Thursday, March 22, 2007

Why GMU's run last year gave us such a boring sweet 16

As we are leaving the sweet 16 and moving on to the next round, and before this becomes irrelevant, I thought I'd post this.

This year's opening weekend of the tournament was what I might consider a very boring tournament. Sure, Ohio State had a thriller against Xavier and Pittsburgh and VCU went to overtime, but in both these games the upper seed won. Regardless of the play, if you look at the tournament on paper, the bottom line is that among the teams that advanced none were double-digit seeds and no one was lower than 7. The last time we had a tournament without a double-digit seed advancing to the Sweet 16 was 1995 and every tournament from 1997 on had at least two.

Then I was thinking, if you just look at the schools themselves who had advanced you'll see there's a Missourri Valley Conference school in Southern Illinois and a Horizon league school in Butler. The two teams to have made the sweet 16 from the Horizon League, Butler in 2003 and Wisc-Milwaulkee in 2005, were seeded 12th and the last time a Horizon league team was seeded in the single digits it was 1996 (Wisc-Green Bay was seeded 8th). Similarly, the Missourri Valley Conference has done a little better on seeding but they've generally been home to the biggest giant killers in the tournament. SW Missourri State and Bradley were the lowest seeds to advance to the sweet 16 of their respective tournaments in 1999 and 2006. Creighton has upset as a double digit team 3 times and Southern Illinois made the sweet 16 before as a double digit seed. The highest a MVC team has been seeded was 7th (if I'm not mistaken) in the specified time span.

In each of those cases, we considered those victories major upsets and cheered those underdogs on. The only thing that's really changed is the numbers in front of the team names on our brackets. 12th-seeded Butler making the Sweet 16 is exciting while 5-seeded Butler making the Sweet 16 is a yawn.

The reason for this higher seeding, I believe, is that after GMU made the tournament last year, pollsters started having their eyes out for the next George Mason and after Butler did so well in the Pre-Season NIT, the pollsters annointed them the next GMU and stuck them in the top 25. Similarly, Southern Illinois started winning games and their win-loss record looked impressive enough for the pollsters to group them in that category as well. Once you get into the AP Top 25, you are virtually guaranteed to advance higher and higher up on that list every week you don't lose a game because others will. The problem there is that Southern Illinois and Butler play against far inferior competition to that of the power conferences, so winning was far easier for them. I'm not entirely sure how much the RPI computerized system plays into the final selection of seeds, and if it's computerized and the seeds are actually based on the level of competition than I am completely wrong, but my theory would be that the constant presence of Butler and Southern Illinois on the AP Top 25 polls this season gave the selection committe added weight to want to give them high seeds.

Another way of looking at it, however, is that the Seeding Committe finally got it right. They successfully picked the two non-major conference schools who would be able to upset the majors en route to the Sweet 16, and thanks to George Mason's run, that really is a significant milestone. The only problem is that when the selection committee is that exact, the tournament is far more boring.

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