Eight is enough for Zags this time around
Can’t tell you all the names of the guys in the committee room on Selection Sunday, but here’s a guess who made the call on the Midwest Region:
If a rich guy is putting up a million-dollar prize for a perfect bracket, loading Louisville – as a No. 4 seed – into a quadrant behind Wichita State, Michigan and Duke isn’t going to do anything but help him hang on to his money.
What, committee, were the Spurs and Heat unavailable?
If the disbelief and outrage were compartmentalized this year, the good fathers of Bracketopia didn’t disappoint on the American holiday devoted to the picking of nits (and relegation to the NIT, or worse).
But at Gonzaga University?
Fifty-two weeks later, the hubbub over being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament is barely a memory for the Bulldogs, who eased into this year’s derby as a No. 8 – and were promptly dismissed as a footwipe for their draw, Oklahoma State, by Seth Gottlieb or Doug Davis or some CBShead. The Zags might have some of their faithful frustrated at being one-weekend wonders these past few years, but now just getting to Saturday in San Diego apparently will be seen as a triumph.
“No matter what came up there, nobody was going to be disappointed,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after watching the selection show with his players, “and everybody was going to be hungry and excited. That’s a good place for your team to be.”
Being No. 1 was cool. Being No. 8 was neither gift nor insult.
Plus, they’re playing an opponent they’ve met five times since 2005 – never losing.
That might be a law-of-averages land mine, or a sign that there’s another one in the Zags’ March kill zone.
And if there’s No. 1 seed Arizona waiting beyond the trolls and across that bridge, well, the Zags knew they had such an assignment coming.
“Where we’re at suits us well,” guard David Stockton said. “The tournament is crazy anyway.”
Almost as crazy as the sweepstakes leading up to it.
The politics, trends and bracketing principles in settling on 68 teams and then assigning them numerical worth ebb and flow. Agendas are tweaked. New eyeballs administer ever more subjective judgments to go along with computer math, the importance of which even the selectors pooh-pooh – and then cite for the sake of assessing how many “Top 50” or “Top 100” notches a bracket candidate has on its belt.
For instance, Gonzaga’s notable index numbers on Sunday were 20 (RPI), 20 (Ken Pomeroy), 21 (Sagarin) and 22 (ESPN’s BPI). As a seed translation, that would equate to a 5 or 6 – but absolutely no one figured the Bulldogs would do that well.
Or deserve to.
These are the flawed Zags – and they have company.
“I started looking at that thing this week,” Few said, “and there were 20 teams – who are just great – that are in our wheelhouse.”
Not sure if that included OSU. If anything, Few felt the Cowboys were being sold short – “vastly underseeded based on how they’re playing at this particular time,” he said.
Problem is, the old last-10-games criterion is history in the committee room. It’s all about “entire body of work,” and the Cowboys’ body took a blow in the form of seven straight losses in midseason, coinciding with standout Marcus Smart’s three-game hit for temporarily losing his brain in a confrontation with a hostile fan who’s never had one. That the Pokes were ranked fifth in the nation on Thanksgiving Day was apparently an out-of-body-of-work experience.
Likewise, adjusting seed lines to prevent rematches is out (that’s BYU and Oregon paired in Milwaukee) and geography is now in, the committee rationale for stacking the Midwest.
What the pickers did seem to reaffirm is a commitment to rewarding a challenging out-of-conference schedule. That can simply be the only rationale for BYU’s inclusion as a No. 10, and for the bizarre fact that UMass – sixth-seeded in the Atlantic 10 tournament – came up a No. 6 on the big board Sunday, as well.
That has always been Gonzaga’s approach anyway. Only this year, the Zags didn’t have nearly as much success with the tougher outs.
“It’s still what they look for, but there’s a danger, too – you can get buried,” Few said. “BYU almost got buried.”
Now the scheduling is done for you, and there are no favors. The Zags learned as much last year, their No. 1 magic undone by this year’s No. 1, Wichita State. Body of work becomes nothing more than a bad alibi.
“That’s what makes this so compelling for everybody,” Few said. “Crazy drama. If (Wichita State) had been a seven-game series, we would have been fine. We probably would have advanced. But then, we probably wouldn’t have made it to an Elite Eight back in the day.”
Speaking of blown-up million-dollar brackets.