Let's get right to addressing the glaring issue in this week's projected bracket: Notre Dame, a No. 1 seed, potentially would have to play LSU in the second round in Baton Rouge, La.
The pairing obviously is not an ideal situation. However, it's also not unprecedented. And while the committee (and I) will try to avoid such a scenario, sometimes it just can't be helped.
The problem started with the addition of St. John's to the field. That brought the total number of host schools in the tournament to 15. In other words, all but one sub-regional (Columbus, Ohio) will include a host school. That's great for potential tournament attendance. It's also a bracketing nightmare.
Ideally, the Irish, as the highest seed not hosting the first and second rounds, would go to Columbus. However, that set in motion a domino effect wrought with road blocks for placing a host school in LSU, which by beating Kentucky on Sunday took a nice jump on the S-curve.
The Lady Tigers naturally fell as an eighth seed as the No. 32 team on the S-curve. Because the other three No. 1 seeds are hosts, Notre Dame would be the only slot available. The rules of bracketing allow for moving teams one seed line to adjust for a situation like this, to prevent having conference foes in the same grouping; two host schools paired together; or rematches from the previous tournament or earlier in the season (incidentally, this last one is not a rule, but the committee will try to prevent rematches, if possible).
So this would obviously be the time to move LSU a line and get the Lady Tigers away from a No. 1 seed like Notre Dame, right? One problem: That doesn't work.
Given that a No. 9 plays in the same pairing as a No. 8, that move accomplishes nothing. The only logical move would be to put LSU on the No. 7 line. A No. 7 is in the same sub-regional as a No. 2 seed. Because Duke and Tennessee are already hosts (not to mention the Lady Vols, like LSU, are in the SEC), those spots can't be used. Putting the Lady Tigers with Penn State might seem to be the answer, but Georgia is the No. 3 seed in the Bridgeport Regional. That would set up a possible LSU-Georgia meeting before the regional final. That isn't allowed.
What about with Cal in the Oklahoma City Regional? Shot down again, because Iowa, a No. 10 seed and a host, has to be placed there for many of the same reasons already established. The Hawkeyes can't be with Penn State because of conference conflict. They can't be aligned with Tennessee or Duke because of host conflict. They can't be moved to a No. 11 seed because two No. 6 seeds and two No. 3 seeds, the same sub-regional slot that the No. 6 falls into, are already consumed with host schools.
It's all a long way to explain the reason why, with these teams falling where they do on the S-curve, Notre Dame faces a potential road game in the second round.
It's not just my job to take a snapshot of the season in time and present a bracket. I also try, on occasion, to illustrate the possibilities of what the real thing could look like and the scenarios that might lead to a final bracket. Because so many host schools are potential tournament teams and because so many of those hosts (LSU, Iowa, St. John's, Gonzaga, Colorado, Texas Tech, Delaware) could fall right in the middle of the S-curve, the possibility of Notre Dame being in a situation that undoubtedly will be deemed unfair by many is real.
However unsavory this might seem to some, especially those residing in or near South Bend, Notre Dame wouldn't be the first No. 1 seed put in this situation. Duke played at Michigan State in 2009. Tennessee met Purdue in West Lafayette in 2008 and was at Pittsburgh in the second round in 2007. North Carolina had to play through Vanderbilt in Nashville in 2006. Penn State met Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in 2004.
It happens, perhaps more than many realize. Incidentally, all but Duke survived their "road" game. Tennessee won the national championship both of those seasons. North Carolina made the Final Four during its year of "disadvantage."
The lessons here are to be ready for the possibility of such an occurrence again in 2013, and that piecing together a bracket is not always easy. The rules are there for a reason, but they can sometimes get in the way.
Ultimately, the puzzle pieces will fit. It's just not always the perfect fit we would like.