Sunday, March 16, 2008

NCAA Selection: What the Committee got Wrong

Congratulations to the NCAA selection committee for getting things mostly right this year, especially granting a deserving South Alabama an at-large bid. One could nit-pick endlessly and fruitlessly over seeding, but it is important to highlight the most significant things that they got wrong. These are part of an unhealthy trend.

Sins of Omission

The failure of the committee to grant Illinois State an at-large bid was the most significant sin of omission this year (a much weaker argument could be made for Dayton). Granted, Illinois State’s most significant wins, sweeps of in-conference opponents Creighton and Southern Illinois were not against NCAA tournament opponents. But it should be noted that 5 NCAA tournament teams, Butler, Drake, Indiana, St. Mary’s, and Western Kentucky visited the home floor of Southern Illinois this season. Only Butler and Indiana were victorious, and Butler’s victory came on a miracle buzzer-beating tre. Illinois State visited Southern Illinois on March 1 and came away with a 57-49 victory.

Illinois State also posted six more wins than two teams which made the field, Arizona and Oregon. Each of these teams finished poorly, with Oregon going 6-6 and Arizona 4-8 in the metric which the committee utilizes (digging a bit further back, Oregon lost 9 of its last 15). Illinois State finished 9-3, with two of those losses coming against #5 NCAA tournament seed Drake. The inclusion of Arizona and Oregon smacks of pandering to the BCS conferences, which have been progressively elbowing out the others when at-large bids are handed out.

Sins of Commission

The following represent the pairings for non-BCS teams in the seeding mid-range:

5 Notre Dame v. 12 George Mason
5 Michigan State v. 12 Temple
5 Drake v. 12 Western Kentucky
6 Oklahoma v. 11 Saint Joseph’s
7 Gonzaga v. 10 Davidson
7 Butler v. 10 South Alabama
7 Miami v. 10 Saint Mary’s
8 UNLV v. 9 Kent State
8 BYU v. 9 Texas A&M

Is this entirely incidental? I hope so. But it is certainly suspicious that a disproportionate number of these pairings automatically prevent non-BCS teams from advancing to the second round. This phenomenon is a continuation from last year, when the committee managed to place three non-BCS teams with a national ranking, Creighton, Memphis, and Nevada, all within the same initial pod of four teams.

The committee should, however, be thank for their work and it should be noted that no matter what they do, the upsets always seem to come. Let the madness begin!

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