Among the many complaints about this year's bracket, one that hasn't been discussed much is the pairings of non-BCS schools in the first round. There are four games in the opening round in which two non-BCS schools square off. Some people don't like this.
Speaking for those people this evening is Basketball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan. From Sheehan:
The committee did it again, matching up non-BCS schools aggressively and keeping them away from BCS schools. UNLV/Northern Iowa. Butler/UTEP. Temple/Cornell. Richmond/Saint Mary’s. The committee is taking one of the best things about the tournament – that the big guys have to play the little guys on a neutral floor – and destroying it, aggressively so. Defenders of the bracket and the committee will always point out that this isn’t intentional, but after it happens year-in, year-out, I simply don’t believe them. You can’t keep playing off the non-BCS schools one another every year and pretend it’s not a strategy. It very clearly is one, and it’s designed to prevent the possibility of the schools from smaller conferences showing that the main difference between them and the middle of the BCS leagues is home games. The committee and the NCAA should be embarrassed.
Ahem, well. In case it's not clear, Joe doesn't very much like it when non-BCS schools have to play each other in the first round of the tournament.
Joe's point is valid, though. The committee should be trying to avoid these sorts of matchups whenever possible -- the tournament is, at its essence, about the sort of big guys vs. little guy rivalry inherent in those non-BCS vs. BCS matchups, and without them, we lose a major part of what makes the NCAA tournament so great.
That said, I'm not sure this is an actual strategy on the part of the NCAA. Quite frankly, BYU, UNLV, UTEP hardly qualify as "little guys" -- all three are in conferences that sit above Kyle Whelliston's famous Red Line. Temple and Butler are, in their own limited ways, basketball powers. None of those five teams particularly feel like a weary underdog taking on the big, bad world of big-money college sports. Looking over the bracket, none of those matchups particularly struck me as unfair, and certainly none screamed of any strategy. (Moreover, teams from the Mountain West and Conference USA and even the Atlantic-10 can't have their mid-major status and eat it, too.)
All in all, though, the point remains: If possible, the committee needs to do its best to prevent these sorts of matchups in the first round in the future. Sure, there's no directive on this issue. It's not required. It'd just be a nice thing to do -- and good for the NCAA tournament as a whole. And that's the most important directive of all.
Update: Buster Sports' Adam Jacobi did the math and found that this year's distribution of non-major seeds looks a lot less like obvious strategy than unlucky mathematical distribution -- what he calls the flip of a coin. So, yeah, we're probably overreacting a bit.