Bracket Banter

Joe Lunardi answers his critics each week. His first Bracketology of 2004 caused plenty of commotion.

Updated: January 9, 2004, 12:19 PM ET
By Joe Lunardi | Special to ESPN.com

Many of you write and ask: "Do we actually read every message that comes in?" The answer is "yes," although volume has become such that I can no longer respond to each e-mail individually. That's why we created "Bracket Banter!"

UConn ... You Nuts?

I'd be interested in hearing your reasons for such a low ranking on ESPN.com (for Connecticut). Have you seen this team play? Okafor, Gordon, Villanueva, D. Brown and T. Brown match up with any five in the country. Notice, I didn't even consider their bench, deeper than any other team in the country.

Respectfully,
Joe Moriarty

Thanks Joe, for the "respectful" complaint. Others (see below) have not been so restrained.

In no particular order:

  • Yes, I have seen the Huskies. Twice in person and thrice on the tube, in fact.
  • I agree that UConn's starting five is, if not the best in the country, right there with North Carolina's. And certainly their bench is a huge asset.
  • I have also seen this allegedly dominant team struggle to beat Yale at home (70-60) and lose by 16 to Georgia Tech -- in a game that was even more one-sided than the score.
  • I've also seen the Huskies struggle mightily in their only two road games to date, extending themselves considerably to defeat two teams (Rice and Rutgers) with a combined zero NCAA appearances in the last 10 years.

    Will Connecticut be there at the end? Probably. Have the Huskies proven themselves a top team yet? Not even close.

    I'd like to give you the benefit of the doubt, but what do you have against UConn? No. 8, when their only loss was to your No. 4 team? Hardly seems right. And you put them as the No. 2 seed in the same bracket as the No. 1 overall? That makes less sense.

    I understand many people feel UConn has had an easy schedule. While I won't debate that, I will ask Kansas what they thought of Nevada and what everyone (except Georgia) thought of Georgia Tech? (Connecticut) will earn their stripes the next two weeks and, if they beat Oklahoma and UNC on back-to-back weekends, and you still don't think they are No. 1, well, I will know it was personal.

    Thomas Hubbard

    If, if, if ...

    It says here that rankings (and, more importantly, seedings) should be based on performance, NOT potential. It wasn't personal when I made UConn the top overall seed in our preseason bracket, nor is it personal to make note of the following:

    Best wins among the current projected No. 1 and No. 2 seeds:

  • Duke (at Clemson, RPI No. 52)
  • Wake Forest (at North Carolina, RPI No. 7)
  • Arizona (N-Texas, RPI No. 53)
  • Georgia Tech (N-Texas Tech, RPI No. 6)
  • Stanford (N-Gonzaga, RPI No. 8)
  • Louisville (at Kentucky, RPI No. 9)
  • Kentucky (North Carolina, RPI No. 7)
  • Connecticut (at Rutgers, RPI No. 27)

    If anything, I've overrated Duke and Arizona. The Huskies are right where they should be (today).

    Please explain the differences between a No. 2 seed (UConn) and a No. 6 seed (Syracuse). They have virtually the same record, virtually the same SOS and virtually the same RPI. They have each played exactly one RPI Top 25 team (No. 19 Ga Tech for UConn; No. 22 Rhode Island for Syracuse), with UConn losing and Syracuse winning.

    These pedigrees are virtually identical; if anything, Syracuse has a slight edge because it has a quality win. Why are they so widely separated in your seedings? It makes no objective sense.

    Tim Ryan
    Los Angeles

    Good questions, all. The reason this doesn't make objective sense to Tim (and many others) is that there isn't yet enough data on which to perform objective analysis.

    For instance, and with no disrespect to my friends in Kingston, does anyone objectively think Georgia Tech is only three spots better than URI? For that matter, does anyone think UConn wouldn't be solidly (if not overwhelmingly) favored over the Orange on a neutral court?

    I like the 'Cuse to be much higher in March than they are now, but let's wait until they play more than 50 miles from the Carrier Dome before making any serious judgment.

    BCS vs. Bracketology

    If Bracketologists ran college football, non-conference games would have all the importance of preseason NFL games. Oh, wait ... that's how it is in college basketball.

    I love the NCAA Tournament as much as the next guy because of all the excitement it provides. But this argument of BCS vs. Bracketology comes down to what you think a championship means. I guess most people think that it means who would win at the end of the season.

    I tend to think a championship should demand perfection or near perfection for the whole season. It's the 2003 college football championship, not the November-December championship. There's a reason why the college basketball champion this year will be crowned the 2004 national champion. It's because all those games played in December don't mean squat. And, in my opinion, the winner of the tournament is just the February-April champion.

