THERE IS NO reason to get frustrated with the NCAA Tournament selection committee's bracket because it is an annual mystery. However, its members may have outdone themselves this year.
Why did they flip regions for Xavier and Villanova when keeping them near home would have balanced the bracket and given both site advantages they earned with No. 2 seeds?
Kansas was No. 1 on the 68-team seed list, so Xavier as No. 8 would have fit perfectly in the South region in Louisville. Villanova was No. 7 and seemed a perfect seed fit in the East at Wells Fargo Center for North Carolina, which was No. 2 overall. So why is Xavier in the East and Villanova in the South?
Is the committee trying not to put schools from football conferences at a potential site disadvantage as higher seeds? The rules have always been that results can't be anticipated, so if a team earns a site, it gets it, even if a higher seed might potentially be at a disadvantage later in the tournament.
Three of the last four teams in were from football conferences. Saint Mary's, St. Bonaventure, Valparaiso and Monmouth did not make it. What's up with that, exactly? When in doubt, follow the money.
"As commissioner I will always defend my institutions," Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade wrote in a statement. "St. Bonaventure belongs in the NCAA Championship. Their body of work, seven wins against top 70 teams, their first-place finish in the A-10, and a 29 RPI, every measuring point has been successfully met. In short they met the eye test and the fact test.
"I am shocked that the committee did not select this team. It's a tremendous disservice and disappointment to these student-athletes, the SBU nation and the A-10. I will talk to the selection committee representatives and compare the stats of all of the at-large selections to understand why they were not selected to hopefully avoid this disappointment in the future."
Also, the committee really needs to stop avoiding conference matchups early in the tournament. It makes cynics like me think it is trying to keep teams from multibid leagues alive as long as possible. And it gives us Saint Joseph's, Cincinnati and Maryland in Spokane, Wash., Arizona in Providence, R.I., VCU and Oregon State in Oklahoma City and USC in Raleigh.
Well, it has been a bizarre season, so why not a bizarre bracket?
After a season in which six teams have been No. 1, there were 79 losses by Top 10 teams (most in the history of the Associated Press poll, which began in 1948) and 41 losses by the Top 5 (also the most ever), nothing that happens during the 67 NCAA games should come as a shock.
After the Final Four was dominated by first-round draft picks from Duke, Wisconsin and Kentucky last April, the fourth team in Indianapolis, Michigan State, may be the safest pick. But if 38-0 Kentucky could not win last year, why would anybody think it would have a handle on what is going to happen over the next 21 days?
Nobody has been safe since November and nothing has changed in March from the one-bid leagues to the power conferences. Fifteen of 23 top seeds in what are typically one-bid leagues did not win their conference tournaments. Only three of the eight championships in leagues that got multiple at-large bids went to the No. 1 seed (all by No. 1 NCAA seeds - Kansas, North Carolina and Oregon). Yale is no doubt quite pleased that the four-team Ivy League Tournament does not start until next March.
Villanova is 84-9 in the regular season over the last three seasons and 7-4 in the postseason. The Wildcats really need to win some NCAA games to validate all that they have accomplished.
I thought the Wildcats looked off in the Big East championship game and, even though Seton Hall played great in the first half, the young Pirates were clearly overcome by the moment and were begging to get beaten. Villanova had so many chances to get second-half separation, but did not.
Then, they made three very uncharacteristic mistakes in the final seconds - the 5-second call when Josh Hart could have dribbled, passed or called timeout; Kris Jenkins' late attempt to take a charge on Isaiah Whitehead when a simple contest and the likely layup would have given the 'Cats the ball in a tie game with the last shot to win it or at worst get to overtime and the dead-ball timeout that really could been better used after the subsequent missed free throw. Then, they would have time to set something up rather than rush the ball up the court with the clock running.
That said, I love the Wildcats' draw. Perhaps, the committee thought it was doing them a favor by getting them out of a region with North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana, but I doubt the committee had any clue about each region's power.
The Hawks were brilliant in Brooklyn all weekend. The plan Sunday against VCU in the A-10 championship game was perfect and so was its execution. That they scored 87 points with just two treys is incredible, but you can do that when you shoot 33-for-46 on twos and commit just seven turnovers. SJU has been fun to watch all season, but that was beyond fun in the championship game. That was a basketball clinic.
The Owls were 38 on the overall seed list, seven at-large spots into the tournament. Did not like the way they played against Connecticut Saturday, a team that needed four overtimes to beat Cincinnati Friday. Not really sure what to expect from them against Iowa, a team that hit the wall down the stretch, but is more than capable.
Did the committee finish its bracket before the Big Ten championship game? That is the only explanation for Virginia and not Michigan State being the No. 1 seed in the Midwest. It is not a huge deal because Michigan State is No. 2 and will have a similar path, but UVa was 5-6 on the road, did not win its conference regular season or tournament while the Spartans won the Big Ten Tournament and overcame an early-season injury to Denzel Valentine to regroup and dominate down the stretch.
Nevada has become the most popular destination for conference tournaments and I can't imagine why.
The Pac-12 plays at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Next year, it is moving to the new T-Mobile Arena just off the Strip. The WCC and WAC both play in the Orleans Arena, about a mile off the Strip. The MWC plays at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center, while the Big Sky moved to Reno this year.
Can the NHL, NBA or the NCAA Tournament be far behind?
One team had an unbeaten conference record. One team has a 20-game winning streak. One team is 115-18 over the last four seasons. All of them would be Southland champion Stephen F. Austin. I love West Virginia's chances to get to Houston if it can get by SFA in a very dangerous 3-14 game.
Some familiar names on the staff at Northeast Conference champion Fairleigh Dickinson. One of the assistant coaches is Dwayne Lee, who did such a great job backing up Jameer Nelson for two years at St. Joe's before running the show for two teams that played for the A-10 title and an NIT title. FDU's director of basketball operations is Pete Lappas, son of former Villanova coach Steve Lappas, now an analyst for CBS.
* Patriot champion Holy Cross has to be one of most unlikely conference tournament winners ever. The Crusaders were 0-9 in conference road games before winning four road games in the tournament, including vs. No. 1 Bucknell and No. 2 Lehigh. Bill Carmody, who did such a great job at Princeton and did as well as anybody has ever done at Northwestern, is in his first year as coach of the Crusaders. HC is the fifth team with 19 or more losses to make the NCAA.
* Iona star A.J. English has scored 1,857 in his last three seasons after scoring 119 points as a freshman.
* North Carolina restored ACC order after four years of "others" winning the tournament. It was Florida State, Miami, Virginia and Notre Dame, the longest streak of a non-state of North Carolina winning since the tournament began.
* Yes, that is Florida Gulf Coast, aka, Dunk City, back as Atlantic Sun champs three years after blowing the roof off the WFC with NCAA wins over Georgetown and San Diego State. If the Eagles beat FDU in the First Four, UNC in Raleigh and either USC or Providence, they will be back. I am not optimistic.
* Conference USA champion Middle Tennessee is 9-1 in games decided by three points or less. The Blue Raiders beat Old Dominion, 55-53, for the title.
* Cal State Bakersfield had never been to the NCAA or beaten New Mexico State (0-11) before hitting a buzzer-beating three to win the WAC Tournament.