Dissenting Thoughts: Issues with the Final 8 selections and seeding

It wouldn't be March without some disagreement over the bracket of a basketball tournament. The seeds for the Final 8 are out, they diverge significantly from the predictions, and there are potential issues with both who's in (Lakehead over Saskatchewan in the wild-card spot) and the seedings of the teams that did make it.

First, here are the criteria CIS uses for selecting the wild-card berth:

1. Final regular season conference record.
2. Games vs. other teams under berth consideration and teams that have already qualified for the national championship.
3. Games results against non-conference opponents (overall record vs. CIS teams in non-conference play. All teams - including games against conference opponents in non-conference games.) Include record and date/location Home / Away / neutral court and game score should be considered within this category.
**** Non-conference refers to CIS teams only.
4. Best 5 weeks in Top 10 rankings beginning with the first Top 10 ranking following November 15 to end of regular season for that team.
5. Games vs. teams (CIS teams only) with a winning percentage of greater than .800 (this category includes games with a winning percentage greater than .650 and .500 as well.)
6. Games vs. teams (CIS teams only) with a winning percentage of greater than .650 (this category includes games with a winning percentage greater than .500 as well.)
7. Games vs. teams (CIS teams only) with a winning percentage of greater than .500
8. Games vs. teams (CIS teams only) with a winning percentage of less than .500
9. Play-off Performance

And here are some thoughts from four of our staffers, Cam Charron, Brian Decker,Andrew Bucholtz and Rob Pettapiece on the bracket.

Cam: What irks me about Lakehead's entry over Saskatchewan is that in a competitive Canada West field, out of the four teams that went to the Final Four last week, Saskatchewan was indubitably the best.

We all watched on Friday night Ryerson upset Lakehead for an automatic Final 8 bid for the CIS men's basketball championship. Later that night, Saskatchewan dropped their own "win and go to Halifax" game at home in the Canada West Final Four, albeit to an Alberta team that is much superior to Ryerson (and I expect that will show on Friday evening in Halifax).

And as we're aware, Saskatchewan lost out on the wildcard spot to Lakehead. Not only that, but they got hosed. Completely.

Let's pause and back up a week. In our first "Bracketology" panel, seven of nine panellists selected the wildcard team as a member from Canada West. This is reasonable enough; Fraser Valley, Victoria and Alberta are all very capable teams. Unfortunately, one game that was played on national TV thousands of kilometres away was the one that sealed the fate for all but two of the teams in the field.

Saskatchewan played Alberta, and they were ranked higher in the top 10 for every week but one this season, the one that came out on November 15. As soon as Ryerson beat Lakehead, one of these teams, the best two teams in the conference according to both Ratings Percentage Index and Simple Ranking System, wasn't going to make it.

Sure, Lakehead is also very good as well, but is 11th in RPI and 4th in SRS behind both Saskatchewan (2nd and 2nd) and Alberta (1st and 3rd). [Ed. note: see comments below. --RP] These measurements don't mean much, except to measure how good a basketball team is.

The fact that they can get blown out by Ryerson and that somehow means that the loser of the Huskies/Golden Bears game will miss the tournament is strange. At least after getting beat, Saskatchewan turned around the next day and beat Victoria for the Canada West bronze medal game. Lakehead now comes into this tournament not having to win a game to get in.

Following that OUA semifinal, the Huskies were no longer qualified to be the wild card team, due to Lakehead's superior conference record and record against conference opponents who earned berth consideration (1-1 vs. 1-2). I'm not sold on this criteria, since nowhere in there does "being the better team" count for anything.

We also have records against OUA teams and records against CWUAA teams. Of course, a .650 OUA team isn't as strong as a .650 Canada West team, so Saskatchewan's wins against Calgary or Lethbridge don't count in this. As for .800 Canada West teams, well, the Huskies were the only one, so that's nixed as well.

Brian: My main problem with the selection is around the 'body of work' argument, something clearly important based on the selection criteria. I think teams' body of work tends to be judged on the whole, especially when fancy numbers like 30-3 are thrown around in comparison to 24-6. It's easy to say Lakehead's CIS record is better than Saskatchewan's when you put it that way; in fact, it becomes difficult to argue against it.

But to me that's flawed because the teams don't play the same competition. Lakehead's strength of schedule was 42nd in the country and Saskatchewan's was 2nd. That's huge, and I think needs to be more accurately reflected in the 'body of work' area.

I also think the body of work that includes non-conference play from October and November, which for CIS teams approaching nationals, is an eon ago. Every year you have new players to integrate and veteran players that might not play if they have nagging injuries (see: Barrett, Jamelle) to preserve them for the second semester. We don't call it a pre-season, but coaches often treat them as exhibition games, and yet we rely on them heavily to evaluate a team's body of work.

This undervalues the qualities of team that plan to peak at the right time of year — in the playoffs, when games and accomplishments are typically at a greater value. It's obviously important not to overrate teams that go on a hot streak and somehow make it to their conference finals (Ryerson), but pretending that the best teams are as good in November as in March is wrong.