    That's the way it has to be in college basketball. But just because it has to be that way in basketball, don't try to pollute the only sport where every game counts: college football. I'll admit the system isn't perfect, but it picks the closest thing to a true champion.

    David Thomas Mccune

    Randomly responding:

  • When Georgia Tech goes from the ACC second-division to a high NCAA seed this year, you want to tell me that their non-conference win over No. 1 UConn was like an NFL preseason game?
  • If championships demand something close to perfection, I guess those 70-win Chicago Bulls don't qualify. I mean, they lost more than 10 games that year.
  • True champion? College football? Please. Every game counts? Yeah, that Big 12 title game this year really moved the process along.

    I love both college football and basketball, but can't stand the way college football ends its postseason with meaningless bowl games. Can the LSU Tigers, who are technically national champions, actually feel as if they are No. 1? There are several teams out there that can contest the Tigers' championship, such as USC, Kansas State or maybe even Miami in an upset. The point is, all the Tigers proved is that they can beat an overrated Georgia team and an Oklahoma team who was only No. 1 because a computer said so.

    I can honestly say I'm a bigger college basketball fan because I choose to follow a sport that decides its champion ON the court, rather than by some computer or someone's opinion. A team like Syracuse can actually claim they are national champions, because they played the best basketball.

    And one thing about your little bracket, you must be from North Carolina or some Atlantic state, putting three ACC teams as No. 1 seeds. I'm from Atlanta and I can honestly tell you Georgia Tech will not be anything higher than a three or four seed by the end. I understand it's only based on what teams have accomplished so far, but, looking ahead, I don't even think one of those seeds (will stay) at number one, because all of the ACC teams will beat each other up.

    Anyway I enjoy your column, thanks

    Chris Bidwell
    Alpharetta, Georgia

    Well, Chris, I'm glad we agree about the BCS vs. Bracketology, because that's about it. I'm not from Carolina, an ACC school, Tobacco Road or wherever. In fact, I've been crucified the past two years in this space for allegedly being anti-ACC.

    But I'll make you this bet: If at least one ACC team isn't a No. 1 seed this year, I'll come down to Atlanta and buy you lunch at The Varsity. Deal?

    C'mon, Joe ...

    Nothing is better than college football (okay, okay, until December, when nothing is worse)! But you should be forever grateful for college football. The awful postseason is why God gave us college hoops. His way of reminding us that pain can't last forever and just when it seems like winter will never end, here comes the March sun.

    Sy Nazif

    We don't usually do profound in this space, but, Sy, you're not too far off. My personal irony is that I find myself watching (and liking) college football more and more each year, only to become aggravated by the way BCS schools dominate this -- and so many other -- sports. This year, finally, they got the public embarrassment so long overdue.

    Joe,

    I wrote out a nice long rant about the college football situation, but I decided not to bother you with it. While I agree that college basketball is better than college football, it has nothing to do with any of the reasons in your smart-alecky list. I'm just a college basketball fanatic. Anyhow, here is an abridged version of my rant:

    People were going to bitch about the BCS no matter what happened. Remember when Miami played Nebraska and everyone thought that it should have been Miami vs Colorado? That is, until Colorado got beat by Oregon ... then people were saying, "Oh yeah, we meant Oregon, not Colorado." Everyone is a second-guesser.

    If LSU had played USC in the Sugar Bowl and kicked the crap out of them, plenty of people would be saying that it should have been LSU-Oklahoma. Personally, I thought the right two teams were in the "title" game and I still believe that either one of them would have beaten USC ... but, apparently, I'm the only one. And I hate both LSU and OU, so I'm definitely not biased. I just have no patience for second-guessing and hypocrisy.

    And now to my random thoughts on your latest Bracketology:

  • Your love for the 'Zags has clouded your vision once again. A No. 3 seed will be darn near impossible. Even if they run the table, they will need help. They will need Maryland to remain a Top 25 win (doubtful). They will need the Missouri win to become a good win (possible). They will need St. Joe's and Stanford to maintain their current lofty status, because it is doubtful the committee would seed Gonzaga at the same level as two teams that beat them. Barring any bad losses, I think Gonzaga probably will deserve a better seed than the No. 6 they got two years ago, but, like two years ago, your projection of a No. 3 is probably a pipe dream.

    I'll respond to each of your "thoughts" individually ...

    I'll go to my grave convinced Gonzaga got screwed two years ago. Having said that, I think the bigger concern this year is whether or not the 'Zags can get (and stay) healthy. Skinner and Fox are out now for extended periods, and Turiaf was a non-factor against Saint Joseph's. Team speed is another on-going issue, but, if this team is 28-2 on Selection Sunday, I'll stick to my guns on their projected seed.

