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BREAKING NEWS: BRACKETVILLE DESTROYED
March 13, 2006

SCS.com The fallout from this year's bracket has left a long, wide path of destruction right down the center of Bracketville. Resident bracketologists across the country are picking up the pieces of their once comfortable existence and now must attempt a reconstruction in the wake of last night's storm.

One bracketologist somberly stated, "It's just hard, you know. You spend years building a life for yourself, and then one storm comes along and tears it all down. We just have to keep the faith and move on." The Weather Channel will have ongoing 24-hour coverage all week in Bracketville.

Most bracketologists agree that this is the craziest, most inconsistent bracket we have seen in our stint as bracketologists. The only real beef I had with last year's bracket was the inclusion of UAB (who performed pretty well), and I thought Louisville was underseeded as a four and that Pitt was ripped off with a 9-seed. My beefs with this year's edition could fill a ConAgra stockyard.

MISSOURI RIVER FLOODS WITH TEARS

No tournament-eligible team better than #33 in the RPI had ever been left out of the Big Dance before this season. This committee set a new record by leaving out #30 Hofstra. Then, they re-broke that record by excluding #21 Missouri State! Bears fans are seething with righteous indignation, and they are justified in their anger. In addition to having a robust RPI, the Bears had four Top 50 RPI wins (Air Force: zero; Utah State: one) and no sub-100 RPI losses (Air Force: three; Utah State: three). Surely the Bears had a bad finish, right? No, they won eight of their last ten. Well, that means that they finished behind the other Valley teams in the bracket in the regular season. Wrong again. The Bears tied for second place. It is a cruel joke that the Bears were left out of the Tournament.

After watching Utah State lose a great game to Nevada for the WAC title, the Aggies gained some points with the committee. They were among my last four out, and from watching them play, it is not too difficult to understand how they slipped into the bracket ahead of Cincinnati (6-10 without Armein Kirkland, although I thought they had done enough), Hofstra, Michigan, or Creighton. But, their statistical profile lacks punch. They beat Nevada one time in three chances, and that is the full extent of their good wins. This was purely a subjective choice, which may not be all bad, but it is quite difficult to predict.

It was nice to see the Colonial get two bids, but how could the committee take George Mason over Hofstra? Hofstra finished stronger, beat GMU twice down the stretch, and GMU will be without suspended point guard Tony Skinn for the first game of the Tourney. This one is not a travesty (I liked both of these teams ahead of Air Force), but it seems George Washington's seed was hurt by Pops Mensah-Bonsu's injury, yet GMU gets a free pass without one of their best players.

Finally, we must deal with the inclusion of Air Force. As far as I can tell, they are on par with New Mexico's inclusion in 1999 as the worst at-large selection in history. How a team with zero, nada, zilch, bagel, love, no Top 50 RPI wins, coupled with three sub-100 RPI losses (to #120 New Mexico and twice to #170 Wyoming!), finds its way in after losing in the first round of their conference tournament is a total mystery. AFA did finish tied for second in their conference, and the committee clearly placed a premium on regular season standings (Seton Hall over Cincinnati; George Mason over Hofstra; oh, tell me again how 2nd-place Missouri State got left out?).

WEST SIDE AVOIDS MAJOR DAMAGE

No one likes nasty "east coast bias," but it looks as if this committee overcompensated a bit. UCLA deserved their two seed and Arizona might be an eight, but California as a 7-seed, Nevada as a 5-seed, along with inclusion of Air Force and Utah State, suggests some bias toward the western schools. Many will argue that this is small potatoes compared to the years of underseeding the western teams. They may be right.

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES (AWAY FROM FLOOD-PRONE AREAS)

Utah's athletic director, UCLA's athletic director, and the commissioners of both the Mountain West and WAC were all on the committee, and they did a great job advocating for their teams. This may sound harsh, but if the MWC and WAC commissioners are not on the committee, I do not believe that AFA and Utah State get into the bracket. Having friends on the committee is not supposed to help or hurt a team's chances of getting a bid, but it only makes sense that if someone is there to provide information about teams, they are going to benefit from that. This is not an accusation of wrong-doing, but if the Missouri Valley commissioner was on the committee instead of the Mountain West commish, it is likely that Missouri State would be in the bracket and Air Force would not. It does not mean anyone was underhanded, but rather that the committee had human resources regarding Utah State, George Mason, and AFA that they did not have with Missouri State, Creighton, or Cincinnati. The former three got in, and the latter three were left out. Coincidence?

AT THE HEART OF THE STORM

Illinois
Bruce Weber and the Illini have to be scratching their heads. Illinois was a three seed challenging for a two in my mind, but they wind up as a four shipped out West to San Diego with three western teams in their pod. They get AFA in the first round, followed by the winner of Washington/Utah State if they get past the Falcons. That is a tough placement for the Illini.

Boston College
For their great end-of-season play, run to the ACC Final, and pushing overall #1 Duke to the limit, BC gets rewarded with a 4-seed in Salt Lake City with three western teams in their pod (Pacific, Nevada, and Montana). Much like Illinois, BC seems not only to have gotten a raw seed, but got a raw draw as well.

Kansas/Bradley/Pitt
Bradley got the hose with a 13-seed, and Kansas in turn gets by far the toughest first-round matchup for any 4-seed. If they manage to survive the challenge from the Braves, Kansas will get fellow underseeded power Pittsburgh if the Panthers can get by a hot Kent State club. Pitt has one of the strongest 5-seed profiles I have ever seen. Kansas/Pitt could have been a regional final. Now, it may be a second round matchup.

George Washington
It is not often (ever?) that a 26-2 team lands an 8-seed. Surely the uncertain status of center Pops Mensah-Bonsu played into the low seed, along with GW's atrocious strength of schedule. Still, if Pops can play, GW will be a scary, scary matchup for top seeded Duke, if they can survive a capable UNC-Wilmington club. Without Pops, my money is on the Seahawks.

ESCAPED ANY DAMAGE

California
The Bears will gladly take a 7-seed and run with it, especially when they are matched up with a team that is tanking (NC State). Leon Powe is phenomenal and Cal made a nice run to the Pac-10 final, but with an RPI of 52 and three sub-100 losses, the Bears seem to have received a gift from the committee.

Tennessee
Here is the blueprint for all future 2-seed hopefuls: (1) lose 4 of 6 to end the season, (2) tank in the first game of the conference tourney, (3) look tired and spent while doing it. North Carolina, Boston College, Illinois, and a few others were better choices for a 2-seed. (Side note: the SEC commish was on the selection committee. Wow, another meaningless coincidence).

To sum up, I was disappointed in my projections, and I was disappointed in the selection committee. Seeing any kind of consistency in their choices is difficult. It appears that they did value finishing near the top of the conference standings (AFA and Utah State), but somehow found a way to leave out Missouri State (2nd in the MVC). They built up a lot of capital with me last year by doing a stellar job. Let's hope that this is just a down year.

Also, my faith in the "friends on the committee do not matter" stance has been greatly shaken this season. Bracketologists try to do projections without bias because that is what is expected from the committee. While the committee did not slant their selections toward BCS conference teams any more than past committees, the inclusion of Air Force, Utah State, George Mason (USU and GMU to a lesser extent), coupled with the inordinately high seeds for Tennessee, Cal, and Nevada, will have me looking at the committee makeup a lot closer next year than in past seasons. All six of those teams had either their AD's or conference commissioners on the committee.

Have fun making your picks this week. More bracket talk and my picks are coming later this week.

 > Talk about it in The College Corner...

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