Last Thursday and Friday, a handful of media members from all over gathered at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis for a mock March Madness tournament selection. We sat at tables with laptops and walls of TV screens positioned the same way the real selection committee’s setup will be in three weeks. We used the same method the real committee uses, with the same software and all the same information that they’ll have, and we did side-by-side bubble-team comparisons until our brains went numb.1 I say with complete sincerity that it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, mostly because it shed light on a process I’ve wondered about for years. Here are a few points worth sharing:
The process itself is so elaborate that it would take several thousand words to completely explain it. Here’s the short version: We had all the eligible Division I teams in front of us and checked the ones that belonged in the conversation. Those with multiple votes made it to the next step. From there, we picked a handful of the best teams in the group to move on, and then we ranked that handful and seeded them based on a collective vote. We repeated that process until all the teams were ranked 1 through 68, at which point we built the bracket.
1. Every member of the selection committee uses his or her own preferred set of criteria.
RPI is certainly the most prevalent metric used, but it’s far from the only consideration. Members of the real committee told us that they take into account RPI, Sagarin ratings, KenPom ratings, schedule strength, good wins, bad losses, injuries, suspensions, coaching leaves of absence, winning streaks, losing streaks, success at home vs. away/neutral, margin of victory/defeat, how well a team is playing heading into the tournament, the eye test, and all sorts of other factors. When I asked committee chair Scott Barnes if he considered that some home-court advantages are worth more than others, he answered, “Huh. That’s interesting.” Part of his tone said, “Thanks for a useful perspective I hadn’t thought of,” while the other part said, “I hate so much that you are giving me even more things to think about.”
2. Geography drives everything when it comes to planning the regions.
When we assigned matchups, the very first thing mentioned with literally every team was which site was closest to its campus. This surprised me. It makes sense to do this with the top few seeds since it gives them more fan support. But why do it for lower seeds? “To make travel less burdensome on the players and coaches” was the reason that kept popping up, but come on — it’s 2015. Teams aren’t riding covered wagons and fording rivers to get to their games. Is the difference between a two-hour flight and a five-hour flight — on a chartered plane, mind you — really worth losing some competitive balance in the bracket?
3. It’s impossible to build the bracket without screwing some teams.
This was the most eye-opening part of the mock selection. There are so many restrictions on where teams can play that, to quote fellow mock selection participant Stewart Mandel from Fox Sports, “Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding a combination that works and sticking with it.” For instance, there can’t be two teams from the same conference in the top four seeds of the same region (unless it’s unavoidable because five top-16 teams come from the same conference). The bracket has to be set up so that two teams that have already played each other more than once can’t potentially meet before the Sweet 16. The play-in winners have to play exactly two days after their play-in games, meaning they have to be sent to a first-round site that will play on a specific day. Oh, but that site should also be close, because geography is so important. With so many factors at play, there were a few instances when a conflict arose and we had to backtrack four or five steps to fix it. So in case you were wondering why it always feels like there’s a 1-seed that got screwed and a 1-seed that got a cakewalk to the Final Four, it’s because assembling a bracket that satisfies all the rules is like building a ship in a bottle using nothing but your thumbs.
4. The committee members insist they don’t care about story lines.
During the bracketing process, it was brought to my attention that we’d given Baylor a 4-seed and Valparaiso a 13-seed, meaning a potential brother vs. brother head-coaching matchup between Scott and Bryce Drew was possible. Mandel and I were cochairs of the mock committee and had yet to make any executive decisions, so I decided to put my foot down and make the Drew vs. Drew game happen, even though it meant sending Valpo to Jacksonville for its first game when a spot was open in Louisville. The NCAA officials laughed and said this would never happen in real life. I kept a straight face and told them that maybe it should.
They replied that the only way they’d even acknowledge a potential brother-vs.-brother game was to avoid it, since it might be a distraction for the coaches. Keep in mind that this is coming from the same people who make Louisville play Kentucky, North Carolina play Kansas, and Villanova and Iowa State play the eventual national champion every freaking year.