  • I don't know how much the committee pays attention to "close calls," but Arizona has not played like a No. 1 seed this year. They've had close calls vs. Saint Louis, St. Mary's and UL-Lafayette. The RPI disregards margin of victory, so that explains the bloated RPI. How does this team deserve the No. 1 seed over Stanford, whose résumé is head-and-shoulders above Zona's?

    The committee, as best I can tell, pays more attention to "close losses" than "close call" wins. This may or may not be fair, but that's my take on the issue. And I agree about Stanford having a better résumé than Arizona, but we all know seed projections are little more than guess-work at this point. When I woke up Wednesday morning, Saint Joseph's was the No. 1 RPI team (with a No. 2 SOS), but no one is talking about the Hawks as a No. 1 seed. It's just too early.

  • Why is Missouri in the bracket? If the bracket came out today, I don't see any scenario (in which) Mizzou gets in.

    You may be right, David, but with wins over Indiana and Iowa, not to mention a one-point loss to Illinois, Missouri just might win the Big Ten championship!

    That's all. Not bad, my friend. I usually have a lot more to say.

    David Cook Ellicott City, Md

    Keep those cards and letters coming!

    Hey Joe,
    Just read your great online column about the BCS and brackets. I agree with you wholeheartedly! March Madness is by far the greatest time of the year. I schedule my vacation days around it.

    Looking forward to seeing if UK can make a run like they did last year. Did you catch the UK-UNC game? Do you think Tubby (Smith) was pleased with the play of Ravi Moss and Bernard Cote? If they can continue to perform like that, how much does that increase their bench depth?

    Thanks!
    Big Blue Barry

    I'm surprised, frankly, that Kentucky has had a near spotless non-conference slate. To me, the issue long-term is this: Can the Wildcats score enough points against the really good teams? They scored 61 and 56, respectively, against Louisville and North Carolina (at home), resulting in an unsatisfying split.

    Sin(s) of Omission

    Good to see Bracketology up and running for the 2003-04 college basketball season. As the play-by-play voice of Butler basketball, I have always enjoyed reading your work and especially enjoyed it during Butler's 2003 run to the Sweet 16. Unfortunately, tough times for the Bulldogs this year, with a young team that is struggling. So, for the first time in seven years, I may be sitting home in March not broadcasting a game in the NCAA or NIT.

    One question, and maybe I overlooked it, but I can't find a Horizon League team listed in the Jan. 5 edition of Bracketology. I thought that you would want to know and make the correction. Thanks.

    Chris Denari

    OK, I just plain screwed up. Call it a Week One rookie mistake in listing this year's automatic bids. But let's not forget 1998, when no one but yours truly said the Horizon League would get three NCAA teams, and it did (Detroit, Illinois-Chicago and Butler).

    In the meantime, I want to acknowledge some of the "official types" who pointed out my error:

  • Ray Barrington, The Green Bay News-Chronicle
  • Kevin O'Connor, Sports Information Director, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
  • Sean Palchick, UDM Sports Information

    It won't happen again!

    Joe,
    I enjoyed your first edition of Bracketology 2004. Who should you have bumped from the field to make room for the bid from the Horizon Conference. I figure they probably get a No. 14 or so?

    Is it safe to say that you would replace Texas; I noticed that they were the sixth team that you included in your "5" Big 12 schools and they were also the lowest of your at-large bids. Or perhaps you would drop Georgetown, since they get in on a "technicality."

    I'm hoping that Vandy can put on a good show this week and earn their way up to a 4-5 seed by the end of the year. I'll be looking forward to your weekly updates.

    Regards,
    Brian Gluck

    When these projections were completed (Sunday into Monday), Oregon was the last at-large team into the field. Today, I'd eliminate Georgetown. As you point out, the "technicality" which got them in (Big East first place) no longer applies.

    You do not have a MAC school in the bracket. You are talking about the BCS and forgot about the MAC.

    Toledo, Northern Illinois, Miami of Ohio, Bowling Green. All four teams would of beat half the football teams in bowl games this year. But, for God's sake, let's not forget them in basketball, too!

    Robb Williams
    St. Petersburg, Fla.

    Double-check that second game on the Bracketology page, Robb. Western Michigan is the No. 8 East seed. It doesn't say "MAC" in front of the team name because the Broncos would qualify at-large at this point.

    Bracket Bits

    Hiya Joe,
    Thanks for having an easily accessible email. I just wanted to comment on a comment you wrote about Nevada where you said, "The WAC may be worse than ever." That's twice you've dissed the WAC now, the first time being in your opening preview.

    To speak to you in a language you can understand:

  • WAC's 2003-2004 OOC RPI: .5353
  • WAC's 2002-2003 OOC RPI: .5028
  • WAC's 2001-2002 OOC RPI: .5156
  • WAC's 2000-2001 OOC RPI: .5274 (This was from Ken Pomeroy's RPI site.)

