Setting up the brackets is like putting together a puzzle, the pieces only fit a certain way.
I knew I should have waited to write by first post about UNC’s bracket until I thought it through instead of posting something while caught up in the initial, “the Selection Committee is clueless” meme. Well I still think they are clueless but I also think I have discovered the rhyme and reason to how the top two lines were placed. And remember, I do not profess to have a great deal of inside knowledge of how the committee does it’s work. Guys like Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm do this kind of stuff for a living and I don’t. This is simply my interpretation of what I think the committee was doing when it setup the East Regional in an effort to explain why it appears to be tougher than we all think it should be for the #1 overall seed.
Since UNC is the top #1 seed that is supposed to mean they get the weakest seed of every grouping. However, with the way the brackets are setup it does not work that way. The mistake I made initially is I assumed the committee lays out the seeds and sets up the regionals based on overall seeds. Now that I think through it I am not sure they do much of that beyond the top four and even if they did they are still not permitted to simply put any particular team against another team without certain considerations. More on that in a moment but first here are how I see the top eight teams in terms of overall seeding:
1. North Carolina
*UT and Georgetown could easily be swapped and it has zero impact on what follows.
Looking at it this way you basically have eight pieces of a puzzle you have to fit together because there are certain factors in terms of locations and conference affiliations. In this case Duke is the weakest #2 seed and we know this because they were sent to DC for the sub-regional and also sent out West in general. Since Duke and UNC are in the same conference the committee will not place them as 1-2 in the same region. The same is true for Kansas and Texas which means Texas cannot go to the Midwest. If Georgetown is the #7 overall then it is possible the committee did not want UNC and Georgetown to be 1-2 in the East again this season. So Georgetown gets sent to the Midwest with Texas going to the South and that leaves the only placement for Tennessee to be #2 in the East. And if you swap UT and Georgetown, the committee simply gave UNC the next weakest #2 after Duke which would have been the Vols.
As for the rest of the top teams in the East, Louisville’s inclusion is a little odd since I think the weakest #3 is Xavier but that might also be a result of how the puzzle fits together. Wisconsin is the strongest #3 so they put them in Detroit closer to home for the Midwest Regional. In my opinion it is a toss-up between Stanford and Louisville. If Xavier went to the East then you would have to send Louisville to the West because they would be unwilling to put Stanford there since UCLA is the #1 in that region. In this regard the only way to make the puzzle work was send Xavier to the West(which somewhat confirms their weakness,) put Stanford in the South and Louisville in the East. And though the committee says they do not look at sexy matchups, UT-Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen is exactly that. And while we are there, Stanford-Texas stands to be a good game as well should it happen.[Note: One minor mistake on my part. As C.Michael points out, the #3 seed in the overall seed’s region would be the strongest since they would be the #9 seed overall. They would play the #8 overall and the winner playing the #1 overall. The same is true of all the odd number seeds down the line. In the overall seed’s bracket the even seeds should be the weakest and their opponents down the line should be the strongest. So Louisville’s inclusion in the East is not out of line.]
The issue with this shuffling to make it all work is UCLA, in my opinion, ends up with weakest #2 and #3 seeds in the West while UNC ends up with arguably the second toughest #2 and #3 seeds in their bracket. At the #4 seed, Vanderbilt is the weakest one but proximity nixed an East placement along with the fact UT is the #2 seed there. UConn is the second weakest followed by Washington State with Pitt being the toughest #4. WSU cannot go to the West since UCLA is there so they send UConn out there and because placing Pitt in the East would be unfair to the overall #1 seed UNC, WSU ends up in the East with Pitt in the South. Then again there might not be much difference between the three #4 seeds besides Pitt given the way the Panthers played over the weekend.
The only other major question I have is #8 Indiana vs #9 Arkansas in the East. Indiana I thought was underseeded here and Arkansas came in hot almost winning the SEC Tournament. This might simply be a matter of how things fell given Kent State and BYU played UNC already this season and there was probably an effort to avoid a rematch. I would have liked to have seen Mississippi State as the #8 in the East so Tyler Hansbrough would get to play against his brother Ben. In the end UNC should handle either Indiana or Arkansas but any UNC fan is kidding himself if he or she is not a little apprehensive to see Dan Dakich on the other bench even if he is not guarding Michael Jordan.
If 2005 is an indication, none of this may matter. That season UNC played a #16, #9, #5, #6 and #4 before finally getting #1 Illinois in the title game. Our issue is we look at the brackets and think it will go according to form which it almost never does. And for some reason we as fans take no confidence in the fact that this UNC has the best record in the East at 32-2(which is a unprecedented mark for UNC.) As I said earlier in the year when this blog was in a fretting mode that we all needed to step back and enjoy the show. And what an enjoyable show it has been so far with much more to come.