Like many of you, I spent all day Sunday anxiously awaiting the reveal of this year’s NCAA Tournament bracket. Like many of you, it is one of my favorite moments of the year, a time where a season’s worth of work comes together for a group of young men. It really is one of the most enjoyable nights on the entire sports calendar.
Therefore, you can imagine just how disappointed I was when the bracket hit my TV on Sunday night. Outside of the technical elements of the TV show itself (another topic for another day) my bigger issue came from the selection process itself, where – if we’re being totally honest – the committee had an awful day. Some of the bubble selections they made were absolutely blasphemous (yes, I’m talking to you, Oklahoma, Arizona State and Syracuse), while more deserving teams (USC, Middle Tennessee State) were left out. Even worse was some of the bracketing. On what planet was Arizona barely a four-seed? How about Kentucky as a five? Those might be two of the best teams in the entire NCAA Tournament. Yet somehow they’ll now play in the second round of the Big Dance.
And the more I thought about all of the committee’s awful decisions on Sunday night, the more I realized one thing: Virtually all of the issues that the committee had were all centered on one thing. Here is that one thing:
Why does the committee so heavily favor teams that play well in November and December (like Oklahoma or Arizona State), but never give consideration to those who are peaking in March (USC, Arizona, Kentucky)? Isn’t the whole point the whole point of the season to be playing your best basketball in March? And isn’t that the sign of a good team? So why do we continue to give the benefit of the doubt to teams that peaked early? Shouldn’t the goal be to get the 68 best teams (or at least 36 best at-large teams) into the field?
To fully explain, let me start with some of the bubble teams, and let’s start with Oklahoma. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that the Sooners have been bad for the past few months. Really bad. Oklahoma finished 18-13 this season and just 8-10 in the Big 12, 8-11 if you include a first round Big 12 Tournament loss. Yet as bad as that sounds, I’ve got an even crazier stat for you: Oklahoma hasn’t won a game away from home since December. Yes, you read that correctly. The Sooners didn’t win a single game away from Norman, Oklahoma in the CALENDAR YEAR OF 2018!!! How can the committee possibly justify them as an NCAA Tournament team? It’s the same with Arizona State. As great as their out of conference resume was (they won vs. Xavier on a neutral and at Kansas) they finished ninth in the Pac-12 standings. They went just 8-10 in league play.
My opinion: We NEVER give credit to teams that start slow, but get better (like Arizona, Kentucky, USC etc.) but ALWAYS give credit to teams that start fast but finish slow (Oklahoma, Arizona State). There HAS to be better balance https://t.co/IyAPXXrD6e
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) March 11, 2018
Now let’s flip that with say, USC. Yes, USC started slow, losing four games in the out of conference portion of the schedule. What no one will tell you however is that the Trojans were missing at least one key player in every one of those games, and three of their top six players in their worst loss of the season to Princeton. And do you know what USC did once they got healthy? They won a LOT of games. They finished second in the Pac-12 regular season and second in the Pac-12 conference tournament. That included five true road wins in conference play and two more on a neutral court at the Pac-12 Tourney. Can anyone argue that this USC team over the last few months is fundamentally different than the one which struggled in the out of conference? Also, even though Oklahoma and Arizona State’s play in the non-conference should be considered, would anyone argue that both of those teams aren’t the same ones who were really good in December? The Oklahoma team which will open NCAA Tournament play against Rhode Island is NOT the one that won all those games early on.
Now let’s talk about seeding, and, umm, I’ve got to ask: What was the committee thinking on some of this? Arizona as the lowest-ranked No. 4 seed? Michigan State as a No. 3? Kentucky as a No. 5? The Wildcats won six of their final seven games in an eight-bid SEC and won the conference tournament title. Any you’re telling me there are 16 teams better right now?
And ultimately do you know why those teams – Arizona and Kentucky specifically – are seeded so low? It’s because they’re getting no credit for what they’ve done in recent weeks, but instead, being penalized for what they did back in November and December.
Let’s start with Arizona. That is a team that was the Pac-12 regular season and conference tourney winners. I don’t care if the Pac-12 was down, that’s an insanely impressive feat. They aren’t being rewarded for that feat however, because they have seven total losses. That doesn’t look good, until you remember that three of those losses – nearly half – came in November. NOVEMBER! I can’t even remember what happened last week, and the committee is holding a couple of losses from November against them? Did I mention by the way, that Arizona’s third-leading scorer Rawle Alkins didn’t play in any of those three games? Did I also mention that in a fourth losses, second-leading scorer Allonzo Trier didn’t play. So basically, in four of Arizona’s seven losses, one of its top three players didn’t play. In games all three played they went 23-3, with a Pac-12 regular season and conference tourney title, with wins over Texas A&M and Alabama in the out of conference as well. And you’re telling me there are 15 teams that are better than them?
Heck, you’re telling me there are 16 teams better than Kentucky right now? Especially when you factor in that several of their losses came either without Jarred Vanderbilt or Quade Green? Stop it. It makes no sense.
And because of it, I think that the committee really needs to re-evaluate how they pick and seed these teams. In terms of what needs to change, I have a few thoughts.
One, as John Calipari has recommended many times, I think it’s time to stop playing conference tournament championship games on Sunday. I know it makes for great TV, but it also has to make for huge headaches for the Selection Committee. As things stand, the conference championship games literally run right up until the bracket reveal. Doesn’t it make more sense to finish all the games by Saturday at midnight and give the committee a full 12-18 hours to think things through, look at matchups and make the most balanced bracket possible?
Two, I think it’s time we bring some actual “basketball” people onto the committee, whether it be coaches, commentators or analysts, whatever. The simple truth is that the people currently on the committee – athletic directors and conference commissioners – are inherently busy people. Do you think they were staying up until 2 a.m. to watch USC this year, the way that say Jay Bilas or Seth Greenberg were? Furthermore, don’t you think if we had basketball people – former coaches, players, whatever – they would be able to look at the bracket objectively and say “Hey, this doesn’t make sense. I just watched Arizona and there’s no way they’re a four-seed.” Or hey, “Kentucky and Arizona might be two of the 10 best teams in the country right now. Don’t you think we should set this up as a potential Elite Eight game, rather than a second rounder?”
Ultimately those are just a few suggestions, but hopefully this gets the conversation going and there are changes made going forward.
The simple truth is that Selection Sunday is one of the best days of the sports calendar, and the NCAA Tournament the single best sporting event we’ve got going.
And if we’re being totally honest, both were somewhat ruined on Sunday.
To the Selection Committee, it’s time to be better. We as fans deserve it.