Commentary

Is a neutral site worth a lower seed?

Deciding No. 2 seeds will be committee's toughest challenge

Originally Published: March 5, 2012
By Charlie Creme | Special to espnW

All weekend long, you've been sending emails and tweets declaring how wrong it is not to have Delaware as a No. 2 seed. Ultimately, the Blue Hens' seed is part of what should end up being the selection committee's biggest challenge next weekend -- deciding which teams should be the four No. 2 seeds and in what order they should be ranked 5 through 8.

In our latest projection, through Sunday's games, here's how they stacked up:

5. Maryland
6. Duke
7. Tennessee
8. Kentucky … and then …
9. Miami
10. Delaware

The specific question to focus on is how Kentucky, Miami and Delaware should be ordered. That order will determine which one of those teams sneaks in as the final No. 2 seed. The other two will be 3-seeds, and the natural fan reaction won't be good (I know what my inbox will look like). But before there is a mass uprising in Coral Gables and Newark, take another hard look at the bracket. Being higher might not always be better.

By being No. 3 seeds, both Delaware and Miami are able to play true neutral-site games in their respective subregionals in Norfolk and Tallahassee. Had one or both of them been a No. 2, it would have meant enemy territory in the second round. Duke, Tennessee and Kentucky are all set to possibly play on a lower seed's home floor. This is the nuance of the women's tournament. It isn't set up like the men's, and fans should get used to the idea that higher isn't always better if you don't like the idea of "road" games for teams that enjoyed better seasons.

The final bracket from the committee might not look exactly like this week's projection, but the likelihood of some facsimile thereof is real. Is No. 2 better than No. 3? It might not be this year.

More grumblings

• Some disagreement over St. Bonaventure's seed will also roll in, and perhaps, rightfully so. But here is another quirk in the process that showcases why a team's seed might not be nearly as important as where that team ends up.

In this case, the Bonnies are under-seeded. They were 17th on the board, which normally would make them the top No. 5 seed. However, conflicts among the placement of some of the Big East schools necessitated moving St. Bonaventure a seed line, essentially swapping spots with Louisville. It isn't ideal since the Cardinals came in at 24th overall, meaning they were actually the last No. 6 seed. Admittedly, that's a big swing. And given that this will be St. Bonaventure's first NCAA trip, the Bonnies would like the prestige of the highest seed possible.

But here's what happened. As a No. 5 seed, St. Bonaventure, like a Delaware or a Miami above, would have had to play a possible road game. Host LSU already takes one of those spots. Two No. 5 seeds would have to go with No. 4 seeds and hosts Texas A&M and Purdue. That final No. 5 seed, in this case Louisville, gets placed with No. 12 North Carolina in Chapel Hill for what becomes a first-round road game. Meanwhile, the "demoted" Bonnies are in a completely neutral situation in Tallahassee. Again, the number of the seed isn't all it's cracked up to be sometimes.

• Another question that's sure to be popular: Why is Duke not in Norfolk, or at least in the Raleigh Regional?

Both are easy answers, but for different reasons. Since Maryland is fifth on the board overall following its ACC tournament championship, the Terrapins get placed in the closest region to their campus first. That would be Raleigh, forcing Duke to the next closest region, Kingston. That is how the women's placement process works for the top seeds.

So what about Norfolk for the Blue Devils in the first two rounds, at least? Well, under these circumstances, it can't happen. Vanderbilt as a No. 7 seed is a host. No. 7 seeds are in the same subregional as 2-seeds. Vandy couldn't get placed with Maryland because the Terps are already hosts. The Commodores are also precluded from being grouped with Tennessee and Kentucky because they could create a same-conference matchup in the second round, something that is to be avoided if at all possible. That leaves Duke as the only No. 2 with which Vanderbilt can be grouped. Not only can the Blue Devils not be placed in Norfolk, but they have to go to Nashville.

• Finally, there is the dilemma of Gonzaga. If you have followed the brackets from week to week, you might have noticed that the Zags have been moved a seed line each time. That is because Gonzaga's status as a host conflicts with where Kelly Graves' club should realistically be placed in the field. Last year's team was in a similar situation and wound up a No. 11 seed, which was probably moved down a seed line from its earned position on the board. While this edition of the Zags isn't as good as the 2010-11 version with Courtney Vandersloot, this season's team actually sports a better overall profile. Gonzaga might even have the credentials of a No. 8 or 9 seed. This week, the Zags came in at a No. 10 and then they were moved a seed line because, with the aforementioned Nos. 2 or 7 seeds serving as hosts, there was no place to put Gonzaga. Thus, the move to a No. 11 -- which is likely where Gonzaga is destined to be again.

What if they were a No. 8 or No. 9? That would mean a subregional with a No. 1 seed. Since Notre Dame is already a host, it couldn't be the Irish. With Bridgeport available for UConn, it's difficult to imagine the Huskies instead packing for Spokane. Baylor is the overwhelming overall top seed. That pairing is even more unfathomable. That leaves only Stanford. Geographically, it would make sense. Spokane is the only early-round site that is in the same time zone as Stanford. However, not only did the Cardinal play Gonzaga earlier this season, but the two met in last year's regional final in Spokane. Rematches from the previous year's tournament are only supposed to happen if they are unavoidable. While this situation isn't ideal or even fan-friendly, it is avoidable. So if the committee sticks to that principle, we will likely have another under-seeded Gonzaga team and a Stanford team that will have to travel significantly prior to the Final Four for the first time since playing in the San Antonio Regional in 2006.

The committee's job is tough, and situations like these make it harder. I don't envy its task ahead this week at all, but at least the group in Indianapolis has to do it only once. Check back for updates throughout the rest of Championship Week.

Charlie Creme can be reached at cwcreme@yahoo.com.

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Women's College Basketball
Charlie Creme projects the women's NCAA Tournament bracket for ESPN.com.