• No. 2 seed Duke's placement raises the question of how much the NCAA tournament selection committee should weigh the way a team finishes the season against its season-long résumé.
By Andy Staples
March 13, 2017

The selection committee I usually cover on the college football side would have been proud of the choice the selection committee for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament made Sunday. The basketball committee placed more importance on what happened the past four months than what happened the past few days (or weeks in the case of football). This is why the football committee wound up placing Ohio State (better overall résumé) in the College Football Playoff and left out Penn State (head-to-head win and conference title). It’s also how North Carolina wound up a No. 1 seed Sunday and Duke wound up a No. 2 seed despite similar records and a 2–1 Duke advantage in the season series.

But is this what the hoops committee should do? There is an argument to be made that unlike in football, the basketball committee should give the hot team a bump. In the football playoff, teams have three weeks to prepare for a semifinal and at least a week to prepare for the final. This tends to produce more predictable results. In the basketball tournament, teams must adjust quickly to face varying styles in a single-elimination format. Shouldn’t a seeding advantage be given to a team that just proved against stiff competition that it can do exactly that?

I realize that if I make this argument, I’m asking you to feel sorry for Duke. I also realize that may be impossible. So if it helps, pretend we’re discussing Anonymous U, which has a coach that has never made an American Express commercial.

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Selection committee chair Mark Hollis told CBS that the Blue Devils began this week on the No. 4 seed line and jumped to a No. 2 by winning four games in four days. Among those four wins were three against teams in the top 25 (North Carolina, Notre Dame, Louisville). Hollis said that even though Duke had eight RPI top 25 wins and 13 RPI top 50 wins, the Blue Devils never wound up getting compared to the Tar Heels head-to-head because Duke got stopped during the “scrubbing” process the committee uses to double-check its seeding choices. On the true seed list the committee released, Duke was ranked No. 7 overall. It got stuck behind Arizona, which had four fewer losses and had just finished a run through the Pac-12 tournament in which it knocked off UCLA and Oregon, both eventual No. 3 seeds, on consecutive nights. Had the Blue Devils passed Arizona, they still would have had to win a head-to-head comparison with Kentucky—29–5 and also one of the nation’s hottest teams—to get to the cutline for the top seeds. Even then, they wouldn’t have been compared to North Carolina without first winning a head-to-head comparison with Gonzaga.

Does this really matter? No and yes. A No. 2 seed is conceivably supposed to reach the Elite Eight, where it should conceivably face the No. 1 seed. The No. 1 seed in Duke’s region is Villanova, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. Can Duke beat the Wildcats? Sure. Can Villanova beat the Blue Devils? Yep. So winding up a No. 2 instead of a No. 1 certainly doesn’t crush Duke’s chances. But remember, No. 1 seeds have won 17 of the past 25 championships. The No. 1 seed does get an easier path.

While the committee’s choice to keep Duke—and Arizona, for that matter—on the No. 2 line should comfort coaches who hope to convince their players each November that every game matters, an argument can be made for putting extra weight on a run similar to the one Duke made through the ACC tournament or the run Arizona made in the Pac-12 tournament. The Blue Devils did not benefit from any fluky upsets. To win their tournament, they had to mow down heavyweights in a single-elimination setting. They had to manage fatigue and beat highly skilled teams with little turnaround time. Guess what the team that wins the NCAA tournament has to do?

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

There are competing schools of thought about whether a great conference tournament run can launch an NCAA title run. In 2011, Connecticut won five games in five days in the Big East tournament and then blitzed through the NCAA tournament. The following year, Kentucky lost to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament final and then torched the NCAA field. Last year, Syracuse lost its first game in the ACC tournament and wound up making the Final Four. So maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the committee should put more weight on what happened throughout the season.

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Region-by-region breakdowns of the 2017 NCAA tournament

Maybe that’s why Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski didn’t seem too broken up about the No. 2 seed when he spoke to the school’s website Sunday. “There’s so much parity,” Krzyzewski said. “There are so many good teams. And if we’re fortunate enough to win our first few games, we stay in this time zone.” Maybe Coach K was happy after looking at the bracket that the committee didn’t flip-flop the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels. Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed, but the Wildcats won’t blow teams off the floor with their athleticism. Kentucky, which could be standing between North Carolina and the Final Four, can absolutely do that. Meanwhile, UCLA, which got its can’t-throw-a-ball-in-the-ocean game out of its system against Arizona on Friday, can get hot and rain misery on an opponent. The Bruins are another possible Elite Eight opponent for the Tar Heels.