    In any case, a Top 30-type team may be missing from the conference, but as a whole, the conference is having one of its best years since the WAC-16 split. I understand that if you have your entire conference in the 60-90 RPI range, you're still not going to get a bunch of at-large bids, but I certainly don't think that the quality of our conference should be held against Nevada -- at least not this year.

    Thanks,
    WAC Fan

    I calculate my own RPI data, which will very soon be updated and posted daily at ESPN.com "Insider," but the actual four-digit numbers aren't relevant. I'd offer instead two items that really prove my point:

  • The WAC was a one-bid league last year for the first time since the split, and very likely would have been so even without Fresno State's self-imposed NCAA ban. And its automatic qualifier, Tulsa, received only a No. 13 seed.
  • The Mountain West has finished with a better non-conference RPI than the WAC in each year of the league's existence. And the gap last year was the biggest yet (No. 8 to No. 13). So far this year, the MWC is No. 7 non-conference and the WAC No. 10.

    Joe,
    Here's a question for your column that many may be asking: How do you solve a problem like the Spartans? What kind of Big 10 record must (Michigan State) compile to nab an at-large bid? Will their killer schedule be of any use to the committee despite them going 0-6 against their top opponents? And how does this situation compare to previous years? I seem to recall Georgia getting in a couple of years back with a tough schedule but a questionable record, and I think Villanova got in back in 1991 or so with an 18-14 record, or even 16-14.

    Thanks, love your stuff.

    Chris Wright
    Alexandria, Va.

    Those are several questions, Chris, but they're all good ones. My general rule of thumb for this early in our weekly updates is to say that any teams above .500 in a BCS league are going to have an excellent chance for positive at-large consideration. It's not like their pre-conference record doesn't count, but that the committee will weigh far more heavily what has happened more recently. The Spartans may really test that theory this year, not only because of the 0-6 mark you reference, but also because the Big Ten is looking pretty mediocre.

    For the record, Georgia was 16-14 in 2001 -- but was selected and seeded high enough to play in an 8/9 game. Their No. 1 SOS was the main factor, of course, but those Bulldogs also beat four RPI Top 25 teams. State (RPI No. 52, SOS No. 3) could be on a parallel course.

    The Jameer Nelson-led Saint Joseph's Hawks are arguably the best team in the country, and you have them as a No. 3 seed? Have you seen them play? And have you looked at the soft schedule coming up? At Xavier, at 'Nova, Dayton at home and at URI are challenging, but there isn't another loss on that schedule and they aren't losing more than two out of those four.

    Show the Hawks some love! They will be ranked top three come tourney time. Might as well jump on the Hawks now, baby!

    JonnyCamp

    This rant is amusing on many levels, not the least of which are that I broadcast Saint Joseph's games and am an alumnus of the school. For the record, Jonny, I saw my 600th lifetime Hawk game last month.

    Now let's be realistic. This terrific SJU team is not unlike Xavier from a year ago. Those Musketeers largely dominated the Atlantic 10, were centered around a legitimate first-team All-America (David West) and entered the postseason with only four losses.

    Xavier's NCAA seed last March was, let me guess, a No. 3. If the Hawks current RPI (No. 1) and SOS (No. 2) hold up, they are certainly going to do better than that. It's just not likely with only six RPI Top 100 teams remaining on the schedule (not that I wouldn't mind being wrong!).

    Joe,
    What is your hang-up with Virginia? Virginia should be nowhere near any mention of the tournament. We stink. It's awful. I don't appreciate another attempt at over-hyping and then dumping on this little program. Look, we are headed to a lifetime of mediocrity. It's one more power-conference school out of the way for those mid-majors you love to champion.

    After the last two years, you should stop mentioning Virginia. Ever. You called us a fraud for being ranked No. 4 (of course we didn't rank ourselves, but you blamed us anyway). You gloated for being so right when everyone else was so wrong.

    You post a rant against Virginia almost weekly. Then, last year, another cycle of questioning us and then celebrating our fall. I don't know what strange emotional hang-up you have about Virginia; whether it furthers your feelings of superiority for correctly picking against us, or whatever, but we've had enough.

    I don't care if we're ranked No. 1 in the country. I don't want to be part of your silly site. Please, show some character and quite kicking a program when it's down. Go erode another program.

    Lonnie Chafin

    I ran into a UVa fan on the beach this summer, who asked about my alleged annual picking on the Cavaliers. I promised that this year I'd let someone else do it.

    Thanks, Lonnie.

    Joe Lunardi is the resident Bracketologist for ESPN.com, ESPN Insider and ESPN Radio. He may be reached at jlunardi@comcast.net.

    Joe Lunardi | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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