March Madness: Wisconsin Proved They Were Underseeded by the Selection Committee
After the 2017 NCAA Tournament bracket was released last Sunday, the response came quick to question the way teams were seeded. We didn't have to look further than the Wichita State Shockers, who won 30 games, their conference and conference tournament, but were saddled with a 10 seed.
It was easy to say the committee did a disservice to the Shockers and all the teams around them in the bracket, but Wichita State was not the only team that was severely misseeded.
That's where the Wisconsin Badgers come in.
For the fourth straight season, Wisconsin is headed to the Sweet 16. Since they're an 8 seed, this should seem like a surprise, but if you told anybody back in the beginning of February that the Badgers were in the Sweet 16, they probably would not bat an eye.
On February 9th, Wisconsin was 21-3 (10-1 in the Big Ten) and ranked 7th in the AP polls. Following a win over Nebraska, the Badgers dropped five of their last seven regular season games, including losses to Ohio State and Iowa, who did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The focus was on all those losses, but their two wins were over Maryland and Minnesota, who both qualified for the big dance.
Their late-season struggles cost them the Big Ten regular season title -- they finished tied for second at 12-6, two games behind regular-season champion Purdue.
Despite their struggles, Wisconsin entered the Big Ten tournament as the 2 seed, and they took care of business against Indiana before throttling Northwestern by 30 points in the semifinals. The Badgers fell short of the Big Ten title when they lost 71-56 to Michigan, who seemed like a team of destiny after their plane skidded off the runway on their way to the tournament.
It was hard not to get caught up in the Wisconsin hate after they looked to be the favorite in the Big Ten, only to have it crumble in their hands. But did their efforts to right the ship right before Selection Sunday slip through the cracks? Could it be that the selection committee had a case of recency bias and forgot about Wisconsin's strong start?
It was at least known that the selection committee was not high on the Big Ten during the early reveal in mid-February when they omitted the conference from their top 16, but did that lead to them botching the seeding of the conference?
Taking a closer look at the metrics the selection committee uses and our end-of-season nERD rankings, it appears they may have mishandled the teams from the Big Ten.
|Top RPI Wins - 25,50,100||1,5,12||2,7,12||1,4,14||5,6,13||2,5,13||0,5,8||2,6,9|
|101+ RPI Losses||1||1||2||0||0||0||2|
|Strength of Schedule||50||49||54||33||44||53||23|
|* - Regular Season Champion
** - Conference Tournament Champion
When looking at the main selection criteria, it is tough to see the pattern used to decide these seeds. The metric that comes up most during the selection process is RPI, which helps rank the teams and also helps the committee see the caliber of a team's wins, and Wisconsin looks much more like Minnesota and Maryland than Northwestern here.
If we compare metrics like RPI, RPI top 25, 50, and 100 wins, along with RPI 101+ losses, Wisconsin appears to have a resume that would land them a 5 seed or 6 seed. However, they were dropped all the way down to the 8 line. The only real sticking point is Wisconsin's weak non-conference strength of schedule, but it would still appear that the Badgers did enough to rack up the big wins necessary to make their resume comparable to the 5 or 6 seeds.
Another important criteria to take into consideration is head-to-head play, where Wisconsin went 3-0 against Minnesota and Maryland this season. The only way that would not be looked at is if Wisconsin was not compared to those teams. If that is the case, how is that possible based on all other criteria?
Going a step further, when taking into consideration computer numbers such as nERD, Kenpom, or BPI, the numbers suggest they rank closer to even Purdue, who received a 4 seed. It has been mentioned that there will likely be a role for advanced analytics in the selection process as early as next year, which would likely mean a reduced role, if not the end, for RPI.
Finally, as if their seeding on the 8 line was not bad enough according to the S-curve used to rank teams within their seed lines, Wisconsin was the top-ranked 8 seed, yet drew the top 1 seed, Villanova, in the Round of 32. While this ultimately worked out for the Badgers, they should have been playing the lowest-ranked 1 seed in Gonzaga instead of Northwestern.
Wisconsin has managed to overcome having played higher-seeded teams than they should have at this point, but what about the teams who had to fall in order for the Badgers to make this statement? There is a serious gripe to be had for Virginia Tech and Villanova having to play the equivalent of a 5 or 6 seed so early in the tournament.
Minnesota and Maryland were indeed sent packing on Thursday, and while Minnesota didn't look equipped to handle Middle Tennessee, the Blue Raiders also weren't your typical 12 seed.
By taking the tougher road here, Wisconsin has truly earned their way back to the Sweet 16. However, it came at the expense of some other good teams not facing the caliber of opponent they would expect in that round. It is now up to the selection committee to look into these errors and fix the seeding principles for future tournaments.