BOUNCE: Random draw is a flawed system for conference tournament seeding

South Adams’ Brayden Gilbert and Nick Miller work to rebound with Bluffton’s Lukas Hunt and Harrison Schreiber during a January 14, 2020 ACAC Tournament game.

As the annual ACAC and NECC Tournaments are set to be played next week – and because I didn’t have an SAC Holiday Tournament to complain about – I wanted to get something off my chest: I want Sagarin Ratings used.

That’s right, those same ratings I have complained about when seeding the SAC Tournament I am now calling upon for the ACAC and NECC.

See, my issue has never been with the ratings themselves. They are fun to analyze and use when looking at comparisons between teams. My issue with Sagarin being used for the SAC Tournament, which they were for the first time in 2019, is that there is not enough time to formulate good ratings, especially on the boys side. It leaves us with seeding that is off, sometimes by quite a bit.

In 2019, Sagarin gave Wayne’s boys a No. 1seed in the SAC Tournament and this season, it would have slated the South Side boys No. 10. And those weren’t the only things that were off.

I get the appeal. Coach votes get stale and yes, sometimes there can be bias involved for some reason. That said, coach voting was always more on the dot in the SAC than the Sagarin has been…again, especially on the boys side.

But both the ratings and the coaching choices far outweighs the archaic notion to let a blind draw dictate a bracket. Even as the ACAC and NECC Tournaments could use some changes themselves, they are still a big deal to players to want to win them. More so than the SAC, they are also a big deal to communities. I wish you could look no further than this year’s NECC finals, which would pack Westview if capacity crowds were allowed. The crowds at both South Adams and Garrett for tournament finals last year were lively and boisterous. The fans in these conferences care far too much for the fate of some teams to be put in the hands of – metaphorical – ping-pong balls.

The ACAC just recently made its draw with girls matchups being the same as boys matchups, as they are yearly. I feel that there is probably more resistance in changing things in the ACAC just because of how long this tournament has been played. Old habits die hard.

The problem with the random draw here starts with the number of teams currently in the ACAC. With just seven schools involved, one team gets a bye straight to the semifinal round. That, at least, halfway works out this season with Jay County getting the bye. The girls team deserves that as they are the clear-cut top seed. In the Sagarin Ratings world, the Jay County boys would also be the top seed. But why would a top seed, which is what the bye equals out to, be chosen by random draw?

Congrats on a free pass even if you are winless on the season.

For the ACAC boys, Jay County and Heritage would be the top two seeds in Sagarin, but will play each other in the semifinals if Heritage beats Adams Central in the first round. For the ACAC girls, the same is to be said with the Adams Central girls, the second-ranked ACAC team in the Sagarin but a team that will play Jay County in the semi finals if they beat Heritage. No way that the best teams in the ACAC (by current Sagarin rating) will be playing for the title a week from Saturday at South Adams.

Here is how the ACAC would seed out for 2021 if it used the Sagarin rating:

BOYS: 1. Jay County, 2. Heritage, 3. South Adams, 4. Bluffton, 5. Woodlan, 6. Adams Central, 7. Southern Wells

GIRLS: 1. Jay County, 2. Adams Central, 3. Woodlan, 4. Bluffton, 5. Heritage, 6. South Adams, 7. Southern Wells

Woodlan boys and girls basketball teams celebrate each of the ACAC Tournament titles on January 18, 2020. (Woodlan Athletics Twitter)

The NECC is even more of a mess. Its tournament draw feels even worse, even though it’s not. The NECC draws the tournament months and months and months in advance. It is a mess and again, especially on the boys side. I guess they are just cursed with rough tournament draws.

The NECC is a really deep conference on both sides so you could argue that no draw is a bad draw. I mean, that argument would be wrong but you could make it at least.

The top three NECC teams (in Sagarin, personal opinion and pointed reality) are all on the same side of the boys bracket. So if you want a Churubusco/Central Noble matchup, you could get it but on a Wednesday. Want to see one of them face Westview? Settle in for a semi final. Again, I defy anyone to convince me that the best teams will matchup in the finals with these three schools all on one side of the bracket. And isn’t that what we all want to see as fans? The best two teams playing for a title. Even last year in the NECC boys race, Prairie Heights may have not been a top three team, but them playing in the finals was perfectly fine. They were a team considered in the same breath as Busco, Central Noble and Westview.

On the girls side, things are bit more balanced this year but there are still four of the top six teams, by Sagarin Rating, on one side of the bracket with Garrett, West Noble and 2020 finalists Angola and Fairfield all at the top of the bracket. But on the bottom of the bracket, Lakeland will play Central Noble in the first round meaning that the 4th and 5th best Sagarin teams face off for elimination, sharing their half of the bracket with four of the bottom 5 NECC Sagarin rated teams.

For continued argument, look at how byes work in the NECC.

In a 12 team field, essentially four teams have a bye to the quarterfinals. So that should be the top four teams, right? Instead, this season it is Hamilton, Westview, Fairfield and West Noble. Only West Noble falls into that category in the most recent Sagarin Ratings and only on the girls side. Meanwhile each bracket gives a bye to their last place team – Hamilton on both sides – and to their second to last rated team, Westview for the girls and Fairfield for the boys.

Like I said, just a mess.

Here is how the NECC Tournament would seed out using that most recent Sagarin Rating:

BOYS: 1. Westview, 2. Churubusco, 3. Central Noble, 4. Eastside, 5. West Noble, 6. Lakeland, 7. Angola, 8. Fremont, 9. Garrett, 10. Prairie Heights, 11. Fairfield, 12. Hamilton

GIRLS: 1. Garrett, 2. West Noble, 3. Angola, 4. Lakeland, 5. Central Noble, 6. Fairfield, 7. Eastside, 8. Prairie. Heights, 9. Fremont, 10. Churubusco, 11. Westview, 12. Hamilton

Tougher to follow too is the NECC’s home court advantage. The winning teams follow the higher bracketed winning girls team for home court sites. This can be tough for fans to follow and can’t be all that easy on athletic directors when you don’t know for sure on a Tuesday if you will be hosting on a Wednesday. The ACAC’s formula of selecting a site in advance means often that no home team may be playing in that location but also nobody has to fly by the seat of their pants when planning to host a game or travel needs.

Meanwhile, I would just love for both of these tournaments to find a single site for each and run all day long. That is something that makes the SAC unique and could work here as the ACAC used to play games at the Memorial Coliseum. Are these conferences in school when their tournaments are held? So what. There are plenty of schools across the country that hold major basketball or wrestling tournaments during the school day; it is not reinventing the wheel.

Just like the SAC, it is time to make some changes to how these tournaments are formulated. Will I enjoy them just the same next week? Sure. Could they be more enjoyable for a broader range of fans, coaches and players? Absolutely.

Just some food for thought before next week’s big conference tournaments. And don’t forget to check out our complete conference tournament previews next Monday before games start on Tuesday!

These opinions represent those of Bounce and Outside the Huddle. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. Follow Bounce on Twitter at Bounce_OTH

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply