Monday, March 17, 2014

NCAA Tournament Bracket - First Impressions

Forget who will win it all - what is even going on with this bracket?
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

Here are a few random, scattered thoughts on this year's bracket. Some of these points were covered in our special Selection Sunday podcast, some of them weren't, so you'll just have to read and find out.

Hey, Wichita State - Congrats on that undefeated season. Now get ready to lose.

The Southwest region is an absolute nightmare. Wichita State, Michigan, Duke, and Louisville (the top four seeds) all have semi-legitimate claims to No. 1 seeds, and Louisville landing on the No. 4 line is an out-and-out farce.

On one hand, it seems a bit mean-spirited that Wichita State would be saddled with (by far) the hardest path to the Final Four of any of the No. 1 seeds. You would think Virginia, the lowest No. 1 seed, would be subject to that type of competition. On the other hand, however, the selection committee could be reverse-engineering respect for Wichita State, effectively saying that they have so much confidence in how good Wichita State really is, nobody should have any problem with the steep competition they're going to face.

I think it's more of a "Prove It" from the selection committee. Yeah, you're 34-0, but you haven't beaten anyone good yet. Your strength of schedule in the regular season was abysmal, so we're ramping it up.

And I think there's something to that. Wichita State has more than it's fair share of skeptics, but if the Shockers run through Kentucky, Louisville, and either Duke or Michigan on their way to a second straight Final Four appearance, there won't be anyone that can question their legitimacy.

I can't believe [insert random omitted team] didn't make the field! What an outrage!

Supposedly, Florida State, Georgetown, Wisconsin-Green Bay, and Southern Methodist were the last four teams left on the cutting room floor. Some people expressed outrage over this for reasons that escape me. Seth Davis and Doug Gottlieb on the tournament selection show openly questioned why BYU was included at the expense of one of these four teams, which is laughable to me for a number of reasons.

Is BYU going to win the national championship? No.
At any point in the season were they a legitimate threat to do so? No.

Is SMU going to win the national championship? No.
At any point in the season were they a legitimate threat to do so? No.
Had they been included, would they have anything besides a snowball's chance in hell to win it all? No.

So why could you possibly care? I've resigned myself to the fact that there are already 30+ teams in the tournament that have absolutely no business on the bracket (sorry, Coastal Carolina and Eastern Kentucky, you don't belong), so don't waste any more of my time complaining that other teams that can't and won't win the national championship, and therefore don't deserve to be included in a tournament that decides that championship, weren't included in the field.

Call me crazy, but the only teams that should compete for a national championship are teams that have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt over the course of the season that they deserve that designation. In any given year, that's roughly 16 teams. I've learned to tolerate a 68-team tournament that (by far) does the worst job in identifying best team in the field out of any American playoff system. Let's not make it any worse.

Strength of Schedule is super important, guys. But only when we decide it is.

According to, Kansas played the hardest schedule in the country by a nearly unfathomable margin. Calculated by opponents' average scoring margin, Kansas played a schedule 12.17 points harder than average. The 2nd-most difficult schedule belonged to Iowa State, at +10.18. The distance between Kansas and Iowa State is the same as the distance as Iowa State and DePaul. DePaul had the 32nd-hardest schedule.

That's kind of insane.

Yet somehow, Kansas ended up on the No. 2 line, while Virginia (playing the 42nd-most difficult schedule) got a No. 1.

Now, you could argue that Virginia won their conference tournament, and Kansas didn't, and that's the difference. But then why did Louisville get absolutely shafted and end up on the No. 4 line? And Louisville's 98th-ranked strength of schedule clearly beats out Wichita State's 120th-ranked strength of schedule, so that can't be the argument.

Or how about Iowa State, with their No. 2 ranked strength of schedule, winning a conference tournament (in the toughest conference in the country this season), but landing on the No. 3 line, while Wisconsin, with a nearly identical strength of schedule (+10.18 for Iowa State, +9.96 for Wisconsin, fourth in the country), but didn't even appear in the conference's tournament title game, lands on the No. 2 line. If conference tournaments matter, clearly those two should be reversed.

All in all, it seems like the seedings (especially among the top four seeds in each region) were handed out willy-nilly. Virginia got their No. 1 seed largely on winning the ACC Tournament, but losing in the final dropped Duke from a No. 1 seed (presumably, they would have taken the spot Virginia occupies) all the way down to a No. 3. And that's still above Louisville, who won their conference championship and blew out absolutely everyone on their way through.

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