With the NCAA tournament only four days away - and with the WNIT and the WBI getting an early start tomorrow - the sound across women's basketball is that of a great wailing and gnashing of teeth. There are lots of teams out there - big name teams - that aren't happy about their placement in the NCAA. Take Duke, which has been given a #2 seed and still isn't happy about it. Below is from Joanne C. Gerstner of the New York Times:
"We have a lot to prove," [Duke head coach Joanne P. ] McCallie told the Durham Herald-Sun. "Women’s basketball, in general, doesn’t believe in Duke. It’s very clear by that. It’s clear by what they say. It’s clear how our kids get no (national) coverage. It’s clear how our heralded freshman class didn’t get a mention. It’s very clear that we have no coverage."
McCallie reminds me of the joke about the woman whose child was saved from drowning, given CPR by a lifeguard and resuscitated. (The woman's angry response to the lifeguard? "What happened to my son's hat?") Duke has had more than a hat this year, being pretty much the #1 team in the ACC from beginning to end winning their first 20 games before their loss to #1 seed Connecticut. They only have three losses, but two of them were blowouts and the worst one was in Storrs. I really don't know what else Duke can ask for.
From the same article by Gerstner, Jim Foster of Ohio State isn't that happy, either.
"We beat teams that were playing for something this time of the year. Nobody was going through the motions. We’ve been playing teams that needed to win the game and thought they could win the game."
But which of these teams has a better argument for a higher seed? We're going to pull out some more number-crunching and use the Swish Appeal Bettor's Method to rank our own Top 25 teams going into the tournament.
The linked post explains how the method works. Short version: take the Sagarin RPI ratings. Adjust the ratings for the last seven games that each team has played - we want to see which teams are hot and which are not. Throw out the hottest (and coldest) performances out of those last seven games, and readjust Sagarin's rankings to reflect recent performance.
What are the advantages of the Bettor's Method?
1) It reflects recent momentum.
2) It reflects well on teams that have done well in their post-season tournaments - those teams will be given more weight from the Bettor's Method.
3) It is a predictive method - if Connecticut has a rating of x and Baylor has a rating of (x - 3), then Connecticut should beat Baylor by three points on a neutral court.
Here is the Swish Appeal Bettor's Method Top 25:
|Rank||Team||Bettor's Method Rank|
As you can see, it reflects Sagarin's rankings fairly closely, but there are some differences.
Does Duke deserve their ranking? The Bettor's Method says they should have been ranked higher. Duke's placement with Connecticut implies that Duke is the weakest of the #2 seeds, when in fact they're the second strongest. Duke should have been put in the bracket with Baylor, and I'm sure that several aggravated Aggie fans will agree with me.
What about Ohio State? I don't know if I'd give Ohio State a #2 seed, but the method shows that Ohio State is carrying a ton of momentum with them and if they can get past Central Florida Ohio State might finally have enough oomph to get them into the Sweet Sixteen or better this year.
Any other surprises? Despite the fact that Wisconsin-Green Bay has not faced a team with a 25 or higher ranking in the Sagarin polls, the Bettor's Method claims that they're ranked too low as a #5 seed. Rutgers's schedule was second in strength only to Connecticut's and Rutgers has two wins against Top 25 Sagarin teams. West Virginia only has one such win, and has a schedule ranked #65 compared to Rutgers' #2. However, the Scarlet Knights are a #7 seed, just two seeds above West Virginia.
Syracuse made a great push at the end, finishing with a 9-7 conference record, beating St. John's on the road, and losing to Georgetown by just one point in the Big East Tournament - the Orange also beat Ohio State and finished with a 22-9 record. Undoubtedly, the Orange were punished for their weak schedule, but they were punished too harshly. Xavier's schedule was almost as weak as Syracuse's and the Bettor's Method only has the two teams 6 1/2 points apart. So how does Texas get in and Syracuse not get in?
Is Maryland really a #4 seed? They were bumped out of the first round of the ACC Tournament by Georgia Tech. Over their last seven games, Maryland's record has been 3-4 with losses to Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech...and Virginia. Should they have been seeded lower?
The truth of the matter is, mathematical rankings and statistical cherry-picking won't satisfy anyone looking for reason to grieve. The teams that really have cause for anger are the teams like Syracuse and Dayton who have been left on the outside looking in. And even if Duke is unhappy with their seeding, there's a place where they can register their disgust - on the basketball court. Give them three wins, and the Blue Devils can put all issues of respect and mathematics and selection committees to rest for good in Philadelphia in a potential rematch with the Huskies. If Duke beats Connecticut, trust me - the press will listen.