No matter who has the job, bracket building is never easy
Editor's note: Click here for Charlie Creme's Feb. 11 bracket projection.
The mock committee and the subsequent bracket that you've been reading about on ESPN.com the last few days doesn't answer all the questions, but it probably served its desired purpose: To illustrate to more people just how difficult the process of putting together a tournament field can be.
Media members (including ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel), former coaches and ESPN and NCAA officials gathered in Indianapolis last Thursday and Friday to come up with a mock bracket, based on games through Feb. 7. Click here to check it out.
Even as a committee of one every week, there are pitfalls that the real selection committee faces in putting together a fair, balanced tournament while trying to minimize travel, maximize the fan and student-athlete experience, avoid rematches both from the season and the most recent tournaments, keep conference foes away from each other until the regional finals, etc., etc. (the list can be exhausting). And all the while, they're trying to keep the integrity of the entire process.
Some of the items are procedural and create headaches, but can generally be managed. But there are decisions to be made. Not simply following rules, but more subjective decisions that can change the face of the tournament. The committee, mock committee and I all make these decisions in good faith, but that doesn't make them easy.
This week, two decisions, both dealing with geography, shaped the entire bracket. They were like the first dominoes in an intricately designed structure on the living room floor. Everything stood still and calm, then they were touched and all things domino -- or brackets in this case -- began rushing downhill.
Decision No. 1: Should Tennessee or Connecticut be the 1-seed in Greensboro?
Based on the procedures for placing teams in the bracket, the school placed higher on the S-curve gets preference on the closet site to its campus. That is why the Lady Vols ended up in Greensboro. Right now, they are slightly ahead of the Huskies as the No. 1 overall team on the board. However, it isn't that easy.
While New Orleans would be farther than Greensboro for Tennessee, the Big Easy is an SEC city in a sense, and Storrs-to-Greensboro would cut down on UConn's travel. In other words, two teams would have moderate distances to the regionals instead of one being extremely close and the other having a haul. This is something the committee must ponder, weighing one idea vs. the other. Which is better for the tournament? Which is better for the student-athletes? Which provides the fairest outcome? All of those questions have to be answered, or at least considered.
Not to mention the field seems slightly easier to balance with UConn in Greensboro.
Decision No. 2: Where should North Carolina go?
The Tar Heels are the third team on the S-curve. On the surface, that should mean sending them to the Oklahoma City Regional. It is the next-closest destination from Chapel Hill. However UNC ended up in Spokane. Why?
It was next to impossible -- in keeping with the bracketing rules and procedures and past tendencies of the committee, as well as preserving the integrity of my S-curve -- to have North Carolina in Oklahoma City and Rutgers as the top seed in Spokane.
Here's how this played out: With Rutgers as the No. 4 overall, the Scarlet Knights should be placed with No. 5 Maryland. However, Stanford, because of its place on the map, is the logical choice to be in the Spokane Regional. If Rutgers and Stanford are paired, then North Carolina and Maryland would go together. But a 1- and 2-seed from the same conference isn't going to happen. That would leave Maryland with either UConn or Tennessee, and that would leave a badly unbalanced region. The best No. 2 seed should not be placed with the No. 1 or No. 2 overall seeds. Committee members or anyone else might not agree with swapping Rutgers and North Carolina, but this weekend it was the best solution to satisfy the most matters involved.
Those were the two big calls this week, and almost every subsequent decision in the bracket was tied to that pair of moves. More games this week mean next week the choices could be completely different. Therein lies yet another wonder of bracketology.
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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