- Should Duke have received a No. 1 seed over North Carolina? Why was Wisconsin seeded so low? Here’s what stood out from Sunday’s NCAA bracket reveal.
The bracket is out, which means it’s time to complain about it. The committee did a good job picking the field as a whole, agreeing with the SI.com Bracket Watch on the identity of all 68 teams. The seeding, however, was askew in a number of places, starting right at the top of the South Region. That kicks off our five bracket takeaways.
1. North Carolina gets a No. 1 seed, but what about Duke?
You tell me: Which of these résumés is better?
Team A: 8–4 vs. top 25, 13–6 vs. top 50, No. 6 RPI, No. 12 kenpom.com, 12–7 road/neutral record, one sub-100 loss, conference tournament champion, 2–1 vs. Team B
Team B: 5–4 vs. top 25, 10–5 vs. top 50, No. 5 RPI, No. 3 kenpom.com, 10–7 road/neutral record, one sub-100 loss, conference regular season champion, 1–2 vs. Team A
They’re pretty close, and both deserve No. 1 seed consideration, but Team A’s case is stronger, right? Eight wins against the top 25 are the most in the country and a wildly impressive total. Six of those wins were on the road or on neutral floors. The head-to-head record could serve as a worthy tiebreaker, but Team A doesn’t need it. Its résumé is already slightly superior.
Team A, as you probably guessed, is Duke. Team B is North Carolina. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with putting North Carolina on the top line in the South Region. The Tar Heels are an excellent team, and rightfully one of the favorites to win the national championship. Still, it’s hard to say with a straight face that they have a better body of work than the Blue Devils. If the SI.com Bracket Watch were entirely in charge of the seeding, we would have made Duke the top team in the South, moving North Carolina to the No. 2 line in the East.
2. The blue bloods of the South Region
Speaking of the South Region, there may not be a group of teams better designed for a college basketball history buff. North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA, programs that have combined for 24 championships and 54 Final Four berths, all share the region. That’s a lot of trophies in one quadrant of the bracket.
It isn’t just the high-profile programs that make this region stand out, though. Butler, the South Region’s No. 4 seed, swept Villanova, beat Arizona and won 12 games in the Big East. Cincinnati, the No. 6 seed in the South, won 29 games, is one of the best defensive teams in the country and earned a top 25 kenpom.com rating. Wichita State surprisingly drew a No. 10 seed in this region despite winning 30 games and sweeping the regular season and tournament titles in the Missouri Valley Conference. And No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee State is everyone’s favorite potential Cinderella after it ran through Conference USA all season with Jacorey Williams and Giddy Potts. Basically, the South Region is stacked, top to bottom.
Here’s one good way to think about the strength of the South. Typically, beating teams like Kentucky, UCLA and North Carolina means a squad is at least in the national championship game, if it hasn’t already won it. This year, that’d only get someone to the Final Four. And, if chalk reigns supreme, Kansas will be waiting for whoever gets there.
3. No snubs? Can you even have a tournament without snubs?
As mentioned earlier, the final Bracket Watch on SI.com correctly projected all 68 teams to make the tournament field. While we’ll definitely take the high-fives and handshakes that go along with such an accomplishment, the bubble teams did a lot of the heavy lifting for us. By the time championship week was in the final stages, it was relatively clear who would and wouldn’t go to the big dance. For the first time I can remember, there isn’t a true NCAA tournament snub.
Could Syracuse have been in the field? Sure. The Orange won three games against top 20 teams, and three more against the top 50. Could Illinois State have made it? Yeah, why not? The Redbirds were nearly as good as Wichita State in the Missouri Valley and racked up 27 wins. How about Iowa? The Hawkeyes had an argument for a bid thanks to five top 50 wins, with two of those coming at Maryland and at Wisconsin.
At the end of the season, however, those three teams have no one to blame but themselves for not being in the tournament. Syracuse lost five games to sub-100 teams, including one to a Boston College squad that was outside the top 200 in the RPI and ranked 160th on kenpom.com. Illinois State had zero wins against at-large teams and lost to Tulsa, San Francisco and Murray State. Iowa dropped three games to teams outside the top 100, including one to Nebraska-Omaha at home. Those were rightfully seen as unforgivable sins.
As long as there’s a tournament, there will be disappointed teams and a First Four Out. Ultimately, though, none was a true snub.
4. Did the selection committee watch the Big Ten this year?
This was unquestionably a down year for the Big Ten. The conference may not have a real Final Four contender, and nearly half its members were well out of the at-large discussion. We can forgive the selection committee if the Big Ten wasn’t its favorite conference to watch this season. But, after seeing the seeding for the conference’s seven tournament teams, can we be absolutely certain that the members of the committee actually tuned into any Big Ten games this year?
Let’s start with Michigan State. The Spartans are a No. 9 seed when I think there’s a better argument for them to have been one of the last four teams in the field. Michigan State did nearly all its damage at home, lost games to two sub-100 teams, including Northeastern at home, and was outside the top 40 in both kenpom.com rating and RPI. That’s not the profile of a No. 9 seed.
How about Maryland? The Terrapins won a lot of road games this season, but they had just four top 50 wins against two sub-100 wins. They ended the season as the No. 45 team on kenpom.com. Somehow, they are a No. 6 seed, sharing a line with SMU, Cincinnati and Creighton. Those teams are a cut above the Terps.
Finally, how did Wisconsin end up as a No. 8 seed, considering where the rest of the conference is seeded? The Badgers went 12–6 in conference, advanced to the Big Ten championship game, won five top 50 games and suffered no sub-100 losses. Does that really translate to a No. 8 seed? They may have a Sweet 16 ceiling, but they shouldn’t have to go through a team like Villanova to get there. Minnesota is a No. 5 seed; Wisconsin swept Minnesota, won the same number of Big Ten games and went a round further in the conference tournament.
So, again, I ask. Did the selection committee watch any Big Ten games this year?
5. Congratulations to Gonzaga and Arizona, the top teams in this year’s softest region
The West Region looks like the weakest of the four. We’ve long known that there would be a top-four ACC team would be in every region. The West drew Florida State, the weakest of the four. We also knew that Kansas, Baylor and West Virginia would be slotted in different regions. Again, the West got the weakest team in the group, with the Mountaineers the No. 4 seed in the region.
No. 5 seed Notre Dame kicks off the second quarter of the West. The Fighting Irish are one of the best mid-seeds and one of the few teams in the region that stand out as a legitimate Final Four threat. After them, however, the region falls off again. We already discussed how Maryland is overseeded as a No. 6. Saint Mary’s, the No. 7 seed in the region, won one game against an at-large team (at Dayton). No. 8 Northwestern is one of the best stories of the season but likely isn’t a threat to take down Gonzaga if it can get past Vanderbilt in the first round. Up and down the West Region, there simply aren’t many dangerous teams.
As such, the committee did a big favor for No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Arizona, teams that would be Final Four threats in any region. The Bulldogs and Wildcats will be heavy favorites to face off in San Jose with a Final Four berth on the line.