In terms of job performance reviews, the NCAA Tournament selection committee is essentially an officiating crew: "You guys did a good job, but a couple of things..." is pretty much the best they can hope for.
If mild criticism is the goal, it seems this evening as if the selection committee deserves high marks, because the 2013 bracket has seemed to spark as little outrage as any in recent memory. Beefs with the inclusion of Middle Tennessee and the loading up of one particular region seem to be the only recurring themes at this point, which is the equivalent of shooting 14 or 15 under on the local putt-putt course...I guess...I haven't played putt-putt in a long time.
I'd direct a "good job" to the committee, but that still feels wrong. Instead, let's nitpick and talk about the things that are worthy of some dissension.
Three Biggest Storylines
1. Top Overall Seed Dealt Tough Hand
Louisville may be the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, but outside of setting them up to play in Lexington and Indianapolis, the selection committee certainly didn't do the Cardinals any favors.
The Cards are joined in the Midwest Region by Duke, a team which is still No. 1 in the RPI and which many thought would be a No. 1 seed even after their ACC Tournament loss to Maryland, and Michigan State, another one of the select few teams with legitimate top line aspirations heading into Championship Week. Potentially squaring off in the Sweet 16 against either Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament champ Saint Louis or an Oklahoma State team with one of the best backcourts in the country isn't exactly an ideal scenario either.
In all, nine of the top 24 teams in Ken Pomeroy's ratings system, including No. 2, No. 6 and No. 10 were sent to the Midwest. It's an absolutely loaded region.
2. The "First Four" Will Have Zero Star Power
Typically at least one of the final at-large teams to crash the field of 68 is a well-known name from a power conference. That won't be the case in 2013, with a "First Four" in Dayton that will feature at-large teams La Salle, Saint Mary's, Boise State and Middle Tennessee. It's a quartet that beat out a handful of major-conference teams for the final spots, including Kentucky and Tennessee from the SEC and Virginia from the ACC.
Of the group that made the field, the most suspect is the Blue Raiders (that's Middle Tennessee), which is the lowest-seeded at-large team in the field at No. 50. When asked about MTSU's inclusion during the Selection Show on CBS, NCAA selection committee chairman Mike Bobinksi credited the Blue Raiders' ability to beat quality teams on the road as the main thing that set them apart from other contenders. The only problem with that? Middle Tennessee has as many road wins over top-100 RPI teams as you, me and Gary Sinise.
If you're going to make a case for a team, at least make one that holds some (or any) water.
3. Gonzaga Gets Some Respect, and an Undeserved Break
The committee made it known this year it no longer works with an "S Curve," where the best No. 1 seed plays the worst No. 2 seed and so on and so forth. Instead, they place a much higher premium on geography and keeping the top four seeds as close to home as possible.
The whole thing isn't really a justifiable excuse for why Gonzaga, the No. 4 overall seed, gets a draw that includes Ohio State, the eighth overall seed in the field of 68, as its No. 2 seed (see the full seed list here). Not that the Buckeyes are necessarily an easier draw than Duke, Miami or Georgetown, it's just that a system which allows such anomalies is clearly flawed. It's especially absurd when geography is the excuse for a two-seed from Ohio playing its Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games in Los Angeles.
Three Under-Seeded Teams
1. Oregon (12, Midwest)
Heading into this week, no one thought Oregon was in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament. Surprisingly, the 2013 Pac-12 Tournament champions were dealt the No. 43 overall seed, which means they would have been the fourth-to-last team to get in had they received an at-large bid (assuming they would have). That seems a little harsh for a team that beat Arizona and won at UNLV and UCLA. The main reason for the Ducks' slide in early February was an injury to freshman point guard Dominic Artis, who is now back and healthy. Those are things the committee is supposed to take into account.
2. Florida Gulf Coast (15, South)
It seems a little nit-picky to be analyzing and criticizing seeds 13-16, but Florida Gulf Coast is a team that beat ACC regular season and tournament champion Miami by 12 and which owns a top-100 RPI. The Atlantic Sun isn't exactly the pride of mid-major basketball, but the Eagles have a resume that warrants being at least a line higher. The team that really gets hurt here is Georgetown, which faces a much tougher day-one opponent than it was probably expecting.
3. Mississippi (12, West)
This strikes me as a case of the committee having a mostly set bracket on Saturday night and not being able to alter it drastically after the games on Sunday afternoon. That's the only rationale for the Rebels not getting more of a boost for winning the SEC title by beating Florida on a neutral court. Although this does give the sports world the gift of watching Bo Ryan try to avoid going into convulsions while watching Marshall Henderson be Marshall Henderson directly in front of him.
Three Over-Seeded Teams
1. Villanova (9, South)
The Wildcats' quality wins were definitely enough to make them worthy of an at-large bid, but a poor non-conference performance and racking up 13 overall losses in a mildly down year for the Big East make a single-digit seed seem more than a little over-the-top.
2. Memphis (6, Midwest)
A season ago, the Tigers were widely-regarded as the most under-seeded teams in the tournament and wound up losing handily to Saint Louis in the 8/9 game. This Memphis team did next-to-nothing impressive in non-conference play and posted similar computer rankings while playing in a much worse Conference USA, and still wound up being rewarded with a six seed. It was probably a line or two too high.
3. Marquette (3, East)
The Golden Eagles won a share of the Big East regular season title, but they lost four games -- including two to co-champs Louisville and Georgetown by a combined 27 points -- in league play and were bounced in the first round of the conference tournament. They also dropped a non-conference game to a bad Green Bay team, and were beaten at fellow three-seed Florida by 33.