So here's some observations from building this final bracket...
1. I read a lot of Twitter ink about how Duke, Kentucky, and/or Arizona would be more worthy 1-seeds than UNC and/or Gonzaga. When I took a closer look, UK and AZ didn't quite have the numbers of the other 5, and while the Zags' SOS was lower, just about every other metric I looked at pointed toward them. So I stuck with them over Duke. An argument certainly could be made for any of them (UK and AZ won conference title AND tourney titles AND are very good teams, and Duke of course was the preseason favorite and finished strong). But I think the committee did the right thing.
2. I was not (deliberately) being a Syracuse homer when putting them in the field. I really thought that Syracuse's higher highs in beating UVA, Duke and FSU (even though all were at home) could've outweighed USC's superior record overall. I'd almost say the committee rewarded USC for an unspectacular but clean schedule and punished SU for having too many Louisville's and UNC's on their schedule. And SU did beat Wake this year AND finished ahead of them in a tough conference. So an argument can be made that 'Cuse deserved to be in ahead of two teams... but I'm not going to complain. Few 14-loss teams really deserve an at-large spot, and Syracuse blew their own chances:
- by losing to BC, they gave the committee (and most of Twitter) a stick to beat them with
- by not quite pulling out the OT win against Louisville, they lost a fourth win against a top 5 seed
- by not beating Miami on a neutral floor they both denied themselves a needed road/neutral win AND a crack at UNC. I have no illusions on how THAT would've gone, but it's hard to get in with just 2 road wins.
So it's not so much that I believed them truly worthy of a bid. They and USC were literally my last-in/first-out teams, and that means that no tears (and little internet ink) should be shed for my Orange.
3. And I hated leaving out Illinois State. The numbers just weren't there, but there needs to be a way to get a team like that in somehow. I guess it depends on your definition of "mid-major" (which is a term not everyone likes anyway), but to me it's schools outside the following group: SEC, ACC, B10, B12, P12, Big East. I personally put the American and A-10 in there too. If you do, there is just one mid-major at-large teams: St. Mary's. Is this a result of the mids being a weaker pool this year? Are the selection criteria, the committee itself, or the process biased against them? You can tell by the seedings that even teams like MTSU and UNCW were not going to be at-large teams, and URI might not have made it had they lost to VCU yesterday.
I have a theory that partially covers that issue. Look at some of the teams that are in. Butler and Creighton and VCU are among the teams that are no longer in "mid-major conferences". They jumped ship, leaving that many fewer strong programs at that level. Davidson also climbed the ladder, though they weren't in contention for a bid this year. With teams like that changing their conference addresses (and therefore upgrading their scheduling opportunities), it both expands the Big East's and A-10's likely tourney teams while leaving fewer upper echelon programs for the mid-conferences AND soaking up bids that might've gone toward the mids. I think this trend is going to continue. Those three teams getting in every year will make us not notice for awhile since I still think of them as mids... but they're not, not anymore, and I think it's sort of a shame.
Now that the brackets are in, just a couple thoughts things I plan to look more closely at to understand the committee's decisions better:
1. I am struggling with understanding the seeds for Dayton and Wichita State (two of my favorite teams, incidentally). Dayton won a so-so A-10, but also lost their last two games to lesser teams. I was sure they'd get an 8. Wichita State, on the other hand, is sky-high on so many metrics (8th in KenPom, 31 in RPI, 15 in BPI) that I can't believe they're a 10. I had them a 7, and could've understood an 8, but 10 seems awfully low. Normally I'd complain that they're playing each other and not getting a crack at a power conference school (much like VCU playing St. Mary's), but of the four only St. Mary's is still a mid.
2. I was surprised at how little they thought of Wisconsin as well. Wisconsin's SOS was low, but they were second in a league that had 7 tournament teams, they made their tourney final, and I'm relieved I didn't nudge them up to a 5 like I was thinking when they made B10 final. I guess I'm less surprised by the "8" than by the fact that they slid behind both Minnesota and Maryland. I'm glad I'll be seeing them live in Buffalo though.
3. Speaking of teams that made their tourney finals, I need to look closer at FL and ND. I had them flipping their spots, partly on the basis of their tourney results, with FL's early exit and ND beating UVA and Louisville. I'd have thought that the 3rd place team in the ACC would be seeded ahead of the 2nd place team in this year's SEC. It's just a couple spots on the S-curve but still.
Hopefully I'll post about the regions and some predictions later today or tomorrow. Comment on Twitter at @chris17thseed.