Before we begin talking bracketology today, it's an absolute must that you read John Gasaway's piece today entitled, "What we talk about when we talk about building brackets."
The crux of the article is as follows:
Giving a No. 4 seed to one of the best teams in the country is going to happen from time to time when you select and seed according to resumes instead of according to performance. I don't suppose there's anything outrageously unjust about selecting and seeding according to resumes, but I would like the NCAA to drop, once and for all, its reference to selecting and seeding the field based on a search for the "best teams."
This is one of the things that bothers me most about the entire tournament selection process and the discussions around it: the NCAA essentially defines a team's "worthiness" not by how well they expect a team to perform but by how well they scheduled before the season even began. It's a curious way to discuss basketball. It might sound like semantics to some, but it's not an insignificant distinction to those who think (and probably overthink) about the game beyond what they're served up by its governing body.
Of course, as Gasaway notes, it's not like the system is necessarily broken, beyond breaking a few hearts on the fringes: on the women's side, especially, what matters most is who gets the top seeds and who they're matched with. In this millennium, a #1 seed has usually won it all; when a top seed hasn't won, it has been a two-seed. After that elite set, you're looking at teams with distant dreams of winning it all - the women's tournament isn't the chaos that the men's bracket has been in recent years.
But that does make this year's debate about the top seeds pretty interesting.
The top three seeds seem secure, whether you're defining "worthiness" by a resume, performance, undefeatedness, or the I-KNOW-WHAT-I-SEE-AND-GET-OFF-MY-LAWN-WITH-YOUR-ARITHMETIC eye test: every impartial observer is hoping for a UConn-Notre Dame championship game and Tennessee is peaking at exactly at the right time with a SEC championship in hand.
That fourth number one though? That's a little tougher.
Right now, both ESPN's Charlie Creme and the Steven Bell of the S-Factor have Stanford on that fourth number one line. But how easy would that be to justify by a performance standard?
The following is a table of offensive and defensive statistics for the top #1 seed contenders (ordered by S-Factor ranking, which does not take these numbers into account).
|Team||O Rtg||D Rtg||eFG%||Opp eFG%||TO Rate||Opp TO Rate|
|Stanford||1.08 (6th)||0.83 (23rd)||52.3 (8th)||35.0||17.3 (18th)||17.0 (322nd)|
|South Carolina||1.05 (12th)||0.78 (7th)||52 (10th)||34.5||20.7 (148th)||18 (297th)|
|Baylor||1.08 (4th)||0.80 (12th)||48.2 (60th)||35.6||16.1 (6th)||23 (71st)|
|Duke||1.06 (7th)||0.85 (46th)||54.3 (3rd)||36.9||22.5 (242nd)||22 (105th)|
|Louisville||1.03 (17th)||0.79 (10th)||50.6 (20th)||37.1||20.5 (131st)||26 (11th)|
All statistics via WBB State.
Put simply, teams with a large and positive differential in all four of the Four Factors (shooting efficiency, turnover rate, offensive rebounding, free throw rate) are the ones that go furthest in the tournament. Of course, there are upsets, but if you're picking #1 seeds, that's a good place to start.
I list the shooting efficiency (eFG%) and turnover rate (TO Rate) differentials above because I think they really tell the story about those teams.
Duke had a bit of a turnover problem prior to losing Alexis Jones for the season; without her, Chelsea Gray (or Chloe Wells), it's really hard to trust a team that is that turnover prone. Although Louisville also has a turnover problem, their ability to force turnovers at the rate they do somewhat offsets that. Still, when you consider the strength of their conference schedule and their relatively lower offensive numbers, their case is probably not as strong as the others (albeit stronger than Duke's).
Losing two of their last three games eliminates South Carolina as much as anything else, but their numbers tell an even more troubling story along the lines of both Duke and Louisville: they neither force turnovers nor control the ball well, which is not normally the recipe for a deep run. That leaves us with Stanford, who has a mix of all of these above weaknesses.
Baylor looks very attractive statistically, but their ranking of 60th in scoring efficiency reflects their heavy reliance on Odyssey Sims - it's not only Connecticut and West Virginia that can beat Baylor by forcing Sims into inefficient scoring games, but Kansas and a feisty Oklahoma State team too (who lost by a combined 7 points in two of their three games against Baylor). They haven't often been in that top seed discussion, but when you think about their offensive rating and ability to control the ball, they have a better case than they've been given credit for and put up those numbers against one of the strongest conferences in the nation.
Stanford has always been known for their scoring efficiency, but relies heavily on Chiney Ogwumike to do it. They always control the ball well, but don't force opponents into many turnovers, which can make it difficult for them to manufacture points if their shooters have an off night and leave Ogwumike to carry the load herself - it should come as no surprise that what their losses to USC, Washington and Connecticut have in common are sub-40% shooting and almost non-existent play from their role players.
Ironically, given where I began today, this really is going to have to come down to a "resume" decision because all else is almost equal: Stanford's strength of schedule ranking (14th) is better than all but Duke (2nd), which isn't playing at full strength; Stanford has more wins against quality opponents. But by no means are they the clear-cut choice for the top seed here: Baylor has a more solid case than they're given credit for, South Carolina really doesn't have a bad loss to speak of, and Louisville's major weakness is offset by a bigger strength than any of the above (forcing turnovers). The argument can be made for just about any of these teams as a top seed - except Duke which just isn't playing with its point guards - and that should make figuring out the 2 seeds pretty easy.
So with that, who do you think most deserves the top seed? Vote in the poll below and elaborate on your choice in the comments.