We're All Gonna Get Scurvy
What makes the tourney great is that one can say with complete confidence that the best team in the nation is somewhere on the bracket. No one who missed the tourney was going to win it. So, complaining about the last at-large bids is just picking at the technicalities on the fringe of the enterprise. Over- and under-seeding is a more serious error, but the committee's mistakes can be corrected by play. If an under-seeded team plays well, then they'll be the higher seed and move on. Still, analyzing the committee's mistakes on the edges of the bracket and in terms of seeding is part of the fun.
Let's start with the small conference over-seed. This is a recurring problem. The committee seems unsure how to sort out various small conference winners. But a 12 seed playing a five seed has a legitimate chance to move on. A 15 seed doesn't. So, sorting this out matters. This year Long Beach State got an inexplicably good 12 seed. The Big West champs managed such impressive feats as getting blitzed at Temple by 25 points, losing to Cal State Northridge and UC Irvine, and getting beaten by Hawaii by 15 at home. Does this sound like a team capable of winning an NCAA game.
Meanwhile, Oral Roberts got a virtual death sentence 14 seed. I don't think Oral Roberts is all that good, mind you. They too have six bad losses, including Utah State at home and Loyola-Marymount to open the season, but they did knock off Kansas and Seton Hall this year. Long Beach State's best win this year was at Cal Poly, and yet they get the higher seed.
Related is the BCS over-seed. This is the big conference team who should be on the bubble, but instead develops a buzz resulting not only in a ticket to the dance, but a preposterously high seed. Take Virginia, for example. The Cavaliers are a four seed. They're 2-3 in the their last five games with losses coming to Miami, Wake Forest and North Carolina State. Earlier this year they lost to Appalachian State and Utah. I'm not saying they didn't belong in the tourney, though I'm not certain they did, but a four seed?!? That's just crazy talk.
And this one can't be blamed on ACC bias. The most under-seeded major conference team is probably Georgia Tech. Tech is a 10 seed with a stronger resume than Virginia. Yes, Virginia finished ahead of Tech in the ACC. But we're told consistently that the committee ignores conferences and looks at individual team resumes in picking teams and seeding. Yes, Virginia beat Tech head-to-head . . . by six at Virginia. That doesn't tell me much about how the teams will perform on neutral courts. Tech's non-conference schedule includes wins over Purdue, Memphis, Georgia, and UConn. They also beat Carolina. Virginia's only good non-conference win was against Arizona in the season opener and they never topped the Tar Heels. Which one is a four and which one is a ten again? We're not talking about mis-seeding 7-10 here, Virginia is a FOUR seed!!!
Then there are the at-large teams that clearly don't belong. Maybe I'm not cool enough to appreciate the so-called mid-majors, but they're simply held to a different, lesser standard than big conference teams. Old Dominion has no business taking an at-large bid. ODU has losses this year to powerhouses Marist, Hofstra, James Madison, Virginia Commonwealth, and George Mason (not to be confused with last year's version, which was good), as well as a home loss to Winthrop. A big conference team would be toast with those kinds of losses on their resume. Plus, ODU has only one good win: against Georgetown.
Which brings us to Syracuse. Syracuse won six of its last eight, including wins over UConn, Providence and Georgetown. UConn and Providence may not jump of the page because they're only average by Big East standards, but they're far better than VCU, Toledo and Hofstra, who are ODU's most impressive recent opponents. And that's a serious understatement. If we made a conference with Syracuse, Georgetown, UConn, Providence, ODU, VCU, Toledo and Hofstra I know who I'd pick to finish in the top four every season (including this one). Anyway, Syracuse also has wins over Villanova, Marquette and DePaul. The DePaul win is probably Syracuse's fifth or sixth best win. It would be ODU's second biggest accomplishment (and I'd take DePaul in that game anyway). The Orange do have bad losses to Witchita State, Drexel, Oklahoma State, and St. John's. But those bad losses pale in comparison to ODU's defeats. Heck, Oklahoma State would have been ODU's fourth best opponent all year.
As I've said, this is all tinkering at the margins, but some of the errors are pretty egregious. Some of the blame can be directed at the terribly imprecise RPI. Objective statistical analysis is great, but the RPI is a blunt instrument, like using batting average, when we're capable of calculating WARP or VORP. And as a result, we're all going to get scurvy.