Reactions to the 2007 NCAA Tournament Bracket
Selection Committee Chair Gary Walters has repeated in numerous interviews that this was the hardest field to select and seed that he has encountered in his five years on the Selection Committee. I agree wholeheartedly. The number of teams in contention for the last couple of at-large slots was already massive before all of the mid-major upsets (Butler, Xavier, and Nevada) during Championship Week. Throw in Arkansas’ surprising run to the SEC Final and an entire seed line vanished before the final selection had begun.
Although Old Dominion was selected to the field ahead of teams like Syracuse, Kansas State, and Florida State, it was a pretty rough year for the mid-majors, both in terms of selection and seeding. Drexel, Appalachian State, and Missouri State were left home in favor of Arkansas, Illinois, Texas Tech, and Stanford. And four of the most underseeded teams, at least by conventional wisdom, were from outside the top six conferences.
Last year’s Western teams were by-and-large overseeded (Cal, UCLA, Air Force, Utah State), but if anything, the bias this year was against teams from west of the Rockies (UNLV, Nevada, Arizona , BYU).
As was the case last year, the Committee made a number of surprising decisions, but on the whole I think that this year’s bracket makes a bit more sense than last year’s edition.
Though I had two different teams on my #1 seed line, the Committee’s choices made total sense. I knew Walters & Co. would hedge their bets due to the late finish of the Big Ten Final, I just mis-predicted how they would do it.
Because the top two teams from a conference cannot be placed in the same bracket, it couldn’t be as simple as flip-flopping the two at the last second depending on who won the game. So, I gave one of the Big Ten teams (Wisconsin) a #1 in the South and the other (Ohio State) a #1 in its preferred region (the Midwest).
The Committee instead placed Florida, the highest of my projected #2 seeds, as a #1 outside its natural region, which allowed for the Big Ten loser to receive a consolation prize: a #2 seed closer to home than the winner, which received a #1 in the South. The Gators’ selection as the overall #1 is surprising if based on objective criteria, but well-deserved if a more subjective thought process is used.
Similarly, placing Kansas as the #1 seed out west prior to knowing the result of the Big XII Final still enabled UCLA to stay in its preferred region as a #2, a scenario that worked out very well for the Bruins last year.
Snubs: Syracuse, Drexel, Florida State.
Illinois and Arkansas were Nos. 1 and 3 in my “Last Four Out,” so it was not particularly surprising to see either of them included in the final field of 65.
A good case can be made that the three “snubs,” who were in most analysts’ projected brackets, really didn’t deserve a place in the field. The Committee’s inclusion of Illinois and Arkansas at their expense is far less controversial, in my opinion, than its inclusion of Air Force and Utah State last year.
Syracuse was the “fifth team in,” so obviously I thought they were fairly safe, but I wrote back in January that Jim Boeheim once again played with fire in the non-conference season, and he and his team were finally burned this year.
While the Drexel Dragons racked up a number of quality non-conference road wins, including at Villanova, at Syracuse, and at Creighton, they were just 1-5 against the top of the CAA (much like Missouri State was 0-5 against the top of the Missouri Valley). They also made an earlier-than-desired exit in their conference tournament against VCU.
I did not think Florida State would make the field, but the Seminoles didn’t have any losses outside the RPI’s top 60. Their injury situation with Toney Douglas was very similar to Stanford’s, and the Cardinal did receive a bid. It’s a shame that Al Thornton likely won’t play in an NCAA Tournament before he bolts for the NBA Draft.
(most surprising to least surprising)
Long Beach State – The Big West Champion 49ers don’t own a single Top 100 RPI win, and won the #16 RPI conference. To seed them ahead of deserving conference champions like Davidson, New Mexico State, Wright State, Holy Cross, and Oral Roberts is downright shocking. The only conceivable explanation is that Selection Committee rookie Stan Morrison, the Director of Athletics at UC-Riverside, made a fantastic subjective argument for a team from his league after being asked by Committee members.
Butler – Butler’s run through the Preseason NIT was, and still is, a terrific story. But the fact is that BU was just 3-4 in its last seven Division I games, and subjectively is not playing as well as it was at the beginning of the season. I wouldn’t have been terribly surprised at a 6 or 7, but a 5 is a bit hard to imagine.
Duke – When it comes to the Blue Devils, the Committee did not help dispel its reputation for rewarding traditional powerhouses with higher seeds. This team went 8-8 in the ACC, lost its first-round Tournament game (in addition to its last two of the regular season), and won most of its high-profile non-conference games inside the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. To seed this team two slots ahead of Arizona (similar profile, but better non-conference wins) makes no sense.
Vanderbilt – The Commodores are another team that struggled down the stretch (5-5 Last 10) and made an early conference tournament exit. To boot, Vanderbilt’s record away from Nashville was just 5-8. Given the Committee’s insistence, even after the field was announced, that those were perhaps the two most important tie-breaking criteria, seeding Vandy at a #6 seems more than a little high.
