Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Guru's Musings: How The NCAA Field Came To Be

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA -- Welcome to the Guru’s land of random thoughts and musings hours after the bracket was presented to the world for the 2011 NCAA Women’s tournament.

By the way, the Guru seemed to have a good day in the previous post hitting 32 of 33 of the at-large picks. And if you read the post closely, he really wanted to pick Dayton over LSU but at the last minute went the other way in anticipating the committee might give the Tigers more credit for playing in the Southeastern Conference than Dayton in the Atlantic 10.

But Dayton is a terrific choice. As observed, LSU and Duquesne were perhaps the odd teams out when Houston failed to win Conference USA and Louisiana Tech lost in the final seconds of the Western Athletic Conference tournament.

The two upset victims were taken, as predicted, meaning someone had to be bumped aside.

“When I saw Houston and Louisiana Tech lose, I knew that probably killed us,” Duquesne coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, a former Penn State star, said.

And considering that Dayton will open Saturday at her alma mater means it might have evolved that Duquesne might have ventured from Pittsburgh to Happy Valley had they made the field.

But understand the committee thinks much differently than the way the Guru, his media colleagues and you fans who follow the sport real close do in terms of conjuring up fun matchups and stories.

Two years ago when Duke and coach Joanne P. McCallie got sent to Michigan State, where she had previously coached before moving to Durham, N.C., and the Blue Devils were ultimately upset by the Spartans, the Guru wondered if the committee understood the consequence of that placement or discussed it in those terms considering the Blue Devils’ high seed and lack of protection.

The chair happened to be Duke’s women’s administrator Jacki Silar, who under the rules could not be in the room for those deliberations that affected the Blue Devils’ placement.

He later remarked on the side that it was the first time he could recall the chair being sabotaged by her own committee.

On a similar note, the Guru was in a conversation with a Rutgers official Monday afternoon and jokingly said to send coach C. Vivian Stringer’s complaints along once the bracket was made known.

“Oh, I think in terms of how the season went she’ll just be happy that she’s in,” came the reply.

Several hours later when the Guru took his first look at the bracket and saw Rutgers placement he thought, “Oh, oh, it’s the same ol’ same ole.’”

The Scarlet Knights got a seventh seed in the Dallas regional going to meet No. 10 Louisiana Tech in Shreveport, La., with the next opponent through potential advancement being No. 2 Texas A&M, the Aggies squad that took care of Rutgers in the first five minutes of their game at the Maggie Dixon Classic in New York in December.

The Guru thinks that in doing all its work, the committee at times is oblivious to flesh and blood issues so he doesn’t believe its intentional but when it occurs he thinks there’s no one to sit there and say “wait and minute.”

On the other hand, in going by the system, once a team lands on a line, these things can ben unavoidable, but then that’s price for not getting things done on the court and putting fates into the hands of a committee.

More of those will be spoken to several items below.

Selection and Seed Not The Same

After Temple’s placement as a 10th seed meeting No. 7 Arizona State was announced for the Dayton regional, Owls coach Tonya Cardoza noted that it seemed her team might have been on the bubble.

Actually, that’s not necessarily true.

And as we go through this, the Guru is using much of what he has learned attending NCAA mock bracket sessions to explain
the thought processes he believed occurs in creating the field and draw.

The first thing that happens is teams get voted into the tournament and Temple had appeared to be a lock and may have been in the pile of 33 at-large teams without much discussion.

But then seeding occurs and it’s a whole new exercise so even if a team quickly lands on the selection, the squad, unless it is really high profile, is at the mercy of all the principles and procedures being used to determine the draw. And remember, the rules are much different than the men’s tournament.

Associated Press Poll And NCAA Seeding

The media panel determining the weekly rankings in the AP poll and the committee were not too far apart from each other in terms of seed lines versus rankings.

This observation comes from an interesting comparison that if the AP poll was the only standard, then in a perfect world without attention to hosting sites, etc., the poll rankings are not too far apart from what the committee produced.

