The Fundamental Flaw of the NCAA Tournament

March 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

As we all know now, Mizzou was much closer to an NIT bid than most of us imagined. We* deserved it I suppose, since we ended the season in just about the shittiest fashion possible, losing four of our last five, with the main features being listless defense and horrible shooting.

*You’re gonna have to bear with me while I act like I’m on the team.

The committee “punished” Mizzou by sentencing us to an 11-seed and putting a little jolt of fear in us fans by including Mizzou in the list of “Last 6 teams in,” which is a nice little reminder by the NCAA that says: “You suck and barely deserve to be here, but we didn’t want to let in a mid-major like Missouri State because mid-majors’ fan bases are small, don’t travel well, and therefore prevent us from getting ours.**” Also, it’s quite clear that the committee had a slanted bias toward the Big Ten for whatever reason — must’ve been that thrilling 36-33 barnburner of a game between Penn State and Wisconsin a few days ago — which for whatever reason was reciprocated with a pretty heavy bias against the Big 12.

**Ours=$$$

Therefore, a quartet of teams who most people considered on the bubble — Penn State (19-14), Michigan State (19-14), Michigan (20-13) and Illinois (19-13) — easily made it in the tourney without getting that aforementioned jolt of fear. The committee “rewarded” these teams with an 8-seed, a 9-seed and two 10-seeds. Meanwhile, the committee underseeded the five Big 12 teams (minus Kansas) they deemed worthy of the tournament, and they left Colorado (21-13, with three wins against K-state) out entirely, which was easily the biggest snub of the night.

We could go on forever debating why the Big 12 got boned while the Big Ten got blown yesterday.*** But let’s not get off track. The last six teams allowed in all got 11- or 12-seeds. Now, I was surprised to see yesterday that two of the 11-seeds and two of the 12-seeds have to spar in play-in games for the right to face the 6-seed or 5-seed waiting for them. But still, as an 11- or 12-seed, your chances of going to the Sweet 16 or even further are drastically better than an 8- or a 9-seed. So while Mizzou was “getting screwed again” as some people said of our seed, the reality is that I would much rather be in our position than Illinois’ (9-seed) or Michigan’s (8-seed).

***My theory is that the chair of the committee, Eugene Smith, director of Ohio State’s athletics is a corrupt asshole who wanted to make his conference, and therefore his team, look better. Also, the Big 12’s representative was Dan Beebe, the commissioner of the Big 12 conference. Beebe is the buffoon who oversaw last year’s defections of Nebraska and Colorado, who has utterly failed in finding a way to even out the revenue sharing and therefore the competition in Big 12 football, and apparently is a weak-hearted person with no spine who lets strong-willed assholes like Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney take advantage of him. So yeah, I’m assuming he didn’t exactly make a rousing speech in support of Colorado making the tourney over VCU.

Here are some numbers, dating back to 1985 when the field was expanded, to back up my thoughts:

  • 8-seeds: 48-56 1st round, 9-39 2nd round, 3 Final Four teams (3-0 in regional finals)
  • 9-seeds: 56-48 1st round, 4-52 2nd round, 0 Final Four teams (0-1 in regional finals)
  • 10-seeds: 42-62 1st round, 19-23 2nd round, 0 Final Four teams (0-7 (!) in regional finals)
  • 11-seeds: 33-71 1st round, 12-21 2nd round, 2 Final four teams (2-0 in regional finals)
  • 12-seeds: 35-69 1st round, 18-17 (!) 2nd round, 0 Final Four teams (0-1 in regional finals)

First of all, let’s agree that the seedings are often very arbitrary as we saw yesterday. There is no scientific process to it. But the reason that 8- and 9-seeds often get hacked down so early and have only averaged one Sweet 16 appearance every two years is that 1-seeds are often never surprises, and out of all the 68 teams, have the least amount of arbitrariness involved. That’s why 1-seeds have put up the following numbers since 1985.

  • 1 seeds: 104-0 1st round, 91-13 2nd round, 75-16 3rd round, 45-30 4th round (regional finals), 25-20 5th round and 16-9 in the championship game.

In other words, since 1985, 16 of the 26 NCAA champions have been 1-seeds, and 45 of the possible 104 Final teams have been 1-seeds. One-seeds don’t fuck around; a team has to be legitimately impressive all year to land a 1-seed. So that’s why I was kind of happy that Mizzou sort of fizzled out down the stretch and backed into the NCAA tournament. Sure, we’re playing about as bad of basketball right now as any of the 68 teams, but at least we have a puncher’s chance rather than a practically guaranteed first- or second-round exit.

As I mentioned on Facebook yesterday, the 2002 Tigers entered the tourney as a 12-seed that had massively underachieved all season. For whatever reason, however, Mizzou got its act together, played with passion and tore through its relatively weak field by handily beating 5-seed Miami and 4-seed Ohio State, both of which were overrated. But again, that’s the arbitrary nature of the seeding coming into play. Then the Tigers beat 8-seed UCLA, which was one of the rare teams to knock off a 1-seed (the 1-seed here being Bob Huggins-coached Cincinnati, which perennially underachieved in the tourney) and suffered a close loss to 2-seed Oklahoma in the Elite 8. Had that 2002 Mizzou team redeemed itself in the Big 12 tournament and won three games before losing the championship, then we likely would’ve been “rewarded” with a 9-seed instead of getting in by the skin of our teeth. And we also would’ve gotten run out of the gym by a 1-seed like Maryland in the second round.

I’ll leave you with two points.

Number one is that Mizzou got a really nice draw. Once again, like in 2002, Mizzou is facing a team in Cincinnati that should probably be rated a little lower. They just lost by 38 in the Big East tourney for God’s sake; even Mizzou didn’t lay down that easily over the last couple weeks. As for UConn, if they can get past 14-seed Bucknell, which has been known to slay a giant or two, they’re playing great basketball now, but their seed is very much inflated. Had they lost that close game to Pitt last week, UConn would probably be a seven-seed. Fatigue could bring this team crashing back down to earth.

Number two is that the tournament will always be flawed because it doesn’t re-shift the brackets. If this was football, the 1-seed would continuously play the lowest seed remaining in its region while the 2-seed would play the second-lowest seed and so on. In theory, this would be much more fair to every team involved. In reality, it would completely ruin bracket pools as we know them, as the brackets would have to be reset after every round of games. It would also be a logistical nightmare for the teams, at least in the first two rounds, because teams are all over the place. For example, Mizzou’s sub-region plays in Washington D.C. while the sub-region below them (SDSU, Temple, Penn State, N. Co.) plays thousands of miles away in Tuscon.

So until the current paradigm shifts, I will have no problem rooting against Mizzou in a situation like this year’s if it means avoiding those damn 8- and 9-seeds. I’d rather have a slight shot of going to the Sweet 16 as opposed to a good shot of winning one game and practically no chance of advancing further.

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