I’ve always believed that the selection committee needed a story line correspondent, and after experiencing the mock selection, I feel it more strongly than ever. With that, I’d like to nominate myself for the job. Here’s my campaign platform: We need more student vs. teacher coaching matchups, like last year’s first-round game between Manhattan (Steve Masiello) and Louisville (Rick Pitino). We need more in-state matchups that don’t regularly happen, like Dayton–Ohio State in the 2014 first round. We need more games involving high-profile transfers and their old schools. With the exception of Roy Williams vs. Kansas, we need more coaches facing their old schools. We need to pay more attention to styles of play, so we can set up the most entertaining games possible. Get me in the room with the selection committee and I’d see to it that Indiana, Davidson, Notre Dame, Iowa State, BYU, Northwestern State, Ole Miss, Pitt, Murray State, and every other team that scores a ton and plays no defense ends up in the same region. I don’t even care that half of those teams shouldn’t make the tournament. Excitement is all that matters, and that region would blow America’s socks off.
And for God’s sake, how about we try to avoid matchups that would further drive the stake through a particular fan base’s heart? Keep UCLA and Wichita State out of Gonzaga’s region. Keep Kentucky out of Louisville’s region. Keep Arizona out of San Diego State’s region. The last four times Utah advanced to at least the Sweet 16, it ended up losing to Kentucky, and one of those losses came in the 1998 national title game that the Utes were five minutes from winning. Utah just got good again, and it coincidentally happened the same year that Kentucky built an all-time great team. If the selection committee puts the Utes in the same region as the Cats this year, the committee members should all be charged with a hate crime. WHY THE HELL ARE WE WORRIED ABOUT MAKING TEAM FLIGHTS AS SHORT AS POSSIBLE WHEN THESE ARE THE THINGS THAT MATTER MOST?!?!
Ugh. Let’s just get to this week’s mock-selection-influenced edition of the power rankings before I get too worked up.
Oklahoma isn’t playing like the 12th-best team in America right now, but I’m including the Sooners in college basketball’s most powerful power rankings because they’re apparently much better than my eyes are telling me. Or at least that’s what the mock selection committee thought when Oklahoma ended up ninth overall on our seeding list. You read that right — ninth! It was the first 3-seed! This was decided before Saturday, when Kansas State beat Oklahoma for the second time this season, so I guess we should cut my colleagues some slack. But still — if the Sooners are having the ninth-best season in college basketball, maybe the sport really is broken.
As best as I can tell, there are two reasons the mock selection process favored Oklahoma even though the Sooners haven’t been ranked higher than 15th in the AP poll all season. The first is that Oklahoma has played a really difficult schedule, which is another way of saying the team is in the Big 12 and signed up for a competitive early-season tournament. The second reason is this:
Take it from someone who spent two days combing through dozens of NCAA tournament résumés: A 10-4 record against the RPI top 50 is no joke. But look at Oklahoma’s wins more closely and tell me how many of them leave your jaw on the floor. Where is the game that makes fans of other schools pray for Oklahoma to be left out of their team’s region? And can we talk about how Oklahoma has eight losses and four of those came against Kansas State, Washington, and Creighton? That’s what the best 3-seed in America looks like? Are we sure?
11. Notre Dame
The mock selection committee had Oklahoma ranked as the best 3-seed and had Notre Dame as the worst 4-seed. A small contingent wanted to put Oklahoma State above Notre Dame, which would’ve bumped the Irish down to a 5-seed. This is the same Notre Dame team that holds a 23-4 record. It has sole possession of second place in the toughest conference in America. It beat Duke and won at North Carolina. It has no bad losses. I wouldn’t blame you one bit if reading all of this makes you question the validity of the mock selection process. I had a similar reaction. At one point, I got so upset with Notre Dame’s ranking on our board that I turned to Mandel and asked him if everyone on the committee was shitting me. Mandel confirmed that there was no shitting going on. The committee seriously thought that Oklahoma was seven spots better than Notre Dame. YET SOMEHOW I’M THE CRAZY ONE.