Example, take the AP poll and the top four teams would be No. 1 seeds, the next four No. 2s, the third No. 3s and so on through the sixth seeds when you then run out of Top 25 ranked teams.

So given that theory, the first four teams in the final poll of the season released Monday afternoon – Connecticut, Stanford, Baylor and Tennessee -- all got No. 1 seeds.

In the next group three teams Xavier, Duke, and Texas A&M got No.2s, while Notre Dame swapped up to a No. 2 with UCLA, which fell to a No. 3.

That switch aside, 10th ranked DePaul and 11th ranked Miami got No. 3s which would be correct, while 15th-ranked Florida State also got a No. 3.

Wisconsin-Green Bay, ranked 13th, and North Carolina, ranked 14th, dropped to No. 5s, which seems appropriate, and Michigan State, which was 12th, along with No. 16 Maryland, No. 17 Kentucky, and No. 18 Ohio State all got No. 4s, which was close enough.

No. 19 Marist got a 10th seed and No. 20 Gonzaga got an 11th, which in terms of NCAA data, is not really out of line.

The final groups, which would get fives and sixes, were almost perfect in Georgetown, Oklahoma, Georgia Tech, and Iowa, while Marquette got an eighth-seed.

Non-ranked teams Penn State and Georgia got six seeds, but that is equivalent to where they had been considered when they made poll appearances in the last month.

Building The Bracket

For all the complaints about rematches, etc., the Guru thinks the principles and procedures in building the bracket just put certain things in unavoidable situations.

As Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said about the Owls’ unable to be placed and advance through the Philadelphia Regional, which the school is hosting on campus, “It is what it is.”

Remember, as noted above, there are things many of the Guru and his friends would do and not do but none of those particulars are what the committee’s charge is to do unless it changes its operating code.

But as a guide before all the tumult dies and the games begin, let’s go through this line by line and investigate how things came to be in the NCAA women’s bracket.

Remember some of the guidelines call for keeping conference teams apart as much and long as possible, which is a nightmare in this field considering a record nine Big East teams, seven out of the Big 12, Six out of the ACC, and five out of the Big Ten. Ok, how about four more from the SEC.

But to begin, line one is easy. None of the No. 1 seeds were a shock and using near geography it is what everyone thought – Connecticut to Philadelphia; Tennessee to Dayton; Baylor to Dallas, and Stanford to Spokane, Wash.

So that’s the top of it all.

Second Seeds: Seed line No. 2 is where the angst begins. Why isn’t Xavier No. 2 in Dayton, probably because it wasn’t the best No. 2 on the line.

If it was Texas A&M and the committee didn’t care about avoiding a new version of the Rutgers vs. UConn same-conference regional final in 2008, then the Aggies' near geography is Dallas. Notre Dame was probably considered next and even if it’s a flip-flop, the Irish’s near geography is Dayton. If Duke is in any of the first three slots on the row, nearest geography is Philadelphia.

Then Xavier, by default, is forced West. The Musketeers might have had a better shot at Dayton as a No. 3 seed.

Third Seeds: UCLA in any pecking order falls into its own West with the potential of repeating the PAC-10 championship against Stanford.

Miami or Florida State can’t be in Philadelphia because if Duke is set, then either of the two schools are not allowed to collide that early in a potential semifinal with their ACC rival.

So DePaul lands in the Philly regional and then depending the pecking order and NCAA geographical program one Florida school goes to Dallas and the other to Dayton.

Fourth Seeds: Maryland appears to be the strongest on the line but either way as the strongest or just behind the Buckeyes, the Terrapins land in the Philly regional and Ohio State lands in the Dayton regional. If Michigan State is in front of Kentucky then the Spartans go to Dallas.

Fifth Seeds: Georgetown may have been the strongest seed here so the Hoyas get Philly in near geography. And because there are nine Big East teams, the committee has no problem with a potential semifinals game with Connecticut.

