Monday, March 19, 2007

WHAT IF THE SLIPPER DIDN'T FIT? So, what happened to all the Cinderellas in this year's NCAA Tournament? Why are there no seeds lower than #7 in the Sweet 16, why did seeds 1-5 go 20-0 in round one, and how come only two double-digit seeds even won a game? I have a theory, and I feel like having it vetted.

So, pressure from the tournament selection committee led to the major conference teams scheduling more of the mid-majors during their non-conference schedule during the past few years, knowing that they wouldn't be punished for such losses and wouldn't be rewarded for cheap wins against the St. Leos and Canisiuses of the world.

But what that means is that there's more information out there about these teams, and it's easier to evaluate their seeds properly: Butler beat Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee and Gonzaga this year; tiny Winthrop had UNC, Maryland, Texas A&M and Wisconsin on their schedule.

In previous years, Butler might have gotten a double-digit seed because there was no real metric to tell how good they were, and could've won a pair of games as a deep underdog. But now that Butler can be seeded accurately as a #5 given the teams they've faced, they can surprise no one anymore. And Winthrop lost all four of those games, but was close in a few, so, one could tell that they possibly could win one game, but not likely more.

Go back a decade to that 1996-97 Tennessee-Chattanooga team that made it to the Sweet 16 with a #13 seed -- they had faced no team with an RPI higher than 73 during the season, so no one had any way to know how good they could be. You can't say that any more about the mid-majors.

We've gained more accurate seeding and deserved respect for the mid-majors. Gone, though, is much of the element of surprise, and for a now-casual college basketball fan like me, that's a price I'm not crazy about paying. Ironically, the better a job the NCAA does in seeding the tournament, the less fun the tournament becomes.

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