If you are looking for calm, levelheaded rationalizations as to why Wisconsin maybe deserved to be a No. 8 seed, then you have come to the wrong place. If you’re looking for total bewilderment over the whole thing, then welcome aboard, please seat yourself.
Though the second half of Sunday’s loss to Michigan was concerning, the Big Ten Tournament as a whole had to be considered a success for Wisconsin in terms of getting the team back on track offensively and inspiring at least some measure of confidence that they could make a little run in the NCAA Tournament.
But within hours, the NCAA Tournament selection committee took that hope and optimism, crushed it into pieces and replaced it with some combination of shock and fury.
The Badgers as a No. 8 seed is really just inexplicable. It’s not as absurd as Wichita State, a team ranked No. 8 in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, being slotted in as a No. 10 seed in a thinly-veiled attempt by the committee to get a Kentucky-Wichita State matchup in the second round, but it is still quite absurd. The committee putting Minnesota as a No. 5 seed and Maryland as a No. 6 seed only further compounded that absurdity.
The best explanation for this seeding head scratcher is the selection committee’s continued use of RPI, a flawed, outdated metric that creates distortions due to its overemphasis on strength of schedule and the fact that it fails to account for margin of victory. Despite its flaws, we can still use it to at least try and understand why the committee may have reached the conclusions it did.
First up, let’s look at Wisconsin. The Badgers are tied for 32nd in the RPI, went 5-7 against RPI top-50 opponents, have a strength of schedule that ranks 83rd in the country and a non-conference strength of schedule that ranked 304th. Maryland is also tied for 32nd in the RPI with a 5-4 record against RPI top-50 opponents, a strength of schedule ranked 54th and a non-conference strength of schedule ranked 126th. Finally, Minnesota sits at 20th in the RPI with an 8-7 record against RPI top-50 opponents, a strength of schedule ranked 17th and a non-conference strength of schedule ranked 28th.
So strictly from an RPI perspective, you can maybe kind of see what may have gone into that decision-making process (though South Carolina is ranked 41st in the RPI and got a No. 7 seed). But again, the RPI is a flawed metric, it’s not the sole basis for the committee’s seeding and the committee claims to have been incorporating more advanced metrics.
Those advanced metric ratings tell a different story. In Jeff Sagarin’s ratings, Wisconsin is ranked 17th (32nd in strength of schedule), Minnesota is 33rd (50th in SOS) and Maryland is 42nd (54th in SOS). In KenPom, Wisconsin is ranked 23rd overall, 39th in strength of schedule rating and 187th in nonconference strength of schedule rating; Minnesota is ranked 33rd overall, 49th in SOS rating and 208th in nonconference SOS rating; Maryland is ranked 45th overall, 54th in SOS rating and 186th in nonconference SOS rating.
And finally the Massey Ranking Composite—made up of 69 different ranking systems, including RPI, KenPom and Sagarin—has Wisconsin ranked 23rd, Minnesota at 27th and Maryland at 30th. Unless you’re going based strictly off RPI, it is really difficult to make a case in favor of what the committee settled on. When you include other factors into the equation (advanced metrics, conference standings, etc.), it would have made far more sense to have Wisconsin as a No. 5 seed, Minnesota as a No. 6 seed and Maryland as a No. 8 seed than what they ended up going with.
The general consensus among bracketologists was that the Badgers would end up as a No. 6 seed, though a No. 7 seed wouldn’t have been overly surprising. After all, this is a team that did have a weak nonconference schedule, failed to pick up marquee victories when they had the chance and endured a late-season slide. However, it is still awfully hard to figure out the logic that drops them to a No. 8 seed, especially given where other Big Ten teams ended up. It’s almost like the committee put Purdue as a No. 4 seed and then drew everyone else out of a hat.
Now, the Badgers get Virginia Tech in the first round and would square off against defending national champion Villanova in the second round if they beat the Hokies. That’s a potential matchup that seems cruelly unfair for both sides. Wisconsin obviously can’t be happy with the prospect of facing a No. 1 seed in the second round. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are the top seed in the tournament. It hardly seems like much of a reward to have them possibly play an under-seeded Wisconsin team that early on.
Maybe this seeding slight will just work as some extra motivation for UW’s players—Hell hath no fury like an athlete scorned. And maybe the Badgers take care of business against Virginia Tech and Ethan Happ has himself a day against Villanova’s so-so interior defense on the way to an upset of the Wildcats. The certain level of unpredictability is part of the allure of March Madness, after all.
But regardless of what happens for Wisconsin the rest of the way, it doesn’t change the fact that they were given an extremely raw deal by the selection committee.
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