Andrew: Much like Brian, I think there's far too much emphasis on the start of the season compared to its conclusion. Preseason non-conference action and early-season games from November play too large of a role in both the selection of teams and in the eventual seeding, and this devalues the conference playoffs. Out east, Acadia beat St. Francis Xavier 82-71 to win the Atlantic title; their reward was being seeded eighth and running into the Carleton machine of death in the first round of the Final 8. Meanwhile, the X-Men were given the sixth spot despite losing the AUS title, and they get a much easier draw by facing Concordia first (a team none of us had as high as third). The difference between the teams? X was 16-4 in the regular season, while Acadia was 14-6. Thus, clearly it's more valuable to pick up a win or two in the regular season than it is in the conference final. That goes against the logic of most CIS sports, and most sports in general, and it makes it awfully hard to sell the conference playoffs as meaningful games to fans or viewers when the seeding committee consistently overlooks their results.

It's not just the Axemen who got a tough break, either. Ryerson emphatically thumped Lakehead 86-70 in the Wilson Cup semifinals, but the Rams are seeded seventh and have to face Canada West champs Alberta in the first round, while the Thunderwolves picked up the wild-card berth and were seeded fourth, so they get to face a less-intimidating opponent in UFV. Sure, season records shouldn't be completely thrown out, but in my mind, it would make sense to reward surprising teams for playoff upsets with better seeds, while giving teams like the X-Men and Thunderwolves a tougher road in the Final 8 thanks to their playoff losses.

Rob: I agree that the conference tournament has to mean something beyond awarding a regional banner that most teams would sacrifice if it meant getting a chance at a national one. That was precisely the reason why I didn't go to last year Wilson Cup final after having attended the semis — the seedings were, whether or not anyone wants to admit it, already determined. It's not like Lakehead would get seeded above Carleton in 2011, right?

And while I do lean towards the Huskies in this argument, I am not really feeling strongly one way or the other (I chose Lakehead in my ballot as a what-will-happen thing, not a what-should-happen).

My problem is with the criteria themselves (why do we have four separate categories to tease out strength of schedule when we can just use a direct SOS measurement?). The issues are more evident when you imagine the following situation:

Suppose St. F-X lost their conference semifinal. Just like the other teams under consideration for the at-large berth. If you give CBU that win on Saturday then, bizarrely, not only do the X-Men still have a claim on a Final 8 appearance, the rules dictate that they might even get it. Taking the criteria one-by-one:

  1. Their conference record, 16-4, was the same as Saskatchewan's, so they're tied for second.

  2. Their record against teams in the Final 8 (or up for consideration for it) was 7-1 — remember, in our scenario they didn't play Acadia on March 4, and their regular-season games against Cape Breton now count. A 7-1 record puts them in the top spot for this category.

  3. They won all their non-conference games, so that's easy: tied for first.

  4. Their five best top 10 rankings were all No. 2, starting November 15 (the earliest week that can be considered here) and staying there five weeks in a row until January 10. That makes them tied for first as well.

  5. The X-Men had one game against a team with an .800 or better record, Concordia, and won it, so they're tied for first there too.

  6. They went 8-1 against teams with a .650 or better record, mostly in AUS, and that winning percentage is higher than, you guessed it, both the Thunderwolves and Huskies.

  7. Against .500 or better: 14-2, also the best.

  8. Against .500 or worse: 12-2, and here they are third.

  9. Playoff performance: 1-1 in our scenario, so tied for second with Lakehead.
That's six categories where they're in first (either tied or alone), two in second, and one in third. In other words, based on the criteria used, there's a really strong case that a St. F-X loss on Saturday means they should get waved through to the Final 8 anyway. Keeping one of Lakehead and Saskatchewan out of the tournament is unpleasant but had to be done; keeping both out so that three AUS teams can go is utter nonsense. Yet that's what the rules would say.
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  1. Although I'm happy about it as a StFX alum and fan, I can't grasp how Concordia got the 3 seed. I've seen Alberta play a couple times in person this year and I think they're a much better potential 2nd round matchup for X than Carleton...X got very lucky with the seeding/side of the bracket, it would appear. It also seems like the only possible justification for Ryerson not being #8 was avoid a OUA East divisional rematch in the first round.

    I wonder if having a similar regional play-in system as the women's league has might be a good decision. It would place more importance on actually winning the conference tournament, mitigate the effect of regional biases and seeding issues and give fans more opportunity to see their team match up with top teams from other conferences. I'm not hopeful that this will happen with no TV deal in place, though.

  2. I should point out that, due to a since-corrected bug in the RPI, Carleton is in fact #1 in RPI (and were so ranked at the time of this post as well). Cam's line as follows:

    "Lakehead is also very good as well, but is 11th in RPI and 4th in SRS behind both Saskatchewan (2nd and 2nd) and Alberta (1st and 3rd)"

    should in fact read

    "Lakehead is also very good as well, but is 5th in RPI and 4th in SRS behind both Saskatchewan (2nd and 2nd) and Alberta (3rd and 3rd)"

    His argument does not change, though I realize 5 is closer than 2 than 11 is to 2. In any case, the mistake is mine, not Cam's.

  3. As long as you're miffed with the Lady Huskies losing to Brock and still getting a No. 7 seed for the womn's bracket then OK. Their blowing a 20 pt lead last night, getting walloped in last year's final to a team returning all 5 starters and the above regional los raises the question of how they got there to begin with. I know. Pure Western bias, that's how.