March Madness 2020: Busting myths about NCAA Tournament selection process

first_imgIt has been well over a decade since the NCAA opened the doors of its Indianapolis headquarters and revealed the secrets of the March Madness selection process to 20 members of the media, empowered to reveal those mysteries to the general public.Not everyone has caught on. The selection of NCAA Tournament teams is still among the most misunderstood processes in sports. The selection committee will convene in New York on March 10 and commence parsing through team resumes and records to produce the 68-team bracket on the evening of March 15. There are many myths about how they will proceed, and what they’ll consider.This is a look at what’s true — and what’s not — about various theories, conspiracies and conspiracy theories.BRACKET PREDICTIONS: Projecting the Field of 681. How you finish the season matters: FALSEIt only matters relative to how that impacts your overall performance. If you started poorly — like this year’s Providence Friars — only a strong stretch run is going to get you into the picture.However, the committee chose over a decade ago, when the late Mike Slive was serving as chair, to discard the “last 12 games” performance as a factor in NCAA selections. It’s no longer included on the official team resumes the committee refers to as “team sheets.” You will find various metrics on there, such as KenPom, Sagarin and BPI rankings, but there is no mention of late-season performance.That is as it should be. It’s illogical to add greater weight to late-season games. The NFL and MLB do not count September wins as more important than those gained in April. They all count equally in the standings.It’s also counterintuitive: I did several studies in the late 2000s, before this change was made, that proved teams that perform better in the final third of the season do not perform better in the NCAA Tournament. If there’s no correlation to tournament success, there’s no reason for that to be a factor in selection.2. A team’s NET ranking dictates selection and seeding: FALSEThis is a new one, because the NET — the top-secret NCAA Evaluation Tool metric — is only in its second season. But the same notion persisted when the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) was the selection committee’s sorting tool. Fans follow the fluctuation in their teams’ NET rankings as though it is the magical key to NCAA Tournament entry. It’s a waste of time and, more so, angst.In fact, last year, these teams all were left out of the tournament despite attractive NET rankings: No. 33 N.C. State, No. 35 Clemson and No. 38 Texas. No. 73 St. John’s made the field.The NCAA has said on many occasions that its metric of choice is used as a sorting tool — not as a paint-by-numbers formula to be admitted to the field. It’s more important to pay attention to the quality of a team’s victories; that’s where the NET comes in. If your team owns victories over multiple top-10 teams, the committee knows it has beaten some significant opponents. If your team has beaten these opponents on the road or on neutral courts, all the better.3. The NET rankings are biased in favor of power conferences: FALSEThat this belief became so widespread is a testament to the power of conspiracy theories, and the power of the internet to spread them.The fallacy is largely the product of the uncommonly strong season by the Big Ten, which currently has five teams ranked in the top 30 of the NET and 12 among the top 59. Clearly it must be biased, right?Then why did the SEC have five teams in the top 20 of last year’s NET but no one higher than 21st this year? Why wouldn’t it find a way to favor the ACC, which had six in the top 25 last year but now has just three? After No. 6 Duke, No. 8 Florida State and No. 10 Louisville only No. 42 Virginia is in the top 50.In fact, last year’s NET saw a lot of mid-major programs earn significant rankings: Wofford was No. 13, Buffalo was No. 15 and New Mexico State was No. 40. It has been less kind to actual mids this year, with No. 38 East Tennessee State ranking highest. But programs from outside the Power conferences such as No. 3 Gonzaga, No. 4 Dayton, No. 5 San Diego State and No. 14 BYU all are scoring well in the current NET.MORE: Road to NCAA Tournament is more generous to mid-majors than many believe4. The committee manufactures matchups with extra TV appeal: FALSEI’ve done bracket projections for Fox Sports twice a week for eight weeks, and one thing I’ve had underscored for me: The committee doesn’t have to cook up these matchups. You follow the bracket rules and try to place teams in their appropriate seeds and regions, and it just happens organically.In my Feb. 14 bracket, I had Hofstra as a No. 13 seed playing Villanova as a No. 4. Hofstra was where Jay Wright began his coaching career. Some were amused by the coincidence.In the same bracket, I had Indiana as a No. 10 seed and Arizona as a No. 7. Following the rules that preclude conference matchups in the first round and placing them in the regions they earned relative to geographic preference, they came to be matched in the first round.Their coaches — Archie and Sean Miller — are brothers. I’ve known Sean since he was in college at Pitt, and Archie