Thanks for all of the responses to last Thursday’s brain teaser. What bothers me is this – the NCAA instructs committee members to select the 34 best
at-large teams. (It says so right here!) Yet the method currently used doesn’t accomplish that. And if the tournament were invented today, I’m fairly sure we’d devise a more intelligent way to select the field.
Let’s take an example from the latest brackets posted yesterday. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with the national bracket, you should do so. It essentially neutralizes the bias or errors of any one bracketeer and gives you a consensus look at who’s in and who’s out. Currently, our country’s bracketologists view Charlotte and Utah State as essentially equivalent teams. For full disclosure, I have not seen Charlotte play this season and I love Bobby Lutz, but they better have some serious extenuating circumstances, because any objective method you use would indicate the Aggies are the better – and a significantly better – team.
I shouldn’t say any objective method, because clearly people are using an objective method to fill a bracket – some sort of bastardization of the RPI. I think everyone would agree (though I’ll hear from Charlotte fans!) that we need some sort of objective input into a process that has to sort out so many teams. And I’m not here to sell you on my system right now, although I think it’s awesome. But you should check out Kenneth Massey’s compendium of rankings for a complete list of options. As I write this, there are 36 systems listed on his page. This will grow by a few in the next day, but right now 35 of them have Utah State ranked higher than Charlotte. The one that has Charlotte higher, has them higher by a single spot.
Now sure, there may be other circumstances to consider, mainly injuries, but in the absence of that, why would you override this vast collection of data and make any case at all that the better team should be out (if they lose in their conference tourney, which is possible)? You might say “quality wins”, “good losses”, “road wins” or “strength of schedule”, but don’t all of these formulas take that into account to some extent?
Just as you wouldn’t want one person to be responsible for selecting and seeding the field, you wouldn’t want one poll, or even one method to be used by committee members. Maybe with a switch to 96 teams, we’ll have a system that can also better identify which teams are truly the best.
If you’ve read my work over the years, you’ve noticed that I rarely use the term “mid-major”. It doesn’t interest me to label subsets of the college hoops universe. I don’t begrudge those who arrive at their interest in the game from cheering on “mid-majors”. But if you do, wouldn’t you want your best and brightest represented come tourney time? Certainly, Charlotte could take down a 5-seed. A win at Louisville basically proves that. But this isn’t about which teams can win a game. (If that were so, Green Bay would be on the board by virtue of their win
over Wisconsin. Clearly, performance over the rest of the season matters.) It’s about picking the best teams. And Old Dominion or Saint Mary’s or Utah State would be more likely to pull off a tourney win (or two).
And if you don’t care about which conferences get how many bids, wouldn’t you rather have a balanced bracket? There’s no need to give one 5-seed a relative break. It’s not fair to the other 5-seeds in the tourney.
Tangentially, here’s an outstanding piece written by Bill James regarding the BCS and how the computer polls used in that system really don’t measure who the best teams are (see section 3), to which I sign off wholeheartedly with respect to current methods. If your mission is to select the best teams, let’s develop a system that identifies the best teams.
Also, I might add that the committee probably should be expanded beyond ten members. I base this on Andy Katz’s column regarding the selection process from a week ago, which had a couple of amusing items.
He interviewed two former members. First there was this…
The committee member said he would look at the bid process as a horse race, putting certain teams one length or two lengths ahead in the process. And then as the conference tournament unfolded he would move the teams up and down his racecourse.
I can only hope the committee member in question was playing a practical joke on poor Andy. I can just see this eccentric individual sitting in the corner of the room with his replica of Churchill Downs, moving little horsies around as he talks to himself during championship week.
But this quote was more relevant to the topic at hand…
“I’ve always argued that you get in if you’re deserving…If we’re just going to say who we think are the best teams, then why do we need a committee? If you’re going to say that then you’re going to gravitate toward the bigger, stronger and faster teams.”
Yeah, because there’s an exact correlation between a team’s size, strength, and speed, and how good it is. Things like game plans and shooting ability are irrelevant. And by the way, anonymous former committee member, we have a committee because different people have different opinions about the quality of teams in contention for at-large bids. And I’d want the opinion of that guy to be minimized by others who are serious about carrying out the instructions established by the NCAA and filling the bracket with the best teams in the game.