bracket

5 final observations before the Selection Show

You’ve all lost an hour of sleep, but on the day of the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, who needs sleep?

Let’s get right to the chase, knowing this piece won’t have the longest shelf life in the history of mankind. The purpose of this piece is twofold: to prepare you for the selection show while forming the basis of any rant I might write if one team gets jobbed in the process of selection or bracketing.

Let’s go:

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5 – SAN DIEGO STATE AND AKRON SUFFERED A ROUGH FATE, BUT ON MERIT, THEY’RE NOT IN

Let me state up front that I hate, hate, HATE it when a dominant conference team — which excels in an 18-game schedule over two-plus months — makes the final of its conference tournament, loses by a narrow margin… and goes to the NIT. So much work, so much quality, and for what?

Yet, for Akron and San Diego State, non-conference schedules just didn’t provide any substantial accomplishments. Their respective leagues were not distinguished in any meaningful way. This season for the Mountain West was a disaster. San Diego State derived no benefit from any of its conference wins beyond the reality of not losing. Beating New Mexico was not a poker-chip win this year, contrary to much of the past several years. Beating Colorado State didn’t carry value, and neither did beating UNLV. That’s the way the bracketology cookie crumbles.

4 – IF MEMPHIS LOSES TO CONNECTICUT, IT’S BEEN A GOOD BUBBLE WEEK

It wasn’t a great bubble week. Bubble teams would have wanted Michigan to lose to Indiana. They wanted Valpo, Monmouth, and Wichita State to win their conference tournaments. However, not many other teams played their way into the field. Connecticut did, but the Huskies then beat Temple and probably knocked the Owls out of the field, though it’s a close call. As long as UConn can take care of autobid-seeking Memphis in the AAC final, though, the bubble didn’t suffer that bad a week. Florida cleanly played itself out of the field. Vanderbilt very possibly lost its spot, though it will be close. South Carolina jeopardized its bid JUUUUUST a little bit, though the odds suggest the Gamecocks will still make the field.

Georgia Tech and Florida State did not play their way in during the ACC Tournament. Ohio State didn’t make a run. Houston didn’t snare an autobid in the AAC. Saint Bonaventure put its at-large bid in jeopardy. The Bonnies are another team which sits right near the cut line, unsure of its fate. Moreover, let’s remind ourselves that Louisville and SMU won’t occupy spots in the field.

On balance, bubble teams received a lot of breaks… but a few hearts will still be broken.

In the meantime, bubblers will root hard for UConn… which they weren’t doing on Friday against Cincinnati.

3 – BRACKETING: WILL A BIG ERROR EMERGE?

The Selection Committee is also in charge of seeding and bracketing. Seeding is its own separate issue, but bracketing gets ignored the most in this process. The committee focuses so much on selection and gives comparatively little time to the bracketing portion of the proceedings. How else to explain some of the egregious errors committed in recent times?

The massive bracketing mistake made by the committee in 2014 profoundly affected the course of that year’s NCAA tournament. Connecticut, a 7 seed, was supposed to be shipped outside its own region. All 7 seeds are supposed to be given that treatment, while top-4 seeds — especially the top two — can legitimately receive a more favorable geographical placement, at least on the first weekend if not the second.

UConn, however, was sent to Buffalo for the first weekend in the East Region. The regionals that year were in Madison Square Garden. UConn got through the first weekend not too far from its home base in New England, and when the Huskies got to MSG for the Sweet 16, they owned the building, which was roaring in a manner akin to the Big East Tournaments of yore. That was an astounding bracketing error, and UConn rode it all the way to a national title.

Will that kind of error emerge this year? Will we see a 2 seed play a virtual road game in the round of 32 against a 7 seed? We’ve seen 3 seeds play road games against 6 seeds in the past — Pittsburgh had to play Wisconsin in Milwaukee roughly a decade ago. Pitt was the 3, Wisconsin the 6, but Pitt’s home jerseys as the higher seed marked the only way you could tell the Panthers were the home team.

Bracketing — let’s hope there are no big errors this time.

2 – PLACEMENT QUESTION NUMBER ONE: WHITHER VILLANOVA?

Villanova has left the door open to be slotted as a 2 seed after falling to Seton Hall in the Big East final. The question becomes, “Should Villanova get a 2 seed in the East Region, or stay on the 1 line but get shipped out of the East at the expense of Virginia or maybe even North Carolina?”

Here’s the reminder about seeds: They pale in comparison to placement and matchups. For a lot of schools, matchups trump all, but Villanova is unique in that it did not play many games this season in the Philadelphia 76ers’ home arena. Nova stayed on campus so that it could play the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 in the Sixers’ building. Villanova wants the East so it can have home-court advantage in the East Regional.

It’s easy to get caught up in the 1-versus-2-seed debate, but for Villanova, the key issue is “East or non-East.” The Wildcats would be perfectly happy with a 2 in the East. They’ll be privately pissed if they get shipped anywhere outside the region.

We’ll see how (or if) the committee downgrades Nova for the loss to the Hall.

1 – PLACEMENT QUESTION NUMBER TWO: WHAT ABOUT VIRGINIA AND NORTH CAROLINA?

The issue just as intriguing as the Villanova matter is where the committee will stick Virginia and North Carolina. The Tar Heels — lower on the seed list than UVA entering the ACC Tournament — defeated the Hoos on Saturday night.

The surface intrigue concerns seeds. Did North Carolina take a 1 seed away from Virginia (or Villanova)? Many people will get caught up in that battle.

However, the goal is to make the Final Four, and in a college basketball season bereft of a single great team, the ideal situation is to receive the right path, not necessarily the highest possible seed.

Consider these questions, which are far more relevant than seeding for Virginia and Carolina:

A) Would either one of these teams want to be the 1 seed in the East if Villanova is the 2 and can reach an Elite Eight game in Philly?

B) Would either one of these teams want to be the 1 seed in the South (Louisville regionals) if nearby Xavier gets to play a home game in the Elite Eight as the 2 seed in the region?

C) Would either one of these teams feel bad about being a 2 seed if it means going West to be with Oregon, which has made a late push for the 1 seed in the West Region?

Virginia and Carolina could be 2 seeds with a better bracket path, and they could be 1 seeds with a worse path. Maybe a top seed will emerge, and maybe the top seed will coincide with a better path… but it sometimes doesn’t work out that way.

The path, not the seed, is what should matter most on Selection Sunday.

We’ll talk to you soon after the brackets are announced.

Matt Zemek

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.

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