Commentary

Geography a big theme of the bracket

Originally Published: March 18, 2013
By Charlie Creme | espnW

The two biggest questions we had going into Selection Monday remained at the forefront of the discussion as soon as the women's NCAA tournament bracket was unveiled. Where would Notre Dame end up in the early rounds, and how would the Pac-12 teams -- all of which were expected to be highly seeded -- be placed geographically?

Let's look at those two issues -- and several more -- keeping in mind that the committee did exactly the opposite of what we predicted.

Notre Dame to Iowa -- not Columbus

In the last month of Bracketology, I went to painstaking efforts to put Notre Dame in Columbus for the first two rounds. It is the only subregional site without a host school attached to it. I thought the committee would "protect" the No. 2 team in the country against playing a potential second-round game on the road. Instead, the Irish will open the tournament in Iowa City, where ninth-seeded Iowa potentially awaits next Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeSkylar Diggins
Diggins_Skylar 130318Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame are pointed toward Iowa City, with a potential second-round game with Iowa awaiting.

Of course, this was a possibility all along. At various points along the way, Columbus, Iowa City and Baton Rouge were possible destinations for Notre Dame. The choices were always going to be limited. Putting Notre Dame in Columbus certainly would have meant moving other teams around. That's what happened in my last projection, and it could have, and probably should have, been done Monday.

What we are left with is not only Notre Dame in a possible true road game, there's also no natural attendance draw in Columbus. Concerns should exist for how well-attended those games in Columbus -- with Oklahoma, Central Michigan, UCLA and Stetson -- will be.

Stanford and Cal together in Spokane

The Cardinal and the Golden Bears are the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, in the Spokane Regional. This will certainly get plenty of attention. It was a situation that haunted my bracketing process for weeks. On its face, it's not a huge problem (although I bet most fans would disagree), but I am concerned with the inconsistency by which the rules of geography are applied in matters like this.

In 2008, Connecticut and Rutgers were the 1-2 in the Greensboro Regional, which drew significant criticism. So in 2009, it appeared a concerted effort was made to avoid something similar. By geography, either Texas A&M or Baylor absolutely should have been paired as a No. 2 seed with No. 1 Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. Auburn ended up as the No. 2 seed there instead, while Texas A&M went to the Trenton Regional and Baylor was placed in the Raleigh Regional. There is no way around explaining that one without admitting that there was a conscious effort to keep those teams out of the same region regardless of the geography philosophy that had been put in place.

[+] EnlargeCal vs Stanford
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 heavyweights Stanford, a No. 1 seed, and second-seeded California are together in the Spokane Regional.

Fast-forward to 2011 and the committee reversed itself again, putting Texas A&M as the No. 2 in the same region as No. 1 Baylor. No. 3 seed UCLA was also put with top-seeded Stanford in the Spokane Regional that same year. Once again, public and media outcry was loud.

In 2012, the committee reversed course yet again on this philosophy, clearly deciding, against geographical outlines, to separate No. 1 Baylor and the third-seeded Aggies. If going by the geographical placement, A&M should have been in Baylor's Des Moines Regional, and Delaware, as a No. 3, should have been in Raleigh, where the Aggies actually ended up.

So here we are in 2013 and Stanford and Cal are together as No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. Politicians lose elections with this kind of flip-flopping. The lack of consistency on this topic has become tough to swallow.

Another geography lesson

This one has far less impact on the bracket. In fact, it has virtually none, but is still a major head-scratcher. Why is Tulsa heading to Stanford for its game and Idaho going to Storrs to face UConn? If travel cost is supposed to be a consideration (that has been an excuse for other bracketing and seeding decisions in the past), then why this setup? Tulsa is about 200 miles closer to Storrs than it is to Stanford, and the University of Idaho is considerably closer to Stanford than Storrs. Puzzling to say the least.

Penn State in Baton Rouge, Part II

[+] EnlargePenn State
AP Photo/Jessica HillMaggie Lucas, left, and Alex Bentley are headed to Baton Rouge, La., for the second straight season. If Penn State reaches the Sweet 16, they'll play in Spokane.

The other excruciating part of putting brackets together throughout February and March was trying to ensure Penn State would not go back to Baton Rouge for a second straight year, despite the fact that the seeds were aligning that way. I tried to avoid it because the committee generally tries to avoid first- and second-round rematches from the previous year's tournament. Furthermore, sending a team to the same subregional site in consecutive years is something the committee has stated it tries to stay away from. Sometimes the bracketing rules make such moves impossible. That would be fine if that were the case here. But it isn't.

