Monday, March 12, 2012

Evaluating the Committee

The bubble talk is over, the brackets are out. A few words about the committee before breaking down the brackets and making my picks later in the week.

Top seeds
I generally don't get too caught up in who is a number one and who is a number two, because it doesn't really matter -- two seeds lose a little more often in the second round, but after that you're playing a bunch of really good teams anyway and it doesn't really matter what seed you are. (Interesting note: according to this site, #2 seeds are 58-21 all-time against #7 seeds in the second round (comparable to the 55-14 mark #1 seeds have against #8 seeds), but just 29-21 against #10 seeds.) This year is really no exception, especially with Kentucky and Syracuse the clear 1-2 at the top. I think Michigan State, as Big Ten regular season co-champ and tournament winner, is also an easy pick. For the fourth spot, I think you can make the case for a few teams, and with Kansas and Missouri splitting the Big 12 crowns, for me, the choice is between North Carolina and Ohio State. Both teams are regular season conference champions (co-champs, in the Buckeyes case) who lost in their conference title game, and they have very similar RPI and strength of schedule. The Big Ten is stronger top-to-bottom than the ACC was this year, but 14-2 in league play looks a lot better than 13-5. Like I said, it doesn't matter.

The seed list
For the first time ever, the Committee released the top-to-bottom seed list, 1 through 68.

The whole thing turned out to be less interesting than I thought, but the one revelation of sorts was that the "S curve" is pretty much non-existent, and is sacrificed for keeping teams close to home and other bracketing principles. The advantage given to the top overall seed, Kentucky, seems to be limited to: 1) having the regional closes to home; 2) playing the "worst" #16 seed; and 3) not having to play the second overall seed, Syracuse, until the national final, potentially.

At first, this pissed me off -- what's the point of having the overall seed list if you aren't going to use it? -- but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me. The S curve method gives the top overall seed an advantage in that they get the theoretically easiest opponent in the first round (which doesn't really matter, since a #1 has never lost to a #16, and it would put the worst #2, #4, #6, and #8 in that bracket, but the flip side of that is that the best #3, #5, #7, and #9 would be in that bracket as well. Without any real meaningful distinction between, say, the 16th overall seed and the 17th overall seed, a straight S Curve seems relatively meaningless and you might as well try and keep teams in their natural geographical regions as much as possible.

Bubble teams
I'm lacking the energy to research and debate the bubble teams. All the snubbed teams lost games they should have won, as usual, and thus have no complaints. The only change I'd really make is Washington over BYU. But there are two points I want to address.

First, while I find myself increasingly annoyed by Doug Gottlieb, he made a great point on ESPN's Bracketology that I want to mention and expand on. Noting that Drexel, 16-2 in the Colonial (which spawned recent Final Four Cinderellas George Mason and VCU) and 27-6 overall was left out and that Iona, 15-3 in the significantly less competitive Metro Atlantic and 25-7 overall was included, Gottlieb pointed to the obvious difference between the two: out-of-conference strength of schedule. He then took it a step further, noting that Iona went a month without playing a home game, playing eight in a row on the road between November 28 and January 3. Gottlieb's point: The Committee is holding the mid-majors to a ridiculously high standard. Sure, you don't have to win your league, you just have to play a ton of road games, and maybe get lucky and get into one of the pre-season events.

He's right, and let me take it a step further: These kids are allegedly student-athletes. Playing a mess of road games in December (the only month that is really available for non-conference games), when most universities administer their final exams, really flies in the face of the idea that the players are supposed to be students first.

Second, I read an article that said that had Xavier beaten St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 championship game (thereby freeing up an at-large spot), the Committee would have held a final vote on six teams -- Drexel, Miami, Oral Roberts, Seton Hall, Mississippi State, and Nevada -- for that final spot.

I don't know the methodology, but this strikes me as an odd way to do things. I'm a bit surprised that some sort of pecking order among those six didn't shake out in the selection of the other 36 at-larges, first of all, but I also wonder just how the vote would work. The Committe is comprised of ten members, if I'm not mistaken, and I can only assume that those six teams were in the conversation because at least one of the members of the Committee thought that they should be in over the other five. So what happens if the initial vote goes 2-2-2-2-1-1? What would happen if there were five teams under consideration, and the vote went 2-2-2-2-2?

I don't know, I always envisioned the selection process as more of a negotiated process than something they voted on.

I'll be breaking down the brackets later in the week.

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