Posted by: Mike Cornelius | February 11, 2018

Do Fake Selections Count As Fake News?

Subscribing to the theory that more is always better, for the second year in a row the NCAA and CBS have jumped the gun on March Madness by staging a made-for-television early look at the top of the bracket for the men’s basketball tournament. Fully one month in advance of Selection Sunday, at a time when most major programs still have half a dozen or so games to play plus all the action of their conference tournaments, selection committee chairperson Bruce Rasmussen revealed the current top sixteen seeds as determined by the ten-person committee in a meeting that ran late into the night on Saturday.

In offering this meaningless sneak peek, the basketball committee has taken a page from the playbook of the College Football Playoff selection committee, which starts issuing weekly rankings in mid-season. In both cases of course, the only ranking that matters is the last one, and for this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament that won’t be revealed for another four Sundays.

That didn’t stop host Greg Gumbel and analysts Seth Davis and Clark Kellogg from treating the announcement by Rasmussen, whose day job is Athletic Director at Creighton University, as breaking news. Gumbel began the show by reminding viewers that when the preview was first done last year, all but one of the sixteen teams named by the committee wound up in the top half of the actual bracket a month later.

What he didn’t say is that the final seeding of those teams varied wildly from the preliminary rankings, with only four of the sixteen squads holding the same position when Selection Sunday came around. That meant the conceit of the preview show, with Rasmussen explaining which of the four regional sites each team will play at based on its seeding and the committee’s guidelines, was pointless. It also paid short shrift to the other fifty-two teams that will ultimately make up the tournament bracket. Surely a few of those will derail the hopes of some of the top sixteen seeds in the first two rounds. The tournament won’t be worthy of its nickname if the bracket remains unblemished right through to the regionals.

Chaos seems especially likely this year, when seeding teams at the start of the tourney will be hard enough, never mind with a month of games still to be played. Competition for the national title looks to be wide open. Several teams are capable of making a run, but every contender has also shown weaknesses, which has resulted in considerable turmoil in the weekly rankings. While just three teams have been number one in the AP Poll – Duke in the early going and Villanova since mid-December, with Michigan State displacing the Wildcats for a single week – the other top spots have been much more fluid. Five different squads have been ranked number two, and eight teams have taken turns as number three. At the other end of the poll, since the collegiate season really got going in late November, the twenty-five teams in the poll have gone unchanged only twice. Otherwise every week at least two or three lower ranked teams have dropped out of the poll. Twice there were four casualties and once five teams fell out of the ranking, replaced by other schools.

The Purdue Boilermakers, given the last of the four number one seeds by the selection committee in Sunday’s preview, are a prime example of this season’s volatility. Purdue was ranked twentieth in the preseason AP Poll, and a few early season wins nudged the school up to eighteenth. Then a pair of losses to then-unranked Tennessee and Western Kentucky sent Purdue right out of the top-25, as one of the five to fall out in that late November upheaval. But the Boilermakers went on a roll, reeling of nineteen straight wins. Purdue quickly reappeared in the AP Poll, beginning a steady climb that capped out at number three, a spot the team has occupied for the last three weeks. That’s sure to change when this week’s poll is released however, because Purdue just lost back-to-back games, to number fourteen Ohio State on Wednesday and to number four Michigan State late Saturday afternoon. While both opponents were ranked and both games went down to the wire, penciling in the Boilermakers as a number one regional seed a few hours later was just another reminder that Sunday’s show didn’t mean much.

The past week has been particularly tumultuous, as teams in the top-25 lost fifteen games to either unranked or lower ranked opponents. In addition to Purdue’s two losses, the week saw number one Villanova upended by St. John’s on Wednesday, four days after the suddenly powerful Red Storm took down Duke. Number two Virginia joined the casualty list on Saturday, falling to in-state rival Virginia Tech at home in overtime, 61-60. Overall on Saturday ranked teams managed a decidedly pedestrian 8-8 record against unranked or lower ranked squads, ensuring yet more shuffling in the next weekly poll.

The NCAA preview show did remind viewers of the different standards used by the selection committee, as compared to the media members who have votes in the AP poll. The latter tend to react to the most recent results, which is why one can count on Purdue dropping from the number three position this week. The selection committee is charged with looking at a team’s entire body of work, with a game in November as relevant as one in the conference tournament a few days before Selection Sunday. This year the committee is also giving increased emphasis to wins away from home, and as always weighing each team’s strength of schedule.

Given the reams of data available to the committee and the unpredictable nature of this college basketball season, the sixteen teams that are given real top seeds a month from now will surely include a few, and perhaps several, whose names were not called during Sunday’s broadcast. Even those that remain on the list are likely to see their place on it scrambled. Which leaves the obvious question, why bother with a preview show? Sometimes more isn’t better, it’s just superfluous.


  1. I am sure that the Donald could find an answer to the question. He would say hei is number one. Chuck

  2. Ferget the NAACP and CBS—we need to bring back The Great Carnak and put some entertainment into the mix.

    • Johnny was definitely more entertaining! Thanks Allan.


      Michael Cornelius

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