Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sorry to burst your bubble

One of the consequences of focusing on the top 16 teams is my lessened interest in the so-called bubble; that is, the fine line between schools that make the tournament and schools that don't.

Truth be told, it's hard for me to care. Every year the bubble conversation is the same: with no magic number of wins or steady criteria to separate the haves from the have-nots, it's all just speculation. And while there's one George Mason -- a questionable at-large team in 2006 that proves everyone wrong by making the Final Four -- there are a dozen invitees each year whose appearance and eventual performance are equally blah.

I'd like to think that the NCAA Selection Committee composes a top-secret formula that combines and appropriately weighs all distinguishing factors (schedule strength, opponent strength, conference rank, offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, etc.) and ranks all 344 teams. Then they take a marker and cross out the 31 teams that get automatic bids for winning their conference tournaments. Then they highlight the top 34 teams left. There's your field. The rest of the time can be spent bickering over how those 65 teams should be seeded.

But I think the process is a lot more abstract, with conference lobbying in play. So really, the Selection Committee opens itself up for the painful criticism from angry commentators who can't understand why their favorite 76 teams didn't all make the tournament. This is a waste of time, and my least favorite part of Selection Sunday. That time should be spent on criticizing the Committee's lousy seeding choices instead.

You can see why I like the 1-4 seeds. How I see it, for the last time this season. Within the hour, the Selection Committee will see it differently (and incorrectly).

Midwest Regional (Indianapolis)
01. Louisville: The Pitt/UConn show has a surprise ending.
08. Michigan State: They did win the Big Ten by 4 games.
09. Kansas: 2008's champion reserves are the starters now.
16. Florida St: Will their ACC breakthrough translate nationally?

East Regional (Boston)
02. North Carolina: Had the best loss of the weekend, I guess.
07. Oklahoma: Gets the edge over Kansas and Missouri.
10. Villanova: Would love some karmic payback against UNC.
15. Arizona State: Coach Herb Sendek knows the Heels well.

South Regional (Memphis)
03. Pittsburgh: Swept UConn before quarterfinal loss to WVU.
06. Duke: Did what had to be done to show they belong.
11. Missouri: Only 3 seed here with a winning streak.
14. Gonzaga: The 3rd conference tourney champ in this subset.

West Regional (Glendale, AZ)
04. Memphis: They dominated with the schedule they were given.
05. Connecticut: 6OT? Okay, this was the best loss of the weekend.
12. Washington: Won Pac-10 outright, decent exit to Sun Devils.
13. Syracuse: Almost 5-0 in five days. Hope there's no letdown.

UPDATE! The NCAA Selection Committee's top 16 teams...

Midwest: Louisville, Michigan State, Kansas, Wake Forest
East: Pittsburgh, Duke, Villanova, Xavier
South: North Carolina, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Gonzaga
West: Connecticut, Memphis, Missouri, Washington

I predicted 14 of 16, including Arizona State and Florida State rather than Xavier and Wake Forest. Just for fun, I also looked at my first prediction from last November; I called 9 of 16. (Though I shouldn't brag: I had Davidson as a 4 seed and Notre Dame winning it all, and neither made the field.)


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