The beauty of the NCAA tournament is that we spend Sunday and Monday ripping the committee’s choices, and when the First Four tips Tuesday night in Dayton, we immediately stop caring about where teams are seeded. Penn State football fans may stay mad because they’ll never know what their team might have done had it gotten a chance to play in the playoff. Duke will get its chance to prove the committee wrong beginning Friday in Greenville, S.C.

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A random ranking

Despite being a movie no one was exactly clamoring for, King Kong: Skull Island opened to solid box office numbers this past weekend. So it's as good a time as any to rank iconic movie monsters.

We'll leave out the monsters born in literature (Dracula, Frankenstein's monster) and comic books (Doomsday, Thanos) and stick to the ones who shot to fame on the silver screen. We're also not including any former humans.

We're only ranking the quality of the monster and not the quality of an individual movie. Godzilla, for example, has been in some good and some awful flicks.

In honor of the 36 at-large bids to the NCAA tournament, we’ll rank the top 36. If you’re complaining about your favorite monster not being ranked, save it. Like the teams in college basketball, there isn’t a ton of difference between No. 35 and No. 50. If your favorite is the 37th best monster, it didn’t deserve a chance at the title, anyway.

1. The Xenomorph, Alien(s)
2. Godzilla, Godzilla
3. King Kong, King Kong
4. The Predator, Predator
5. Brundlefly, The Fly
6. The Kaiju, Pacific Rim
7. The Blob, The Blob
8. Freddy Krueger, the Nightmare on Elm Street series
9. Jason Voorhees, the Friday The 13th series
10. The Thing, The Thing
11. The T-1000, Terminator 2: Judgment Day
12. Pale Man, Pan’s Labyrinth
13. Sil, Species
14. The Sarlacc, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
15. The Skeksis, The Dark Crystal
16. Stripe, Gremlins
17. The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, Ghostbusters
18. Pinhead, The Hellraiser series
19. The Gmork, The Neverending Story
20. The Graboids, Tremors
21. The Mimic, Mimic
22. The Crawlers, The Descent
23. The Dogs, Ghostbusters
24. The Monster, Cloverfield
25. The Critters, Critters
26. Bugs, Starship Troopers
27. The Rancor, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
28. Mothra, Mothra
29. Kuato, Total Recall*
30. Sully, Monsters, Inc.
31. Prawns, District 9
32. The Martians, Mars Attacks
33. Falcor, The Neverending Story
34. Ludo, Labyrinth
35. Rathtars, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
36. Toilet Ghoulie, The Ghoulies

*Kuato doesn’t appear in Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. He was created for the movie.

The Elite Eight

1. I mentioned the true seeds earlier. Here is the 1–68 ranking the committee released Sunday.

2. Since I’m a college football writer and can’t resist an inane conference superiority debate, here’s a list of how many teams made the tournament from each multi-bid league.

ACC: 9
Big East: 7
Big Ten: 7
Big 12: 6
SEC: 5
Pac-12: 4
Atlantic 10: 3
AAC: 2
West Coast Conference: 2

3. Our own Richard Deitsch breaks down the television coverage for the tourney. You’re on your own finding TruTV in your cable lineup.

4. Lindsay Schnell and I broke down the bracket on Sunday in a special Tourney Talk edition of the Campus Rush Podcast.

5. Fox and SI are partnering for a Bracket Challenge, and the winner apparently will be able to evict a member of Jimmy Kimmel’s writing staff from his home.

6. If you’d like to win that house—or the $1 million alternative prize—make sure to read all of SI’s regional breakdowns before filling out your bracket.

7. Our own Pete Thamel explains which coaches can turn a tourney win or two into a ringing cash register.

8. That feeling when your son’s basketball team (Northwestern) makes the big dance for the first time in program history.

