Committee made mistakes, but it's a tough job; region by region look
Potential Midwest upsets: Houston over Maryland, SD State over Tennessee
If I had to pay to watch one game in the first round, it would be Temple-Cornell
West Virginia's toughness and experience will carry Mountaineers past Kentucky
In America, 2010, it's not enough just to disagree. We must also be disagreeable.
This is the age of 24/7 cable sports, the Internet, the Blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook and the like, so some people apparently feel they have to shout to be heard. It is no longer enough to say -- as I did on the CBS Selection Show -- that you think some of the choices made by the 10 members of the NCAA's men's basketball selection committee were wrong. You have to assault the members' competence, impugn their integrity and question their motives.
Not every commentator has stooped to using these tactics, but far too many have. There was Bob Knight on ESPN Sunday after the brackets were revealed, saying that "the committee members are not capable of judging basketball." And there was Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star/FoxSports.com, writing that the reason the committee gave Duke a No. 1 seed and an easy draw was because it would mean better TV ratings. Another blogger at a major sports site ripped the committee for giving overly favorable treatment to the BCS teams by pairing so many non-BCS teams against each other in the first round. Dick Vitale tweeted Sunday night that Virginia Tech got "a raw deal" by being denied an at-large bid.
Look, I have pointed disagreements with some of the decisions the committee made. However, many of these charges of bias and incompetence are baseless and unfair, especially since they're often made without a real understanding of how the process works.
Let's start with my main point of contention: the decision to seed Duke ahead of both Syracuse and West Virginia on the top line. From a standpoint of the overall body of work, Duke versus Syracuse is really not a close contest. Syracuse had one less loss; won the regular season title in a better conference by two games while Duke was ACC co-champs with Maryland; had four more wins against teams ranked in the top 25 of the RPI; and owned a far superior road record (8-1 vs. 5-5). The only reasons to rank Duke ahead of Syracuse are because of the way the teams finished (the Orange lost their last two while Duke won its last four and the ACC tournament), and because of the injury to Orange center Arinze Onuaku. I did not find out until after the Selection Show that Onuaku would likely miss the first week of the tournament. Had I known that, I would still have taken issue with where Syracuse was seeded, but I might have turned down my volume a notch.
Still, both Duke and Syracuse were 1 seeds, and the impact of the decision is tempered by the fact that Syracuse is not eligible to compete in the East region because that regional is being held at the Carrier Dome. The larger point is, I believe the committee came by its decision honestly and fairly. I just think they were wrong.
I also believe that West Virginia should have been a 1 seed instead of Duke, but that argument is not quite as clear-cut. ESPN's Joe Lunardi also had Duke as a 1 seed over West Virginia, so there is at least a plausible case to be made there. You don't have to be biased or incompetent to make Duke a 1 seed. You just have to disagree with me.
Let me turn next to two of the other things that have been indignantly floated since the bracket was revealed -- namely, that Duke has the easiest road to the Final Four and Kansas the hardest, which is grossly unfair considering Kansas is the No. 1 overall seed. (Bias! TV ratings! Conspiracy alert!) First of all, the top No. 2 seed in the tournament is West Virginia, not Ohio State, so by that definition Kentucky has the hardest road to Indianapolis. Yes, Kansas' region includes Tennessee, Georgetown and Ohio State, but because those three teams are on the same half of the Midwest bracket, the Jayhawks will only have to play one of them if they reach the regional final.
I doubt Duke will feel its road to Indianapolis is so easy if it has to play a second-round game against a Louisville team that beat Syracuse twice. Duke's two most likely regional final opponents are Villanova, which beat Duke by 23 points in last year's Sweet 16, or Baylor, which would be playing a de facto home game in Houston. (Anyone want to float a pro-Baylor conspiracy theory?) That aside, I do agree that the South is the weakest region for one simple reason: Purdue is the 4 seed.
