We live in a world where high level college basketball teams are as familiar with chartered planes as the richest 1% of Americans. Texas Tech and West Virginia are in the same conference. The same can be said of Connecticut and Tulsa.
So it seems a bit odd that when March rolls around, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee allows geography to play an overwhelmingly huge part of the bracketing process.
For those unfamiliar, the bracketing protocol works like this: the committee votes on teams to place them in the correct “S-curve” seed order. That means placing them from 1-68, best to worst. Then they’ll place the top four seeds into the bracket. The highest seed will go to the closest regional site to their campus. The next highest heads to the closest remaining site, and so on to the fourth seed. Then they’ll move on to the two seeds, doing the same thing. This means the first and fifth ranked teams can be placed in the same region. Or the fourth and eighth. For the committee, because of the travel involved in the tournament, travel takes precedent. This continues all the way through the 16 seeds, with a host of rules about rematches, conferences, and even special religious dispensations for schools like BYU, but with geography always heavily involved.
For top seeds, this is crucial. A school like Villanova would give anything to play mere miles from home in South Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Center. Most importantly, they control their own destiny in doing so. St. Joe’s and Temple can cross their fingers and pray to their respective gods, but if Villanova can lock up a one seed, especially the top overall seed, they’ll get to play in Philly for sure.
That’s just one example of the many geographic wrinkles in this year’s mess of a season. Let’s run through each of the tournament sites and look for teams eager to punch their ticket to that venue.
Let’s start in my hometown, since we’ve basically covered it already.
If Villanova can lock-up a top seed, they’ll almost certainly play near home…unless someone else who is also closest to Philadelphia finishes higher on the S-Curve than the Wildcats.
There are two candidates for that: Virginia and North Carolina. At first blush, if Villanova and either of those schools were on the top line, your head would say “Nova to Philly, the other to Louisville”, but if the other school was above Villanova on the seed list, they would go to the nearest venue. Crazy as it may sound, both Charlottesville, VA (222 miles to 396 miles) and Chapel Hill, NC (350 miles to 403 miles) are closer to Philly than Luhhhhville. And yes, believe it or not, the committee will actually look up those distances to see which is closest, as the crow flies.
For Villanova, this shouldn’t be too much of a worry. If they win out and take the Big East crown at MSG, they should be ahead of both UNC and UVA. If they slip up, they may not be so fortunate.
Other highly seeded schools closest to Philly include Maryland, West Virginia, and Duke.
OK, so Villanova, Virginia, and North Carolina (three of Joe Lunardi’s current #1 seeds) are all closest to Philly, who is heading to Louisville? Or rather, who wants to or would go to Louisville?
The obvious answer is Xavier, located a mere 89 miles away. Though Chicago or Philadelphia wouldn’t be a death sentence for the Musketeers, they’d love to play in their own backyard.
Other top seeds hoping to play in Kentucky? Well, Kentucky for one. Lexington sits 70 miles from Louisville. Indiana would love to stay nearby, with the KFC Yum! Center (actual venue name) only 75 miles from Bloomington. Louisville is actually also the closest location for Oklahoma and Miami, though neither wouldn’t see much of a home court advantage so far from Norman and South Florida.
It’s somewhat rare for the Big Ten champion to not be a number one seed. Generally, in most year’s that’s who would love to play here in the Windy City. Thanks to the logjam atop the Big Ten standings, there’s no clear favorite heading into the conference tournament. Should Indiana sweep the regular season and tournament titles, they likely wouldn’t clinch a number one seed (not to mention, they are closest to Louisville anyway).
It’s our current national #1 though, not a Big Ten school, whom would head to Chicago. Kansas, stuck in the middle and awfully far from any of the sites, is in fact, closest to Chicago and would play in that region.
If Michigan State can run the table, they have a shot at the top line and would love to head to Chicago. Other than Sparty and the Jayhawks, both Iowa and Iowa State are nearest the Second City and could pack the United Center. The same, of course, could be said of Notre Dame, since the Irish are beloved in the Midwest.
Welp, someone’s gotta go out West.
The top teams on the left coast may find their way to California, including Utah, Oregon, and Arizona, but the West Region is often a mish mash of whoever is left out of their nearby venues.
In Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket, that means North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Iowa would all (potentially) board flights to Anaheim.
For East Coast and Midwest teams, making the trip out West is essentially a punishment for being the fourth best team on your seed line. In today’s world, it won’t kill you, as most teams are travelling comfortably (as are your opponents). Wisconsin didn’t seem to mind last year, winning the West Regional on the way to the Final Four.
Header image via Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org, Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.