Bracketology: UCLA Passes the Eye Test? We Need Change

The Selection Show is always a thrill.  I savor the event.  After the regular season of my favorite sport is complete, we find out who will play in the best sports event, the men’s NCAA basketball tournament.

It comes with surprises every year too.  There is shock as a team or two that no one thought belonged in the field is chosen.  There is outrage as a team or two that most thought belonged are “snubbed,” sent to the consolation-prize tournament, the NIT.

So I was sitting here watching the unveiling of the South region, with the 6th seed SMU on the board.  Who would they play?  UCLA popped up.  OK.  SMU vs. UCLA.

Wait, WHAT?!

It took me a couple of seconds to actually realize what I had just seen or heard.  The UCLA Bruins, by some means that defy the bounds of logic, had been selected to be part of the field of 68.  To paraphrase one of the Selection Show’s commentators, no one in their right mind had UCLA in.  I had them as my fourth team out yesterday.

In high school English class, we read a lot of “tragic comedies.”  These were books that, basically, had humorous elements but were mostly sad.  Really sad.  Here, we have a real-life application of that tragic comedy concept.  After the rest of the field was revealed, it only got more tragic and comical when Scott Barnes, the Chair of the Selection Committee, was questioned about the UCLA selection by the show’s hosts.

In an explanation completely devoid of any factual reasoning, Barnes primarily cited the “eye test” and “gaining steam” lately as reasons for UCLA’s inclusion.  Such nonsense might have been acceptable in 1950, when hardly anyone owned a TV and computers hadn’t been invented yet.  In 2015, these technologies make so many things possible that should spare us from hearing this kind of garbage.  Anyone with even a modicum of channels can watch over 100 teams play on a weekly basis.  That same person, with access to a computer, can watch even more teams by going to the ESPN3 website, or getting the Watch ESPN app.

Case in point: last Tuesday I watched the Northeast Conference final between Robert Morris and St. Francis-New York.  The game had a capacity crowd of about 900 fans in attendance.  Seriously, it looked like a high school gym.  And it was one of the coolest game-watching experiences I’ve had in a long time because of the passion and enthusiasm that those 900 people clearly had for whichever team they sided with.  There was no fancy scoreboard and no luxury boxes.  Just a plain old basketball game.  And it happened to be a very exciting one, as Robert Morris barely prevailed, 66-63.

But I digress, a bit.  Here’s the thing.  Not only can you watch games like this now – which is a great development – but with a computer, you can access a mountain of facts and statistical analysis to evaluate what you’ve seen.  Thus, we should never have to hear “eye test” as an explanation for why a team made the tournament, especially when the Selection Committee spends hundreds, if not thousands, of hours leading up to the tournament supposedly examining every aspect of every team in consideration.

And “gaining steam?”  Really?  Is that a reference to UCLA going on a 4-game winning streak that included beating the pitiful Washington Huskies, the terrible Washington State Cougars, and the absolutely pathetic USC Trojans twice before losing to Arizona in the Pac 12 semifinals?

Well, since the Committee is apparently too lazy to actually look at the facts when making these decisions, I’ll do it for them.  Let’s look at how UCLA compares to Colorado State and Temple, two teams that most bracketologists felt deserved a bid (see the “Others Receiving Votes” section, and see how few thought UCLA deserved to be in):

UCLA.  Record: 20-13, 11-7 PAC 12.  RPI: 48.  Wins vs field: Utah, Oregon, UAB, Coastal Carolina.  Bad losses (teams with RPI of 100+): Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State.

Temple.  Record: 23-10, 13-5 American Athletic.  RPI: 34.  Wins vs field: Kansas, Cincinnati.  Bad losses: UNLV, St. Joe’s.

Colorado State.  Record: 27-6, 13-5 Mountain West.  RPI: 29.  Wins vs field: San Diego State, Boise State, Georgia State, New Mexico State.  Bad losses: New Mexico.

Admittedly, UCLA has both teams beat by a considerable amount in terms of strength of schedule.  But, looking at the six major conferences, the PAC 12 is easily the worst this year (the others being the Big 12, Big East, ACC, Big Ten, and SEC, in my opinion of order of strength).  The American Athletic and Mountain West are both “second tier” conferences, not quite at the level of the majors, but definitely a cut above most of the nation’s 32 conferences.  Realistically, not much separates these two conferences from the Pac 12 this year except Arizona.

Temple and Colorado State both performed better in their respective conferences than did UCLA.  Both have a better RPI.  Colorado State has comparable wins against the field, with fewer bad losses.  Had the committee engaged in even this basic level of analysis when it came to these teams, UCLA would be out, and one of the others would be in.

Other major issues I had were:

  • Xavier receiving a 6 seed despite having 13 losses overall with a 9-9 conference record
  • Oklahoma State receiving a 9 despite having 13 losses with an 8-10 conference record and no wins vs. anybody besides the last-place TCU in over a month
  • Dayton being the last at-large team in
  • Boise State playing Dayton in the First Four… in Dayton… because of the above
  • Indiana being safely in despite resembling a team in a local YMCA pick-up game since January
  • LSU being safely in even though they lost to the SEC’s 3 worst teams in Mississippi State, Auburn, and Missouri… and followed that up with another loss to Auburn in the SEC tournament’s quarterfinals.

Well, with all of that out of the way, it is now time to spend the next several hours reading about the tournament, and watching ESPN’s “Bracketology” from last night.  I’ll post my picks sometime on Wednesday.  Good luck to all who are filling out brackets!  (Unless you’re in a pool with me, of course!)

About Mike B.

Avid sports fan, particularly of the Detroit Lions, Pistons, and Tigers, and University of Michigan.
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