The question of where to seed Purdue had to be one of the toughest the committee has ever faced. With a healthy Robbie Hummel, the Boilermakers might warrant a 2 seed, or a 3 at worst. (Not to mention that if Hummel hadn't gotten hurt in the first place, the Boilers may have been headed for a No. 1 seed.) So how much do you drop them because of how they have played since Hummel went out? Hard to say, but the committee came down exactly where I did and gave Purdue a 4. Oh, and just because they agreed with me doesn't mean they were right, either.
Many of the Duke conspiracy theories espoused by Whitlock and others are so ludicrous they are hardly worth addressing. And of course, I went to Duke, so if you disagree with me you can just assail my integrity and charge me with bias (though you'd have to ignore my comments on the Selection Show). But Whitlock's argument is undermined by the inconvenient truth that Duke is not nearly the TV ratings juggernaut it once was. It is a small private school with a limited alumni base, it is located in a lightly populated area of the country, and it hasn't been to a Final Four in six years. In fact, if you were to put together an all-ratings Final Four, Duke would not even be in it. Schools like Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio State, North Carolina and UCLA draw more eyeballs than the Blue Devils do at this point. Besides, if the committee really wanted to help TV ratings, it would have given Illinois an at-large bid. Believe me when I tell you that not having Illinois in the field is a big loss for CBS. You think Utah State and UTEP are going to be the same kind of draw?
Why put West Virginia in the same region as Kentucky, and Purdue in the same region with Duke? The answer is geography. A lot of folks think that the committee goes for competitive balance by adhering to a strict S-curve where the first 2 seed is paired with the last 1 seed, the second 2 seed with the third 1 seed, and down the line. But that's not true. West Virginia was the top 2 seed, so the Mountaineers are playing closest to home in the East. The committee can make adjustments for competitive balance, but those tweaks are minor. They prioritize geography because the NCAA wants to reward the best teams and their fans by keeping them as close to home as possible. If people don't like the way the regions are being laid out, they should criticize the process, not the men and women who implement it. Unfortunately, that doesn't make for such a catchy headline.
I'll end on two quick points. First of all, the vast majority of the hand-wringing over the bracket involves the seeding, but nobody besides Vitale seems outraged on the issue that really matters: who is in and who is out. That should tell you the committee did a good job in this area. There is only one teamthat had a worse nonconference schedule than Virginia Tech. Leaving the Hokies out was debatable, but it was no raw deal.
Finally, regarding Knight's assertion that the committee is not "capable of judging basketball," I might ask, who is -- besides Bob Knight of course? In Knight's world, only former coaches are capable of selecting and seeding this event. But is it fair to ask whether coaches are capable of harboring biases, as well? I mean, can you imagine Knight sitting on a committee that gets to decide whether Indiana is in or out?
I have enormous respect for Knight and I think he is excellent on television. But on this one, I am going to respectfully -- and I hope, agreeably -- disagree.
And now, my thoughts on the bracket.
Part of good strategy for filling out your bracket is knowing where to take chances. If you pick a big upset in the first or second round, and the team you picked to lose goes on to the Final Four, that could hurt. So the two upsets to look for here are Houston over Maryland and San Diego State over Tennessee. I picked Maryland to win its first game, but I do like the Aztecs to pull off the upset over the Volunteers. San Diego State is good at controlling tempo and is especially strong on the glass, whereas Tennessee's guards have been a little too helter-skelter for my liking this season.
There are two very talented but inconsistent teams in this region: Michigan State and Georgetown. During a commercial break in the studio on Sunday, Greg Anthony asked me, "Who do you like, Ohio State or Georgetown?" My answer was, "You have to tell me which Georgetown will show up." The Hoyas lost a few bad games in February, but they were dealing with lots of health issues, and not just regarding Austin Freeman (who ended up being diagnosed with diabetes). I think those issues are behind them now. Michigan State is getting better production from Raymar Morgan, but between those teams I do think Georgetown is the better bet. The Hoyas at their best are better than Ohio State, but the Spartans at their best are still not better than Kansas.
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