Bracketology FAIL: How The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee Botched The Field

I really hate the word FAIL. It epitomizes exactly the sort of annoying, self-referential snark that makes ordinary, sensible people loathe the internet.

Like, when someone doesn't like the Oscars, rather than explain why or actually craft a joke, they'll just say "EPIC Oscars FAIL." Or, "The Suns didn't trade Amare Stoudemire? That's a Trade Deadline FAIL." You see, the problem is, THOSE ARE NOT SENTENCES. And those people just sound like idiots. Sort of like using "tweeps" as a noun to describe Twitter followers, you just have to tune out when people start down that road, otherwise you might strangle someone.

All of which is to say... Don't hold it against me, but there's no other way to describe this year's NCAA Tournament Bracket. At least not without invoking profanity. I mean, seriously. You've got people that are supposedly working on this all year long, and they spend the entire weekend putting the brackets together. How could they possibly screw things up this badly? They had ONE JOB.

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It's unfortunate that it mattered in 2010, but it did. A paucity of talent in this year's tourney field meant that spreading out the talent would be more important than ever before. It meant that for the first time in a few years, the selection committee would have to do a good job to ensure that we'd get a compelling tournament across all regions. In other words, we should have known we were doomed from the start.

The East and West brackets are fine; Syracuse got screwed having to head all the way out West, and they should have been the third number one seed instead of the fourth, but that's okay. They were penalized for losing to Georgetown, and because of an injury to one of their best players (Anize Onuaku). And in any case, with upstarts like Kansas State and BYU, not to mention March mainstays like Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, and Butler, that bracket should be pretty entertaining.

In the East, Kentucky and West Virginia are on a collision course, but both could have some pretty intriguing matchups beforehand—Kentucky's high octane offense vs. Wisconsin's deliberate pace, and West Virginia vs. a plucky New Mexico team, eager to prove they deserved their 3-seed. Marquette-Washington should be a war, as well. All thing's considered, there figures to be some pretty good games coming from this region, and most everybody got a fair shake, with the possible exception of Cornell.

As for the rest of the tournament... Let's start with Duke as the third-highest number one seed. The lunacy of ranking this Duke team ahead Syracuse is truly breathtaking. Forget the tournament resumes that factored into the decision. Imagine if Syracuse and Duke played a seven game series. Would Duke win one game? 

The Blue Devils earned a number one seed by default—on paper, they look like a good team, and they won all the games they're supposed to win—but even so, LOOK AT THIS TEAM. It may not be politically correct for some of the more prominent college basketball analysts to openly guffaw at this Duke team, so I'll do it for them. Duke's most impressive win on the season came against an average Gonzaga team that had just traveled cross-country. Duke won by 30 points in Madison Square Garden.

Either that, or you point to "signature" wins over Georgia Tech and Maryland ... both coming at home. But are we really supposed to pretend that either of those wins are benchmarks for an elite team? Oh, and Duke lost to both teams when they faced 'em on the road. There's that, too.

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For the love of Corey Haim, the best player on Duke's team looks like Lucas all-grown-up. And we're supposed to take this team seriously?

Jokes aside though, this isn't just typical Duke-bashing hyperbole. The Blue Devils are a fatally flawed team, and a mortal lock to get exposed by the first athletic team they face in the Tournament. They've also got the easiest draw of any number one seed in the field. How many years does this have to happen before Duke stops getting inflated seeds?

The number two seed in Duke's region is Villanova, a team that's lost five of its final seven games, and almost certainly should have been a three seed. And then there's Purdue as the four seed a perfect foil for Duke—unathletic and reeling from the Robbie Hummel injury. On paper, the biggest challenger to the Blue Devils will likely be Baylor, but that won't happen until the Elite Eight, if at all. Giving any number one this easy a draw would be pretty shady, but giving it to Duke, the weakest number one seed in recent memory, just reeks of favoritism.

