I’m not going to call anybody out for being mad, red and optionally nude online about how the Wisconsin Badgers got jobbed out on Selection Sunday. For one thing, they got themselves a draw where they could either very easily be out on day one if that three-point defense doesn’t improve, or end up in a battle with No. 1 overall seed Villanova if they get past Virginia Tech.
Then there’s the question of the No. 8 seed in comparison to the rest of the Big Ten. Wisconsin beat Minnesota twice. It was kind of a beatdown in Madison. How are the Gophers—the No. 5 seed in the South Region—so much better regarded?
Well, seeing as you’ve already looked at the headline, you’re already out there sharpening your fingernails for maximum power on the angry comments. So let me lay out why exactly the Badgers find themselves the ugly stepchild of the bracket.
Strength of schedule was the top deciding factor as to how teams got in.
How else would you explain how the selection committee broke the record for the team with the most losses making the tournament as an at-large in Vanderbilt... except for the Commodores played 20 of their 34 games against RPI top-100 opponents? That gave them the top mark in terms of strength of schedule, and they cruised in as a No. 9 seed. 14 loss Michigan State finished 9th by that metric. The Spartans also made it in as a No. 9 seed.
In comparison, Wisconsin’s strength of schedule was just barely above the Mendoza line of nice at 68. Now sure, some of it wasn’t the Badgers’ fault. Indiana and Syracuse were both ranked when Wisconsin beat them. Georgetown and Oklahoma were both supposed to contend for tournament berths but ended up contending for last place in their respective conferences instead. If we’re looking for a head-to-head comparison with our neighbors to the north, the Gophers were in a tie for 22nd by the committee metric.
(And yes, I know Ken Pomeroy had the Badgers’ strength of schedule higher. That is not what the committee uses. It might aid more in the future, but if we’re thinking like a committee member, this is the road that must be traveled.)
Despite any protestations to the contrary, the finishing kick still gets extra weight on the resume.
After a heartbreaking 72-70 overtime loss to Seton Hall on Feb. 8, the Providence Friars weren’t even locks for the NIT. But after reeling off four straight wins against Butler, Xavier, Creighton and Marquette, as well as six straight going into their conference tournament, they got into the First Four over a team like Cal, which ended its season with losses to marginal Pac-12 teams Colorado, Stanford and Utah.
You knew this was going to be coming. The talk of how Badger basketball stunk in February. I won’t belabor the point too hard, but when a record of 21-3 turns into 25-9, the stature of your program in regards to the national stage is going to take a much larger hit than if 4-6 turns into 25-9. That’s just human nature.
And Minnesota? It turned 15-7 into 24-9.
Head-to-head records don’t matter.
Wake Forest finished the year 19-13, Syracuse finished the year 18-14. Wake Forest clearly had the better numbers in terms of RPI and strength of schedule, but Syracuse finished one game ahead of the Demon Deacons in the ACC on the strength of winning their one head-to-head matchup 81-76. Nevertheless, Wake got the First Four berth.
I know. Wisconsin beat Minnesota twice. Soundly, at that. I know. But head-to-head is a metric that loses weight when the postseason tournament has 68 slots decided from 351 teams. With all of them playing more than 30 games, the sample size being one or two games doesn’t hold much weight.
If you’re arguing that it should, then the logical extension is that you’re giving Iowa a case that it should have been seeded ahead of Wisconsin, and that’s how you get ants.
If you got this far and you’re still salty regarding the seeding, that’s OK. If you want to discuss that RPI is a flawed metric and the selection process has a human element with lengthy rules for seeding, you’re right. The seeding process is imperfect, and the Badgers have a case to be a better seed over a team like Creighton or South Carolina. But despite the fun of complaining, the selection committee didn’t get it wrong.
You play bad, and bad’s what you get.