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Wednesday, February 20
Bracket Banter

Only in America can a single person receive over 1,000 messages about something that is still hypothetical. And I love every minute of it!

Well, mostly every minute ...

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First of all, your "Bracket Banter" is a joke. All you ever put in it are comments of people praising you and the mid-major conferences. Give me a break. I can only watch and listen to that crap for so long.

Last weekend, I had to watch a game at which Gonzaga charged the court for a victory over Pepperdine. Since when do teams storm the court for beating a team that isn't even ranked? There is a reason these teams normally don't get respect. They never beat anyone decent. A 25-3 record in the WCC or any other podunk conference means nothing.

When I hear someone say that these teams would compete for top spots in major conferences, I am just dumbfounded. There is a reason these teams are in those conferences. They belong there with the other teams that aren't very good. So what if you pull off a few upsets every now and then in the tournament? If they don't step up to the challenge of playing real teams and winning on a consistent basis, then they will always be MID-MAJOR.

Those remaining spots in the tourney would be much better given to bubble teams like Boston College, St. John's, Texas Tech and even Iowa, with all the struggles they have had. If someone is going to say that these mid-majors could compete in big conferences, then maybe they should flip side it a little and check out this scenario: Teams in the big conferences that finish third or fourth would own whatever mid-major you choose to put them in. Just spare me for a little while about the mid-majors.

Jordan Cash
St. Louis

Let me "flip" Jordan a bit. If the middle teams in, say, the Pac-10 or Big 12 had the competitive disadvantages of a mid-major (e.g., little or no television, small arenas, frequent academic restrictions), I'm guessing they would rarely, if ever, go 25-3. And their ability to "schedule up" would be equally hampered, if not more so, by the lack of interest among major schools in playing them.

I also think it is incredibly arrogant to criticize any team's fans for celebrating a championship or a victory over its arch-rival. This is what sports are all about, whether we're talking Division I college basketball or Division III tennis.

Oh, and one other thing, the NCAA Tournament upsets occur more than "every now and then." Just last year:

  • Gonzaga over Virginia
  • Kent State over Indiana
  • Butler over Wake Forest
  • Georgia State over Wisconsin
  • Hampton over Iowa State
  • Utah State over Ohio State
  • Indiana State over Oklahoma

    It ain't an exception when it happens in a quarter of the first-round games.

    It takes a lot of research and pride to put your thoughts out on the line like this for everyone to take a shot at. Is it a full time job for you? It must be the greatest job in the world, but still pretty stressful I would imagine.

    Anyway, my comment is on your No. 2-seeded Georgia. C'mon, Joe, you should know better than that. Your other No. 2 seeds (Florida, Oklahoma and Alabama) are all solid, and then you go and include Georgia, a 19-7 ball club with a No. 87 non-conference schedule (and a team that is 5-5 in their last 10 games). Marquette, Gonzaga and even Pittsburgh, I believe, are all more deserving, considering they post much better records.

    I know Georgia gets beat up in the SEC, but any team that goes 5-5 over a stretch during conference play shall never be deserving of a No. 2 seed. If any one of your No. 1s went 5-5 during a stretch this year (which would put KU at 19-7, Duke at 19-7 and Maryland at 16-8), they would all be looking at No. 4, possible No. 5 seeds at best. Maryland at 16-8 would look more like a bubble team.

    Also, I believe Ohio State is not deserving of a No. 4 seed. This is a team that will have played a whopping 63 percent of its games at home. They played nine of their first 10, and 13 of their first 17 in Columbus. If they would have played a home/away ratio such as Kansas (44 percent at home and 56 percent on the road/neutral site) or Duke (48 percent at home), Ohio State would easily be looking at a 15-8 record, or possibly 14-9, heading into Indiana. Another loss in the Big Ten tournament would put Ohio State at a very mediocre 10-loss season, not a No. 4 seed.

    I believe the committee should develop a formula of some sort to factor in the home/away game ratios, so teams like Ohio State, who want to pay the bills and play 85 percent of their non-conference games at home, should be punished when it comes to selection time. We all know its harder to win on the road, and that's a given.

    Road and neutral games should be considered the same in this formula, and that would encourage teams to play in pre-season tournaments, in which 90 percent of teams go home with a loss, instead of scheduling three easy home games at the beginning of the season. The committee must develop a formula that involves home/away, and that would encourage these big-time programs to go on the road to the mid-majors (and also encourage pre-season tournament participation).

