The biggest debate following the announcement of the 2009 NCAA tournament field Monday night (ESPN, 7 ET) undoubtedly will center on which team received the final No. 1 seed and and what squads got 2-seeds.
In our latest (and the season's last) Bracketology, Duke received the fourth 1-seed, while Louisville, Stanford, Auburn and Baylor finished a step behind as No. 2 seeds. Why?
Before we take one last look at the reasons for and against each of the qualified candidates for those spots, let's establish a few things. By now, everyone should understand that Connecticut is the overall No. 1 seed. There hasn't been a race so certain since Reagan-Mondale.
Maryland moved to the second overall spot on the S-curve, followed by Oklahoma (the Big 12 tournament semifinals didn't cause the Sooners to fall off the top line) at third. Those spots are established in one group.
Teams are usually grouped as No. 1 seeds, No. 2 seeds, No. 3s and so on. For the purposes of bracketing the tournament, that will happen again Monday. But the reality this year is that the collection really breaks out with UConn, Maryland and Oklahoma in one group and five teams in the other group. A clear distinction exists between those two groups. The problem is that one of those teams has to be a No. 1 seed and the rest are the No. 2s.
Auburn, Baylor, Duke, Louisville and Stanford are the teams in that second group, and the truth is, even at this late stage of the game, not much of a difference really exists between them. Yet when one gets the final No. 1 seed and the others are the No. 2s, the impression will be that the gap is wider than it really is. It's just that a fourth team must be on that top line or the tournament doesn't work.
We'll find out Monday night what view the committee takes, but for now, the final No. 1 seed goes to Duke. The Blue Devils have seven wins over the RPI top 25, which is the same as Baylor and Louisville. The three are also equal in wins against the top 50, with 11. But not all wins, even top-25 wins, are created equally. Duke's victories over Stanford, Maryland, North Carolina and Florida State are better than any four wins by any of the other teams up for consideration.
The Cardinals' best four victories are Pittsburgh twice, Notre Dame and Rutgers, which they also beat twice. That's not as good.
Baylor's wins are better than Louisville's -- Stanford and Texas A&M three times. That's where the difficulty begins. Sure, the Lady Bears should be credited with beating the Aggies three times, but at what point does it just look like an opponent is simply a bad matchup for another? Baylor's next best win after that is Iowa State, a victory that isn't as good as any of Duke's other wins.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey made a passionate case after the Big 12 championship game victory over Texas A&M that despite losing Danielle Wilson to injury, it hasn't changed how good her team is. Mulkey said that while Wilson was Baylor's leading scorer and rebounder, she was only one part of a team that can score, rebound and succeed at all positions.
All of that is true, and Baylor should be applauded for winning the Big 12 tournament regardless of who was on the floor. But here's the problem. If the Lady Bears are to be fully credited for the victories in Oklahoma City , they must also equally be scrutinized for a 24-point loss at Kansas a little over a week ago. Is a team that lost to the Jayhawks by 24 points in March a No. 1 seed?
That's also the reason Louisville lost its chance for a No. 1. The Cardinals lost to Nevada and West Virginia. Now, they weren't blown out in either, but a team worthy of a top seed shouldn't lose those games, even if they were the only losses for Louisville this season to teams not named UConn, which, it must reasonably be assumed, would also beat anyone else involved in this debate.
Stanford, however, has what none of the others have -- both a regular-season and conference tournament title. But how do you measure that? After Cal and Arizona State, the Pac-10 didn't offer much resistance, and it was a down year in the league overall. The nonconference winning percentage wasn't nearly as good as that of the Big 12, ACC, Big East or SEC.
The Cardinal have rattled off 16 straight wins and have been dominant in nearly all of those games, but again, what does that mean when the victories were against a league that for the most part wasn't very competitive? Losses to Duke and Baylor also hurt Stanford. Granted, those defeats were a long time ago, but discounting or even diminishing them in a race so close is impossible.
Other than Stanford, Auburn is the only regular-season champ in the bunch. That certainly counts for something. But the Tigers lose out -- not because they didn't have a great season, but much like the cases for Louisville and Baylor, Duke's wins are just better.
So put the Blue Devils on the top line and the others in the No. 2 spots. And let's see if the committee agrees.
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.