Bottom line: Committee failed on No. 2s

March, 15, 2010
3/15/10
5:45
PM ET
I spent the better part of the morning listing the things I hated about the 2010 NCAA tournament bracket, which was a lot more fun than talking about the bits I loved. If you read the hatred, you know how silly it is that Villanova is the No. 2 in the South, alongside No. 1 Duke. The Blue Devils should have been the fourth No. 1 seed and received the most difficult route to the NCAA tournament of any of the No. 1 seeds. At the very least, Duke shouldn't have received the easiest path, especially given the comparatively difficult draws Kansas and Kentucky -- the no-doubt top two No. 1 seeds -- received. The South is a mess and the bracket suffers as a result.

Vegas Watch hit me with a reasonable explanation for the Nova placement. It was a reason I had not considered when figuring why West Virginia -- who should have been the fourth No. 1 seed -- was matched up with Kentucky in the East rather than getting Nova's spot in the South. That explanation: geography.

It makes sense. The theory is the committee doesn't consider the No. 2 seed matchups the same way as the No. 1 seeds. They instead choose to focus on keeping teams close to home, rather than how favorable the draws are. By keeping West Virginia in the East, the Mountaineers get to play in Buffalo, a mere 300 miles from their school. Selection committee chairman Dan Guerrero said as much during a teleconference today. Guerrero's exchange with a media member:

Q. You mentioned the S-curve for seeding. I've been through the mock bracket process. I notice that on the 2 line, West Virginia goes behind Villanova. Villanova got the better No. 2 seed. They're from the same conference. It seems that West Virginia had such a stronger résumé than Villanova, yet got the worst between them, the worst No. 2 seed. Can you explain that?

Dan Guerrero: Well, you know, I don't know why you're extrapolating that particular situation. The reality is, if you look at the teams on the 2 line, the team that is closest to their first and second round site happens to be West Virginia. They're going to Buffalo. I believe that's about 200 miles away from their university. And they're assigned to the east region. That's really the way it kind of shook down based on the S-curve.

Q. Just seems like they would have a tougher matchup against Kentucky.

Dan Guerrero: You know, when you think about it, it's really how it all sorts out. Once again, we go through the S-curve. When you get to the second line, it's the first team that has the opportunity to be assigned closest to their university and closest to the region.

Once again, all four No. 1's are special teams, and so are the No. 2 seeds. Every one of them has an opportunity to win this championship. We don't really look at matchups, if you will.

OK then. The committee, when considering its No. 2 seeds, worries less about matchups and more about travel. I get it. But it's worth mentioning that Villanova's first and second round games will take place in Providence, R.I., another location in the northeast, 561 miles away from Morgantown. Assuming the Mountaineers will be flying to their game, their flights just got extended by an hour. Oh, the travel humanity! Which do you think West Virginia would prefer: Its current seed and a trip to Buffalo? Or Villanova's spot and a slightly longer flight?

I too participated in the mock selection process. When we were seeding our top two lines, we took travel into account. We were instructed that the most important part of the process was keeping the regions balanced based on the S-Curve rank we had just finished devising. The NCAA's spreadsheet for doing so had a handy macro in the bottom of the screen that tallied that balance. If anything got too out of whack, one of the committee members said something. Travel was discussed, but it wasn't given this apparent emphasis. That macro isn't about "matchups," where one looks at which team has the best chance of beating the other. It's about keeping the best teams away from each other as much as possible, based on where you rank them in the S-Curve. You don't have to look at "matchups" to have gotten this right.

Later in today's teleconference, Guerrero was asked about Kentucky's travel issues. A media member wanted to know why Kentucky was going to New Orleans instead of Milwaukee, which is closer to Lexington. His response:

Dan Guerrero: Well, you know, the mileage isn't necessarily an absolute. We looked at all the teams that were on that 1 line and we felt it was appropriate to make the decision that we did. I mean, when you're talking about a couple of hundred miles difference or whatever the case may be, the committee may not have viewed that as a major issue.

Wait. Now I'm confused again. So if the travel issue comes down to a couple hundred miles -- the distance in trips to Buffalo or Providence from Morgantown being about 300 miles -- it doesn't matter? It's not a major issue? Great! This means we can reward teams like West Virginia for having better seasons and conference tournaments than teams like Villanova! West Virginia can play in Providence, in a more forgiving bracket. Villanova can take its rather suspect No. 2 seed and fight in the trenches in Buffalo. (Which, I remind you, is not exactly a cross-country trip for the Philly-based Wildcats.) Everybody's happy!

Except the committee didn't do that. It applied one set of rules to one seed line and a different set of rules for the other. The result is a haphazard, imbalanced bracket that gives Duke the easiest route to the NCAA tournament and stuffs Kansas and Kentucky's regions with upset landmines. And this is the best explanation we get?

If this is the system's fault, the system is broken. If it's the committee's fault, this committee failed. Maybe, in 2010, it's both.

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