Major conferences reap benefits in bracket
The selection committee proved a couple of things with the 2006 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament bracket. First, this bracket illustrates that the RPI is, in fact, just a tool. If Tennessee is the lowest No. 2 seed when the Lady Vols are second in the RPI, if Cal gets into the field with an RPI in the mid-60s and if New Mexico is seeded 11th despite an RPI of 31, then the committee is not using the RPI for anything more than has been stated in the past couple of years.
The other theme that rings loud and clear: Forget the little guy. How can that not be the case with Iowa, Cal and Missouri getting selected and Western Kentucky and Indiana State getting overlooked? The committee must have put a bunch of stock in the day-to-day grind of playing in a major conference. Other than the three berths given to the Mountain West and George Washington, no at-large bids came out of the non-major conferences.
Furthermore, teams like Old Dominion, Louisiana Tech, Hartford and Bowling Green were given high seeds. This is all a very bad message. The committee is essentially telling commissioners and coaches from non-major leagues not to bother with a season. Apparently, they should just play a league tournament and the committee will take the winner only because it has to.
Other than Cal getting in and, subsequently, Western Kentucky or Indiana State not, the biggest head-scratcher is North Carolina, the unquestioned top seed, facing a potential second-round matchup with Vanderbilt on the Lady Commodores' home floor? This makes no sense. Fixing that problem would have been more involved than just switching Vandy to the Bridgeport region with Duke (other teams would have needed to move as well to avoid conference conflicts), but that's what should have happened.
There is a bracket integrity issue here, I realize. The committee does want to stay true to its S-curve. But that can still be reasonably done without putting the team that clearly had the best season on the road in its second game. If Louisville beats Vanderbilt it's moot, but that's no reward for North Carolina's season.
Fortunately, the tournament is moving in a direction where this won't happen. Next season's change will make regional sites off limits to the host school.
Ultimately I missed on three teams: Iowa, Missouri and Cal. I don't really have too much of a problem with Iowa (the No. 10 seed in San Antonio) and only have a modest problem with Missouri (a 10 in Bridgeport). Cal is where the big beef is. Yes, the Bears did win five games within the top-50 (all within the Pac-10), but that's it in terms of credentials. The Golden Bears, the 10th seed in Albuquerque, lost to both New Mexico -- which got a higher seed by the way (No. 11 in Albuquerque) -- and third-seeded Baylor, during in-season tournaments. Other than that, the Bears played no one tough during their nonconference schedule, with games against the likes of South Carolina State, San Jose State, UC Davis and Radford before the new year. With an RPI in the 60s and SOS in the 50s, Cal did not finish strong. The Bears also lost in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament by 17 and had a losing road record. Air Force getting into the men's draw makes more sense than this.
Missouri is similar to Cal, but it did have a 10-6 regular-season record in the Big 12 and went 21-9 overall. However, that is about all the Tigers have on their résumé. If the Western Kentucky Lady Toppers, whose RPI was 47 spots higher than Missouri's, didn't get in because of only one top-50 win, than Missouri's case is even weaker. The Tigers also just beat one top-50 opponent.
I also failed to predict Ohio State as a No. 1 seed, but that miss isn't one to agonize over. The decision over which team would get the final No. 1 seed was just so close and the Buckeyes are as worthy as anyone. However, Ohio State was not placed in Cleveland -- which is much like the scenario last season when Tennessee was not in Chattanooga as a top seed. Making sure teams are in their exact regional site is not as important as balancing the bracket and attempting to make it as fair as possible. That is now clear.
The bigger question concerning the lower seeds might be whether Tennessee was truly eighth on the committee's S-curve. The bracket has the Lady Vols in the same regional with overall top-seed North Carolina and also potentially playing Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va., in the second round. It is possible Tennessee was seventh and Maryland was eighth, but the committee didn't want the Lady Terps in the same region as North Carolina. Just something to ponder more than anything.
The only other aspect I question is the seeds for Utah (5), BYU (7) and New Mexico (11). That seems like a wide range for clubs that were really so close for much of the regular season.
While I disagree with much of what the committee did here, I will give it credit for consistency. Unlike the committee's counterparts on the men's side, the women's bracket did follow a certain pattern. When a debate exists, teams in the big leagues get the nod. Missouri over Western Kentucky is the perfect illustration of that. We also know for next year to keep an eye on the RPI, but make it only one eye because it carries far less weight than it used to.Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.