Dissenting Thoughts: why Andrew doesn't like the Final 8 seedings

The following is the opinion of Andrew Bucholtz and not The CIS Blog, although it does fall into our long-standing tradition of complaining about basketball seedings. Still, just my thoughts on the subject.

As you can tell by our bracketology post, my thoughts on where the teams should go for the Final 8 are substantially different than those of most of our contributors. They’re also quite different from how the seedings wound up. Thus, I figured I should take the time to make my case for why I think the seeding committee got it wrong. To do that, we need to take a look at three different tables, presented below the jump in handy spreadsheet form.

As you can see from that, it's the top end where there's the major discrepancy between my picks and the actual seedings, which are much closer to the final Top 10 poll. Normally, I wouldn't have an issue with that; as my Bracketology picks from last week show, I didn't have any real problems with the way the poll ranked teams. The issue is that these current seedings opt for the poll (taken before this weekend's playoffs) over actual playoff results. The most egregious case of that is the decision to seed Carleton #2 and Lakehead #4 despite the Thunderwolves' emphatic 77-62 thumping of the Ravens in the OUA final last night, but the decision to put two non-champion Canada West teams ahead of the AUS champions is also interesting.

I get where the committee is coming from with this. Based on the large sample size of the regular season (reflected in the top-10 polls), Carleton's obviously a great team, and so are Saskatchewan and Trinity Western. Lakehead and Dalhousie were far less impressive over the course of the year, and thus were lightly regarded by the polls heading into this weekend. If the seedings are intended to reflect pure odds of winning the tournament, these are probably close to right on.

However, I philosophically disagree with that approach. The biggest problem with it is it trivializes the playoffs, and it encourages teams to coast once they have their nationals berth locked up. (They can't before that, as the Cape Breton Capers found out after being upset in the AUS semi-finals). For getting mauled by Lakehead, Carleton drops a grand total of one spot and still gets what should be a cakewalk of a matchup against lightly-regarded Concordia. Meanwhile, the Thunderwolves' victory is rewarded by a spot two below the team they just beat and a tough first-round match with Trinity Western; if they win there, their reward is likely a date with UBC, while the Ravens can't run into the T-Birds until the final. I don't think that's particularly fair.

For an example of how seeding based on playoff merit can work, look no further than the CIS men's volleyball tournament I've been covering all weekend. The Alberta Golden Bears turned in a great regular season and were ranked second going into the Canada West Final Four (which they hosted), but they flopped there, finishing fourth. Third-ranked Calgary won the CW playoffs, while lightly-regarded Brandon (seventh in the polls) took silver and Trinity Western took bronze. The seeding committee decided to go with the on-court results over the polls, putting the four CW entrants in order of how they did in the CW finals (Calgary at #1, Brandon at #3, Trinity at #4 and Alberta at #5), and that turned out to generally be an excellent decision; Calgary finished third, Brandon and TWU are playing for gold and Alberta claimed fifth.

Most importantly, though, that decision made the conference playoffs matter; Calgary and Brandon's showings were rewarded with easier paths at the nationals, while Alberta's lacklustre performance saw them given a tough road. That made the CW Final Four extremely important and interesting, and it rewarded teams for showing up in the big games. I would have liked to see something similar on the hoops side. Instead, the OUA final is completely invalidated, Lakehead and Dalhousie are punished for their inconsistent regular seasons rather than rewarded for their playoff performance, and Carleton gets a remarkably soft path to the final on the basis of their regular season. These aren't the worst Final 8 seedings that could have happened; they're consistent throughout and they avoid same-conference matchups in the first round (which happened in the past before they added a rule to stop it). They're just not ones I'm very happy with.
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  1. I said, several times this weekend, that the OUA Final was meaningless because both teams had already qualified. Arguments against that ranged from "no, it's not" to the more refined "no, it's not, because Lakehead wants to win the Wilson Cup."

    Except, if the GGODs were so intent on winning, why (other than sour grapes / posturing for the sake of his players) did Dave Smart not treat his loss as the end of the world?

    Because he knew it wouldn't matter. Carleton would get a top-2 seed either way.

    My ballot, for the record, reflected what I thought the seeding would be, not what they should be.

