Most of us have settled with the notion that Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina–in that order–represent the top three # 1 seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. You won’t find a tremendous number of people that will launch an argument.
But the chase for the final #1 seed and the pecking order of the #2 seeds has generated some great debate. Rightfully so. Missouri, Kansas, Michigan State and Ohio State are all vying for the these seeds. If you’re the type of person that doesn’t understand why the pecking order is important take the time to read this great explanation from SI’s Seth Davis. This will give you the perspective you need. In short geography, geography, geography.
I went to bed last night thinking about this pecking order and I woke up this morning ready to weigh in. Armed with some facts here are my opinions on who should get the 4th # 1 seed, who should get the # 2 seeds, and what regions these teams should be placed in.
It starts with Kansas. Upon further review the Jayhawks deserve the final # 1 seed. Sometimes we get caught up in shortsighted behavior and we only see Missouri cutting down the Big 12 tournament nets–and so we want to hand Missouri the keys to a top seed. However, if you break the season down into three parts–Non-conference, conference, and conference tournament–the Jayhawks win 2 of those 3 categories. That means something. Kansas won a hotly contested Big 12 conference season by two games over Missouri. Let’s not lose perspective of that. But what’s more impressive is their non-conference lineup. I counted only four games that you would consider weak opponents: Towson, FAU, Howard and North Dakota. The rest of their non-conference games were against top competition (Kentucky, Ohio State, Duke, Georgetown), current bubble teams (USF) or teams that won their conference regular season and tournament (Long Beach State, Davidson). Yes, Southern California is terrible, but the Jayhawks at least went on the road to play them. No other top team competing for the 4th #1 seed can boast a resume like Kansas. If you’re looking for that final separating factor in your mind, consider the lack of the number of cupcakes (4) that Kansas scheduled.
With my four #1 seeds determined I could go ahead and place them in their regions, following my best understanding of the NCAA guidelines, of course. The four regionals this year are in Boston (East), Atlanta (South), St. Louis (Midwest) and Phoenix (West). My #1 seed pecking order is Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina, Kansas.
East —–> Syracuse
South —–> North Carolina
Midwest —–> Kentucky
West —–> Kansas
Kentucky has flirted with either the South or the Midwest region (halfway between St Louis and Atlanta) but with UNC stepping up and securing the #3 overall seed, the Tarheels will be placed in the South to be close to home. Kentucky will naturally slide to the Midwest. If you’re the committee, you have to love this kind of flexibility. Syracuse obviously has earned the Boston regional, which leaves our lowest priority #1 seed, Kansas, with the West regional in Phoenix.
The battle for #2 seed pecking order is much more interesting. Missouri, Ohio State, Michigan State and Duke. The eye test and the paper test can give two different perspectives. Most people have conceded that Duke is the lowest rated of these four teams thanks to a couple of questionable home losses, surprisingly. An early exit in the ACC Tournament and a second place finish to UNC in conference play doesn’t help. But how do we separate Missouri, Ohio State and Michigan State from each other?
My gut feeling is that the NCAA Tournament committee isn’t going to put much depth of thought into this notion that the Big 10 is the #1 rated conference, and the Big 12 is #4 (something I heard this morning). Right or wrong, I just don’t see them holding this Missouri team back for a statistic like that. I mean, the Big 12 had three top 10 teams all year! And Missouri went 4-1 against Baylor and Kansas! Missouri had the weakest non-conference slate of these three teams, but it wasn’t chopped liver. I think Missouri will be the beneficiary of committee members that see some key facts that are hard to argue: 30-4, undefeated non-conference, and Big 12 Tournament Champions. Plus 4-1 against their top rivals Baylor and Kansas. As much as people will bark loudly today about Michigan State’s SOS and RPI they need to use those in some other argument against some other team. Not Missouri.
That leaves Ohio State and Michigan State. Who deserves a better seed? This is fairly simple to me. They both played tough non-conference teams and shared equal quality wins and quality losses–Ohio State beat Florida and Duke but lost to Kansas (without Sullinger, mind you) and Michigan State toppled Florida State and won at Gonzaga, but lost to North Carolina and Duke. A wash. They both finished 13-5 in the regular conference season to share the Big 10 crown. Each team won on each other’s court in head-to-head matchups. It’s literally as close as it could possibly be as of this morning. But guess what? They play each other a third time today on a neutral court for the Big 10 Tournament Championship. You know how basketball people love to say “let ‘em play” at the end of closely fought, tough games? Well I say “let ‘em play” today. Whoever wins today’s championship has higher pecking order for seeding. Is that so hard to grasp?
I’m going to predict–for the sake of my regional picture needing clarity to wrap up this blog post–that Ohio State wins today.
My top 2 seeds regional prediction is thus:
2. Michigan State
1. North Carolina
2. Ohio State
I’ve already explained the geographic principles for the number 1 seeds. As for the # 2′s, well I considered Missouri the strongest and so they stayed close to home in the Midwest region. Since I predict that Ohio State will win today, I gave them the closer regional in Atlanta. Michigan State’s equidistant from Atlanta and Boston, so they get shifted to Boston, naturally. And the “worst” #2 gets shipped out to Duke. Consider the South and East regionals fluid, with today’s Michigan State and Ohio State result allowing for different placements depending on who wins.
You may already be screaming bloody murder at seeing the West Region filled with the lowest rated #1 and #2 seeds. What gives??!!? Well, this unfortunately reflects how weak basketball is on the west coast of our country. Kansas and Duke fans will still have to travel a lot further than the other top seeded teams. Before you go crazy, go back and read the Seth Davis link above. If the committee placed the #1 and #2 seeds in these regions just like I have they will no doubt be aware of “competitive imbalance” in these regions building. They have this covered. Once they place their #3 and #4 seeds into regions they will add the totals of their overall seed value together to ensure competitive balance. What I’m suggesting is that they may shift a stronger three seed and a stronger 4 seed into the West bracket to make up for the imbalance. It all depends on the geographical situations of the 3 and 4 seeds too. In a perfect world for the committee the strongest 3 seed (the team ranked #9 overall on their big board) would be someone like UCLA or Arizona, so they could slide into the West region naturally and begin the process of balancing the regions at the top. But we’ve already established the PAC 10 (12, whatever) is not good and this creates difficulties. I don’t always envy the committee and I think they get more criticism than deserved during this selection process.