NCAA Tournament Selection – Art vs. Science

In my last post, I discussed the merits of Berry College when it came to the 2016 NCAA tournament selection. Spoiler alert – they didn’t get in although they appeared to be better than two of the three teams I assume were the last to get bids.

Surprisingly, to me, the selection criteria for the third team (Ramapo) didn’t show that Berry should have received a bid over them. If you read the post then you know that I believe Ramapo was “entirely unqualified” to receive a bid, which launched me into an art versus science diatribe that went something like this:

“A lot of us that look at the process from the outside (and I hope a lot that are part of the process) would say that the criteria are the science portion of the selection process but that there should be an art side of things, too. The art side creates questions like should Ramapo even be considered with such a low SOS when they never left the New Jersey/New York area to play games? Should we consider the Ranked Opponent criterion when it’s a result of the New York region ranking more teams than the south region? Or for that matter, is their wins/losses record artificial due to the lack of quality opponents they played? It’s the art side of things that makes me believe that Ramapo was entirely unqualified to be selected into the 2016 tournament.”

To be clear, I really don’t have any animosity towards Ramapo. I am truly happy for their team. I just think it came at the expense of more qualified teams.

So I wanted to use this post to talk more about the selection process and I thought it would be interesting to look at one additional team that didn’t get into the tournament. That team is Midwest Region Wisconsin – Eau Claire and at the time of selection, I thought they were an ironclad shoe-in for the tournament. As I went through the teams back in November coming up with the 20 Pool C bids, I had them down not in pencil or ink but in blood. They were, in my mind, at the time the biggest oversight made by the selection committee.

I duplicated the chart used in my previous post that shows the primary criteria but replaced Berry with Eau Claire:

School DIII W/L Head2Head Common Opp. Ranked Opp. SOS
Wis-Eau Claire 23-10 None None 8-9 .580
Susquehanna 31-7 None None 7-6 .586
Clark (MA) 23-8 None None 5-7 .621
Ramapo 24-5 None None 4-3 .566

Shockingly, the chart shows that Eau Claire should NOT have received a bid at the expense of these three teams. Knowing that, I still feel that Eau Claire was overlooked and should have been selected. My reasoning comes down to the art of selection versus the science of selection. The science is clear (look at the chart). Eau Claire has no single criterion better than Susquehanna and only one criterion against Clark and Ramapo. The art, however, says something different and for this I’m going to pick on Ramapo again.

Looking at the chart you can’t help but notice that Eau Claire played 17 ranked teams while Ramapo played only 7. When you couple this with the SOS, it’s easy to determine that Ramapo really didn’t play a tough schedule. Despite playing 10 more ranked teams, Eau Claire’s SOS is only slightly better. This is even more surprising when you look deeper at the ranked teams both played. Ramapo’s ranked teams were all out of the New York region and were lower ranks. In fact two of their four wins were against teams that were so lowly ranked that they wouldn’t have appeared on the Midwest rankings. (Larger regions are allowed to rank more teams. Some say this gives them an advantage. This would be an example to that point.) Conversely, Eau Claire lost 9 times to ranked opponents but 8 of those were to teams that made the NCAA tournament. Among their 8 ranked wins they had signature wins over Wis-La Crosse and Northwestern-St. Paul (who would finish a final 4 team). Getting back to Eau Claire’s SOS, what this all says is that they played a schedule mixed with a lot of top teams and a number of poor teams. I have no way to prove it with the criteria but I’m confident that Eau Claire would have won all 7 matches against the ranked opponents Ramapo played. This is the art of selection and something that I would hope would get discussed in the selection committee.  The New York RAC chair should push the criteria and every other RAC chair should fight back knowing that giving Ramapo a bid means one less bid to a more deserving team for (possibly) their region. Not only that, but in my mind more importantly, it sends a horrible message to other schools on how to schedule around the criteria.

I will end this post with some advice for the RAC chairs that I’m sure they will never read. Look the science is easy and the NCAA will provide that to you in the form of the criteria results but if you go unarmed without the art, we’ll get more selections like Ramapo in the future.

  • Regardless of whatever priority (or lack of priority) the NCAA has for the criteria, head to head is the most important. Regardless of the other criteria this one should typically trump the others and if challenged just say that if the other team was really better than why didn’t they win the match? You have theory (criteria) and fact (match result), why go with theory?
  • Look hard at a team that has a poor SOS but good W/L and Ranked Opponent records. What is the quality of the teams they played? Do you really think it is right to give these teams two criteria advantages at the expense of one?
  • Signature wins don’t exist in the primary or secondary criteria but wouldn’t you want a team in the tournament that has proven they can beat a top 20 team as opposed to a team that refuses to play them?
  • Bad losses can be defined as an in-division loss by a team unranked by the RACs. Again, not a criterion but these are HUGE red flags.
  • If you look at two teams and you ask yourself who would win on a neutral court and the answer is obvious then it’s your duty to fight for that team regardless of what the criteria shows. I guarantee you the art will back you up.
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