Well, it is that time of year again, NCAA March Madness. The time when doctors, lawyers, investment bankers, and even homemakers sport their favorite college gear. Hats and T-shirts, signs in store windows all supporting a team in the tourney. This is also the time of the year of productivity decrease in most businesses on Thursday and Friday because people are watching basketball instead of working. Bracket sheets are out, and people will lay down $10, $20, or more to see how well they can predict who will win.
Discussions in small-town coffee shops, the bowling alley, or the local bar will center around NCAA basketball. The field has been set, and now it is up to the teams to play the games.
Sixty-eight spots are available each year. Thirty-two go to the conference winners, and 36 are picked At-Large. This year, however, due to the pandemic, the Ivy league canceled their entire season. So there are 31 automatic bids and 37 At-Large. This year is also different from most because the pandemic caused a little havoc in many conferences. So selection was even harder to pin down than it had been in the past. On top of that, ALL games will be played in Indiana, with the bulk being played in Indianapolis at multiple arenas. So how did the selection committee do? Let’s take a look.
A YEAR LIKE NO OTHER
There are always teams at the beginning of the year that you know are going to do well. The Blue bloods, if you will, like Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Villanova, and Virginia. Programs that year in and year out seem to be fixtures in the post-season. However, this has not been a normal year. It started with the pre-season rankings—the top ten left people scratching their heads. 1 Gonzaga, 2 Baylor, 3 Villanova, 4 Virginia. Ok, so far, so good. Then came; 5 Iowa, 6 Kansas, 7 Wisconsin, 8 Illinois, 9 Duke, and 10 Kentucky.
At first glance, it seemed normal, but Duke and Kentucky behind Illinois and Wisconsin? Where were North Carolina, Tennessee, UCLA, and what about Michigan State and Texas? UNC was #16, Tennessee #12, UCLA #22, Texas #19 and MSU #13. The top 25 included 7 teams from the Big Ten, including Rutgers at #24.
Once play started, Gonzaga and Baylor went on a roll to prove the polls right. But teams like Duke, Kentucky, and Tennessee struggled while teams like Illinois, Kansas, and Villanova were up and down. Right out of the gate, teams like Michigan, Houston, and Drake made big runs. That was when Covid-19 entered the picture and threw a monkey wrench into some teams‘ seasons. Teams missed games here and there, causing grief in conference standings. Automatic bids were the easy part. It was going to be the seeding and At-Large that would be the challenge.
SO HOW DID THIS SHAKE OUT?
As the season went on, teams like Duke and Kentucky slid to the wayside while teams like Alabama, Illinois, Arkansas, and Ohio State made their moves. In the Big Ten, Michigan went idle for three weeks after they got to first place in the conference and the #3 ranking with an 8-1 (conf) record. They stayed there while Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, and Wisconsin clawed and scratched each other for position.
In the SEC (once thought to be dominated by Tennessee), Arkansas, Missouri, and Alabama flexed their muscles. Meanwhile, Gonzaga ruled the WCC with an iron fist. The same with Baylor in the Big 12 and Houston in the AAC. Quietly to most, Loyola of Chicago was rolling in the MVC. The Pac-12 saw USC, Colorado, and UCLA fighting it out. After the smoke had cleared and the conference tournaments were all but over, the committee set to their task.
It was much ballyhooed before the conference tournaments started that the top line or #1 seeds would go to Gonzaga, Baylor, and Michigan, leaving Illinois, Ohio State, Alabama, and Houston with a shot in the 4th slot. Illinois was given the advantage by going 16-4 in conference games and winning 11 of their last 12 games before the Big Ten Tournament to take the title. After a Michigan loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tourney, there was talk that IF Ohio State could win out that a case could be made to take them over MICHIGAN or Illinois. Those hopes were dashed in an overtime win in the championship game by the Illini.
So your four #1 seeds are Gonzaga, Illinois, Baylor, and Michigan.
The two-line also features a pair of Big Ten teams in Iowa and Ohio State. Joining them are Alabama and Houston.
The 3 lines are made up of Kansas, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Texas.
While the 4 seeds went to Purdue, Virginia, Florida State, and Oklahoma State.
In the top sixteen seeds Purdue (18-9), while good, seems out of place. A case could be made for Tennessee better record 18-8, and just as many Quad 1 wins as Purdue, 6. Then there is Colorado (22-8), the Pac-12 champ.
NO DANCE FOR YOU!
Teams left out of the field include some pretty prominent names. Duke, Kentucky, and Louisville all had very uncharacteristically bad years, mostly due to lack of games because of the pandemic. But some good teams got left to the side. Boise St. (17-8), Louisiana Tech (20-7), and Navy (15-3) should have deserved a play-in game. So did Memphis (16-8). For these guys, there is always the NIT.
OK, YOU CAN PLAY BUT.........
Some teams, I think, got a little shafted on their seeding. Loyola of Chicago (22-4) were the MVC winners with a 10 NCAA NET ranking, and they are an #8 seed. They should have at least been a #5, possibly a #4. Drake (23-4) was stuck with a play-in game. I would rather have them in than Rutgers. The same goes for UCLA. On that note, why is Michigan State in a play-in game? I know they were 15-12, but they beat Illinois and Michigan. They also own an NCAA NET 70 ranking! UAB would have made more sense as a play-in.
All in all, the committee did the best they could. I will try to do a weekly update through the tournament if you are looking for my predictions.