There's much to like about the selections and choices made tonight for the NCAA Division I tournament, which begins with regional play May 11th.
Here's a short list of positives:
- Although an hour late, the two shows produced by the NCAA are straightforward and to-the-point. They don't try to build suspense or provide analysis.
- The committee rewarded their top 16 seeds, which were the consensus top 16 seeds, with hosting privileges, without reference to the cost of the travel involved. In the past, this has been the justification for taking away that precious home court advantage, earned with a top 16 ranking, even though the NCAA doesn't cover the team's travel costs in the first two rounds.
- No teams from the same conference will meet before the round of 16, which adds a layer of complexity to the regional selections, but is definitely an improvement.
But the confusion and uncertainty (should I use the April 24th rankings, even though they don't include the results from the season's last weekend, or should I refer to say, a 17-32 seed, an awkward and not particularly enlightening construction?) is secondary to the question of how this decision improves the student-athlete's experience.
If you are on the bubble for the team or the individual championships selection, how can you be sure there were no errors in the final rankings when you can't see them?
Last year I came across a mistake (you can read about it here) that allowed an unranked player to receive entry into the individual tournament. I don't think another such occurrence is likely, but without the release of the final rankings, it would be impossible to detect.
Transparency in rankings is something the NCAA has embraced in basketball, and their committee is willing to make decisions based on the same information that is available publicly to anyone. None of us are perfect, but the willingness to allow review of your work is a tenet of the academic/scientific model that most universities embrace. Freedom of Information requests are a fact of life at public universities. To change rules solely in order to deflect possible criticism isn't in keeping with the NCAA's stated mission to "govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner so that the experience of the student-athlete is paramount."
I don't know how the SIDs and other media members will handle this, but I will be using the April 24th rankings when I make references to national rankings, even though I know they aren't accurate. I believe there are significant distinctions to be made between No. 17 Nebraska and No. 32 TCU, and when the 50th-ranked player in the nation beats one of the top seeds, a headline reading "unseeded Joe Smith takes out No. 4 John Doe" doesn't have the same impact. I'm not sure the ramifications of this decision were considered, but I hope it's "one and done" and we can go back to normal next year.
Enough on that subject, and on to the draws. Due to a direct win over USC, the Stanford women went from No. 5 to No. 4 and so are in top seed UCLA's side of the draw. UCLA beat Stanford in Palo Alto, the Cardinal's first regular season home loss in 13 years, giving them even more motivation in Athens. Defending champion and No. 2 seed Florida, with their starters all returning, is in the same half as No. 3 Duke, whom the Gators shut out in Gainesville this year. Cal was seeded No. 9 for the second straight year, with Alabama getting the No. 8 seed. Last year Cal's battle with No. 8 Georgia was one of the highlights of the round of 16.
The women's seeds:
7. North Carolina
16. Ole Miss
The complete draw is available here.
The men have three-time defending champion USC in the top spot, with the only team to beat them this season, UCLA, at No. 4, in their side of the bracket. The second seed went to host Georgia, who is in the same side of the draw as No. 3 Virginia. I believe 1 and 4 and 2 and 3 are always placed at opposite sides of the draw. ITA Indoor finalist Ohio State, which was among the top 3 teams all year, fell to number 5 in the seedings and they are in the USC and UCLA side of the draw.
The men's seeds:
5. Ohio State
9. Mississippi State
13. Ole Miss
15. North Carolina
The complete draw is here.
Ten schools will be hosting both men and women's regionals on their campuses. The women start play first, on May 11th, as they open play in the Sweet 16 on Thursday May 17th, with the men beginning play on Friday May 18th in Athens.
The ten schools with joint regionals are:
USC, UCLA, Stanford, Cal, Georgia, Florida, Ole Miss, Virginia, Duke and North Carolina.