Numbers can be very subjective, and the 2017 NCAA tournament is proving that to be the case in a major way. It also is pointing out just how out of touch the NCAA tournament selection process is with figuring out just how good teams really are.
An upset here and there, a five-seed dropped by a 12-seed or a 13-seed finding magic in March is a near guarantee every March. However, this year’s NCAA tournament proved to be a lesson to the selection committee in just how bad their seeding process has become.
The idea of the seeding process is to get the best teams in the best position to be successful.
Unless we missed a collective memo where that isn’t the case anymore, it is hard to make a case that the selection committee got the 2017 tournament way wrong.
Leading the charge against the seeding for this tournament is none other than the Big Ten.As the Round of 32 comes to a close, three Big Ten teams have advanced to the Sweet 16.
That in the face of three teams facing off against No. 1 seeds and yet another taking on a No. 2 seed and going 2-1 in those three games.
It also means the NCAA tournament has lost its favorite, Villanova, before the second weekend and has a black-eye after a brutal missed call turned a would-be basket for Northwestern in to a sure-fire win for Gonzaga in another second round matchup.
Not too bad for a conference that was supposedly “weak” or “down” or “not top-heavy enough.”
Meanwhile, the so-called great ACC saw all but one of its nine teams gone by the end of the first weekend of the tournament. The Big Ten ended up 3-0 in games against the ACC in the first two rounds of the tournament as well.
That included two wins in 8-9 games and Michigan dropping Louisville in the second round of the tournament.
Many people scratched their heads at the University of Wisconsin sitting at a No. 8 seed in the tournament. After all, this is the team that went 24-9 during the regular season, finished 12-6 in Big Ten play and went to the Big Ten tournament title game.
Others questioned putting Michigan as a No. 7 seed as they became one of the hottest teams in the country over the last month or so. After a 73-69 victory over Louisville on
Back up heading in to the tournament and Michigan was a paltry 6-3 to end the regular season.
Even the two teams who lost in the Round of 64 were proof of the NCAA’s over-reliance on an outdated metric. Minnesota was arguably the most over-seeded team in the tournament, coming in at a five-seed despite a mountain of statistical and on-court evidence to suggest they didn’t belong there.
There was also the case of Maryland, who was arguably the most inconsistent team in the Big Ten this past season. After going 8-1 to start Big Ten play, the Terps limped to the finish line with a 4-5 record over the final nine conference games.
Yet that team was a No. 6 seed and the two teams who were in the Big Ten championship game were left to face two of the top eight overall seeds in the NCAA tournament.
Apparently the message sent is that the RPI is king, and only the RPI.
The committee is never going to admit that, but it is obvious even to those at ESPN, as Eamonn Brennan gave us a scathing review of the selection process. His biggest beef? Wisconsin and Villanova having to match up in the second round of this tournament:
Yes, Wisconsin was underseeded. Throw out the Badgers’ past accomplishments (the selection committee certainly does), and there remains no actual basketball explanation for why Greg Gard’s team was seeded where it was. The Badgers entered Selection Sunday 25-9 with a 12-6 record in the Big Ten — same as Maryland, a No. 6 seed, and one win better than Minnesota, a No. 5 seed that Wisconsin beat twice.
Even after a 2-5 end to the regular season, the Badgers were the only Big Ten team other than Purdue to enter the postseason with a top-25 rank in adjusted efficiency. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index likewise considered them (before Michigan started igniting nets NBA Jam-style) the league’s No. 2 team.
The one sliver lining from all of this is that the NCAA is already considering an upgrade to the analytics at the ready for the selection committee. It appears the argument is over how to incorporate both predictive and reactionary stats in to a profile of a team.
At least some of the brightest statistical minds in college basketball are being brought to the table.
But, that is little conciliation for the likes of St. Mary’s or Wichita State. Those two so-called mid-major programs were sunk thanks to being named No. 7 seeds and having to face the likes of Arizona and Kentucky way before either should have based on what those teams did this season.
Anyone think Wichita State wasn’t for real in a three-point loss to Kentucky? What about a nine-point loss for St. Mary’s against Arizona. Put those two teams against almost anyone else and it is hard to believe they aren’t still playing basketball.
It also is little conciliation to the likes of Villanova and Louisville, who had no business playing these games this early in the tournament.
Perhaps the way this tournament has played out and the ridiculousness of seeding out of the Big Ten and the ACC will be the final push to make changes. We’re guessing the “upsets” certainly got the attention of those on the selection committee.
Getting a system that rewards teams for actual performance on the court and less for an arbitrary and outdated metric that rewards working a formula is something this committee needs desperately.
Imagine Wisconsin-Villanova or Louisville-Michigan for berths in the Final Four instead of to end the first weekend in the tournament. Wouldn’t that have been fun?