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Monday, March 27, 2017

Seeding the Field

1. 2. 3. 4. 7. 8. 11.

These are the seeds that advanced to the second weekend of the tournament. More often than not, seeds held: Three 1s, two 2s, two 3s and three 4s made it through as intended, with just enough lower seeds to keep the madness mad. And while one can't use tournament success or failure to justify or dispute seeding, it's worth asking how they all got there.

I live in ACC country, where there was a good deal of either crowing or handwringing about UNC being a 1 seed and Duke being a 2. Duke took two of three from the Heels during the season, including in the ACC Tournament semifinals en route to Duke's tournament championship. The Tar Heels, who won the regular season championship, cruised into the 1 seed many had projected them in. That wasn't the only place where Duke found themselves on the foul side of seeding and placement: They fell in the second round to a (now Final Four bound) South Carolina squad who got the luxury of playing in their home state - albeit in Clemson's upstate - thanks to HB2.

Elsewhere in the bracket, Wichita State was criminally underseeded as a 10, and while Kentucky was able to squeak by en route to the Elite Eight, it certainly did the Wildcats no favors. To that point, it's not the underseeded team, but the team that has to play them that gets hosed. Number 1 overall seed Villanova, for example, got knocked off in the second round by a Wisconsin squad that would've been a likely 5 seed via KenPom and got reseeded by ESPN as a 1.

What, then, is the purpose of seeding? Much as I've asked with college football rankings: Do you get the seed you earn, or the seed your deserve? Teams, especially high performing mid-majors, get hamstrung by their ability to schedule tough, and subsequently become someone else's problem come tournament time. If the goal of the tournament is to give everyone the path of ease fitting of their efficacy, wouldn't we minimize upsets? Is a little mis-seeding a good thing?

If they want to get seeding right - or at least a version of right - there are quite a few stats that can be your guide. I shouted out KenPom earlier, and I think most would agree his metrics are part of the equation. We've always known seeding to be just as much art as science; there's always some massaging that needs to take place based on teams getting hot at the right time, or losing key players to injury or suspension. The good news is every indication is the NCAA wants to get it right, so here's hoping they move beyond "we've always done it this way" into "this is the best way to do it."
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