Week one of the NCAA tournament reinforced what you should have figured out even before it began: the selection committed royally fudged the bracket.
Between the regional imbalance, the jumbled seeds and locational assignments (a 12-seed “earning” a virtual home game?), Mike Bobinski’s panel mismanaged every end in its assembling of the 68-team field. Let the first 52 games serve as the clinching indictment on perhaps college basketball’s most tragic bracket ever.
If the seeds were drawn out of a hat, raffled off or invented on the fly, the committee would’ve cobbled together a more sensible lineup than it did last Sunday.
A 15-seed for Florida Gulf Coast? The same Eagles outfit that beat Miami by double figures, hung tough with Iowa State on the road, played the No. 25 non-conference strength of schedule and coasted through its league tourney? Forget the storybook tournament run. If Montana was a 13 and Northwestern State a 14, then Florida Gulf Coast was one or two lines under-seeded.
Montana was one of the two or three worst teams in the field, a starkly undersized team with lower adjusted efficiency ratings than one 16-seed and each 15 and 14 in the field. Compounding the team’s profile, the Grizzlies entered the dance without their best player. Montana deserved a spot in one of the two 16 vs. 16 first round play-in games on Tuesday or Wednesday. Instead, the committee unconscionably tabbed the Grizzlies as the field’s best No. 13 seed. Bobinski’s team whiffed by at least 12 rankings with the Big Sky champs.
La Salle a 13? Two high-major conference champs as 12s? Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee rewarded with 11 seeds for beating no one all year? The jokes write themselves.
Oregon handled UCLA on the road, finished 2-0 against the RPI Top 25 and 9-7 against the RPI Top 100, then won the Pac-12 tournament by beating UCLA again in Vegas. Yet the Ducks fell to the 12-line while the Bruins, without a key starter, snagged a spot at No. 6? Even Bobinksi had to slip a smile after that one.
Gonzaga built its 1-seed candidacy on its work against the Big 12’s second tier. Too bad none of its top three wins — Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Saint Mary’s in conference — survived the
first second round. Turns out the skeptics were on point with Few’s team. The Bulldogs feasted on rag dolls and small bones while two more deserving 1-seed finalists — Duke and Miami — were penalized for testing themselves during the season.
Kansas didn’t deserve Duke’s No. 1 seed. Indiana didn’t either. Marquette, which continues to work its sleight of hand, had no business grabbing Michigan’s No. 3. The Wolverines are surging into their Sweet 16 date with the Jayhawks looking like they deserve to be favored.
Three of the four 12s won their 12-5 games, only the second time that’s ever happened. That might be surprising if those 12s weren’t every bit as good as the 5s they beat. Parity in a match-up featuring a seven-seed gap? Stick a feather in your cap for that one, committee.
The West Region is historically bad. Four of the top-five and six of the top-eight seeds didn’t reach the Sweet 16, another record. Of the 12 games played thus far, more than half (7) were won by the lower (worse) seed. A not-so-subtle hint that seeding has gone horrible wrong: the underdog outperforms the favorite.
To balance off all the slosh in the diluted West, the committee loaded up on heavyweights in the Midwest, building one of the strongest regions relative to the rest of the field since tournament expansion in the mid-80s. The committee’s thinking: two lopsided regions will balance each other off!
Michigan State vs. Duke is a Final Four caliber game. College hoops fans will be treated to this in the Sweet 16 instead, merely for the right to play the No. 1 overall seed in the Elite Eight! Brilliant. Duke owned one of the two best resumes in the field, second only to Louisville. Its reward? A path that includes a high-caliber No. 3 and the best team in the dance. Creighton was under-seeded at No. 7, Colorado State and Missouri made up the top 8 vs. 9 match-up, Oregon may as well have been a second No. 5 seed masquerading as a 12 and Duke, Michigan State and Saint Louis were all better-than-average for their respective seeds.
Bobinksi claims his board spent more time than usual squaring the seeding process, as opposed to squabbling over bubble teams. Next time, the panel (whoever is running it) ought to spend more time watching teams play. March Madness can’t afford another ill-timed farce.
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