    Thanks for your time.

    Jarrod Priest

    In reverse order:

  • Pre-season (exempt) tourney participation is legislated by the NCAA, and the future of many of these events is very much in question. What is clear is that mid-majors benefit from the opportunity to play neutral court games against major competition.

  • The NCAA men's basketball committee is reviewing possible changes to the RPI. And among those changes is the possibility of weighing home and road games differently in the formula. As it is now, the committee members look at the raw data (home records, road records, neutral records) in their evaluation of individual teams.

  • I have noticed that Ohio State loaded up on home games. But it has managed to lead the Big Ten for most of the season, and that will count for an awful lot should the lead hold up. Last time I checked, Big Ten teams play an equal number of home and away games.

  • Georgia has as many RPI Top 25 wins as Marquette, Gonzaga and Pitt combined. Its non-conference schedule is indeed No. 87, but the average non-conference schedule ranking of the three teams you mention is No. 183 (with Gonzaga being the best at No. 107). This one isn't close.

    Procedurally Speaking
    I am confused at the moment by the locations in each bracket. For example, how can a game in the EAST region be in St. Louis, a game in the MIDWEST region be in Sacramento, or a WEST region game in Greenville, S.C.? I hope you can answer my question, and Go Terps!

    Barry Rankin

    For those just tuning in, the NCAA this year is "unbundling" the sub-regional (first weekend) and regional (second weekend) sites. In other words, only the second weekend sites will bear a regional designation. The first weekend sites can feed any of the four regionals, regardless of their geography. The idea is to give the committee more flexibility in keeping teams closer to home (especially in the opening rounds).

    I'm fascinated by your "bracketology" column and have been following it the last few years on ESPN.com. Your insights apart from the bracketology are always very informed, and you are the rare columnist that takes the care to provide a logical and factual basis for each of your assertions.

    One question: I can't recall seeing an exact definition of what the "S-Curve" exactly is and what it stands for. Perhaps I have missed a page on the site that answers this question, but I'm not sure what the S-Curve is supposed to represent. Is it the seeding of all the teams in the eyes of the selection committee (projected, of course)? Is it mostly mathematical and partly subjective, or dependent upon a formula?

    I thank you for your dedication to the wonderful game that is college basketball. My friends and I at Grove City College (Division III school near Pittsburgh, PA) really appreciate the unbiased and objective look you bring to the table with each new column.

    Adam Muretisch
    Accounting Major, GCC

    Sounds like another tough day in the classroom (just kidding...). I'm no statistician, so I'm not certain why the "S-Curve" is called what it is. But I know what the S-Curve represents, which is more important. Essentially it is the committee's ranking of all teams in the field, 1 to 65, upon which the seedings are based.

    If not for conference conflicts and other bracketing criteria, all 65 teams would be seeded according to their true S-Curve ranking (e.g., the No. 7 seeds would be teams No. 25-28 on the S-Curve). Instead, the committee is permitted to move any team one seed line in either direction from its natural position in the S-Curve in order to accommodate other bracketing procedures.

    This year, although not specifically articulated in any NCAA document, I suspect teams will also be moved a seed line in order to provide them with more convenient geographic placement.

    Wondering about NCAA sites. Isn't there an NCAA provision regarding tournament sites and home teams? I assume that Syracuse will not be placed in the East, because the East Regional is in the Carrier Dome. Also, I assume Wisconsin will not be placed in the Midwest (if they get in), because the Midwest Regional is in the Kohl Center in Madison (same for Kentucky in the South).

    I ask because I heard someone on ESPN radio say Kentucky is hoping for the No. 2 seed in the South, so they can essentially play two home games in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 level.

    Can you please clear this up for me?

    Christopher Lezotte

    Chris is right. The "talking head" was wrong. Go figure!

    Team Talk
    Seriously, what more can Xavier do to prove that it deserves a higher seed? XU is No. 20 in the RPI and No. 24 in the coaches poll. What is it that you look at?

    And, by the way, why in the world does C-USA deserve more than two (maybe three) teams? If the conference is so good, I would like to at least see the other teams outscore Steve Logan. Whatever. All you guys think big name coaches.

