The man in charge of the NCAA selection committee insists a win in November is worth the same as a win in March.
Don’t believe him? Check out the seeds slapped beside these conference champions:
—A 4 for Louisville of the American Athletic.
—A 4 for Michigan State of the Big Ten.
—Yet another 4 for UCLA of the Pac-12.
—A 7 for New Mexico of the Mountain West.
Oh, and don’t forget that 8 for Kentucky, which had the ball and a chance to beat Florida, the NCAA tournament’s top overall seed, in the waning seconds of the SEC title game.
Only Virginia, which wrapped up the ACC tournament Sunday to back up its regular-season title, seemed to get a significant bump from the conference tournaments that polish off resumes of teams before the start of America’s favorite office pool — March Madness.
Ron Wellman, chair of the NCAA selection committee, said the Cavaliers, considered a 2 or 3 on most mock-ups, “continued to impress us throughout the year.”
Asked to explain the mediocre seed for a team like Louisville, the defending national champion that has won 12 of 13 and rolled through the AAC tournament, Wellstone explained the committee looks at the entire resume, not just March.
“We look at the total body of work, everything they did from November to March,” he said. “Every time we scrubbed that seed, Louisville ended at the same place every time when compared to the people above them.”
The people above them in the Midwest region, which shapes up as the toughest, include top-seeded and undefeated Wichita State, No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 Duke. Yes, that’s three of last year’s Final Four teams. The national semifinals are April 5 in Arlington, Texas.
On the ‘1’ line in the West was Arizona, which stayed there despite falling in the Pac-12 title game to UCLA. The Bruins are a ‘4,’ same as Michigan State and Louisville — their fellow power-conference champions.
“They pass everyone’s ‘eye test,’” Wellman said. “They’re playing as well right now as anyone in the country. If you look at the last three or four weeks, they probably would’ve been seeded differently. When you look at the entire season, then it’s a little bit different.”
Of course, the numbers are just that — numbers. In an era of one-and-done, superstar coaches and unending parity, the real drama starts after the brackets are out. That’s why Warren Buffett had no problem paying the insurance premium against a $1 billion payoff for anyone who fills out a perfect bracket.
“There’s more good teams and less great teams,” said coach Bill Self of second-seeded Kansas. “The difference between a 2 seed and a 7 or 8 seed is as narrow as it’s ever been.”
The last four bubble teams in this year’s draw were 12th-seeded North Carolina State and Xavier, who play in the First Four on Tuesday, and 11th-seeded Iowa and Tennessee, who play Wednesday.
Left out of the tournament was SMU of the AAC — a team almost all the experts had securely in the bracket.
But not the folks in the conference room, who couldn’t overcome the Mustangs’ strength of schedule: 129.
“When I saw Louisville, I kind of figured that they didn’t have a lot of respect for our conference,” said coach Larry Brown. “But we only can blame ourselves, that’s the way I look at it.”
The committee handed out only seven at-large bids to mid-majors after they took 11 in each of the last two seasons.
The Big 12 led all conferences with seven teams, though winning the conference didn’t move Iowa State past the ‘3’ line.
Other conference titles that didn’t change much:
—St. Joe’s was the champion of the six-bid Atlantic-10 and got a 10 seed while the team the Hawks beat, VCU, was seeded fifth.
—Providence went from the bubble to Big East champion and was seeded 11th.
Meanwhile, Kansas lost in the semifinals of the Big 12 but remained a 2 seed because of its ranking in the RPI — No. 3. The Jayhawks have to get through the first weekend without center Joel Embiid, out with a back injury, but could face a third-round game against Mountain West champs New Mexico.
“Off the top of my head, I can’t remember exactly what the conversation was about New Mexico,” Wellman said. “I can tell you the conversations about New Mexico were very positive.”
In the West, Arizona’s second game could come against eighth-seeded Gonzaga, which lost its second game as a No. 1 seed last year, or No. 9 Oklahoma State, which has one of the nation’s best players in Marcus Smart. The nation’s top scorer, Doug McDermott (26.9 points per game), is on the other side of that bracket with No. 3 Creighton.
On Virginia’s side of the East bracket is one team nobody wants to play come tournament time — No. 4 Michigan State, which hadn’t won back-to-back games since late January, but strung three together to win the nation’s second-toughest conference.
“You don’t get many teams that are talented, have inside and outside, show toughness, are together, have great chemistry,” coach Tom Izzo said. “I’ve said three times in my career that I thought we were good enough to get to a Final Four. I thought this team was next in line.”