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Why does the NCAA Tournament committee favor teams that peaked in December instead of those who peak in March?

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.

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.

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

19 responses to “Why does the NCAA Tournament committee favor teams that peaked in December instead of those who peak in March?”

  1. Smyrna_Cat

    Aaron, I think you are the best sports writer on the web, but i disagree with you on this one. It is not like OK was given SO MUCH credit – they were a 10-seed, after all. And AZ was a four seed. Should they have been higher? Not if you look at the season. Are they better than a 4-seed? Perhaps. But they didn’t earn a 3, especially playing in a very weak PAC-12. That league was terrible this year. I watched AZ play twice in person this year, and they weren’t impressive at all. And you mentioned USC … were they okay? Yes. Were they better than ASU? Debatable. I don’t think so.

    As for the CATS, we looked horrible for a while, then made a nice run. That got us a 5-seed. Could it have been a 4? Perhaps, but with all the teams in the field that are ranked 4/5, I don’t think it makes a difference.

    Lets see how your “bad teams” play, and how the “good” teams play before giving the selection too hard a time.

    1. Megan

      No, you can’t use tournament performance to justify decisions on selection and seeding. Teams that maybe shouldn’t have been selected — VCU perhaps in years past — can make a surprising run to the Final Four because it’s a single-elimination tournament and madness happens. That doesn’t mean the committee made the right decision in selecting VCU over a team that was probably more deserving of the same opportunity.

    2. BigBlueNationDude

      Smyrna cat “aka ksr writers police” strikes again. Why dont you create your own blog? Im sure it would be nice.

    3. UK Big Board Update

      Says BigBlueNationDude “aka career KSR troll”….

    4. BigBlueNationDude

      Uhh yeah your correct

    5. UK Big Board Update


      Learn the American language.

  2. jahanc2uky

    Bring back the last 10 game criteria. UK was 7-3 as an example. Why they did away with it is beyond me.

  3. Rdcombs

    The committee screws it up every year and this bunch is no different. This year in particular, they need to admit that they punished teams implicated in the FBI investigation. To leave OK State and Loserville out and drop Arizona to a 4. Our wilcats get screwed every year, unless we’re the undeniable overall 1. We might as well get used to it. Go Cats!

  4. steeleheart

    I absolutely don’t think Oklahoma deserved to be in but we’re talking about the end of the line here as far as letting another team in. No one that close to the bubble is winning the whole thing anyway.

    You can make the case that another team deserved the bid and how much a selection means and I’ll grant that.

    The seeding was horrible. No way around that. 10 loss UNCheat as a 2 seed is just bad, but they seeded us fairly. We deserved a 5 for our overall body of work.

    I do agree with the overall premise though. When the brackets came out, I said it looked like the committee stopped watching basketball at the end of the year. 2018 looks like it didn’t factor in at all.

  5. peaches76

    Get our AD on KSR to explain it all. Probably get as sane an answer as to our uniforms and logos.

  6. rlburd2

    Sir cries a lot has spoken.

  7. Rixter

    Teams that are ‘playing their best’ shouldn’t worry about the draw. Lace ’em up and play ball! Some people truly expect the committee to put the Cats path to the championship as Drexel, Appalachian State, Rider, Bellarmine, Henry Clay, and North Carolina A&T. We got the seed we deserved, now lets PROVE we’re one of the best teams in the country!

    1. CoachCat


    2. ukbradstith

      Problem is, I think (know) Arizona and U.K. Are both top 8 teams right now. One has to lose in the second round. No proving it for one of them. Arizona and Michigan St got penalized for playing in weaker conferences, because their overall records were as good as almost anyone.

    3. Aar

      Precisely! When you bring together the ~30 best teams in the country, conference champions and a mix of “bubble” teams there’s always going to be debate and there are no easy roads to the championship (except in 2010). Lace ‘em up, toss it up and let’s see how the games play out.

      From my perspective, UK has a solid record for dancing but they have work remaining to prove their worth as a Sweet 16 team or beyond. This seeding is more than appropriate for a team like that. Barring the inevitable upsets, I don’t see an easy Round of 32 game on the board.

  8. makeitstop

    Aaron you’re exactly right! Let the networks who pay billions to cover the sport and hire analysts who watch film, late games, talk to players and coaches for 6 months put they analysts to work on selections. CBS, ESPN, Fox – Seth Greenberg, Jay Bilas, even Bill Walton – let them choose and seed the teams. They’re basketball people not bureaucrats. This seeding is same as it always is, asinine, because they change the criteria annually and then haven’t a clue what they’re looking at. One reason there is “madness” is because the seeding is so poor. Do u see madness in the NFL playoffs? Seldom. Why? Bc it’s decided on the field not by bureaucrats “seeding” on arbitrary measures. Cut th ncaa out and let experts handle it.

  9. makeitstop

    And not taking injuries and incomplete rosters into account this year is a perfect example – if u knew ANYTHING about basketball that would weigh heavily but for these guys they don’t know Bonzie Colman from Bugs Bunny or Jarred Vanderbilt from Commodore Vanderbilt. Let the guys who watch the games pick the seeds.

  10. dcarlinf1

    The only “fix” needed is to seed and invite by the numbers. Take your pick, RPI, BPI, KenPom. Doesn’t matter, choose one and seed accordingly. Favor the better seeds when it comes to location. Done.

  11. dballrb

    Or some kind of metric needs to be used…Oh wait,I know why they have these worthless conference tournaments. …MONEY!!!!!Wow,what a concept…