What’s eating Andy?

If Red Panda’s inclusion on our cover this week causes some calamity to befall the halftime acrobat or her unicycle, I’m going to have to have a serious talk with our editors.

What’s Andy eating?

I’ve always hoped that the souls who get past the Pearly Gates will get a customized experience in heaven. After all, we each have a different idea of paradise. Yours might be a morning at the lake where every cast lands a lunker. It might be a quiet summer evening in a hammock staring at the stars.

I’ve always had a specific vision of paradise. It’s a cool fall Saturday morning at the beach. The temperature will hit 78 later. (Because it’s heaven, the water temperature remains fixed at 90 degrees.) College football games kick off in a few hours, and the world brims with possibility. Before me is a loaf of Merita bread*, a knife, a jar of peanut butter and a selection of jellies and jams. There’s strawberry and grape, of course. There’s apple, which was my go-to in elementary school. And we have blueberry and apricot from the preserves family. My only task on this glorious morning? Finish this loaf. That’s paradise.

*Why Merita? I lived in suburban Orlando from age 11 until I left for college. In the ’90s, Orlando had a huge Merita bakery, and the bread we got in the grocery store was gloriously soft and fresh. I can only assume that’s what the sandwich bread in heaven is like.

After a recent lunch, I may have to adjust my expectations of heaven. First, St. Peter needs to hit the pantry and grab some sourdough. Second, he needs to visit the big Wal-Mart in the sky—or Williams-Sonoma, if your heaven is an uppity heaven—and grab a sandwich press. The reason for these alterations to the celestial landscape? The Colossal PB&J at Pom Pom’s Tea House and Sandwicheria in Orlando.

Andy Staples

I never considered a pressed PB&J as an option. I’ve eaten enough Cuban sandwiches and paninis to develop a deep affection for the concept of the pressed sandwich, but the idea of what a PB&J should be was so thoroughly ingrained that my mind refused to imagine any other possibilities.

Pom Pom’s disabused me of that sandwich intolerance. Every sandwich at Pom Pom’s can come on either sourdough, pumpernickel, rye or whole wheat. I chose the sourdough because I wanted the blankest canvas for this triple-decker monster. The Colossal PB&J packs creamy peanut butter, strawberry jelly, marshmallow fluff and bananas in dual layers inside three slices of bread. It comes out of the press dripping warm peanut butter, and the first bite tastes like a hug from mom feels.

Some of you probably recoiled in horror at the thought of creamy peanut butter, but I’m not sure crunchy would work as well in this concoction. At different phases of my life, I’ve stood on each side of the eternal struggle between crunchy and creamy. I’ve been on Team Crunchy most of my adult life, but my feelings on the subject aren’t strong enough to diminish my enjoyment of a PB&J just because it’s missing a few nut pieces. I may have plenty of hot barbecue takes, but I’m basically Switzerland when it comes to peanut butter.

The sourdough is so thick that it doesn’t lose its chew to the pressing process. That was my main concern. I didn’t want a PB&J on burnt toast. I should not have worried. The cooks at Pom Pom clearly understand that the best part of eating a PB&J is chewing it—letting the sweetness of the jelly wrap around the solid backbone of the peanut butter. It really is the perfect sandwich, and yet Pom Pom found a way to improve upon perfection.

Andy Staples

How good is that Colossal PB&J? I’ve written more than 600 words without mentioning the other sandwich I tried at Pom Pom. Opposite any other sandwich, the Mama Ling Ling’s Thanksgiving would have been the star. It features turkey, stuffing, ginger cranberry chutney, mashed potatoes and cream cheese with a cup of gravy for dipping. It’s basically Thanksgiving dinner stuffed between two slices of bread and pressed. Spread the gravy as one would mustard on a pastrami sandwich and the thing might get a tad gratuitous. Instead, dab a corner into the gravy so only a few drops find their way into each bite.

Pom Pom’s is open 24 hours on Friday and Saturday. So those who enjoy a few adult beverages and then Uber over might find themselves staring at a Colossal PB&J at 2:30 a.m. That might be your idea of heaven. If it is, I won’t judge. In that moment, I might feel the same way.

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