The NCAA bracket was revealed on Sunday. Here’s a look at what the committee got right and wrong on seeding
The bracket is finally out, and the manic first two days of the NCAA Tournament have been set. The field itself mostly shook out as expected, with the somewhat notable exception of Syracuse. The ACC squad missed out on the dance despite a collection of quality wins, mainly due to too many losses and a lack of away victories. Have fun in Greensboro, Jim.
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There’s quite a bit more to dispute is the seeding. The Selection committee has largely done well in selecting the field in the last few years. There are a few quibbles here and there, mostly in favor of the major conference teams, but nothing to go too nuts about. The big problems the committee seems to have come in the seeding arena, where seeds after the top-4 seem to be handed out in arbitrary, confusing, and often contradictory ways. So after the bracket reveal on Sunday, we took a dive into teams that were both underrated and overrated by the Committee, and what it means for their March.
Underrated: Wichita State
Well, here we are again. Wichita State somehow earned a 10-seed, and landed at 38th on the Committee’s S-curve, despite sitting in the AP’s top 25 poll and ranking as a top-15 squad for nearly all advanced metric-based rankings. Under somewhat similar circumstances last year (11th seed, 13th overall per KenPom), Wichita State won two games by double digits and made it to the Sweet 16. The difference between their S-curve rank and KenPom rank is 30 places, or eight and a half seed lines — by far the most in the country. Even with a more modest 5- or 6-seed, that difference would still rank near the top.
There are legitimate gripes to be made about Wichita State’s schedule; they play in a conference ranked 10th in the country by KenPom’s rankings, and played just five reasonably strong opponents in non-conference play this year (they lost against three of them). But I’m of the opinion that schedule should play into whether a team makes the field, or the judgment of their resume; once they’re in, teams should be seeded based on how good they are.
There’s no argument about whether the Shockers deserve to be in the field; a 30-4 campaign should be enough even without the auto-bid they earned. The margins by which they destroyed their (admittedly weak) competition gives every indication this is, at worst, a top-25 team. And as my colleague Chris Stone went deep on in this Twitter thread, it’s systematically unfair to blame mid-major teams for the strength of their conferences in seeding.
At the end of this rant, here’s some hope for Wichita State. As I looked at here, underseeded mid-majors with weak schedules have been quite a bit better than your typical lower seeds in making it to the Sweet 16. Of the 25 squads that were minor conference teams, underseeded by at least two lines, a five seed or higher, and with an overall schedule ranked 80th or worse in the country by KenPom, SEVEN have made it to the Sweet 16. This is good for just over a quarter of this sample.
And while this may not seem overwhelmingly positive, keep in mind that all other teams between the 6th seed and 14th seed make the Sweet 16 just 11.5 percent of the time. Underrating mid-majors because of their schedule is a dangerous prospect for the teams that have to play them. Wichita State is already favored by over 6 points against their first-round opponent (Dayton), and would have a shot at a strong — but young — Kentucky squad for a chance to make it back to the Sweet 16. Don’t sleep on the Shockers, even if the Committee is.