What upset me most about Notre Dame being disrespected is that everyone on the committee seemed to be contradicting his or her own standards. Oklahoma was ranked so high because of quality wins? Notre Dame has two wins better than OU’s best win. Utah got a 3-seed because it has no bad losses? Neither does Notre Dame. I have my doubts about whether the Irish can reach the Final Four, but how can you look at their résumé and almost give them a 5-seed? Is it because the Irish played a weak nonconference schedule? That would be a damning detail only if they had lost some of those early games. Instead, they went 12-1, with the only loss being a one-point defeat to NCAA tournament–bound Providence, in which LaDontae Henton played the game of his life and a questionable no-call affected the outcome. You want to talk schedules? Notre Dame has played 14 games in the ACC and is ahead of Duke, Louisville, and North Carolina in the standings — and the mock selection ranked those three teams higher than the Irish!
A 23-4 ACC TEAM WAS ALMOST GIVEN A 5-SEED AND I WAS THE ONLY PERSON IN A ROOM WITH ABOUT 40 COLLEGE BASKETBALL PEOPLE WHO SEEMED TO CARE. I hope everyone on the mock committee is reading this, I hope they’re sorry, and I hope the tears they cry as they write their apology notes dry out their skin. My message to them is this:
10. Northern Iowa
First order of business: I want to take a second and welcome the University of Northern Iowa … um … [checks Wikipedia] … Panthers! Welcome, Northern Iowa Panthers, to the most powerful power rankings in college basketball! As is tradition, a school’s first inclusion in the power rankings comes with a celebratory YouTube clip. Let’s all watch Ali Farokhmanesh put his enormous stones on display, and then let’s pretend the refs didn’t make an awful charge call on Tyrel Reed in the ensuing Kansas possession.
Northern Iowa is 24-2 and recently beat the brakes off Wichita State, but the Panthers ranked just 19th in our mock selection, mostly because one of their losses came against Evansville. That’s life as a mid-major. If the Panthers had won that game, they’d probably be a 3-seed, since their only other loss came in double overtime on the road against a healthy VCU team. Instead, they’re a 5-seed with no real way to improve their standing unless they win at Wichita State by 20 and Louisville and North Carolina keep losing to opponents like NC State and Pitt.
The good news: Utah has a great record, a solid schedule, and no bad losses. Delon Wright isn’t having as great of an individual season as he had last year, but this is mostly because Utah is a better team this season and Wright doesn’t have to do as much. He’s still one of the most talented players in America, and he has the potential to dominate in March. Except for a couple of hiccups, the Utes are destroying their Pac-12 competition. They’re deep, they’re talented, KenPom loves them, and they pass the eye test. This explains why the mock committee comfortably gave the Utes a 3-seed.
The bad news: The NCAA tournament won’t be played in Salt Lake City, and Utah’s three best wins away from home are at BYU, at Arizona State, and on a neutral court against UNLV. BYU was barely on the bubble of the bubble’s bubble according to our mock selection, while Arizona State and UNLV might not even make the NIT. The Utes struggle in grind-it-out games. They have played two potential tournament teams on the road in the last two months, and lost both games by double digits. This is why the thought of Utah even knocking on the door of 2-seed consideration for our mock bracket was laughable.
John Weast/Getty Images
One of the mock selection committee’s initial tasks was for each member to vote on the top eight teams. This vote was unanimous. Every person in the room agreed that, barring a catastrophic change, the 1- and 2-seeds in this year’s NCAA tournament will be Kentucky, Virginia, Duke, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Villanova, Kansas, and Arizona, in some order. This was a surprise to the NCAA people, who told us it’s extremely rare for the real committee to reach a unanimous vote on anything. This should tell you how big the gap is between these eight teams and the rest of the field this season. I know this gets said every year, and I know a 7-seed won it all in 2014, but I’ll still be shocked if this year’s national champion isn’t a 1- or a 2-seed.
