Three mid-majors? Unprecedented
Green Bay's inclusion likely led to Southern California's snub
For the umpteenth year in a row, the NCAA women's tournament selection committee did a terrific job of picking, seeding and placing the teams in the bracket (heck, these people know more than any of us, so who am I to dole out compliments).
But for the umpteenth and one year in row, there are questions, concerns and complaints that can't go unmentioned.
Two immediate observations bubble right to the surface: (1) The committee was ready to reward regular-season conference champs in typically lower-regarded conferences (Fresno State, Green Bay, Arkansas-Little Rock), and (2) the committee didn't think much of the play within the Pac-10 this season.
Both observations point to the same ultimate conclusion -- USC's being left out.
The inclusion of three mid- to lower-majors as at-large teams is a huge departure and largely historic. Recently, history has told us that one or two of these bids is rare enough, but three? It's just not done. The WAC, Sun Belt and Horizon have never all gotten multiple teams in the NCAA tournament in the same year since the birth of the 64-team field. Twelve conference sent at least two teams to the Big Dance.
Here's a numerical look at the three teams that made it this year and a comparison with some others from the past few years that didn't make the at-large cut (conference record, overall record, RPI).
2010 (in NCAA tournament)
Fresno State (WAC): 16-0, 27-6, 34 (won regular season by five games)
UALR (Sun Belt):17-1, 26-6, 57 (tied MTSU for the regular-season title)
Green Bay (Horizon): 15-3, 27-4, 66 (won regular season by one game)
Not in the NCAA tournament
Boston University (America East): 16-0, 24-7, 87 (won regular season by two games)
Bowling Green (MAC):15-1, 28-4, 44 (won regular season by one game)
Illinois State (MVC): 15-3, 24-7, 52 (won regular season by one game)
Green Bay (Horizon): 17-1, 26-5, 49 (won regular season by six games)
South Dakota State (Summit): 16-2, 22-6, 72 (won regular season by four games)
Hartford (America East): 15-1, 24-8, 47 (won regular season by one game)
Montana (Big Sky): 15-1, 26-3, 53 (won regular season by four games)
Western Kentucky (Sun Belt): 12-2, 24-6, 17 (won regular season by two games)
Gonzaga (WCC): 14-0, 27-3, 48 (won the regular season by five games)
Delaware (CAA): 16-2, 25-5, 41 (won the regular season by one game)
For the sake of balance, here are regular-season conference champions that did make it into the tournament as at-large selections (not including the A-10 or MWC as falling in this mid-major or lower category).
Louisiana Tech (WAC): 14-4, 20-9, 32 (regular-season co-champ)
Louisiana-Lafayette (Sun Belt):14-4, 25-8, 60 (regular-season co-champ of the West Division; MTSU won the East with an 18-0 record)
UTEP (C-USA): 16-0, 27-3, 16 (won regular season by five games)
This list is obviously much shorter. Here's the perspective: The number of at-larges from mid- to lower-major conference regular-season champions this season is equal to those of the past five years combined (and really only in 2007 -- when James Madison and Delaware, second-place finishers in the CAA, each made it in -- have there been multiple mid-major at-large selections, period. Again, the MWC and A-10 don't count as mid-majors).
Granted, the data the committee uses is far more extensive that what's listed here and each season is different and takes on its own set of circumstances. This is just to illustrate the unique nature of Fresno State, UALR and Green Bay all getting in, and perhaps it re-emphasizes the incredible weakness of the bubble in 2010.
Some might say it's about time. But was it right?
Yes, on Fresno State. I'll give UALR a maybe, or at least I can live with it. Green Bay, though, is a dubious selection at best and a total whiff at worst.
Fresno State went unbeaten in its league and was dominant except for one game. UALR tied for its league crown with Middle Tennessee, and no one else in the Sun Belt was even close. The Trojans beat the Blue Raiders in their regular-season meeting, and the tournament championship game between the two went to overtime.
Meanwhile, Green Bay played in a lower-rated league and didn't dominate at all. In fact, the Phoenix needed a comeback to win the regular-season title, lost three games within the league in the regular season, and didn't even make the conference tournament final as Fresno State and UALR did. To further illustrate the relative weakness of the Horizon, every other league team is outside the RPI top 100. That means there isn't a good win to be had.
And based on the seeding (now, there could have been some movement of a seed line to accommodate a principle or travel), if you take the seeds at their face value, Green Bay was in the tournament before Fresno State, and that's a hard one for the committee to justify. Unless it weighed top-50 wins over tournament teams DePaul and Wisconsin much more heavily than the four bad losses (two of them outside the RPI top 200), that decision falls on the wrong side of logic. The Phoenix just didn't look like a tournament team.
The team that likely paid for the inclusion of Green Bay (or perhaps, by the seeding, Fresno State) is USC. The Trojans are easily the best RPI (38) team not in the field. They had four top-50 wins and three losses outside the top 100. Although it's hard to be overly sympathetic to Michael Cooper's club because it could have and should have done more, its exclusion is surprising.
That and a No. 8 seed for a UCLA team that was 22 in the RPI and won 24 games (losing only to Stanford since mid-January) speaks volumes to the fact that the committee did not consider the competition in the Pac-10 to be at a high level at all this season. That this was a down year in the Pac-10 is no secret, but it remains an infinitely better league than the Horizon. The Trojans were challenged much more than the Phoenix all season. Their good nonconference wins (Texas, Mississippi State) were better than Green Bay's (the committee agreed, based on seeding), and their bad losses weren't nearly as bad.
So, say this out loud: The Horizon and WAC have as many teams in the NCAA tournament as the Pac-10. Say it again. Expect it to take a few times before it sounds right.
The translation takes us right back to the beginning: Winning a regular-season conference championship carried plenty of juice.
Other quibbles and questions
Why was UConn placed in Norfolk? When Old Dominion was eliminated from the CAA tournament, it made Norfolk a free-agent subregional site. However, Pittsburgh, as a Big East city, still seemed like a more logical destination for the Huskies. It does appear, however, as if making the Huskies and their legion of fans travel just a bit more minimized some travel for additional schools.
Mis-seeds? Georgia is probably too high, and UCLA and DePaul too low, but by and large, the numbers would seem to be suitable and more than fair.
Georgetown out West? There are two things at play here that are a bit confusing. First, Michigan State and Wisconsin, two teams from the Big Ten, are placed in the same region. Although it's not technically a procedural error, the committee has in the past tried to avoid this when four or fewer teams from a league make the field. In this case, the committee could have avoided it.
As it stands, Georgetown is the No. 5 seed in Memphis but will be opening play in Berkeley. The Spartans are the No. 5 in Kansas City via Louisville. Georgetown certainly was higher on the S-curve than Michigan State, yet the Hoyas are the ones asked to travel three time zones. If the two teams were just swapped -- and this is the rare situation where no other principles or procedures would have been violated -- all the Big Ten teams would have been appropriately spread out and the better team would have the travel advantage. Georgetown to Louisville and Michigan State to Berkeley is better than the current configuration.
Is this minutiae and nitpicking? Probably. But based on the e-mail, what would Bracketology be without nitpicking?
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
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