  2. Yeah, fair enough. Mine was more hope than realism. I just hate that a great OUA final game like that is ignored in favour of the polls.

  3. Especially when the polls themselves have problems.

  4. Lakehead was likely going to be a 6/7 seed with Carleton at 1 if the Ravens had won. So they jumped into the 4 vs. 5 game.

  5. Yeah, that's true. They did get something out of it, I guess; just not as much as I would have liked.

  6. But on merit they would be a 5 seed or higher. It's just that we have a new rule keeping Lakehead out of the 4/5 if Carleton were to get the 1. So once you account for that, the GGODs aren't really getting much out of winning the OUA at all -- from 5 to 4, about as meaningless an improvement as there is in the Final 8.

  7. A more pertinent example is conference tournaments in the NCAA - a great run to the final is often enough for a bubble team to get into the NCAAs.

    Rob's pointed out that if we didn't have the "conference opponents can't be on the same side" rule, Lakehead might be in the 4 vs. 5 game even with a loss.

    Another disjointed thought is that 2 years ago, the critique went to putting three OUA teams on one half of the draw and two CW teams on the other half. You know how that went down; the best game of the tournament was the all-OUA semi; the all-Canada West semi was kind of a tension- and turnover-filled game, if I recall. If they had seeded it differently, the Western-Ottawa classic might have come a day later, and Brad Campbell's 2009 Mustangs might have got their proper due as a team that was good enough to win a national title. (Because they were for 39:59 against Carleton.)

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  9. Andrew: You aren't only inaccurate in saying that "Carleton has a remarkably soft path to the final," you are also a little out of line. And I don't recall you making this same argument, last year, when Sask. wasn't given a favourable seed after winning CanWest.

  10. Out of line? He's expressing his opinion. How about tell him why he's "inaccurate" rather than sniping from the cheap seats?

    Personally, given the upsets in the AUS and the Q being evidently weak this year (my opinion) I think it's a decent draw.

    Besides, I don't think Smart or Hanson or Morrison cares where they're seeded. Win three games, period.

  11. Larry Moko of the Spec asked Dave Smart last night what he thought of the seedings. Smart basically said he couldn't care less, and that you have to win three tough games in a short period of time anyway.

    Sure, it's a coach covering his ass and saying what he needed to say to sound confident. But it does tell you a lot about the tournament. In any case, you'll have to play three tough teams, and speculating about who's better across conferences probably isn't worth as much time as we're giving it here anyway.

  12. Jesus H. Christ.

    So we should ignore actual performance just to put more emphasis on the last game before the Final 8. Be arbitary, much?

    Volleyball is not a pertinent comparison. For one, half the tournament field is from Canada West, the OUA is nowhere near as big a player as it is in hoops and neither is AUS.

    In other words, "Objection, relevance!" ... "Sustained."

    Bottom line, you can't just put Dal ahead of Carleton because Dal won an 8-team conference and Carleton was second in a 16-team conference. In the words of Dave Cameron, put on your logic hat.

    Now, if we get regionals in the men's game like the women's game has adopted, you will get your wish. The conference final will be high-stakes. I'd like that, too.

  13. I don't get the outrage over the "meaningless" Wilson Cup final. By that logic, the Wilson CUp hasn't had any meaning for about 20 years!

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't the two teams who play in the Wilson Cup been qualified for Nationals before they meet in the Wilson Cup, for like the last two decades at least?

  14. So I see that Andrew thinks that winning the conference is so important that the champions must get the top seeds...all three of them: AUS, OUA, Canada West.

    Hmmmm, something doesn't seem right. A certain je ne sais quoi...

    So does this principle only come into play for some conferences? If so, where is the line drawn and how principled can it really be?

  15. Well that's the way the top 3 seeds work in CIS hockey for the University Cup ... they go to the three conference champs in the order of the last CIS Top 10 rankings.

  16. @DJ good point.

    @ Mr. Cormier: Good point too.

    @ David ... had not thought of it that way. Hockey plays championship series, not games; so typically that increases the odds of the team that had the better season being the conference champ.

  17. Also, the hockey tourney has 2 pools, so it is easier to separate the top seed from the 2 & 3 seeds.