Basketball: About the 'top six' rule

The "top six rule," so-called, is a point of contention each season come Final 8 seeding time.

Long story short, at the 2012 men's nationals, Acadia's reward for winning the AUS Final 6 was being seeded No. 8 and put up against Carleton. Conference runner-up St. Francis Xavier drew in the No. 6 seed and a matchup against Concordia, which it won before going to capture a bronze medal.

That hastened a rule that conference champions must never be seeded lower than sixth and the addition of wording that ("results of regional playoffs must be respected"). The consequence is that the two deeper conferences' second or third entry gets shunted to No. 7. But based on a decade's worth of quarter-final results since the re-introduction of an eight-team championship, it might actually be better to end up No. 7.

Seventh-seeded teams are 5-5 in first-round games over the last 10 seasons and one of them, Brock in 2008, won the national title. (Lakehead collected silver in  2013 and Ryerson also collected bronze in 2015.)

Seventh seedsW/LMarginQual.
2007OttawaW 7At-large
2008BrockW 5OUA 3rd
2009ConcordiaL-9RSEQ Champ
2010CalgaryW 8CW 2nd
2011ConcordiaL-7RSEQ Champ
2012RyersonL-29OUA 2nd
2013LakeheadW 13OUA 3rd
2014McMasterL-14OUA 3rd
2015Ryerson*W 14OUA 3rd
2016Thom. RiversL-16CW 2nd

Sixth-seeded teams are 3-7, with no appearances in the final.

Sixth seedsW/LMarginQual.
2007Acadia*L48AUS 2nd*
2008WesternW 5OUA 2nd
2009DalhousieL-24AUS Champ
2010LakeheadL-21OUA 3rd
2011DalhousieL-12AUS Champ
2012St. FX*W 16AUS 2nd*
2013McGillL-12RSEQ Champ
2014Saint Mary'sL-10AUS Champ
2015Bishop'sL-6RSEQ Champ
2016DalhousieW 4AUS Champ
* AUS hosted Final 8

Of course, 20 games is a very small sample and what much greater minds than I would call retrodictive. That is analogous to all those betting trends that tout sites toss around, such as "The Vikings are 8-2 straight-up and 6-4 against the spread in their last 10 home games in December as a favorite of 7.0 or fewer points."

That could be useful info, but which trend is most applicable to an upcoming game is solely in the eye of the beholder. All it tells us is how a team has fared in a subset of games that might extend back several seasons, coaches, quarterbacks and in the case of the Vikings, home stadiums. It might not have any relevance to the current team or the upcoming opponent.

The point is, though, is that the results buttress a small defence of the rule.

The seeding committee is charged with trying to create compelling matchups. The last two 3 vs. 6 games, each involving Ottawa oddly enough, have each been nail-biters. In 2016, sixth-seeded Dalhousie scored one for the smaller conferences by defeating the Gee-Gees 87-83 in Vancouver. In 2015, Ottawa survived in overtime against lightly regarded Bishop's after forcing a turnover that led to the tying score in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.

Perhaps there is something to be said for being No. 7. Psychologically, if handled a certain way, it might mean being able to come in with that cocksure nothing-to-lose attitude. The No. 2 seed is often the team most susceptible to self-induced pressure, since they are likely an excellent team that might have a fatal flaw. Anyone in the middle of the bracket still has the chip-on-the-shoulder play.

The bottom line is while the rule is anything but meritocratic, it does address the disparities in the caliber and depth of men's basketball in the four regional sports conferences. Some of those factors are also out of the hands of coaches and sports administrators in AUS and RSEQ, so in a roundabout way, it's fair in a perfectly Canadian kind of way.
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