What I’m saying is this: Don’t worry about Juwan Staten’s travel game winner from Monday, Kansas fans. Don’t worry about the Jayhawks losing two of four, and don’t worry about the Kentucky and Temple blowouts. If Kansas wins the Big 12 outright and advances to at least the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament, the Jayhawks will get at least a 2-seed, especially since they have the highest-rated strength of schedule in the country. So get your Bill Self NCAA Tournament Upset Bingo cards ready, America! We might get to finally cross off the 15- or 7-seed spaces!2
In 11 years at Kansas, Self has lost in the NCAA tournament to nine different seeds, which becomes even crazier when you realize that he also won a national title in that span and therefore didn’t lose a game in that tournament. So he’s really lost to nine different seeds in 10 years. Throw in a loss to 8-seed North Carolina in 2000 when Self coached Tulsa, and a loss to 5-seed Notre Dame in 2003 when Self coached Illinois, and the only seeds Self hasn’t lost to are 6, 7, 12, 15, and 16.
Remember how I mentioned that geography plays a major role in determining where teams end up in the bracket? Arizona’s situation is why this is so important. The four regionals in this year’s tournament will be held in Los Angeles, Houston, Cleveland, and Syracuse. So let’s flesh out the process the mock committee went through. Kentucky is the obvious no. 1 overall seed, which gives the Cats first dibs on a regional. Cleveland being the closest to Lexington makes it the clear choice. From there, Virginia has a substantial lead on the rest of the field for the second 1-seed, which means the Hoos would head to Syracuse. Duke claimed our third 1-seed, which sent the Blue Devils to Houston. This meant that Gonzaga or Wisconsin would end up being the 1-seed in the Los Angeles regional. Here’s where it gets interesting.
It was a close vote, but the mock committee decided to award Wisconsin the final 1-seed. The next step was to assign 2-seeds. Gonzaga was our top 2-seed, which gave the Zags first dibs on the West regional in Los Angeles. Villanova was next and ended up in Syracuse; then Kansas, which landed in Houston. That leaves Arizona in the Cleveland regional with Kentucky.
Let’s see: Sean Miller has been to the Elite Eight three times and never made the Final Four? Arizona has been to the Elite Eight four times in the past 13 years and each trip ended with a one-possession loss in which Arizona had the final possession? And now it looks like Arizona is headed for a regional topped by a team that will enter the tournament 34-0? There might be mass suicides in Tucson if this happens. This looks like a job for the selection committee’s story line correspondent!
There are ways to avoid this, though, Arizona fans: If Gonzaga gets that last 1-seed, Wisconsin goes to Cleveland, Villanova and Kansas probably stick with their regionals, and Arizona ends up in Los Angeles with the Zags. Or if Arizona leaps Kansas in the overall rankings for seeding purposes, maybe the Cats can land in Houston while Kansas goes to Cleveland. Maybe Duke or Virginia will fall to a 2-seed and wind up in Cleveland because they can’t go to Syracuse if the other ACC team is already a 1-seed there. I don’t know. I’m just saying there are options, but only if there’s a shake-up in the top eight. If there isn’t … oof.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
It’s halftime, which can mean only one thing: It’s time for Dick’s Degrees of Separation, the most mildly amusing Internet game involving college basketball! You know the drill: I give you the endpoint of a Dick Vitale tangent and you pick the path he took to get there. Let’s get down to business.
During Saturday’s South Carolina–Kentucky game in Lexington, how did Dick Vitale end up talking about Michigan State?
A. As the camera shows John Calipari before the opening tip, Vitale mentions how Calipari was recently nominated for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Vitale then informs viewers that Bo Ryan was also nominated. After a beat, he calls it a “travesty” that Tom Izzo has yet to be nominated, considering the success Izzo has had at Michigan State.
B. Apropos of nothing, Vitale says, “How about Denzel Valentine on Valentine’s Day hitting the game winner for Michigan State?!” He then immediately returns to discussing the South Carolina–Kentucky game.
