didn't think so. I still disagree, but not strongly.
• Ohio State an 8-seed? The Buckeyes' seed would indicate some possible contradiction in how résumés were viewed. Kansas and Michigan were given credit for an entire season, despite changing factors, and they weren't seriously impacted by poor finishes. Ohio State's final two-week limp, however, seems to have clearly bitten the Buckeyes. Ohio State's season as a whole certainly warranted something better than that No. 8 and a possible second-round date with top overall seed Baylor.
If it wasn't the finish that dropped the Buckeyes, then perhaps the committee looked at the SOS of 78 -- despite wins over Oklahoma, LSU, Temple, California, Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue -- and winced. Still, if any team in the tournament got shortchanged on seeding alone, that dubious nod has to go to Ohio State.