Just Admit It, NCAA

Just Admit It, NCAA

Just admit it, NCAA men’s basketball selection committee. Behind all the talk of Quadrants, RPI, and strength of schedule, your main goal in the NCAA Tournament is to create games that either match brand names as early as possible, or try to move the needle with angles that are as obvious as Vladimir Putin’s election machinations.

West Virginia, of course, has been on the receiving end of a number of these moves, such as the bracketing with Kentucky over many past seasons, and this year’s potential second round match-up with Marshall. Pushing both teams clear across the country, only to put them in the same pod? Blatant matchmaking. I understand that teams from the east and south had to go west in order to make up for the paucity of PAC12 (three) and Mountain West (two) schools that earned invites, but it should not be the committee’s job to be cute. It’s difficult enough for the committee to determine fair seeds (see below) and avoid rematches without jiggering the bracket just so it can sell Bob Huggins vs. John Calipari or Gregg Marshall vs. Marshall.

One has to wonder, looking at some of these matchups, whether procedural bumps were employed to make them happen. These moves, which involve moving a team up or down one seed, are usually reserved if there’s no other way to avoid early rematches of games that have already been played in the regular season. However, the committee has clearly demonstrated with its actions that it is aware of, and caters to, the buzz factor in making its bracketing decisions, so there is little doubt that it would adjust seed lines in order to do so. And since procedural bumps aren’t part of the official release, the committee doesn’t have to defend them.

I’ve long been a defender of the committee in terms of its work. It’s a difficult job to differentiate between those last few in vs. out decisions. Since that’s a universally accepted fact, why make the job tougher by moving things around to create “compelling” match-ups? All that does is provide an easy story angle, while sometimes having material effects on the bracket. In fact, it can often produce a worse bracket. It’s bad enough when Syracuse gets in this year, no doubt influenced by its omission a year ago. By allowing the selection and bracketing processes to be influenced by the hype and short attention span crowd, the NCAA and its committee is once again committing a turnover on its most important possession of the year. There’s o need to create “buzz” around the Tournament. Other than the Super Bowl, it’s the biggest even in American sports.

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To reiterate, the seeding process is difficult. But so too is justifying West Virginia as a five in this year’s bracket, especially when compared to teams seeded above it.  We could spend hours listing the missteps made by the committee in this regard, but here’s one that’s egregious, and hits WVU right in the teeth. Texas Tech got a three seed, and will play in its home state. West Virginia got the five, and will make a cross-country trek. Getting priority location is a perk for seeds 1-4, so this is important, and not just picking nits.

So, let’s compare. The committee announced earlier this year that Quadrant 1 wins (and Quadrant 3 or 4 losses) would receive increased importance in the selection and ranking process. The quadrant system was set up to more closely evaluate wins and losses relative to the RPI and where they occur. It thus gives credit for beating a high RPI team away from home or on a neutral site than at home, by way of including the location of the game and the rating of the team in combination. It breaks them down into four total quadrants, and thus also highlights bad losses.

The criteria for each win and location are as follows. The numbers indicates the RPI of the opponent.

  • Quadrant 1: Home 1-30; Neutral 1-50; Away 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home 31-75; Neutral 51-100; Away 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home 76-160; Neutral 101-200; Away 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home 161-plus; Neutral 201-plus; Away 241-plus

Texas Tech was 6-7 in Quadrant 1 games. West Virginia was 8-8.

Tech was 7-1 in Quadrant 2 games. WVU was 7-0.

Tech was 4-1 in Quadrant 3 games. WVU was 2-2.

Each teams was 7-0 in Quadrant 4 games.

So, WVU gets the edge in Quad 1 wins, which was supposed to be a big factor this year. The Mountaineers had two “bad” losses (Iowa State and Oklahoma State), but Tech had one. Also, WVU was perfect in Quad 2, where Tech had a loss. At the very worst, that’s a push.

Evaluations of teams also includes several computer models. Tech’s average of all those rankings? Fifteen.  WVU? 14.83.

Like more traditional metrics? Tech had an RPI of 23, WVU 27. That’s the narrowest of margins for Tech. However, WVU’s losses were better. The Mountaineers’ losses in RPI terms averaged 39. Tech’s was 54. Even with the Iowa State and Oklahoma State losses, WVU didn’t have enough bad hits to drop it so much.

Then there’s strength of schedule, which, according to one source we spoke with, turned out to be a much bigger factor this year. Tech’s overall SOS was 63.  West Virginia’s was 43. Out of conference only? Tech 260, WVU 261.

Then we’ll look at crowd sourcing. In a compilation of 175 independent bracket selections, West Virginia averaged a final seed of 3.91. Tech trailed at 4.26.

By just about any view, WVU edges Tech out. But it also had a couple of significant edges, and that doesn’t include the 2-1 advantage in head-to-head play.

So how did WVU end up with a five? One of two ways.

  1. A massive error in evaluation by the committee
  2. A procedural bump that lifted Tech and\or dropped WVU.  A procedural bump can occur to prevent rematches or balance bracket strength.

However, logic would also dictate that Tech, not WVU, should have been the team to suffer and be moved downward if a procedural bump was in play.

In conclusion, West Virginia was undervalued, and the committee apparently disregarded many of its own standards in putting the Mountaineers not just one, but two full seed lines below the Red Raiders.