Huskies victimized by a flawed seeding system
- Fri | 5:00PM | Michigan St. vs. Arkansas St @ Alaska Airline Arena
- Fri | 7: | Denver @ #1 Washington
Computational neutrality? Or common sense?
After the 2015 NCAA D1 Women's Volleyball tournament bracket was released last night, it seems the committee used the former to trump the latter. Consider:
- Washington, deservedly ranked #1 in the AVCA coaches' poll was seeded #5 by the committee, and bracketed in the farthest east region (Lexington.)
- USC, which lost just this week to UCLA, dropped into a conference co-championship with Washington, yet was awarded the tournament's #1 overall seed and assigned to the westernmost regional (San Diego.)
- Nebraska, which had twice as many losses (4) as Washington, and did not win its conference, was ranked ahead (#4) of the Huskies.
- Wisconsin, winners of its last 12 in a row—including a 3-1 victory over Nebraska—is seeded #6, but must face Oregon in the very first round. The top 8 seeds usually get to play cupcakes (see Penn State each of the past 12 seasons), so the Oregon draw is a huge head-scratcher.
- The Pac-12's top three teams—Washington, USC and Stanford—are all on the same half of the bracket, making an all-Pac-12 final highly unlikely. Meanwhile, the top three teams from the Big Ten (Minnesota, Nebraska & Wisconsin), Big 12 (Texas, Kansas & Iowa St), ACC (Louisville, Florida St & North Carolina), and SEC (Texas A&M, Missouri & Kentucky) each have a chance to find some combination in the championship match.
- Colorado did not make the cut, despite finishing fifth in the Pac-12. Arizona State did make the cut, despite finishing eighth in the Pac-12, three full games behind Colorado. ASU lost 8 of its last 10 matches—including a loss to the Buffs—while CU won 5 of its last 6.
So, how does this happen?
The NCAA Committee focuses heavily on the RPI, a number that combines a team's winning percentage (50%) with its opponents' winning percentage (25%) and its opponents' winning percentage (25%). USC was rewarded for scheduling (and beating) North Carolina, BYU, Creighton and Kentucky. Washington was penalized for scheduling teams like Buffalo, Cal St Northridge (twice) and Maryland.
Among the many problems with RPI is the fact that few big-time teams want to schedule Washington in play unless the Huskies travel east to their gym. This season, Wisconsin chickened out of the final three years of a four-year deal to play Washington and USC every year. Somehow Florida, which finished fourth in the SEC with 6 overall losses, including several to mediocre teams, has a higher RPI than Pac-12 champion Washington. Florida was rewarded with a #11 seed.
The committee also focuses way too much on total losses, without considering when those losses occurred. Arizona State was a top-5 team until star hitter Macy Gardner was lost to injury for the season. ASU's selection over Colorado is an utter embarrassment, given the Sun Devils complete nosedive the past six weeks. That decision alone should tell the committee its system is terribly flawed.
Make no mistake, coaches like Washington's Keegan Cook is not losing sleep over the committee's decisions. Top programs teach their athletes to worry only about those things under their control.
Even so, sports' credibility relies heavily on the fans' perception of fairness. To many, the slavish application of numbers looks suspiciously lazy. We often hear that an alarming number of selection committee members see very few volleyball matches in person, and a significant number have less-than-impressive volleyball resumes. As flawed as it, too, can be, the AVCA coaches' rankings deserve a seat at the selection table—currently it is completely ignored.
One way the committee could enhance its credibility is to take a step back once it applies all the numbers. If the Pac-12's top three teams are on the same half of the bracket, then move one of them. If seeing the Pac-12 co-champion lower than the Big Ten second place team means Washington and Nebraska are in the same regional for the zillionth time, then move one of them. And if the numbers tell you ASU is deserving and Colorado is not, then the numbers are lying, and human beings need to step in.
- For the second straight season, the Big 12 was given five slots. The committee does not consider conference tournament success, but if it did, the Big 12 would get a bit less love. Except for perpetual conference champion Texas, most of the other Big 12 entries have a history of early flameouts. Last season, for example, all but the Longhorns were gone by the second round.
- One team not in the tournament is Notre Dame. Under former UW head coach Jim McLaughlin, the Irish finished 14th in the ACC with a 2-18 record, both of its wins coming against last-place Clemson. McLaughlin's 25 overall defeats this season compare to just 15 losses over his final four seasons at UW, including 4 in postseason.