NCAA Basketball Debate: Super Twos or Weak Ones?

February 16, 2015

For many casual sports fans, this is the lull point of the year. Both college and professional football have wrapped up, pro baseball is over a month away from beginning and the NBA is still a couple of months away from seeing its players really hustle after every loose ball.

But for the college hoops junkies, this is one of the more exciting times of the year. Conference play has been in full swing for well over a month and it is becoming clear which teams have a legitimate shot of competing for a Final Four spot come late March.

Additionally, mid-February is one of the only times that you can get a head start on your bracket. That is, of course, assuming you’re a loyal follower of one of the major networks’ resident bracketologist.

Not surprisingly, I am. In fact, I have been known to go as far as printing out completely blank brackets, filling them in with Joe Lunardi or Jerry Palm’s predictions before the actual field of 68 is set.

That being said, I often have conversations in my head about what Mr. Lunardi or Mr. Palm has predicted (not very many people will have these hypothetical debates with me). And while these conversations normally go no further than my own cerebral cortex, I felt like the latest one is worth your time.

Earlier this evening on SportsCenter, Joe Lunardi was featured in a short Bracketology segment in which he argued that this year’s tournament field will likely have an unusually strong set of two seeds.

While I normally defer to Lunardi for almost anything tournament related through the month of February, I can’t get on board with his latest opinion. Before I go any further, let’s take a look at Lunardi’s latest 1 and 2 seeds by region:

No. 1 Seeds

East – Virginia

Midwest – Kentucky

South – Duke

West – Gonzaga

No. 2 Seeds

East – Villanova

Midwest – Kansas

South – Wisconsin

West – Gonzaga

At first glance, this looks like a pretty solid prognostication. The eight teams listed above also happen to be the top eight teams in the current RPI rankings, widely considered to be the most accurate indicator of a team’s true strength. In addition, the teams that received a one seed in Lunardi’s most recent bracket are also interlaced nicely between those that received a two seed in those RPI rankings.

That could be the driving factor behind Lunardi’s opinion. But it’s probably not.

Just saying those top four teams and comparing them to the next four would guide most people towards the same conclusion.

Anyone born after the Ralph Sampson era at Virginia isn’t quite buying into the Cavaliers yet. Tony Bennett’s team may have an extremely efficient defense, but only American has fewer possessions per 40 minutes according to Ken Pom’s adjusted tempo rankings. You may be able to stop just about any offense, but if you’re not scoring quickly, you’re fighting an uphill battle with the fans.

Similarly, Gonzaga is battling an image issue with both the voters and fans. Granted, this one is a bit more understandable, with the Bulldogs playing in the lowly West Coast Conference being the only team inside the RPI’s top eight without a winning record against Top 25 squads.

That, and flaming out in the third round two years ago, the last time it earned a No. 1 seed. The loss was to an eventual Final Four participant, but that’s beside the point.

It’s all about perception.

So while Lunardi may think that the two seeds are exceptionally strong, I’ll offer an alternative: the entire college basketball landscape is weak this year, save those guys from Lexington.

The current two seeds may look strong right now, but who is challenging them? Wisconsin is from the Big Ten. Down conference. Arizona is from the Pac-12. Down conference. Villanova is from the Big East. Watered-down conference. Only Kansas has a legitimate argument that it has faced the gauntlet and come away with but a few scratches.

The Jayhawks would be looked at long and hard as a potential one seed if the season ended today.

There may not be much to separate the potential ones from twos at this point, but that doesn’t default to being a case of super two seeds. We’ve got a pool of teams all mashed together, a sign that the top may be weaker than usual.

It’s a great ingredient for an exciting tournament…and a busted bracket.

– K. Becks

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