And while the committee inexplicably paved a yellow brick road to the regional finals for Duke, on the opposite side of the bracket, they went the other direction, making the Midwest regional into a minefield for Kansas, and screwing over a couple good teams in the process. But here's the thing: Duke's cupcake road to the Final Four at least follows some logic—the Blue Devils have been NCAA beneficiaries for years. The Midwest honestly leaves me speechless. It makes you wonder. Is the committee just comprised of drunk, senile old men, sidled up to a tumbler of Scotch and picking schools at random? ... Actually, don't answer that.

To understand how incomprehensibly stupid the Midwest is... You have to look at the big picture with seeding. All seeds are not created equal. In the eyes of the selection committee, Kansas is a stronger one seed than Syracuse. With each seed, there's supposed to be a pecking order, where a strong two seed (i.e., the two seed that has the best case to be a one seed) would be paired with the weakest one seed. Ideally, this is how it's supposed to work, with the committee making occasional exceptions to keep colleges close to home.

Still, the whole point of having a selection committee is to pair teams fairly and evenly, rewarding strong one seeds for their great year, and penalizing the more vulnerable seeds with difficult draws. Without explaining any further, here are my rankings for each seed:

1.* Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Syracuse

2. Ohio State, West Virginia, Kansas State, Villanova

3. Georgetown, Baylor, New Mexico, Pittsburgh

4. Maryland, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, Purdue

5. Michigan State, Butler, Texas A&M, Temple

6. Tennessee, Marquette, Xavier, Notre Dame

*The committee ranked the one seeds.

The bolded teams, as you've probably figured out, are all in the Midwest Regional. In other words, the best team on each seeding line are all in the same bracket. Not to sound like an internet hipster, but... FAIL FAIL FAIL. The best one seed has to play the best four or five, the best two plays the best three, and so on. It should make for some spectacular games early on, but again, this is one year where we couldn't afford to have all the talent in one place.

Any of the top six seeds would be threats to win Duke's bracket, and together they've got more NCAA Tournament experience than any other region in the field. By a lot. If you had to pick the handful of middle seed capable of deep tourney runs, the Midwest bracket is practically the entire list, while the the rest of the field is littered with stumbling teams like Vanderbilt, Villanova, Pittsburgh, and Purdue. It flies in the face of any and all logic.

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Kansas' reward for having the best season in college basketball? Having to face Ohio State, one of the hottest teams in the country, featuring the National Player of the Year. Georgetown's reward for nearly running the table in the Big East Tournament? Getting Villanova's two seed a nightmare matchup with Tennessee in the second round, and maybe a game with the aforementioned Buckeyes, a one-seed in two's clothing. With the exception of Kansas and maybe Maryland, every team in the region has an argument for a higher seed.

How many different ways can we call this bracket idiotic? It'll never be enough.

Again, in other years, it'd be less reprehensible to group a bunch of the best teams together, but 2010 might be the weakest field we've seen since 2006. The Florida Gators finished the regular season by losing three games in a row, and then lost on the second day of the SEC Tournament. And then... The Florida Gators made the NCAA Tournament. You can find countless other examples of teams who backed their way into this year's 65, and really, some of the only teams who didn't can all be found in the Midwest Region.

It won't ruin March Madness, because that's impossible, but the committee just did a terrible job. Just figure out the seeding and make all the regions competitive. It's not that difficult. We live in 24-hour sports cycle, where we've got smart people (like Chris Dobbertean at Blogging the Bracket) who work on this stuff all year long. You'd think that, if someone like Chris can get this down to a science in his spare time, the NCAA could take two hours to get it right on Selection Sunday. Don't give the weakest one seed a free pass to the Final Four, and don't make the strongest two seed play the strongest one. Simple concepts, like those.

It's their only job, and they failed miserably. It isn't worth complaining or rehashing it once the games begin later this week, because this is March, and no matter what, it'll be fantastic. I've already complained too much. But just for the record, they couldn't have botched this any worse. For the sake of brevity, not snark:

Bracketology FAIL.

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