Also, our friendly or not-so-friendly principle and procedures are involved because Georgia Tech and/or North Carolina can’t get to the Philly placement because of a potential regional semifinal meeting with ACC-rival Maryland, and that’s a no-no. Remember the ACC has six teams, not nine.

Georgia Tech must have gotten Dayton being rated ahead of North Carolina, which got sent West and would not have to see potentially ACC-rival Florida State in the regional final. – the operating word here is “potentially.” That seems to be the only way to explain Wisconsin-Green Bay being slotted in Dallas.

Sixth Seeds: If Penn State was the best on the line and the Lady Lions might have been, then Philly it is and considering the large following in the City of Brotherly Love if Coach Coquese Washington’s bunch makes a Cinderella run expect a lot of fans, especially considering four players with Philly ties.

Oklahoma is then kept out of Dallas to avoid a path that had the threat of a semifinal game against Big 12 rival Texas A&M. If Georgia is then rated higher, that’s how the Bulldogs get Dallas and Iowa is forced to Spokane.

Seventh Seeds: Here’s how Rutgers is in a cannot win situation on placement no matter the pecking order. There are already three Big East teams – the max – in the Philly regional so Iowa State gets that placement. Arizona State, which may have pulled a higher vote, avoids a potential early PAC-10 ten meeting in the West with UCLA, so the Sun Devils land in Dayton. Rutgers, then rated ahead of Louisville, gets, Dallas and the Big East Cardinals are forced to the West.

Eighth Seeds: Kansas State and Texas Tech stay out of Dallas because of an early potential meeting with Big 12-rival Baylor. Marquette would overload Philly with Big East teams so the Warriors land in Dayton. Houston is slotted into Dallas as a natural. Kansas State may have then gotten Philly over Texas Tech on first shot at remaining nearest geography.

Ninth Seeds: It seems Texas in Dayton avoids an early path to Baylor in the Dallas regional as part of the glut of Big 12 teams. West Virginia and St. John’s are Big East schools so the two get forced to Dallas and Spokane depending on who won the near geography prize – if that’s what Dallas is. Purdue then gets Philly because the Boilermakers couldn’t meet Big Ten rival Penn State if both advance a long way to the final.

Tenth Seeds: Temple can’t be in Philly under the site-hosting rules. Louisiana Tech gets Dallas on near geography. For whatever reason, Marist seems to be ahead of Vanderbilt, which under near geography gives the Red Foxes dibbs on Philly.

Eleventh Seeds: Dayton can’t be in Dayton as explained, so Philly it is. James Madison wins out on pecking order for Dayton. Either way Gonzaga stays home in Spokane – different venue for the regional final – and Middle Tennessee backs into Dallas.

Twelfth Seeds: Everyone wins on near-geography. Princeton, a record 11th seed a year ago for an Ivy school, gets a 12th seed and stays near Philly; Bowling Green is close to Dayton. Fresno stays near Spokane. And Arkansas-Little Rock backs into Dallas.

The rest of the teams in many cases are a gruesome bunch in terms of priority so it’s just going for the best geographical shots.

So that’s it.

A Geno Tale From An Earlier -- Much Earlier -- Tournament Time

On a closing note, the Guru was bemused at UConn coach Geno Auriemma asking for a reason that Big East rival Syracuse got omitted. The Guru believes if Auriemma worked elsewhere he might question the Orange’s inclusion if they were taken.

Back in the early days of the Auriemma era before the Huskies became good, the Guru recalls a conversation near tournament time when Auriemma noted:

“You know how you say, “How did they get in?”

Then Auriemma shrugged his shoulders on the potential answer: “One of those teams.”

He then spoke of his own group struggling down the stretch, though the Huskies eventually made the field as an at-large pick.

“Well this year, that can be us. Why are we in?" Auriemma then shrugged his shoulders: "One of those teams.”

-- Mel


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