The so-called "geographic S-curve" that's used in the NCAA women's basketball tournament is one of those things that, no matter how often it's explained, still doesn't sink in with everybody.
I'm not just talking about people who only occasionally tune in to the women's game. Folks who follow the sport regularly still sometimes hit the wall with that S-curve. Probably because it doesn't necessarily always fit with that unwritten part of "procedures and principles." To wit, common sense.
But this year, I think the NCAA women's selection committee applied its guidelines with a sensible acknowledgement of potential regional attendance considerations. That's the part of the women's bracket process that adds in more nuance and sometimes increases the difficulty.
There are some things the committee did that could have been avoided, such as the number of potential meetings of conference teams before regional finals. So this isn't a perfect bracket, if there is such a thing.
But I believe the committee members got it right in regard to placement of their top eight teams in the regionals, even if it meant being flexible with (or essentially disregarding) the geographic S-curve. Specifically, I'm referring to putting Notre Dame as the No. 1 in Oklahoma City, South Carolina as the No. 1 in Greensboro, Tennessee as the No. 2 in Spokane, and Kentucky as the No. 2 in Albany. It seems like this is a "real" S-curve in place with the top eight this season, as opposed to the geographic one.
And just to go over again the meaning of the latter, I'll borrow from bracketologist Charlie Creme's concise explanation:
Teams are given geographical preference (shorter travel) based on their position on the S-curve. Balancing the bracket is still a priority, but keeping the higher seeds closer to home in the regionals is also included in the decisions on placing teams.
It appears the committee this year correctly balanced the top eight seeds while still potentially maximizing regional attendance. That's not easy to do, and obviously it can be undone by early-round upsets. But the committee seems to have made the best choices.
Obviously, defending national champion UConn was the overall No. 1 seed and was slotted for the regional in Albany, New York, which is roughly 130 miles from the Huskies' campus in Storrs, Connecticut. On a standard S-curve, the so-called "worst" No. 2 seed would then be sent to Albany.
But had strict geographic rules applied, it might have been another No. 2 seed that was, technically, closer to Albany. I say "technically" because of all the projected No. 2 seeds, none of them was in any real sense of the word "close" to Albany. The Wildcats are somewhat of a surprise No. 2 seed and project as No. 8 on a standard S-curve. So pairing them with UConn does makes sense.
Now let's look at what seemed to be the biggest geographic placement question going into Monday: Who would be the No. 1s in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Oklahoma City? If ACC champ Notre Dame is the overall second seed behind UConn, then the Irish's region would have been Greensboro if geography ruled. It's roughly 685 miles by car to Greensboro from Notre Dame, as opposed to roughly 865 to Oklahoma City.
But when it comes to flights, there's not a big difference. Sending the Irish to OKC allowed for South Carolina to be No. 1 in Greensboro, about 180 miles from the Gamecocks' Columbia campus. It also brought another nearby ACC team into the mix in the Greensboro regional: No. 4 seed North Carolina, which is less than an hour's drive away.
Does this irritate the Irish, who might have been going back to the same Greensboro Coliseum in which they've won the past two ACC tournaments? Possibly ... but possibly not. In terms of their own travel and that of their fans, Greensboro vs. Oklahoma City is about the same thing: a plane ride. (Or for some fans, a very long drive either way. Pack the cooler with plenty of beverages and snacks.)
The No. 2 seeds in both regions -- Florida State in Greensboro and Baylor in Oklahoma City -- are both very good teams. Setting things up this way prevents a possible third matchup of the season between the Irish and the Seminoles, unless they meet in the Final Four in Tampa, Florida. And while Notre Dame thumped Florida State in the ACC tournament final on March 8, their regular-season matchup in South Bend, Indiana, was much closer: a 74-68 Irish victory on Jan. 2.
Instead, if seeds hold, the Irish will meet Baylor in the Oklahoma City regional final, which would be a repeat of last year's Elite Eight matchup that was held at Notre Dame. A good number of Baylor fans will make the trip up Interstate 35 from Waco, Texas, to Oklahoma City if the Lady Bears advance to the regional there, as they did in 2013.
Then there's Tennessee, which tied for the regular-season SEC title with South Carolina but lost twice to the Gamecocks this season, including in the March 8 league tournament final. The Lady Vols' last trip to the Final Four was seven years ago, when it was also held in Tampa. Tennessee fans are famous for traveling well, and from that standpoint may have preferred Greensboro or Oklahoma City as a regional destination.
But the Spokane Regional, with Maryland as the No. 1 seed, is not a bad landing spot for Tennessee. The Lady Vols lost to the Terps in the Sweet 16 last season at Louisville, and Tennessee would have a chance to avenge that. (Also, this keeps Tennessee out of Albany, where the Orange Nation most surely did not want to go.)
Sure, it's two Eastern time zone teams as the 1-2 seeds in the westernmost region. But that is a familiar issue for women's basketball. And No. 3 seed Oregon State or hometown Gonzaga might be representing the West in Spokane.
Of course, all of this talk is about "potential" regional matchups, and that's just one of many things the committee has to consider. But still in 2015, the NCAA is trying to firmly establish women's regionals as big-time events, so attendance considerations are a factor. Last year's onetime return to regionals at home sites was a mistake in my mind, and going back to neutral sites was definitely the correct decision.
Even so, everyone wants atmosphere and "buzz" at the regionals. And when the committee can set up the bracket legitimately and still at least allow the possibility of nice-sized regional crowds, it's the right thing for the sport.