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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Blanchette: NCAA got bracket pretty much right

Got a bone to pick with the bracket architects. It’s simply indefensible that the NIT has been stacked in such a way that there’s no chance for an all-Pac-12 final four in New York City. Heh, heh. It might be Selection Sunday to you, but it’s also our National Day of Outrage, where everyone from Digger and Dougie and Dickie V to to @delusionaldawg can take issue with the parsing and pairing of college basketball’s best – and painfully mediocre – into their respective seed lines for the NCAA tournament. And, yes, some were taking to Twitter on Sunday even to second-guess the NIT bracket. Just one more reason a license should be required to drive that highway. Then again, maybe it was just a response to the mostly muted disagreements with the NCAA’s big board that forced the grumpy-on-demand crowd to turn to JV complaints. It wasn’t muted here in Spokane, but the volume was certainly dialed down. The Gonzaga Bulldogs will play in their 14th consecutive NCAA tournament come Thursday, a No. 7 seed matched against 10th-seeded West Virginia on the decidedly non-neutral court of the CONSOL Energy Center, at least in the sense that it’s 75 miles from the WVU campus and 2,200 from Spokane. This is a door prize the NCAA committee has awarded the Zags before – four years ago, when they shipped out to Raleigh, N.C., to play a lower-seeded Davidson team in its backyard. That did not end well for Gonzaga, though it was a splendid game. The committee’s mandate is to protect its upper seeds with geographic considerations, but it extends only so far – which is to say, not every pairing gets weighed. “You start worrying about where the 7 and 10 seeds go, you’d never get (the bracket) done,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, even after admitting to disappointment in being given a “quasi-road game.” Senior center Robert Sacre was even more mellow. “If you come to Gonzaga,” he said, “you’re guaranteed to go across the country and play in someone’s backyard.” Pre-conference or post-season. The flip side, of course, is that the Mountaineers are 19-13 and losers of eight of their last 12, and in a rare hiccup for a Bob Huggins team seem to play even worse offense than opponents can manage against his alley-brawl defense. Also, Huggins did his best to play geographic victim, too. “What makes you think I’m happy about it?” he mock-griped. “You’re not going to get the ticket requests I’m going to get.” Even if the Zags have become slow to rile to such an indignity, that hardly makes it an NCAA best practice. Committee spokesmen noted that travel patterns are examined going back just two years, and essentially blamed this unfortunate glitch on the West Coast Conference being, well, too good – having three teams that had to be separated into different brackets. “The other thing is, West Virginia was one of nine Big East teams,” the NCAA’s Dave Worlock said. “Obviously, there are restrictions as you’re trying to prevent Big East teams from playing until as late as possible within the bracket.” So this is the way it fell, a casualty of another resurgence of respect within the committee for programs beyond the traditional power conferences. Sure, the Big East got its nine teams in, and the Big Ten and Big 12 six apiece. But 11 of the 37 at-large bids went to schools beyond the BCS leagues, the most since 2004. So deep is the pool of have-somes that Butler, a Final Four team the past two years, not only didn’t come close to an NCAA bid but missed out on the NIT, too. The poster child for this breakthrough was Iona, the Metro Atlantic’s first at-large team in 17 years. And the posterized child was none other than the Washington Huskies, the first major conference regular-season champ to have the door slammed since, well, forever. Were that not enough, the NCAA – in a new burst of transparency – ranked the bracket teams 1-68 and even listed the top six that didn’t make the field. The Dawgs were not even that close, which had to have their fans snarling “too much information.” This would seem to discredit UW coach Lorenzo Romar’s notion that “take (away) any one of those losses, I think we’re looking for tape to find out how we’re going to scout the opponent in the NCAA tournament.” Instead, he should be scheduling himself more chances to beat better ones. But he won’t. “I think they sent a strong message about nonconference scheduling again,” Few said. “But again, there are 10 guys in there and you hear one guy’s version.” And that version changes annually, it seems. But for this year, the bracketeers got it as right as it was going to get. Now, about that NIT mess …