Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Monday, March 14, 2016 :::

Warning: sports post.

The NCAA announced last night which 68 teams get to compete in a tournament for the men's college basketball championship, and will announce tonight which 64 teams compete for the women's championship.  One sometimes hears from casual sports fans that a team's wins in the tournament justify their inclusion and validate the decision of the committee, while a good performance in one of the consolation tournaments by a team that might have been included in the big one refutes the decision.  One sometimes hears from the experts that this is wrong, that selection is on the basis of "the merits", and that it is not a prediction.  Oddly enough, I side to a significant extent with the populists on this one.

The committee claims to have as its goal the selection of the "best" teams in the country.  I'm not sure they really do, even by their own assessment; I think, in particular, that South Carolina is among the 34 best teams that didn't get in automatically, and was left out because they scheduled all of their out-of-conference games against weak opponents,[1] so while it's quite possible the committee simply disagrees with me, I can easily tell a story wherein they are at least creating small incentives rather than going strictly with the best teams.  If they are trying to pick the "best" teams, I can't imagine an argument that says that a team's performance in games in the next week or two isn't evidence as to how good a team is.  In 2011, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth (which were both, to the committee's credit, included in the tournament) were both better than we thought — though not, most likely, among the four best teams in the country.

Perhaps the argument the experts are trying to make is that there is a degree of unpredictability, that the race isn't always to the swift or the battle to the strong, and that is certainly true.  There is also an argument as to what is reasonably knowable by the committee and what isn't; the committee cannot be expected to know exactly which the best teams are, even if that's more reasonable than knowing which teams are going to win which games in the future.  In a tournament that is so large that it easily accommodates any team with a reasonable claim to be the best in the country, it seems perfectly reasonable to me to use some of the extra slots to reward teams for testing themselves so that it is easier to tell in the future which teams are better than which; a team[2] that regularly builds a schedule that makes it hard for outsiders to be confident that this is one of the best teams in the country doesn't need the benefits of any doubt.

[1]The best team they played before the conference schedule was selected by the committee, but is required to play a play-in game on Wednesday.

[2]Institutionally, of course; some of the actions of the "team" are taken by the school's athletic director, some by the coach, and others by the players.

::: posted by dWj at 10:36 AM

I believe that some mid-major teams have complained about putting too much weight on non-conference schedule, because it increases the tendency for high powered schools to schedule each other and easily crushed minnows and avoid scheduling strong mid-majors, especially on the road, when that might well result in a bad loss. And by "I believe" I mean that I'm pretty certain that I have seen this, but don't want to make a stronger assertion that I might be asked to back up.
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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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