(LEXINGTON, Ky.) — Immediately after Kentucky’s disappointing 82-78 loss to Tennessee in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, sophomore forward PJ Washington reassured all of BBN that he saw no reason to worry. “We play next weekend, so we’re fine,” he said confidently. “We knew it was a hard-fought game (against Tennessee). Both teams fought really well. Down the stretch we made some mistakes. They capitalized on us. We play next weekend, we’re going to get it right.”
I’m not sure the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee ever gets it right. After all, when dealing with bracketology, it’s obvious we’re not talking about real science. Sure, there’s the NET, the team value index, the adjusted winning percentage, the SOS, the BPI, all the quadrant breakdowns, the KenPom and the Sagarin rankings. But in the end, it’s all just hocus-pocus—a feeble attempt to infuse objectivity into a process fraught with individual bias. Images of secret handshakes by cigar-chomping administrators in a smoky, dimly lit room still abound in the inquiring minds of basketball fans everywhere. How else could you possibly explain three ACC teams and Gonzaga ending up as the #1 seeds?
Virginia and Gonzaga both lose in their tournaments and it has no effect on seeding. North Carolina loses and the Tar Heels actually move up. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Meanwhile, losses by Kentucky and Tennessee in the SEC Tournament drop both to a #2 seed. Riddle me this: Why is it that when SEC teams beat up on each other, they get penalized for their losses? When ACC teams lose to each other, it’s like a rising tide lifting all boats. I’m telling you, it’s selection member bias. It’s a skewed perception of how good a team is based on your own preferences and experiences. It’s a highly subjective eye-test viewed—in this case of ACC favoritism—through the distorted prism of East Coast elitism.
The committee tells us that Duke’s mediocrity during Zion Williamson’s injury didn’t count against them, yet North Carolina got credit for beating Duke twice during that same time period that Zion was missing in action. You can’t have it both ways. The Tar Heels—who Kentucky beat in head to head competition—end up with a #1 seed. I guess it doesn’t really matter in the long run since the committee threw Kentucky into the same region as Carolina’s number two.
The folly of the seeding process is further exposed in the geographical jockeying of teams within regions. Kentucky Coach John Calipari had it right when he said, “Just do the S-curve, it’s easy.” Having the top #1 seed play the worst #2 seed and so on down the line not only makes a lot of sense, but takes the prejudice, partiality, and partisanship directly out of the challenges of placing teams within their natural regions. Slotting teams in regions close to home is inherently unfair anyway. Why does Kansas always get to play in Kansas City? I agree with Coach Cal. Just put everyone on the S-curve and let the chips fall where they may. “Everybody charters,” Calipari reminded everyone. “Doesn’t matter where you’re playing.”
Next weekend—Thursday and Saturday to be exact—the #2-seeded Wildcats will be playing in Jacksonville, Florida, taking on 15th-seeded Abilene Christian in the first round of the Midwest Regional bracket. Win that one and the winner of 7th-seeded Wofford versus 10th-seeded Seton Hall awaits in the round of 32. Should Kentucky survive and advance, the NCAA selection committee has once again done them no favors. A ticket to Kansas City for a potential matchup against #3-seeded Houston in the Sweet Sixteen before a much-anticipated Elite Eight rematch versus the top-seeded Tar Heels promises to be no walk in the park. Jacksonville and Kansas City? What happened to Columbus and Louisville? So much for geographical preference.
“There was a chance I thought we would play in Louisville,” said Coach Cal immediately after the brackets were released. “It wasn’t slim…but it was nil. Not happening. But that’s fine.”
Instead, Tennessee gets the #2 seed in the South Region with a chance to play in Louisville. In essence, they stole Kentucky’s dream slot. Up by eight with less than three minutes to play, the Wildcats let a golden opportunity slip agonizingly away. You can’t blame the selection committee for that one.
For this Kentucky team, the road to recovery begins this Thursday. As PJ Washington said—it’s time to make things right. See you in Jacksonville.
Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.