On Sunday, we were all witness to the worst seeding decision in the history of the NCAA Tournament.
Wichita State, a 30-4 nightmare of a basketball team that’s viewed by unbiased oddsmakers as a top-10 squad in college hoops, has been mercilessly jobbed for the second year in a row. The Shockers, ranked eighth in KenPom, 11th in Sagarin are ...
... are you kidding me ...
... a 10 seed.
A top-10 team gets a double-digit seed. What world is this? A flat one, obviously.
Last season, Wichita State ranked top-20 in many accepted, empirical data models. It got an 11 and was sent to the First Four. At the time, many pointed out that the selection committee misstepped and put the Shockers too low. Then Wichita State went on to beat Vanderbilt and Arizona by double digits.
History has repeated itself, and will likely do so again in the coming week. Wichita State, to the surprise of no one, is favored by 6.5 points against Dayton, a team seeded three spots higher than the Shockers.
So let this egregious call be the decision that changes the NCAA’s seeding and selection protocol forever going forward. (Such changes, hopefully,.) Let’s not merely bitch about this for 14 hours then let it die on the vine, turning attention to the games forthcoming. We can do both: We can be eager about the tournament and bothered by its structural flaws. The bracket’s integrity has been compromised before we’ve even played a game. We know the committee cares about this. But let’s hold those 10 members accountable, let’s seek thorough answers for how it could have messed this up so badly.
If you’re looking for an explanation, I can give you one. It’s a bit frustrating, but if you want the truth, this is part of why Wichita State is on the 10 line, instead of closer to a 5 or a 6 where it belongs. The NCAA has a set of bracketing procedures. Those are set in stone. And they have not been changed in recent years. Those procedures show that the NCAA uses flawed RPI-baked team sheets (harmful to Wichita State’s profile). The committee also adheres to the “who did you play, who did you beat” model, and because of this, it keeps the selection committee exposed to heinous seed decisions like this.
A lot of really good teams don’t agree to play Wichita State. Because the Shockers are really damn good.
I did suspect something like this could happen. Last Tuesday, I asked one of the people that would be in the selection committee room if — given the NCAA’s leanings to using more modern metrics — that might be reflected in seeding. I was told that wasn’t necessarily likely. There are rules in place, and the committee would likely adhere to them. But those rules, while better than what standard operating procedure was 30 years ago, still have limitations. On Sunday night, we saw an outdated philosophy once again rear its ugly head with Wichita State and so many more. (List below.)
I feel bad for Wichita State, but also for Dayton, a team that has no business being an underdog in the first round, as a 7 seed. And then Kentucky! The second-seeded Wildcats were given no favors with a potential second-round game against an opponent that it shouldn’t be forced to face until the second weekend. If Wichita State beats Dayton, Kentucky will probably be favored by three points, max, to a 10 seed. What??
This is now a bizarro return game, too. Remember, Kentucky was given an 8 in 2014 -- when undefeated Wichita State was a 1. It was unfair to Wichita State then, and it’s unfair to Kentucky now.
Even more puzzling: Wichita State’s seed doesn’t jive with the fact that other teams, like Saint Mary’s (a 7 seed) and SMU (a 6), were given higher seeds despite not owning a bevy of top 50-type wins. Yet the Shockers get punished. SMU, really, was under-seeded as well.
Here’s the seed list. I look at this in awe and wonder what could have happened in that room to get us to this ranking.
Let’s look elsewhere. Here are teams who’ve been undeniably mis-seeded:
Minnesota (5 seed): The Golden Gophers get swept by Wisconsin, lose their second Big Ten tournament game, go 24-9 against a sub-par non-conference schedule and wind up with a better seed than the likes of Notre Dame (more top-50 wins, ACC tournament finalist, only one sub-50 loss to Minnesota’s four) and Iowa State (Big 12 tournament champ, more wins against higher seeds, equal number of top-50 wins). Yet Minnesota ranked higher than Notre Dame and Iowa State. What?
Wisconsin (8 seed): Tell me how on earth Wisconsin gets dropped this much further from Minnesota -- which it swept. I knew the Big Ten was going to be hard to parse, but this is utterly baffling.. Northwestern, rightfully an 8 seed, is on the same line as Wisconsin! It’s so wacky.
2nd in the big ten and runner up in the big ten tourney is an 8 seed??— Frank Kaminsky III (@FSKPart3) March 12, 2017
South Carolina (7 seed): Did nothing to validate getting this high. The fact that South Carolina is seeded higher than Wisconsin, and Wichita State, and is on the same line as Michigan, it’s just frustrating. The Gamecocks lost 10 times and did not have a top-50 win away from home. If you left Syracuse out for being lackluster on the road, then the same logic should’ve applied for South Carolina’s seed. Also not optimal: South Carolina gets to stay in state and play its games in Greenville.
Vanderbilt (9 seed): The Commodores set a record by becoming the first team with 15 losses to get into the field. I have zero issue with their inclusion. But a team with 15 losses should never be a single-digit seed. Cannot justify it. LOSSES HAVE TO MATTER.
Maryland (6 seed): Feels like the committee could not come to terms with how to handle the Big Ten. Maryland’s not getting a lot of attention for where it is in the bracket, but a 6 is a stretch. Not appalling, but SMU, for instance, is empirically a better team yet on the same seed line.
I don’t have a huge issue with Duke being a 2 or Michigan hitting a 7-seed ceiling or Oregon dropping due to Chris Boucher’s injury. And I think a lot of the back-end seeds, 14-16, are pretty good (not always the case). But it’s time to finally, formally, adopt new rules and regulations. Seeds matter. The tournament should be seeded with careful consideration to team quality with an acknowledgment of overall resume. You can split the difference. Wichita State was afforded no luxury, and because of it, the Shockers -- and Dayton, and perhaps Kentucky -- pay the price.