C. The camera shows South Carolina’s Frank Martin, prompting Vitale to compliment Martin’s coaching. During his spiel, Vitale mentions that “people forget” how Martin went to the Elite Eight in 2010 with Kansas State. That year, Vitale says, the Wildcats lost to Butler with a Final Four berth on the line. Butler, of course, beat Michigan State in the next game before losing a heartbreaker to Duke in the national championship game.
After the mock committee arrived at a list of teams from 1 to 68, we went back over it one last time as part of the “scrubbing” process. This is when we looked at two teams listed right next to each other, compared their résumés head-to-head, and reevaluated our ordering. We went through the first three teams without much complaint. That changed when we got to Wisconsin at 4 and Gonzaga at 5.
This was the longest and most passionate debate of the entire exercise. Even though they have been lower than the Buzzcuts for weeks on the most powerful power rankings in college basketball, I threw on my Gonzaga armor and went to battle for the Zags. ESPN’s Mike Tirico — who spent the entire two days resisting the urge to scream, “How did I go from calling top-five Big Ten games every week two years ago to watching Nebraska fart the ball toward the basket this season?!” — jumped on the opportunity to defend the one Big Ten team he doesn’t currently hate. Tensions rose, and before you know it I was in Tirico’s face telling him to back the hell off before he got jacked the hell—
Err, maybe that’s not exactly what I said. Anyway, one thing led to another, we threw down in fisticuffs, and I stuck him in the face a couple of times. Sometime later, I woke up at a bar with a groggy head, a beer in front of me, and a smile on Tirico’s face as he raised his glass and said, “‘Hard work pays off, dreams come true. Bad times don’t last, but bad guys do.’ Razor Ramon said that, you guys.” So I guess we worked everything out.
(Note: Most of that isn’t true, but it’s how I’m choosing to remember it.)
In the end, the Wisconsin group prevailed and Gonzaga was stuck with a 2-seed, which ultimately didn’t make much of a difference since the Zags got to stay in the West regional. But it’s the principle that matters: Gonzaga’s résumé, as it stands today, deserves better than a 2-seed. If Wisconsin runs the table from here, Kentucky goes undefeated, and Duke and Virginia distance themselves from the ACC pack, then I’m fine with bumping the Zags down. But not right now — when Duke has a 16-point unranked home loss on its résumé, Wisconsin lost by 10 at home, and the Buzzcuts’ lone win over a ranked opponent was at home vs. no. 25 Iowa.
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Virginia was given the second 1-seed behind Kentucky in our mock bracket, and the Hoos held that spot by a sizable margin. But there are two things about Virginia worth mentioning here:
1. Justin Anderson’s injury was a much hotter topic than I expected.
Hopefully, Anderson will be back before Selection Sunday to make all of this speculation irrelevant. But if he doesn’t return by then, things could get interesting. One mock committee member seriously compared Anderson’s injury to Cincinnati’s Kenyon Martin breaking his leg in 2000. It’s obviously not that bad, and all signs point to Anderson being good to go in March, but I’d be lying if I said his status wasn’t a factor in NCAA tournament seeding discussions.
2. The Wisconsin/Gonzaga debate could spell trouble for Virginia.
For all the talk about whether Gonzaga or Wisconsin deserves the final 1-seed, it should be noted that Virginia and Duke play in the same conference, meaning that one of them has to lose in the ACC tournament. Also, three of Virginia’s final four regular-season games are at Wake Forest (who the Hoos barely survived at home on Saturday), at Syracuse (which will be senior night for a decent team that’s ineligible for postseason play), and at Louisville (a top-15 team that gave the Hoos a good game a couple of weeks ago). Assuming Virginia has to play those games without Anderson, let’s say the Hoos lose one of them and then fall to Duke in the ACC tournament championship. If that happens, the selection committee won’t beat itself up trying to pick between Wisconsin and Gonzaga teams that have won out from this point. They’ll just pick them both, move Virginia to a 2-seed, and send the Hoos to Cleveland with Kentucky because they can’t go to Syracuse with Duke. So yeah, these last few games are enormous for Virginia.
