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Monday, March 15, 2010
Bracket Babble: Five things to hate

By Eamonn Brennan

It hasn't even been 24 hours since we saw the selection committee's 2010 tournament bracket, and already the complaints have codified into consensus. Complaining about the bracket -- about the bubble, especially -- is a yearly tradition in the days after Selection Sunday. Frankly, it gets a little tired.

This year feels different. Because the bubble was so unusually soft this season, the usual gripes about first few teams left out of the tournament are non-starters. Instead, complaints about the makeup of the bracket, from imbalanced regions to mis-seeded teams, are this year's major concerns. Whining about the bubble is so last year. Whining about seeding? Hot and getting hotter!

Mike Krzyzewski
Some say Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils got an easier path to the Final Four than overall No. 1 seed Kansas.
So, in the spirit of Silky Johnston and the great diabolical haters of our time, here's a list of the five things to most disdain about this NCAA tournament. Hate! Hate! Hate! Hate!

1. The South. You too, Duke. Kentucky, Syracuse, and Kansas -- especially Kansas -- can kick off this year's hate-fest for us. All three supposed No. 1 seeds were given more difficult regions than Duke, which should have been the fourth No. 1 seed. Heck, I still think West Virginia deserved that fourth No. 1 after winning the Big East tournament. Instead, No. 1 overall seed Kansas was stuck in a brutal landmine of tourney-proven coaches and elite guard talent. Kentucky got the toughest No. 2 seed in its bracket in West Virginia. Syracuse will likely have to beat a startlingly low-seeded No. 8 Gonzaga team as soon as this weekend. Duke's No. 8 seed, meanwhile, is Cal, a drastically overseeded bunch. Duke's No. 2 is Villanova, an undersized, defensively weak squad that faded down the stretch in the Big East season. The No. 4 seed in Duke's bracket is Purdue, which without Robbie Hummel might not survive its matchup with sexy No. 13 pick Siena.

This is a horrifically imbalanced region, one that makes you wonder if the committee took a moment before finalizing the bracket to step back, look at the big picture, and scratch their heads one final time. Really? You want to make marginal No. 1 Duke's road that easy? Seeding the bracket is tough, but come on. The South reeks of a committee that lost the forest for the trees, and Kentucky, Syracuse and Kansas -- especially Kansas -- will suffer. So much for being the overall No. 1. If we can't reward Kansas for its excellence with something better than this, then the anti-expansion folks' main point is officially moot. The regular season doesn't matter.

2. The greatest 8/9 matchup ever. And by "greatest" I mean "greatest opportunity for a two-hour nap." OK, so 8/9 games aren't exactly the tournament's bread and butter. They usually feature two very average big-six teams. I get that. But No. 8 Texas vs. No. 9 Wake Forest might be the most uninspiring 8/9 game in recent memory. Neither team has beaten anyone worthwhile for months. After going 17-0 and rising to No. 1 overall in the polls, Texas lost nine of its last 16, fell all the way out of the Top 25, and saw its head coach reveal that he really doesn't care all that much about winning national championships. Texas is an inordinately talented team that has managed to do nothing with that talent for the past two months. It's depressing.

Then there's Wake Forest, which lost five of its last six -- including games to NC State, North Carolina and Miami -- and is limping into the tournament as badly as any team in the country. Again: depressing.

Put these two teams together, and you'll get two things. The first: lots of potential NBA players on the court at the same time. The second: some truly uninspired basketball. Thanks, but I'll pass.

3. Splitting sevens and 10s. Last night there was some brief discussion about the selection committee pairing too many non-BCS schools against one another in the first round. I don't think this was a strategy so much as an unlucky consequence of a hastily assembled bracket, but there are at least two games where it seems a fair criticism. Those games: No. 7 Richmond vs. N0. 10 St. Mary's in the South and No. 7 Oklahoma State vs. No 10 Georgia Tech in the Midwest. Why not switch the No. 10s there, sending Georgia Tech to Providence and St. Mary's to Milwaukee? This swap would prevent a non-BCS matchup in the first round and cut down on travel for the Gaels without accentuating anyone else's frequent flier miles. Why pit two major conference teams like Georgia Tech and Oklahoma State in the first round when you have two quality non-BCS schools to split between them? Why force non-BCS teams to eliminate one another? I can understand not wanting to swap seeds to fulfill an unofficial tournament consideration like the vague little guy vs. big buy thing, but if the solution is right there in front of you, with the seeds all the same and travel a non-issue ... well, why not?

4. Oh, and those No. 8 seeds. This is partially covered in note No. 1 about the South, but look at these No. 8 seeds: California, Texas, UNLV and ... Gonzaga? One of these things is not like the other. Hint: It's Gonzaga. Sure, the Bulldogs were badly beaten in their conference title game, thus making them an at-large bid at the committee's mercy. Sure, as with the bubble teams left out of the tournament, it's hard to feel too bad for any team that didn't handle its business in the closing stretches of the season. But Gonzaga, with an RPI of 36 and a nonconference record of 12-3 seems insanely underseeded here. That feeling is accentuated when you look at its peers on the No. 8 line. What makes the seeding even worse is that because the committee thought Duke deserved a higher No. 1 seed than Syracuse, the Dukies drew Cal, by far the most overseeded of the No. 8s, while the Cuse will play a talented, deep, athletic Bulldogs team led by an experienced tournament guard in Matt Bouldin. (Not to mention that Kansas might get UNLV and Kentucky could play a lifeless but undeniably talented Texas team.) Ouch.

5. Villanova as a No. 2. I promise, I set out to write this without harping on the South too much -- but I give in. It's impossible. Villanova as a No. 2 seed is questionable, but given the team's entire body of work, not to mention the eye test-friendly nature of any NCAA tournament team led by Scottie Reynolds, I can dig it. What I can't dig on is Villanova being the No. 2 seed in Duke's bracket, while Ohio State and West Virginia were sent to the same region as the top two teams in the committee's bracket, Kansas and Kentucky, respectively.

If the committee wants to argue that Duke is better than Syracuse, fine. Whatever. I disagree, and I think West Virginia deserved Duke's No. 1 seed, but if Jim Boeheim isn't worried about it, I can let it go. But what's mystifying is how you would possibly rank Ohio State and West Virginia -- two candidates for a top seed, both of whom won their conference tournaments to close the season -- lower than Villanova, which can boast neither. The imbalance here is stark. If seeds hold, the two best No. 1 seeds will play the two best No. 2 seeds in the Elite Eight. This is remarkably unfair to Kansas, Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio State, all of whom won their conference championships and had their very impressive seasons rewarded with brutal paths to the Final Four.

In short, I hate the way the committee seeded the South, and I hate the way those seedings threw the rest of the bracket out of whack. You know, in case that wasn't clear. Yeesh.