Yesterday I was in a mini-debate with a colleague about the importance of NCAA Tournament seeding. LIU coach Jim Ferry wasn’t pleased with his team’s 15th seed. He isn’t the only coach over the years who has made seeding an issue. Was it fair that LIU, who had 13-game winning streak, dominated the NEC in the regular and post season, had to play North Carolina in the first round? Nope.
How about Butler against Pitt? Should Butler have really been an eighth seed? We’re talking about a Butler team that had four starters back from last year’s team that made a run to the national title game. They went 25-9 this season, won their conference tournament and couldn’t get seeded higher than eighth? That was a terrible matchup for the Panthers. Pitt still should’ve won, but that was a tough draw.
My colleague said I was “splitting” hairs about the seeding. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years about the NCAA Tournament, it’s that for most teams, seeding is paramount to its success. Of course there are years when seeding doesn’t matter for some teams. The Michigan Fab Five teams, the great Larry Johnson UNLV squads and those Duke teams of the early 1990s with Grant and Thomas Hill, Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner are prime examples of that. Those teams were so dominant that they were getting to the Final Four no matter who they played.
If Pittsburgh played any other eighth seed, would they be home right now? Could the Panthers have beaten UNLV? Probably. You can certainly make the argument that Michigan or George Mason would have given the Panthers a run for their money. But Butler? The darling of the underdogs. Butler is a team that would’ve been forever etched in our memories if they beat Duke last year. And a team that so many people have penciled into Elite 8. Surely the selection committee could’ve done a better job.
How about Marquette, an 11th seed, knocking off No.6 Xavier. There’s no doubt in my mind the Golden Eagles should’ve been higher than an 11. That’s a brutal first-round draw for Xavier. I’m also amazed at how St. Peter’s got a 14th seed. Granted the MAAC had a conference RPI of 16, but St. Peter’s had 14 losses.
This isn’t meant to be a hatchet job on the selection committee. It is probably the hardest administrative job in all of sports. That said, teams certainly have a right to question their seeding.