since he was a player at N.C. State a few years later. And yet it didn’t even dawn on me that they’d been matched against one another until someone brought it up on Twitter.Because it’s about getting the bracket right. That’s it.5. Committee members from your school helps: PROBABLY FALSENo one can know exactly what the impact of this is. The only way to avoid it is to, say, put a person or persons in charge of the selection who knows the game and whose alma mater is not involved in any way in the tournament (Mike DeCourcy: Point Park University Class of 1982 — just saying).What we know for certain is this: Any discussion about the selection or seeding of a team whose athletic director or conference commissioner is a committee member must take place with that member outside the room. I’ve always said those who remain in the room know that person will return and that they must face him or her. But we do know they aren’t participating.We also have some examples from the past in which teams with affiliated committee members wound up in disadvantaged circumstances.In 2001, Boston College won the Big East Conference with a 26-4 record. But the league was not considered to be strong and placed only five teams in the field. The Eagles were presented a No. 3 seed, though all four No. 2 seeds — and one of the No. 1s — had lesser records. The chair that year was Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese.In 2009, when SEC commissioner Mike Slive was committee chair, the conference was having a poor season and got only three teams into the field. The third made it only because it was an upset winner in the league tournament (Mississippi State), and none was seeded higher than No. 8.In 2011, No. 1 overall seed Ohio State was placed in the East Region. The No. 2 seed was North Carolina, which had won the ACC regular-season title at 14-2. The No. 3 seed was Syracuse, which finished third in a Big East so deep it sent a record-11 teams to the tournament. The No. 4 was Kentucky, winner of the SEC Tournament. Some reward, right?The Buckeyes lost a highly competitive Sweet 16 game to Kentucky, which advanced to the Final Four. The committee chair that year? Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith.6. Duke always starts tournament in North Carolina: TRUE — SOMEWHATAlways is a strong word, but “too often” might be fair.The selection committee for the tournament field also chooses the tournament sites, and it has a habit of placing the event in North Carolina almost on a yearly basis. North Carolina is a wonderful state and a fantastic place to visit. But there are at least 10 states on the Eastern seaboard that have the capacity to play host to the tournament, and at least seven in the South.In this century, though, 16 of the first 22 tournaments included a North Carolina first-round site — this year’s will start in Greensboro, and 2021 is already set for Raleigh. And that’s not to mention 2017, when a site set for Greensboro was moved to South Carolina because of controversy over North Carolina legislation that was deemed discriminatory against the LGBT community.There’s just no great reason for North Carolina to continue getting the tournament this frequently.With so many occasions to begin the tournament in-state, Duke has earned the opportunity to do so 11 times since 2000. However, it hasn’t opened the NCAAs in its home state since 2015 in Charlotte.MARCH MADNESS 2019: Selection committee should be embarrassed for mishandling Michigan State7. Conference records matter: FALSEIf this lesson wasn’t learned in 2017-18, it might never be. That year, Nebraska earned a 13-5 record in the Big Ten. The Huskers were not chosen for the NCAAs.There was a time when members of the Big East, ACC or Big Ten could look at their leagues’ histories and reason that a .500 conference record meant an automatic invite. Conference expansion, which changed the nature of league schedules, has led to those standards being wiped out. As well, it matters not whether one team is ahead of another in conference standings because their schedules — both inside the conference and out — are never going to be identical.In the 2014 season, the ACC sent six teams to the NCAAs, but sixth-place Clemson (10-8 in ACC play) was not invited. Seventh-place N.C. State (9-9) was. In the 2016 American Athletic Conference, regular-season champ Temple (14-4 in AAC play) made it along with fourth-place Cincinnati (12-6) and sixth-place Connecticut (11-7). Third-place Houston and fifth-place Tulsa (both 12-6) were left home and relegated to the First Four, respectively. League performance matters in the sense it provides the opportunity to win games, often against quality competition. But all those games look the same as non-league games on a team sheet.8. Head-to-head results matter: FALSEThis is similar to conference records. Head-to-head results are not decisive because one team can sweep another and perform poorly in the rest of its schedule. It matters even less if the teams play once and it’s a home game for the winning team.It is available, perhaps, as a tie-breaker, but with the amount of data and information available on each team, ties are extremely rare.9. Polls matter: IS THERE A WORD STRONGER THAN FALSE?last_img read more