Breaking down the bracketology

Going into today's SEC title game, the Kentucky Wildcats were the best kind of bubble team. Instead of riding the NCAA/NIT bubble, UK was one of several teams on the bubble for a #1 seed. In fact, some well-known bracket prognosticators had UK in the field as the third overall 1 seed. 

Going into today’s SEC title game, the Kentucky Wildcats were the best kind of bubble team.  Instead of riding the NCAA/NIT bubble, UK was one of several teams on the bubble for a #1 seed.  In fact, some well-known bracket prognosticators had UK in the field as the third overall 1 seed. 

Unfortunately, Kentucky’s bubble burst with their 17-point defeat at the hands of the Florida Gators.  The selection committee apparently placed great weight on the outcome of Sunday’s conference title games, awarding the 2 #1 seeds in play to Duke and Washington, both of which won their title games on Sunday.  UK losing (and losing decisively) to a team considered to be a 4 seed by the committee obviously carried great weight. 

Should it have carried such weight?  If one looks at many of the factors the committee says that it considers in seeding teams (sometimes called the “nitty gritty” numbers), then Kentucky had at least as favorable a profile as either Duke or Washington.  Of the “nitty gritty” numbers the committee says it uses, the more important ones went like this: 

Record Against RPI Top 25 Teams: 

UK:  3-3

Duke: 4-2

Washington:   5-2

Against RPI Teams 26-50: 

UK:  3-0

Duke:  2-0

Washington:   3-2

Against RPI Teams 51-100: 

UK:  3-0

Duke:  9-2

Washington:   7-0

Wins in Last 10: 

UK:  8-2

Duke:  7-3

Washington:   8-2

Record in games on the road/on neutral courts: 

UK:  11-3

Duke:  10-4

Washington:   12-5

Non-Conference Strength of Schedule: 

UK:  75

Duke:  46

Washington:   33 

With so little to distinguish one team from another, it’s easy to see how the committee relied so heavily on the results of today’s games.   

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that the selection committee had enough time to finalize the brackets based on today’s results.  Committee Chairman Bob Bowlsby said on CBS that the committee prepared several contingency brackets based on the outcomes of today’s games.  This is a big change from previous seasons, when committee chairmen candidly admitted that Sunday’s games had little, if any, effect on the seedings due to time constraints.  This worked to UK’s disadvantage in its quest for a 1 seed this season, but if the committee was truly going by the numbers it claims it uses, it is difficult to say that UK was treated unreasonably by the committee in giving it a 2 seed. 

Looking at UK’s place in the brackets, it appears that the committee gave UK some treats, but also have some potential tricks along the way, too.  The committee favored UK by placing them in the Indianapolis pod for the first 2 rounds, giving UK a short drive to central Indiana and insuring that “The Blue Mist” of UK fans will be thick in Indy.  Placing UK in the Austin bracket also attempts to protect UK geographically by placing them in the South.   

However, one must wonder whether the committee also had a sense of humor as it bracketed UK’s first-round opponent and its potential second-round opponent.  Kentucky will begin the run for its eighth title by facing off Thursday against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels.   The Colonels, being so close to Lexington and being coached by legendary UK point guard Travis Ford, definitely will not be your run-of-the-mill 15 seed.  The incentive for EKU to play David to UK’s Goliath will be as great as possible.   

Assuming everything goes according to chalk, UK would face the Cincinnati Bearcats in the 2nd round.  Cincinnati had a regular series with UK in the 80’s, but the two teams have not played since 1990.  Cincinnati fans have long wanted to renew the series, but UK has chosen not to do so.  Considering this, and considering that UK has not lost to the Bearcats since 1939, one has to believe that the Bearcats and their faithful are salivating at the chance to send the Cats packing.   

Looking at the other side of the bracket, the two most immediate threats are the top seeds on that side, Duke and Oklahoma.  Oklahoma was arguably playing as well as any team in the country at the end of the regular season, winning 6 in a row on its way to a share of the Big XII regular-season title.   And no UK fan ever truly takes his or her eye off the Blue Devils, who bring a combination of outside shooting and interior size which would require UK to bring its A game. 

Other potential spoilers include #6 seed Utah with All-American big man Andrew Bogut and #4 seed Syracuse, whose outside shooting and quirky 2-3 matchup zone always make them a dangerous tourney opponent.   

Could UK have received an easier trip?  Sure—the top 4 seeds in the Albuquerque bracket seem to be the lightest of the 4 regions, with surprise 1 seed Washington, Wake Forest, surprise 3 seed Gonzaga and Louisville holding the top seeds.  But it could be worse, too:  UK could be in the Syracuse region with North Carolina and Kansas, two teams which defeated Kentucky this season.   

The bottom line is that UK held its destiny in its own hands today, and will do so from here on out.  And that is all a team can ask for, even if their 1 seed bubble burst today.

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