John Calipari, the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, interviewed with ESPN following the Selection Show on Sunday. Central to the interview was the question of whether or not his team should have been seeded better than the 4 seed that they received. But following a win in the SEC championship over Texas A&M many have wondered why the Aggies were seeded higher than Kentucky. In his interview with ESPN’s Rece Davis, Calipari made some very interesting points, but overall I think he was a little too indignant.
For good points, Calipari used the phrase “moving target” as a means of describing the seemingly ever-changing criteria that is used for seeding the NCAA tournament. In describing the so-called “moving target,” he claimed that one year it could be “top-50 wins” while in another year it could be “road wins” or RPI. Calipari claimed that when he asked about the criteria he was told that each member of the Selection Committee “has his own.”
That’s a big problem in my view as I’m of a simple opinion: the rules should be made before the start of the season. But, in creating a partly elastic system for selecting seeds and entrants, the NCAA effectively have a way of making business decisions in a backroom instead of letting players and coaches determine them on the court. Calipari didn’t say this exactly by any means, but he did say that the Selection Committee guys aren’t “basketball people” and I think he’s right about that. In my view, they are business people, and it’s likely that projected TV ratings is a major criteria of the Selection Committee’s with road wins, top-50 wins, or RIP other factors – maybe peripheral ones in some cases.
That said, I still don’t see what the heck Kentucky fans or Calipari are indignant about when it comes to the Wildcats’ 4 seed. If you just look at Kentucky’s results this season then Calipari doesn’t have that much to complain about. He stressed the win over Texas A&M as though it counted for a lot. From that point of view should Seton Hall be given a higher seed than Villanova based on the result of the Big East final alone? Of course not, because the results of other games are factors to consider as well.
Kentucky lost to Texas A&M in February before losing to barely-in-the-tournament Vanderbilt. The Wildcats also have losses to UCLA, Ohio State, LSU, Auburn, and Tennessee. None of those teams are even in the tournament which, in isolation, makes the 4 seed look a little generous. When you factor in recent wins and the SEC title, then things balance out a bit, and a four seed doesn’t look like an egregious assessment at all. I think Calipari and Kentucky fans are just biased – they want the good things with Kentucky’s season to be stressed while sweeping the dark patches of bad basketball out of sight.
A comment of Calipari’s that I partly liked was the following: “…when you mis-seed a team – it’s not that team you hurt. It’s the teams they play – that’s who you hurt.” What Calipari means is that when a team, like his Wildcats assumingly, are seeded worse than they should be then the team that is playing them has a tougher game then they should have. Stony Brook, for example, is a 13 seed and should play a true 4 seed. But in playing Kentucky, SB are supposedly playing a team that are actually stronger than that and Stony Brook are arguably losers due to that.
Technically, when it comes to mis-seeding, both teams would lose. But here’s the elephant in the room in the case of Kentucky vs. Stony Brook: why is the latter a 13? After all, the Seawolves might better deserve a 14 seed or even a 15 seed based on their losses to such college basketball ‘powerhouses’ as Vermont, Albany, and Northeastern. Kentucky getting a 4 seed is about right, but they practically got a 2 or 3 seed in my view based on their first-round draw against the Seawolves, a school making their NCAA tournament debut.
Calipari, in the interview, wondered why they played the SEC tournament if Texas A&M were going to get a higher seed despite losing it. The reason is simple enough: the tournament isn’t played to directly determine NCAA seedings but to determine an SEC champion. The results of the tournament are a factor to consider – not a deterministic variable.
Also, Calipari actually slipped up in the interview for a second in my view. Davis asked him why he didn’t think he was “getting (his) due” in regard to his seeding, and Calipari responded a bit choppily: “look over the year – the years,” he said before he avoided the question and said that “it is what it is.”
Saying that they should look over “the years” seems to suggest that he thinks Kentucky should have been seeded higher based on the school’s reputation in previous seasons as opposed to what they did this season. Well from that point of view, UCONN shouldn’t be seeded 9th, right? Two national champions since 2011 makes them a much higher seed, doesn’t it?
I think most fans would see the problem with seeding based on ghosts and that’s anothier reason I don’t like the question of whether Kentucky deserved a 4 seed or not. It deflects attention away from issues that have more merit.
In regard to business decisions, here’s something to look at instead. Michigan and Syracuse were two teams on the bubble that made it into the field of 68. Those are former champions, from major conferences, and, while they aren’t the most popular basketball schools, they still have fairly large fan bases. Perhaps that’s what gave them an edge over schools like Monmouth, Valpo, San Diego State, and St. Mary’s – schools that do not have major fan bases.
From my point of view, everything is opposite of the truth. Kentucky are indignant over a much-deserved four seed while ignoring the fact that they are playing a school over-rated as a 13. The Wildcats got MORE than their fair shake with a very workable first-week draw while some of the mid-major schools head to the NIT maybe because more people will tune into Michigan vs. Tulsa as opposed to Monmouth vs. St. Mary’s.