Louisville isn't for UConn after all
Lincoln Regional makes much more sense for top-seeded Huskies
Connecticut has been an obvious No. 1 seed for some time. So the biggest question concerning the Huskies has been at which regional they will play their games.
Louisville or Lincoln? In the same region with rival Louisville, or farther away in Nebraska? Louisville has been my answer all season.
What has prompted me to change my mind? First, a little background.
Geographically speaking, which is how the selection committee has generally handled the placement of teams the past few years, UConn should go to Louisville. That is what my brackets have reflected. The committee starts at the top of the S curve and works its way down, assigning each team to its closest region. The Huskies are first on the list, and Louisville is nearest to Storrs, so UConn goes to Louisville. Normally, it's a simple move. The twist this year is that teams are hosting regionals, and instead of the customary rule against it, teams hosting regionals play in said regional. That means the Louisville Cardinals also have to be assigned to the regional that takes place in the KFC Yum! Center.
Many found that scenario outrageous, and the outrage has grown louder as Selection Monday nears and the Cardinals and Huskies have already played three times this season.
That outrage, along with economics, is why I changed my mind.
• Reason No. 1: Economics: Frankly, this element should have come up earlier. The origin for most of the angst was the poor decision to have regional hosts actually play in those regionals. Of course, that was a money-driven move that thankfully will be around for only this season. Without it, Louisville not only wouldn't be at home, it couldn't be. UConn logically would have gone to that region. The Cardinals would have been sent somewhere else, and all would have been well. But that isn't the case.
Given that this one-year regional hosting setup seems to be economically driven -- better gate and better aesthetic appearance for television with more people in the stands -- why not go all the way? Louisville alone would drive attendance at the Yum! Center. UConn fans travel well, so the Huskies might supply some attendance insurance should Nebraska not advance through two games to get to Lincoln. If Connecticut doesn't reach the Sweet 16, call the FBI. The attendance is maximized in two regionals.
I am not usually such a cynic on such matters, but why the seemingly silly one-year decision to have teams play as regional hosts if it isn't about money? Why not just keep the same rule that has existed for a decade, banning teams from playing in their own regional?
If this situation is even considered a problem by the powers that be -- or is this just something the media and fans have gotten unjustifiably excited about? -- it is a self-induced problem.
Speaking of the media and fans ...
• Reason No. 2: Outrage: Has there ever been a more singularly discussed tournament issue leading up to the selections than this? If this was all part of a grand plan by the NCAA for more attention, then bravo. The plan worked. Nonetheless, all this discussion and analysis -- from media, fans and coaches -- seems overwhelmingly against the idea of Connecticut and Louisville together in the same regional, and that's exactly why the committee won't do it.
The members of the selection committee are well aware of the buzz. Why make a decision that would get them nothing but grief when there is no economic incentive like increased gate revenue or significant travel costs saved?
The committee has been criticized for its geographic-centric philosophy on placing teams in the bracket before. The most notable of those criticisms came in 2008, when UConn and Rutgers, then the two best teams in the Big East, were sent as Nos. 1 and 2 seeds to Greensboro. Just as much head shaking and fist pumping came in 2011, when Baylor and Texas A&M of the Big 12 were set up to play for a fourth time that season with a Final Four berth on the line. There have been other examples where geography took precedence over bracket balance, all documented in different columns previously, but those are the most prominent.
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Because of those previous decisions, the criticism this season has been pre-emptive. The word is out. The committee is being yelled at for something it hasn't even done yet.
Unlike those previous examples, this time around the committee members have direct evidence of what they will face. As much as this has been dissected, it will be hard to justify potentially putting the No. 1 overall seed in a regional road game against a team with which it is all too familiar. Keep in mind, the committee does not "play the tournament out." Purposely bracketing strictly to avoid a hypothetical game four games down the road is not part of this process. But trying to make the best bracket possible is. UConn in the Louisville Regional would not make for the best possible bracket.
The NCAA has been reactive before, which is why I think the extensive talk on this point plays a role. After the harsh criticism in 2008 for the UConn-Rutgers pairing, the bracketing process in 2009 disregarded those geographic principles in favor of team placement that made more sense competitively and consciously avoided potential conference rematches between top teams in the Elite Eight.
By any geographical analysis in 2009, either Baylor or Texas A&M should have been placed as the No. 2 seed with No. 1 Oklahoma in the Oklahoma City Regional. Neither was. The Aggies went to Trenton with UConn. Baylor went to Raleigh with Maryland. If the geographic principles were applied, Auburn, as the No. 2, should have gone to Raleigh with the Terps. Frankly, based on the rationale for the decision in 2008, the workings of 2009 made absolutely no sense. So why the 180-degree reversal that one year? I believe it was a direct reaction to the backlash that came after the 2008 selection process.
This time around, everyone involved has the benefit of so much of the noise coming ahead of the decision-making. Without it, I don't think I would have changed my mind. But it truly gives committee members something more to think about.
UConn in Lincoln always made the most sense competitively. And now I believe it will happen in reality when the bracket is unveiled.