I’ve been going to Butler basketball games for more than 15 years. I remember my dad and me paying five bucks apiece to sit wherever we wanted in Hinkle Fieldhouse to watch Butler play the Loyola-Chicagos and Valparaisos of the world. Sometimes, like in 2003, when Butler had one of my favorite college basketball teams ever, we went to games because the Bulldogs were good. Other times we went because Hinkle had the best hot dogs in the world and the concession stands gave away the cooked dogs that went unsold at the end of games. Whatever the case, I went to Butler games throughout my childhood. I sat at the end of the visiting team’s bench for a game in Hinkle when I was in college. And I’ve been to a Butler game since I graduated.
There’s a pattern, familiar to Butler fans, for what happens when great teams come to Hinkle. At first, Butler falls behind because it’s physically outmatched. But the visitors never manage to pull away. The crowd is too loud to let them. The gym is too quirky to get comfortable. Sometimes the sun peeks through the side windows and illuminates random patches of the court, which is a huge distraction if you aren’t used to it. The visiting team starts dribbling into dead spots on the floor and losing the ball. Butler hangs around with physical, packed-in defense and an offense that consists of 3s, 3s, garbage runners that hit the rim 30 times before falling, and more 3s. But the Bulldogs never get over the hump and build a lead. That’s because they save it for the end, when every factor gets turned up to 11, Hinkle magic spreads over everything, and Butler pulls out a miracle win that Butler fans act like they never saw coming, even though it happens every time.
Here’s the point: Villanova wasn’t supposed to beat Butler on Saturday. Hinkle was twice as loud as I’ve ever heard it. Butler was desperate for a win and a share of first place in the Big East. And every second of that game followed the script. When Darrun Hilliard hit his game-winning 3,3 part of me wondered if it was the right strategic move: Well, the good news is that the 3 just gave you a three-point lead with 1.2 seconds to play. The bad news is that you left Butler plenty of time to draw up a play in which the Bulldogs get fouled as they hit a 3, miss the free throw on purpose, and then tap the rebound to a shooter who hits another 3 as he gets fouled at the buzzer. He sinks the free throw and you lose by four. Thanks for visiting Hinkle Fieldhouse. Here are some free hot dogs for the ride home.
When it comes to game-winning 3s to beat Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse, nobody does it better than Tony Bennett.
And that’s almost what happened! Butler got a great look to send it to overtime (because of course), but it fell short. And yet, even if that game had gone to overtime and everything I’ve learned from years of Hinkle games told me Butler would win, I get the feeling Hilliard would never have let it happen. He was in hero mode and then some on Saturday. Butler students will probably be dressing as Hilliard next Halloween, since he’s the scariest thing to set foot on Butler’s campus since Matt Howard grew out his mustache. Every time Hilliard got an open look in the second half, there was a collective shriek of terror from the Butler crowd. After he drained his seventh 3 of the game, a Butler fan sitting behind me pleaded for mercy: “We get it — you’re a good shooter! Please stop now!”
Last week, I wrote that Villanova is a serious national title contender, even if most of the country hasn’t realized it yet. With the Wildcats’ recent wins at Butler and at Providence — two NCAA tournament locks — now seems like a good time for America to come around. Villanova is playing as well as anyone in the country right now, and even though you probably aren’t hearing them mentioned as a potential 1-seed, the Wildcats are closer to the top of the bracket than you think.
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
My biggest regret from the mock selection exercise is that I didn’t openly question whether Duke deserved a 1-seed. The ensuing discussion would’ve gone nowhere, of course, because all the participants were blown away by Duke’s wins at Virginia, at Wisconsin, and at Louisville. And when push comes to shove, even I think the Blue Devils deserve a 1-seed as of now. It’s just that, given how strongly some people felt about Wisconsin or Gonzaga, I couldn’t believe no one would consider bumping down the Blue Devils to accommodate the Buzzcuts and Zags. At its best, Duke might be better than anyone. But are we really going to ignore that 16-point home loss to Miami? Hell, Duke’s second-worst loss of the season — by 12 at NC State — is still worse than any of the other potential 1-seeds’ losses.4
Reminder: Frank Kaminsky — the most valuable player in college basketball — didn’t play when Wisconsin lost to Rutgers, and the Buzzcuts also lost Traevon Jackson with a ton of time left in that game.
