At this point, we know the UW basketball team will be playing in the NCAA Tournament next month. And instead of worrying about the bubble, Badger fans can instead start to worry about seedings, draws and locations in the big dance.
As Phil Mitten detailed yesterday, it often takes a lot of luck to advance in the NCAA Tournament. Sometimes that luck involves upsets, sometimes it involves favorable seedings and sometimes it involves playing games close to home.
Last year the Badgers missed out on playing their first and second round games at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, but with a little help, Wisconsin could start the tournament at the United Center in Chicago this year.
It's not easy to get an early round draw close to home. There are eight locations and each one hosts two pods of four teams. The top 16 overall teams get placed as close to home as possible in an S-curve order, but as soon as two of those top 16 teams are placed at a site, that city is taken off the board. That guarantees each site two of the top 16 teams.
There are other factors that prevent teams from being placed close to home, even though the NCAA tries to limit travel as much as possible. For instance, two teams from the same conference can't meet in the first two rounds (although this will be a challenge for the Big East this year with 11 teams possibly earning berths). This means you won't see more than two Big Ten teams in Chicago (one in each pod).
This admittedly gets confusing so to see how Wisconsin can play in Chicago, let's simulate the selection of the top 16 teams as it stands today. To help us, let's use Blogging The Bracket's latest S-curve for the top 16 teams:
No. 1 seeds: 1. Ohio State, 2. Pittsburgh, 3. Kansas, 4. Texas
No. 2 seeds: 5. Duke, 6. BYU, 7. San Diego State, 8. Purdue
No. 3 seeds: 9. Notre Dame, 10. Florida, 11. Georgetown, 12. Louisville
No. 4 seeds: 13. Wisconsin, 14. UConn, 15. Syracuse, 16. North Carolina
Our eight possible sites for the second and third rounds are Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Tampa, Tulsa, Tuscon, and Washington D.C.
With this information, let's assign the seeds:
No. 1 seeds
1. Ohio State (Cleveland)
2. Pittsburgh (Cleveland)
3. Kansas (Tulsa)
4. Texas (Tulsa)
No. 2 seeds
5. Duke (Charlotte)
6. BYU (Denver)
7. San Diego State (Tuscon)
8. Purdue (Chicago)
No. 3 seeds
9. Notre Dame (Chicago)
10. Florida (Tampa)
11. Georgetown (Charlotte)
12. Louisville (Washington)
No. 4 seeds
13. Wisconsin (Denver)
14. UConn (Washington)
15. Syracuse (Tampa)
16. North Carolina (Tuscon)
Hopefully you are still with me. Either way, you probably have some questions.
The No. 1 seeds are pretty straight forward. Ohio State and Pittsburgh are both very close to Cleveland so that takes LeBron's old home off the board. And obviously Kansas and Texas are both very close to Tulsa.
The No. 2 seeds are also pretty easy. It seems like Duke always gets to play in North Carolina and that's just a reward for always being good. BYU and San Diego State get to stay out west and Purdue gets the short drive up to Chicago.
Same goes for Notre Dame and Florida who get to play close to home as No. 3 seeds. Unfortunately that takes Chicago off the board for the Badgers. But here's where some rules get in the way. Georgetown would obviously love to play at home in Washington D.C. but they aren't allowed to play at the site they are hosting. Instead they go to the next closest place, which is Charlotte. Louisville then heads to Washington.
And now we find out why it sometimes sucks to be a No. 4 seed. We also find out why this is not an exact science. While the NCAA wants to limit every team's travel, they will make compromises when it makes sense. In this case, that applies to Wisconsin. While Washington D.C. is about 120 miles closer to Madison than Denver, the Badgers would likely head to Colorado because the three other No. 4 seeds are all east coast teams. As a result, UConn would go to Washington, Syracuse would head to Florida and North Carolina would be the team (there's always one) that has to fly across the country to Tuscon.
So how does Wisconsin get to Chicago? Well, they could get in a time machine and go back to November when they blew a comfortable lead against Notre Dame and lost. Purdue and Notre Dame are the two teams that stand in the Badgers way right now and UW is 1-2 against those two teams, so they can't really blame anybody but themselves if they have to play elsewhere.
But things can certainly change. Notre Dame still has games vs. Villanova and at Georgetown, plus a very difficult Big East Tournament. Purdue still has to go to Michigan State and deal with Illinois at home.
The bottomline is that the Badgers just have to win games. They have a huge opportunity at Ohio State March 6 and could get another crack at Purdue at the Big Ten Tournament.
Of course, there is one other option. Wisconsin could lose a few games and fall to a No. 6 seed. There aren't many other midwest teams contending for a No. 6 seed right now, so as long as Purdue is the only other Big Ten team heading to Chicago, the Badgers could be placed in Notre Dame's pod at the United Center. That would set up a possible third-round rematch between the two teams.
I think it's safe to say the Badgers would rather keep winning.
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