There is actually an easy -- and more logical -- fix that's very apparent with the way this committee's bracket is set up. Merely switching North Carolina's and Penn State's spots on the bracket keeps the Lady Lions out of a potential rematch with LSU and makes more sense based on the teams' yearlong performance. Not only should Penn State not be forced to go back to Louisiana, but if one of those two No. 3 seeds should have to travel far to the Spokane Regional, it should be the Tar Heels. Penn State easily had a better season and clearly should have been higher on the committee's board. In fact, a great argument could be made for the Nittany Lions to be a No. 2 seed. Giving North Carolina any kind of priority in placement over them makes no sense. Penn State got a raw deal. This shouldn't have happened.

Kansas makes the field

The Jayhawks' inclusion in the tournament should serve as an indictment of the entire field. Whether Kansas belongs in the NCAA tournament or in the WNIT could be debated reasonably from either side. This was a very weak end of the bubble, which left the door open for something like this. The candidates for the last spot or two were, in all candor, not good.

What isn't debatable, however, is that the Jayhawks' profile is one of the worst for an at-large choice in recent memory. It isn't the worst, but it's right there with some suspect résumés.

Green Bay received an at-large in 2011 with an RPI of 66, a poor SOS, two top-50 wins and four sub-100 losses. Admittedly, that's a worse profile than Kansas'.

The Jayhawks compare along the same lines as Minnesota (RPI 54) and Georgia (53) in 2009, Auburn (61) and Florida State (59) in 2008, and TCU (59) in 2007.

Kansas' RPI of 57 is not the lowest, and its three top-50 wins were surpassed only by the 2009 Georgia team. However, the Jayhawks' 17 wins were the fewest of any of these teams and their 13 losses equal the most of anyone. The biggest problem with Kansas is a terrible final five weeks of the season. After beating Kansas State (63) on Feb. 2, the Jayhawks had one meaningful win the rest of the season (Oklahoma). Three wins over TCU and its 188 RPI are not something that at-large bids are made of.

Kansas in? Sure, that's probably fine. But rest assured the Jayhawks are in not because of what they did, but because the pickings for at-large No. 33 were slim.

Big Ten seeds a mystery

An argument could be made that all the Big Ten teams were over-seeded except the teams that finished 1-2 in the league. Penn State has a strong case to be a No. 2. Nebraska finished second in the league and received a No. 6, while Purdue (No. 4 seed) and Michigan State (No. 5) were higher.

Some consideration has to be given to the fact that one or two of these teams could have been moved a seed line to accommodate bracketing principles. But it appears that the Big Ten tournament (Purdue and Michigan State were the finalists) carried fairly considerable weight in the committee room. Purdue as a No. 4 seed is a stretch. The Boilermakers' run to the Big Ten tournament title should not blur the fact that they weren't particularly good in February. Purdue went 3-5 heading into the conference tournament and none of the wins was over NCAA tournament-caliber opposition. Michigan State fared better coming down the stretch, but the Spartans' season was not in any way better than the Cornhuskers' season. Michigan State didn't outpace Nebraska in any significant metric or on the court (Nebraska won the only matchup).

Iowa as a No. 9 seed could very well be the result of a procedural bump, but that's otherwise a little too high. Michigan seems to be where it should be as a No. 8 seed.

Some of these higher Big Ten seeds could have come at the expense of some mid-majors. Did Michigan State have a better season than Dayton? Definitely not. And it would be that way even if the Spartans had also defeated the Flyers head-to-head. Here's hoping Michigan State was a procedural bump up to a No. 5. It's conceivable that the Spartans were the overall No. 24 on the board, which would mean a natural No. 6 seed, and Dayton was the overall No. 25 (or better), which would make the Flyers a natural No. 7 or better. That is a possibility. Otherwise, those seeds don't make a ton of sense.

Also, it should be noted that Green Bay received a No. 11 seed one year after getting a No. 7. The Phoenix beat Georgia Tech last season and didn't have a win that good this season, but that was really the only difference. Certainly, every season is different and the comparisons are made within that season, not the past, but that is quite a swing in seeds for the same program with similar credentials. If anything, this should stop the mid-major conspiracy theories about certain programs getting better seeding treatment for their past accomplishments.

Charlie Creme | email

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

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