It was as if the mock selection committee had been so preoccupied by this shiny toy (wins at Virginia and Wisconsin) that its members didn’t notice the kitchen was on fire. If it wasn’t already obvious from how our committee treated Oklahoma, good wins carried more weight than bad losses, which is a line of thought that some real committee members said they share. As one of the actual committee members put it: “I care more about who you can beat than who can beat you.” This bodes well for Duke, who can beat anyone.
I touched on this in the Arizona section earlier, but it’s worth revisiting for Wisconsin fans who just scrolled down to read about the Buzzcuts: Unless it gets a 1-seed, Wisconsin will almost certainly be in Kentucky’s regional. That’s just how the geography shakes out. If UK remains undefeated, the Wildcats will end up in Cleveland. And no matter where Wisconsin ends up on the 2-seed line, the Buzzcuts will be the obvious choice to put in Cleveland, too. The only conceivable ways to avoid this fate would be for Louisville and/or Notre Dame to receive a 2-seed (highly unlikely), for Wisconsin to tank and get a 3-seed (also unlikely), or for the Buzzcuts to win out and get a 1-seed.
I know — I’ve been making too much of being in Kentucky’s regional. If Wisconsin wants to win a national title, then it has to beat Kentucky at some point, right? Well, no. Someone has to beat Kentucky, but it doesn’t have to be the Buzzcuts. Let someone else do it and then beat that someone else. The longer Wisconsin (or any team, for that matter) can avoid Kentucky, the better.
But, you might be thinking, wouldn’t Wisconsin get first dibs on where it goes if it’s the top 2-seed? Wouldn’t the committee send the Buzzcuts to Houston or Syracuse to keep them away from Kentucky? Not necessarily. The committee doesn’t use the snake system, which is to say that the top 2-seed doesn’t necessarily end up in the same regional as the weakest 1-seed, because, as we know, geography is the most important thing in the world. We actually had a similar situation in the mock selection with Louisville. Geographically speaking, Cleveland was the obvious choice for the Cards, but some participants thought it would be too cruel to put Louisville in Kentucky’s region. The only alternative, though, was to send Louisville to Los Angeles. Some of us argued that the cross-country travel was still preferable to sharing a regional with Kentucky. But our NCAA overseers told us this wouldn’t happen with the real committee because “we can’t speculate on what Rick Pitino would prefer.”
And that’s where I call bullshit. It’s obvious what Pitino would prefer. Wouldn’t you rather win 2,000 miles from home than have friends and family in the crowd to watch you get your ass kicked?
The only time Kentucky was mentioned during the mock selection process was when participants asked, “Could [insert team here] beat Kentucky?” (That makes it a minor miracle that we didn’t end up giving the Philadelphia 76ers a 2-seed.) But seriously — Kentucky was never discussed. We unanimously put the Cats at no. 1 overall and immediately moved on to other teams. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was weird to be in a room full of college basketball people and not talk about the 26-0 wire-to-wire no. 1 team in the country. That’s really all you need to know about Kentucky’s NCAA tournament status right now.
Wait. I lied. Kentucky did get mentioned once. After 14 hours of deliberation, when the entire bracket was set, I said to the room: “This was a ton of work just to hand a trophy to Kentucky in a few weeks.” Some people laughed. I didn’t.
The Dancing Benchwarmer of the Week
With about four minutes left in BYU’s game against Pacific on Saturday, Skyler Halford hit a 3 to give the Cougars a 16-point lead. Jake Toolson reacted as only a college basketball benchwarmer could.
The best part about this is that Toolson started dancing as soon as Halford released the ball, leaving open the possibility that Halford would miss and Toolson would look like an idiot. The second-best part of this is that it reminds me of the legendary Ben McLemore locker room dance.
The Dick’s Degrees of Separation answer is B. See you next week.