Commentary

Stanford deserved No. 1 seed

South Carolina's No. 1 seed is puzzling; Louisville getting a 3 not as surprising

Originally Published: March 17, 2014
By Charlie Creme | espnW.com

The answer to this year's biggest burning question is right at the top of the bracket: Connecticut was sent to Lincoln, much to the satisfaction of most of the women's college basketball world.

But a lot of other questions weren't so easy to answer:

South Carolina a No. 1 seed, Stanford a No. 2?

This is the most puzzling decision by the committee. While the Gamecocks had a fantastic season, unexpectedly winning the SEC regular-season title, they did not have the season that Stanford did. The Cardinal accomplished more. A lot more.

[+] EnlargeTara VanDerveer
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsStanford and coach Tara VanDerveer are the No. 2 seed in the Stanford Regional, behind top-seeded South Carolina. The Cardinal open in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday.

With four more top-50 wins and a significantly tougher schedule, Stanford seemed like the more worthy choice for a No. 1 seed. Both the Cardinal and Gamecocks lost in the semifinals of their respective conference tournaments after winning regular-season titles. The biggest difference -- and it was significant -- came in the nonconference schedule, where South Carolina did nothing except beat Southern California.

Stanford, meanwhile played the toughest nonconference schedule in the country, beating Tennessee (a No. 1 seed), Purdue (No. 4), Texas (No. 5) and Gonzaga (No. 6). Within the Pac-12, Stanford added victories against tournament teams California, Arizona State, Oregon State and USC. Throwing in Florida Gulf Coast and Fresno State means that Stanford won 13 games against tournament teams. Only Notre Dame (17) and Tennessee (15) won more. South Carolina won nine. More than 160 other schools played a more challenging nonconference schedule than the Gamecocks. The level of play in the SEC is better than the Pac-12, but the difference between the two leagues is not close to the difference between the other profiles of Stanford and South Carolina.

The standard line by selection committee members when debates such as these are raised is that they looked at the entire body of work. That response does not hold in this case. Stanford's body of work was better. And it can't be said that South Carolina was playing better than the Cardinal down the stretch.

The Cardinal were clearly done in by losing a game in early February to Washington and then to USC in the Pac-12 semifinals. That should not have been enough to erase how much more accomplished they were than South Carolina.

It's even more strange that Stanford and South Carolina were placed in the same region (Stanford Regional), and odder yet that South Carolina was sent to Seattle for the opening two rounds. In order for the Gamecocks to reach the Final Four, they have to win four games three time zones away from Columbia. Yes, South Carolina is a No. 1 seed and, yes, South Carolina has a neutral site to play its first two contests. But is it a reward to force two cross-country trips or two weeks away from campus on the Gamecocks?

Had Stanford been the No. 1 seed, South Carolina -- not the Cardinal -- might be headed to Ames, Iowa, to play its subregional, while Stanford would have gone to Seattle. That would have meant significantly less travel for both. The only other necessary move in that scenario would be moving Oregon State to a subregional where the Beavers would travel a substantial distance. Doesn't it make more sense to ask a No. 9 seed to travel to, say, Storrs, Conn., or Knoxville, Tenn., than asking the No. 1 seed to go 3,000 miles?

Was the geographical component less of a factor?

We know that any strict geographical guidelines were disregarded with Connecticut being placed in Louisville. That was probably a good thing. But what about with the No. 2 seeds?

If geographical priority carried the day based on position on the S-curve, the committee is telling us that West Virginia was more highly regarded than Baylor. The two tied for the Big 12 regular-season championship; the Lady Bears beat the Mountaineers for the tournament title. Baylor went 5-0 against the two next-best teams in the Big 12 (Oklahoma State and Texas), whereas West Virginia went 4-1. The Lady Bears went 2-1 against WVU, and Baylor played a tougher schedule.

[+] EnlargeAsia Taylor and Shoni Schimmel
AP Photo/Jessica HillAsia Taylor and Shoni Schimmel might not want to hear it, but with only two top-50 wins, a No. 3 seed might be just about right for Louisville.

Yet Baylor was sent to the South Bend Regional, its furthest possible regional destination (Stanford was already locked into its home regional). So one of two things took place: Geography was ignored to achieve a more balanced bracket, or the committee somehow valued West Virginia ahead of Baylor.

Regardless of the order of the No. 2 seeds, their placement did not make geographical sense. If proximity was the priority, the Lady Bears would have been in Lincoln. The takeaway has to be that the committee placed West Virginia higher, but also wanted to avoid having conference foes Duke and Notre Dame in the same region. Given recent history and common sense evaluation, both are curious decisions.

Regular season or conference tournament

At least in the case of two fairly high-profile decisions, the committee put more stock in the regular season than the conference tournaments or how a team was playing down the stretch. South Carolina getting a No. 1 seed falls into that category. The decision to have Penn State a No. 3 seed and Big Ten rival Nebraska a No. 4 seed would as well. The Lady Lions won the Big Ten regular-season title and played a better overall schedule than Nebraska. However, the Cornhuskers were the much better team down the stretch, which included a dominant run to the Big Ten tournament title and a 20-point win over Penn State in the only meeting of the conference's two best teams.

Bubble teams left out like Bowling Green and South Dakota State might disagree with the idea that regular seasons were given a higher regard, but that was the case at the top of the bracket.

Louisville a No. 3 seed?

With a number of people of the mind that the Cardinals were worthy of a No. 1 seed, this is sure to generate much debate over the next couple of days. The fact is, based on body of work and pure accomplishment, Louisville really was closer to a No. 3 seed than a No. 1. With just two top-50 wins, justifying the Cardinals as a No. 1 seed was hard regardless of the extremely subjective eye test. Making Louisville a No. 3 seed rather than a No. 2 makes more sense and seems closer to correct than if they were a No. 1.

Better beat a good team on the bubble

The fact Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech were awarded at-large berths, and teams such as Bowling Green, South Dakota State, Minnesota, Southern Mississippi and South Florida were excluded, tells us this: Beating other tournament-level competition is tantamount to being an at-large. The committee declared that last year in its selection of Kansas and remained consistent with that refrain on Monday. Schedules are important. Winning against that schedule is more important. It was not a good day for non-BCS conference schools, but the better teams made the field.

Charlie Creme | email

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

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