Virginia – I realize the Cavs were co-champions of the ACC during the regular season, and I’ve been high on Dave Leitao’s crew since even before the season began. But UVa lost their last three games away from home to inferior competition (Miami, Wake Forest, and NC State). Their RPI rating is #55 for a reason: they played an easy ACC schedule, with most of their tough games at home. A #8 or #9 would have been less surprising than a #4.
The Bottom of the Big Ten – It’s been clear all year long that Ohio State and Wisconsin are among the elite teams in the country. But the rest of their league, particularly on a subjective level, has been mediocre at best, especially down the stretch. Of Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue, and Illinois, none owns a true quality road win. Yet Indiana was given a top-half seed (7), and Purdue (thought to be one of the last teams in by just about everyone) was given a 9—though I’m sure the Boilermakers would have preferred a #10 or #11 when faced with a first-round matchup with Arizona and Florida waiting in the wings.
(most surprising to least surprising)
UNLV – Those who don’t follow the bracketing process closely probably wouldn’t give 7 th-seeded UNLV a second thought, but the Rebels were a clear choice for a four or five seed heading into Selection Weekend: 9-1 in their Last 10, MWC Tournament Champions, RPI of 10, and road wins over Nevada and Texas Tech in the non-conference. To boot, they play a dangerous Georgia Tech team in the first round, with Wisconsin waiting in the second (in Chicago). Lon Kruger’s team got the rawest deal among those teams selected to the field of 65.
Creighton – The Bluejays won the #6 RPI conference tournament, were 10-8 away from home, and finished 7-3 in their last 10 games. Their conference tournament win was against Southern Illinois, a bitter rival which hadn’t lost in the previous 13 games. Some analysts had them as high as a #6 before the field was announced; I had them at a #7. They’re also paired with another dramatically underseeded team: Nevada, in the first round.
Nevada – Perhaps no team’s conference tournament loss hurt more in terms of seeding than Nevada’s. The Wolf Pack’s profile looks very similar to George Washington of a year ago (given a #8) at first glance, but Nevada’s non-conference resume was markedly stronger than the Colonials’, and Mark Fox’s team was an astounding 13-3 on the road. I thought for sure Nevada would be placed in a Western pod at the very least, but instead they’re sent to New Orleans to battle Creighton (see above) and likely Memphis in the second round.
Arizona – I can only speculate that subjectivity came greatly into play with Arizona. The Wildcats were blown out in their Pac-10 Tournament opener, but had the 2 nd-best non-conference resume in the nation, owned an astonishing 14 wins against the Top 100, and finished a respectable 6-4 in their last 10 games, including three straight road wins. An 8-9 game against a tough Big Ten opponent (Purdue) is the draw for Lute Olson’s team for the second straight year.
Wright State – A 14 seed doesn’t seem shockingly low for the Raiders, but when compared to teams seeded above them (Long Beach, Albany, and New Mexico State), WSU’s first-round draw against Pittsburgh in Buffalo seems pretty harsh.
Top five tidbits to keep in mind when filling out your brackets:
- UCLA’s draw is virtually identical to the one it enjoyed on its way to the Final Four last year (San Diego, Oakland). This year, the Bruins play their first-round games in Sacramento, and the West Regional Finals will be in San Jose, an easy $49 flight away from LAX.
- For those of you excited about Louisville as your sleeper because they play their first two rounds in nearby Lexington, remember that UK fans have probably purchased most of the tickets available for Rupp Arena already. They’ll no doubt be exercising their hands and vocal chords as vigorously as possible AGAINST Rick Pitino’s hated Cardinals. Stanford might actually enjoy a moderate home-court advantage in its first-round game.
- Staying in the same pod, should Texas A&M emerge victorious, the South Regional Finals will be held in nearby San Antonio…think the “6 th Man” would send a few members to those two games?
- Illini and Saluki fans will almost certainly be rooting for one another in their teams’ first round matchups in Columbus because of the Bruce Weber connection. Will Cavs and Hokies feel the same brotherly love for each other (and will either group travel well)?
- Xavier is only an hour-and-a-half from Lexington. Provo is a time zone and a half from Lexington. BYU has been a terrible road team all season long.
The West, hands-down. There are a lot of “name” programs that jump off the seeding lines, but most of the teams aren’t the same caliber they’ve been in the past –Kentucky, Illinois, Duke, Indiana, Gonzaga. All five have struggled towards the latter part of the season. Given the homecourt advantage UCLA will enjoy in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, the Bruins have the best chance of any of the #2 seeds to reach the Final Four.
Although I think the toughest sub-region can be found in the South (Memphis, Texas A&M, Louisville, Nevada, Creighton, Stanford), the top half looks fairly easy for Ohio State. The Midwest is actually the hardest overall. The top half features our defending national champions, along with Arizona, Purdue, giant-killer Butler, and red-hot Maryland. The bottom half features Wisconsin, blazing-hot Oregon, Notre Dame, Winthrop, dramatically underseeded UNLV, and potential Final Four sleeper Georgia Tech.
Tags: Arizona, Butler, Creighton, Drexel, Duke, Florida, Florida State, Gonzaga, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Long Beach State, Louisville, Nevada, Ohio State, Stanford, Syracuse, Texas A&M, UCLA, UNLV, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wright State