For the most part, the March Madness bracket looks the way it should. The committee only made one big mistake.
Stand up and take a bow, NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee. You got through yesterday without the angry mobs, baffled podcasters, and prolonged rants from snubbed coaches.
You mostly got it right. The 1 and 2 seeds are almost exactly as predicted. The only potential snub, Rutgers, lost seven out of its last 10 and has no clear argument for being more deserving than any of the last teams in. You even set up what could be an all-timer at Madison Square Garden in the East Regional should Duke and Kentucky both advance to the Elite Eight.
You’re not perfect — I think you know that. While I won’t waste time quibbling about a seed line here or an unfortunate geographic placement there, I do have one complaint. And it’s something we seem to encounter every year. I’m talking, of course, about the No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic Owls and the complications their resume presents.
Florida Atlantic Owls Tournament Resume
Quad 1: 2-1 Quad 2: 4-2 Quad 3: 11-0 Quad 4: 12-0
Good wins: at North Texas, vs. UAB
Bad Loss: at Middle Tennessee
The difficulty in seeding a team like Florida Atlantic is simple — every metric, from the most basic (win-loss record) to the nerdiest (KenPom) suggests this is a really, really good team. But the most important criteria — every year — is “who did you beat and who beat you?”
The Owls have one win over a team in the NCAA Tournament field, and that’s the 16-seeded Northern Kentucky Norse. But FAU plays in Conference USA, and with all due respect, the league just isn’t good enough to give the Owls what they need to build a compelling resume. That means that while all logic suggests they should be seeded higher than 9, there aren’t any specific games to point to as evidence.
The NCAA has taken steps to address this issue but clearly has not gone far enough. The good news is the famous Team Sheets that the committee looks at to evaluate each team now include metrics like KenPom, Sagarin, and BPI, which also measure efficiency and should theoretically level the playing field. The NET, which replaced the RPI a few years back, also has efficiency ratings built into its formula.
The committee uses the NET to evaluate the quality of opponents that teams face, letting the rankings guide what constitutes a Quad 1, 2, 3, or 4 game. What it does not do, however, is use the NET to help clarify the quality of that team itself. A NET of 13 would suggest a 4 seed if that were the only criteria. That’s obviously not the case and I’m not saying that’s where FAU should have fallen. But that, with two Quad 1 wins in three opportunities, and no losses outside of the top two quadrants should make them better than a 9 seed.
What it Means for FAU
First, the obvious. As a 9 seed, the Owls have to play a red-hot Memphis team in the first round and, should they advance, No. 1 seed Purdue after that. FanDuel Sportsbook currently has Memphis as a 1.5-point favorite over FAU. If the Owls had been placed on the 7 line, probably closer to where they deserve to be, they’d be first-round favorites over a 10 seed that barely skirted the bubble.
Betting odds are far from the be-all-end-all, and the Owls can certainly beat the Tigers. But for a school like Florida Atlantic, which plays in a non-power conference making pennies off of media rights deals compared to the Power 5, an NCAA Tournament win (or two) can make a big difference. As we detailed ahead of last year’s tournament, one win in the men’s tournament could net a school well over a million dollars over the course of the next few years. By not valuing FAU as it should, the committee has decreased the likelihood of the Owls cashing in.
Now, zoom out. This is one problem with one team in a field of 68. The committee mostly got it right this year — it’s just that there’s an FAU every season and eventually I’d love to see them figure out how to seed them.
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