I’m hearing a good deal of talk to the effect that this is the closest or toughest selection ever. One possibility is that this sentiment is a backhanded acknowledgment that basketball-specific metrics are gaining greater acceptance in the committee room by default if not by rule. (Four years ago I dreamily envisioned such a day. Well, it’s likely here.) When you have accurate information at your elbow, you can see how excruciatingly complex that bubble you’ve been assaulting with a blunt instrument for decades really has been all that time.
If UConn beats Memphis in the inconveniently late American title game this afternoon, what you will have is effectively eight teams chasing four bids. For the moment let’s just stick with this scenario. Here are your eight bubble aspirants, listed in rough order of Lunardi-Palm bullishness.
Just four will dance (the “UConn wins today” scenario)
San Diego State
If UConn wins today, hold this list in front of you. When you’ve heard four of these teams’ names called you can wish the other four good luck in the NIT.
If the Huskies lose to Memphis, however, all heck breaks loose and I recommend running around screaming with your hands above your head….
The “UConn loses today but still gets in” scenario
Eight teams chasing three bids
The “UConn loses today and falls out of the field” scenario
A wash — still eight teams chasing four bids
Assuming it’s a close game between the Tigers and Huskies, Twitter will be abuzz with speculation that there’s a bid being stolen. But we won’t know a bid’s really been stolen until we see what happens to UConn.
Twitter will also chuckle knowingly about a Memphis coach who was/is on a very hot seat possibly going to the NCAA tournament. Chuckle away, but also keep in mind that with 32 automatic bids and 351 coaches this is statistically mandated to happen with a fair degree of regularity. The locus classicus might be Dennis Felton and Georgia winning the tornado-blighted SEC tournament of 2008.
No. 1 seeds
More unprecedented confusion, only this time I think it really does feel unusual. Kansas is the only stone-cold lock. Past the Jayhawks you have five teams pursuing three available spots on the top line:
Yes, I know people right now are eager to shovel dirt on Villanova’s No. 1 hopes, and certainly a top seed would be a surprise for Jay Wright’s guys. Then again it would hardly be a shock on the order of NC State getting into the field in 2014.
Is our obsession with No. 1 seeds a bit over-the-top categorically speaking? Yes! If for administrative convenience the NCAA divided the bracket into eight regions I have no doubt we would fret about the line being drawn between the field’s eighth and ninth best teams instead of an imaginary boundary between Nos. 4 and 5 on the S-curve.
Is our obsession with No. 1 seeds especially ill timed in a year of rampant and incorrigible parity? Yes, yes! Seeds matter because they determine whom you play. Your basketball fate’s driven not only by your performance but also by the opponent and the number of miles you have to travel and time zones you have to cross to get to the game. Coach-speak is 95 percent empty, but the one coach-speak truism that is sheer genius is the bit about how a seed is nothing but a little number a third party chose to put next to a team.
Annual “Ha! Predict this, smart analytic types!”committee grenade
Princeton? Houston? Illinois? (Hey, I can dream.) All I know is that the grenade has now become a cherished rite of March. Consider yourself warned.