BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — March Madness is truly maddening to spectators and coaches alike.
That goes for what takes place on the court some nights to even the seeding process when deciding who’s in and who’s out of the NCAA tournament.
For Kansas State, while coach Deb Patterson was pleased her team made the elite field for the second straight year, she was a little baffled as to how the seeding process took place and how her Wildcats wound up as an 8-seed playing No. 9-seed Princeton in Connecticut on Saturday morning.
After all, the Wildcats (19-13) played in the No. 1-RPI league in the country. That was evident in the fact that seven of the 10 Big 12 schools received NCAA tournament bids.
But what Patterson didn’t understand is how a team — her team — could post a top-20 RPI while playing the nation’s fourth-toughest schedule and finish tied for fourth in the Big 12, yet end up with a No. 8 seed in the tournament.
“We’re a top-20 RPI team, a top-four strength of schedule and we just played in America’s toughest RPI league, suffered three losses to an undefeated team and the number-one team in America, and we can’t do better than an 8 seed?” Patterson asked Monday night.
“I understand our overall win-loss, but according to the strength of schedule and RPI, (the selection committee) wants you to compete that way. I find that there’s a mixed message there, for programs like ours. I understand the message to me right now is ‘schedule easier because what you did this year and apparently two or three extra wins might have put you in as a 5 seed.”
Furthermore, Patterson said the seeding for almost all the Big 12 schools in this year’s NCAA tournament was lower than she expected. Other than Baylor receiving the overall No. 1 seed, the longtime K-State coach said the Big 12 deserved a No. 2 seed as well, specifically Texas A&M, which is a 3. Oklahoma is a 6 and Texas is a 9. Iowa State, which tied with K-State for fourth in the Big 12, is a 10. Kansas, which along with Texas was considered a bubble team, is an 11.
“When I look at our league and I see a 1-seed and a 3 seed, that does disturb me, as someone who’s been around the game this long,” she said. “We play in the number-one RPI league in the country, each suffering two losses guaranteed against an undefeated program on the level of a Connecticut of old.
“We’re lining up against the defending national champions (Texas A&M) and they’re taking hits to that undefeated team too. We’re number one in conference strength of schedule and we’re number one in out-of-conference strength of schedule, we went to a double-round robin… I think it bothers me to not see our league earning 2-seeds.”
Patterson said because teams she thought were worthy of higher seeds didn’t get them, it might have had a ripple effect throughout the rest of the Big 12 schools on down.
“I would put our 8- and 9-seeds up against some of the 5-seeds that I have seen up on the bracket and say, ‘if we played your schedule, we might have about four or five fewer losses,’” she said.
The tournament field this year isn’t as strong as it could have been, according to Princeton coach Courtney Banghart.
Banghart said Tuesday that she would prefer conferences eliminate league tournaments entirely. It is worth noting that the Ivy League does not have a women’s tournament and the Tigers finished the season with a perfect 14-0 league record.
“Once your conference is done — you’ve played these people since January — it’s time to move on and play other people,” she said. “It also ensures that you’re sending your best teams to the tournament that we’re trying to grow. Take Boston University of the America East — they went undefeated in their conference and lost one game in the tournament. So, now they’re playing in the NIT. Instead, they’re sending Albany that didn’t show that they’re as good during the course of the gauntlet.
“Similarly, you have American in the Patriot League, who went undefeated and got upset in the tournament. Now they’re sending Navy, who over the course of their conference season wasn’t the best team.”
It also has to be pointed out that Princeton (24-4) lost to that Navy team 65-52 this season.
Banghart, whose Tigers entered into the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in school history this week at No. 24 and received their highest-ever NCAA seed, have dominated the Ivy League in recent years, losing only once in that time.
It makes sense that Banghart doesn’t want an Ivy-League tournament at the end of the season. If for some reason Princeton faltered late and lost a tournament game, the Tigers’ NCAA hopes would be lost as well.
It could be argued that the Big 12 tournament helped K-State’s NCAA tournament resume this season, as it provided the Wildcats with the opportunity to defeat Iowa State and a chance to play top-ranked Baylor. The win over the Cyclones was huge for the Wildcats, while even losing to Baylor boosted K-State’s already-strong RPI and strength of schedule standing.
Though there was parody in the Big 12 this season from the second spot — behind Baylor — on down, Banghart said the women’s game, in general, doesn’t have enough parody to warrant league tournaments.
“We have to send our best teams and the way to do that is to ensure the regular season matters and that we have the best 64 teams in the tournament field,” she said.
“As a result, I don’t think the Ivy League should have a conference tournament and I hope that other conferences are leaning toward getting rid of the tournaments, in general.”