    XU Shoe

    First, any fan of a good Jesuit school should be smarter than this. I'm guessing you already know these answer(s):

    1) Xavier has exactly one (Kent State, at home) RPI Top 50 win. Given the committee's increasing insistence upon schedule strength and quality wins, XU is not likely to be seeded as high as its RPI might suggest. Last year's A-10 regular season champion (Saint Joseph's) was a No. 9 seed, with a profile that was actually a bit better than Xavier's this year. 2) The top four Atlantic 10 teams are 2-7 vs. RPI Top 25 opposition. It's Conference USA counterparts are 6-9. This is a significant difference, trust me. 3) What Cincy allowed Steve Logan to do last week was despicable; we can agree on that.

    You might as well give College of Charleston the Southern Conference automatic bid in the tournament. If you do not believe they are better than Davidson, just watch the score (Tuesday) night. Charleston will win by at least 10 points. And the Southern Conference tournament is played in Charleston this year.

    Also, this is the best season the Southern Conference has had in years. They will not be a No. 15 seed, but more like a No. 12.

    Ivan Adams

    Please understand that I am not predicting a champion when listing representatives of traditional one-bid conferences (see FAQ). I merely list the current conference leader. On Monday, that was Davidson. And, if my newspaper's agate type is correct, that is still the case.

    Davidson 73, Charleston 70. At Charleston. Nobody likes a know-it-all.

    How far is Alabama behind Cincinnati for the fourth No. 1 seed? If both were able to win out, including the conference tournaments, which would be a No. 1 seed (assuming that Maryland, Kansas and Duke are able to hold on to the top three spots)?

    Lance Willis
    Olive Branch, Mis.

    This is an excellent question. Alabama is closer to Cincinnati according to NCAA-replicated "nitty-gritty" data than it is in the public consciousness. I think the Tide would surpass the Bearcats in your scenario, because they would be piling up significant quality wins in the process.

    Hey, Joe. Just wanted to clue you in on what the rest of the basketball world seems to be realizing. Western Kentucky is a legitimate contender and plays excellent basketball. They are without a doubt a 5-7 seed right now and, if everything goes as it is right now, will be riding an 18-game winning streak into the NCAAs. Then I want you to show me a team that we don't match up with.

    I know that our SOS is a little low, but we have had some big wins and lots of others against quality opponents. And the low SOS doesn't seem to bother everyone in the country (see polls at No. 7 for answer). Gonzaga, if you don't already know, with whom WKU matches up very well statistically and on the court.

    Once again, just wanting the 'Tops to get a little well-deserved respect.

    Bowling Green, Ky.

    No disrespect on this front. In fact, I did an ESPN.com piece last season about the Hilltoppers and historic Diddle Arena.

    Having said that, I believe there is little or no chance Western Kentucky will have as high a seed as Nick suggests. WKU has but the one RPI Top 50 win (@ Kentucky) and, in fact, 19 of its 22 victories have come against sub-100 opposition.

    And WKU's strength of schedule isn't just a "little low;" it's awful. The overall SOS is No. 215, with a non-conference figure even worse (No. 240). Now, it's my opinion the 'Toppers can indeed play with all but the country's elite teams, but that is a far different statement from saying they have earned an elite seed.

    Can I go back to school and get a degree in bracketology? I think that is my true calling in life.

    I'd like to pose this scenario to you: St. Bonaventure wins out the regular season and gets the No. 1 seed in the A-10 East. I'm not sure of the tiebreakers, but an 11-5 tie wouldn't be all that inconceivable with the way Saint Joseph's has played lately. This would put the Bonnies opposite Xavier in the A-10 tourney.

    Could an at-large bid be available if they make it to the finals, but lose to Xavier? I see that as being the only way to get an at large bid. SBU's non-conference profile is definitely tops in the conference. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

    Al Melohusky
    Orchard Park, N.Y.

    The Bonnies are the only Atlantic 10 team (besides Xavier) which has legitimate hopes for an at-large bid. But they have to win out, regardless of their conference tournament seeding. As for the tiebreaker, after head-to-head games, it is divisional record. I'll leave it to Al to figure out those permutations.

    Joe Lunardi is the resident Bracketologist for ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN Radio. He is also editor and publisher of www.bracketology.net. Write to Joe at jlunardi@home.com.

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