The NCAA tournament selection committee has spoken – for the first time, not the final time, and that’s important to remember. This will be as fluid as the in-season College Football Playoff committee rankings, which spawned this idea.
The first CFP rankings of 2016 had Texas A&M in the playoff. The Aggies wound up 8-5. So prepare for change.
Still, the sneak peek at the committee’s top 16 seeds prior to games Saturday and a month before Selection Sunday certainly garnered everyone’s attention in Hoopsworld. That was the objective, and it worked.
Here’s what we learned:
· The No. 1 seeds are head and shoulders above the rest of the nation. For now. Villanova, Kansas, Baylor and Gonzaga “are very solid as of today,” said committee chairman Mark Hollis. “The ones are clearly the ones.”
· If there is one set of rankings that aligns most closely with the committee’s thinking to this point, it’s the dowdy old RPI – a metric that has been assailed in recent years as flawed and out of date bears closer resemblance to the committee’s top 16 than does the Pomeroy Ratings or the human polls (AP and USA Today).
Eleven of the 16 teams are within three spots of their RPI ranking. The only extreme outlier from the RPI is West Virginia, which is No. 14 with the committee and No. 33 in the RPI.
· The committee isn’t buying Gonzaga the way the voters and some computers are. The Zags are No. 1 with the media (AP), the coaches (USA Today), Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin. In the committee hierarchy, Gonzaga is fourth – which is good enough to claim a No. 1 seed and stay in the West Region, but opens it up to tougher competition.
This is one sign of committee alignment with RPI, which ranks Gonzaga 10th.
· The committee, which is chaired by a Big Ten conference athletic director (Michigan State’s Mark Hollis), is mighty unimpressed by the Big Ten to date. Six leagues are represented in the top 16, and the Big Ten isn’t one of them. Everyone outside the Midwest knew this was a down year for the Big 10, and here’s the proof. That’s despite having a team that ranks in the AP and USA Today top 10 (Wisconsin) and another that is in the top 12 with Pomeroy and Sagarin (Purdue).
This also aligns with RPI, which has Wisconsin 18th and Purdue 20th.
· Villanova’s bid to become the first repeat champion in a decade and just the second in the last quarter century is very much on track with the committee. The defending national champions were the No. 1 overall seed, a development that was revealed two hours before the Wildcats took on Xavier in Cincinnati.
· It’s worth noting that Villanova was a No. 2 seed last year heading into the tournament and had to knock off No. 1 South Region seed Kansas to reach the Final Four. The last time the overall No. 1 seed won the national title was Louisville in 2013.
· The Atlantic Coast Conference has the highest number of quality teams – but may not have a No. 1 seed. The ACC has three on the second line: North Carolina (fifth overall), Florida State (sixth) and Louisville (seventh). It also has Virginia as a No. 3 seed and Duke as a No. 4. No other conference has five of the committee’s top 16.
· Like the CFP committee, the basketball group isn’t above using these pretend rankings to stir the pot. Putting death rivals Louisville (seventh overall seed) and Kentucky (12th) in New York for a potential Sweet 16 matchup in Madison Square Garden? Yes, that will get two of the most manic fan bases in the country cranked up. Probably for no good reason, when all is said and done a month from now, but it’s a conversation topic today.
· Likewise, there’s no way the committee was going to exclude Duke. The Blue Devils got the 16th and final spot.
So we’ve had our March Madness preamble. It may ultimately be meaningless, but for a Saturday in February it commanded attention. Armed with some idea where they stand, the nation’s top college basketball teams can go back to playing their way up and down the seed lines.