Gonzaga seed: Not your garden variety topic
by Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
Of all the college basketball questions to be bandied about the next two weeks, the most intriguing is whether the potential top-ranked team in the polls, Gonzaga, could be squeezed out of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The debate centers on how the NCAA tournament selection committee will and should consider the body of work of a team that did everything it could with a middling conference schedule that it had no choice to play.
Because of that West Coast Conference schedule, Gonzaga (29-2) has played the nation’s 60th-strongest schedule, facing just one team — Butler on Jan. 19 — in the top 40 of the RPI since New Year’s. If it earns a top seed with that strength of schedule ranking, it would be the worst for a top seed in nine years.
Of the 52 teams that have earned No. 1 seeds since 2000, only two have done it with strength of schedule rankings worse than what Gonzaga’s was this weekend. Stanford’s schedule in 2004 was ranked 96th; Stanford also earned a top seed in 2000 with a schedule that ranked 82nd.
Since 2000, three schools outside the power conferences (Atlantic Coast, Big east, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Southeastern) earned No. 1 seeds, but Memphis (27th) in 2008, Saint Joseph’s (46th) in 2004 and Cincinnati (23rd) in 2002 had schedules that ranked among the top 50. (Cincinnati was in Conference USA in those days.) The average strength of schedule ranking for all top seeds since 2000 is 22nd.
Using the past as a template has its limitations because the relative strength of the tournament field differs every season. And strength of schedule ranking is one of many tools committee members have at their disposal. Some committee members even have been known to rely in part on their own personal metrics.
But the committee historically has rewarded teams that at least attempt to play competitive non-league schedules. As selection committee chair Mike Bobinski said, “Not hard to smoke out who did not try at all.”
And the Bulldogs did try, playing and beating five Big 12 teams and losing only … [For more on Seeding Gonzaga: Not your garden variety topic, click here.]