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This column is now outdated, because there isn't an S-curve anymore. But that doesn't mean there isn't a pecking order in NCAA Tournament selection, or that teams higher in the pecking order .
There's a great thing going on in Indianapolis right now, where scribes and hacks and bloggers and writers alike are putting together a mock 2013 NCAA Tournament field. But it comes with a caveat that shakes the very foundation of this column: Apparently, there's no such thing as an S-curve anymore.
Number one biggest misconception about this process: There never was an S curve. A misnomer. Biggest priority is geography.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) February 15, 2013
That makes a weekly column called Assess the S-Curve sound pretty stupid, but only if you don't mind the fact that it's an overstatement...
FYI: It's no longer called the "S-Curve" -- it's now called the "Seed List."— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) February 15, 2013
...or that the concept remains the same: The way the brackets for the NCAA Tournament are put together includes both the construction of a hierarchy of teams and a bit of geographical sense.
That committee is currently working with Indiana, Miami, Duke, and Michigan as its No. 1 seeds, in that order. With regionals in Indianapolis (Midwest), Washington, D.C. (East), Arlington (South), and Los Angeles (West), that makes the first pick really easy: Indiana's going to be slotted to go to Indianapolis if it's a No. 1 seed. While both Miami (marginally) and Duke (strongly) would prefer Washington to Arlington, Miami winning out in their battle — which, I suppose, wouldn't be determined by position on
an S-curve a seed list — would get the 'Canes a trip to a Sweet Sixteen in the nation's capital, in the mock committee's exercise, and send Duke to Texas. Michigan, by virtue of earning a No. 1 seed, would be banished to sunny Los Angeles.
In this same exercise, Florida has lost to Alabama in the SEC Tournament final (...sure), and presumably fallen to the No. 2 seed line. If the committee's paying attention to geography for No. 2 seeds, then it's likely Arizona or Gonzaga will get the No. 2 seed in the West. Florida would theoretically be no further down the pecking order than Arizona, and get a No. 2 seed in either the South or East. That's not a bad situation for Florida, because it's going to have to play in some regional more than 750 miles away (D.C. is 780 miles from Gainesville; Arlington is 1,055).
But if Florida, Gonzaga, Arizona, and Michigan State are the No. 2 seeds, someone's getting screwed. If Michigan State ends up in Indianapolis with Indiana, that's just a normal road trip for the Spartans. Either Arizona or Gonzaga won't have to leave its time zone, but the team that doesn't get sent to Los Angeles is going to be two time zones from home. All of the No. 2s would surely prefer not having to see Indiana in its state capital, but someone's got to be fed to that red sea of humanity, and Florida got that thankless spot from the faux committee. And if Michigan has to see Gonzaga in Los Angeles, Big Blue might actually be a little jealous of Sparty.
And this happens every year.
Consider the 2012 NCAA Tournament. With regionals in Boston (East), Atlanta (South), St. Louis (Midwest), and Phoenix (West), it was very clear where No. 1 overall seed Kentucky was going to go, and where No. 2 overall seed Syracuse would slot in. But with North Carolina and Michigan State also on that No. 1 line and needing regionals (and, geez, did you remember that UNC was a No. 1 seed last year?), the Heels got to stay closer to home in St. Louis, likely by virtue of a higher overall seed, and Michigan State was dispatched to the desert.
And then three of the four No. 2 seeds below Carolina and Sparty got gifted regionals with less travel: Kansas got to drive about 300 miles to St. Louis, Duke had to go a little under 400 to Atlanta, and Missouri got to gain and not lose an hour in Phoenix instead of Boston. Ohio State was sent to Boston instead of the Tigers, much further from Columbus than St. Louis, but Kansas had already taken that cushy landing spot.
Ask a Kansas fan (as I did), and you'll find that he was probably pretty happy about being in St. Louis: Our Rock Chalk Talk called it a "big advantage" in its initial reaction to the 2012 bracket. Ask a Duke fan, and she would have been very happy with Atlanta, as every Duke fan inevitably is with where Duke goes. Ask a Michigan State fan, and he would have gritted his teeth about being sent all the way to Phoenix.
Do I think Florida fans would do the exact same grousing about a No. 1 seed that corresponds with a Los Angeles regional? Absolutely. Do I think there's an obviously great regional for the Gators? No. Is Florida going to have to do some road work no matter where the committee sends it? Sure.
But is there a good argument that Florida should duck a No. 1 seed that comes with an L.A. booby prize? I think so.
I've flown from Florida to Dallas, and to D.C., and to Los Angeles, and only one of those trips wiped me out for a whole day. Los Angeles is 2,400 miles away from Gainesville, further than both D.C. and Arlington combined and beyond all but the craziest of fans' road trip range. And while it's not impossible for fans to get a nonstop to L.A. from a Florida airport, it's a six-hour flight; I wouldn't do six hours on a domestic flight unless I could save multiple hundreds of dollars.
Oh, and the Gators just did the exile to the West bit last year, going to Omaha for their first two games and Phoenix for their second two. With a No. 7 seed, that wasn't much more than Florida could ask for, but Florida fans could be forgiven for hoping the Gators to get a No. 2 that doesn't send them to Los Angeles instead of a No. 1 that would. The road to the Final Four is tough enough to follow without having to trek all the way out to SoCal.
At least that road ends somewhere not far from Gainesville. If the Gators get to the Final Four, they'll only have to head to Atlanta — which is hosting the Final Four for the first time since 2007, when another group of Gators cut down the nets in the Georgia Dome.
Assess the S-Curve, a new feature on Florida's NCAA Tournament positioning, will run weekly until the NCAA Tournament. Want a question about the S-curve or NCAA Tournament answered? Use #AssessTheS or tweet at @AlligatorArmy.