The College Basketball Top 25 Purpose Debate… Watch Me Pull A Ranking Out of My Hat!

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

When I was eight years old I thought the greatest illusion ever performed happened on my television when I watched David Copperfield walk through the Great Wall of China.

Then I discovered college basketball.

The NCAA Division I basketball, each year, pulls off a feat that would make Blackstone ask, “How’d they do that?!” What is the illusion, you ask? It is the illusion that there is any value at all to the top 25 ranking.

In college football, the top 25 rankings serve a very important function. They help to determine which teams get to participate in the series of the biggest bowl games, and ultimately which two teams will compete for the National Championship.

What purpose does the top 25 poll serve in basketball?

Last year, do you know what the respective national rankings were for Duke and Butler as they entered March Madness? Duke was ranked fourth in the nation, while Butler was ranked number 12. Despite those rankings (which in College Football earned #12 Missouri an invitation to the Insight Bowl… Ooooohhhh!!!!), those were the two teams that faced off for the crown last April.

Unlike the Football Bowl Subdivision of the NCAA, every single one of the more than 300 teams in Division I basketball kick the season off with an opportunity to compete for the National Championship. They don’t have to impress any voters, or beat the “right” teams. They don’t even have to have a good regular season.

All they have to do is win the conference tournament.

Sure, the worse a team does in the regular season, the tougher their road to, and through, the national tournament is, but that doesn’t change the simple fact that a team needs only to win in the post-season, and it is through to the Tournament.

If the top 25 rankings are irrelevant and unnecessary when populating the 64 teams for the national championship tournament, they must SURELY impact the seeding in the tournament, don’t they? I mean it only makes sense to do it that way. Teams ranked one through four would be given one-seeds, then the teams ranked five through eight get two-seeds, and so on.

WRONG!

Last year, for example, the teams ranked one through four did each earn a top seed in the national tournament (Kansas, Duke, Syracuse, and Kentucky).

So what about the two-seeds?

After the top four in the rankings came Ohio State (fifth in the nation), Purdue (sixth), West Virginia (seventh), and New Mexico (eighth). But neither Purdue nor New Mexico were rewarded with the second spot in their respective brackets. Instead, it was Ohio State, West Virginia, Kansas State (ranked ninth in the country) and Villanova (ranked tenth).

New Mexico actually received a three-seed, and Purdue (the sixth best team in the country, according to the national rankings) was bumped all the way down to a four-seed, while Baylor (the 21st ranked team in the country) was seeded third, ahead of them in the same region.

What led to the disparity between the national rankings and the seedings for the national tournament? Once again, it was the selection committee.

Rather than overload a region with too many teams from the same conference, or with a prospective high-powered regular season rematch too early in the dance, they try to distribute the Major Conference representatives evenly across the bracket, regardless of their projected worth on the national stage.

Now, as this year draws towards another March full of basketball Madness, fans of the San Diego State Aztecs (currently ranked sixth in the nation by the AP) can expect the same head-scratching logic as an answer to the questions of why they were seeded third or fourth – behind some big-named program from a big-named conference like the 20-team Big East – that will simply ride the merits of their name and neighborhood into an easier road to Houston.

The top 25 rankings are completely worthless in college basketball. They provide water cooler conversation at the workplace, and give sportswriters something to do each week in the football off-season. But when it comes to what really matters (a chance at the national championship), they hold as much value as a Mel Kiper, Jr. mock draft.

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