Assess the S-Curve: Could Florida be just fine as the West's No. 2?

Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

Florida's loss to Missouri makes its path to a No. 1 seed harder. But it might be even harder for the Gators to fall past the No. 2 line, and they could luck out in the West.

It would be remiss of me to begin this week's Assess the S-Curve without addressing Seth Davis' crusade against the S-curve itself, so:

Here is the second biggest mistake the public makes about this process: There is no such thing as an S-curve. Let me repeat that: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN S-CURVE!!!!

This was always a misnomer. Here's what actually happens. The committee will seed the entire field 1 through 68. Once that is completed, they will start placing teams into the bracket. Contrary to conventional assumption, the committee does not and never has assigned the top No. 2 seed (or the overall No. 5) to the same region as the lowest No. 1 seed (overall No. 4) and proceeded along that pattern. Rather, the top priority is geography. Competitive balance is taken into account, but only as a secondary concern.

All of this has to fit into the bracket's principles and procedures. One of those principles states that teams from the same conference may not meet until the Elite Eight. So let's say Gonzaga ends up as the overall No. 4 and Michigan is the overall No. 5. Gonzaga would be the No. 1 seed in the West. If there were an S-curve, Michigan would automatically be slotted as the No. 2 seed in the West. But since geography is the top priority, the committee would want to send them to the Midwest regional, which this year will be held in Indianapolis. However, if Indiana is the overall No. 1, the Wolverines could not be sent there. So the Wolverines would probably be the No. 2 seed in the South or the East, as long as another Big Ten team isn't the No. 1 seed. Got it?

Once the committee places the top 16 teams in the bracket, it will stop to assess the overall competitive balance. The software program they use for bracketing makes it easy by keeping a running tab of the seed totals. (So if the East has the overall 1, 6, 9 and 15 seeds, the number 31 will appear at the bottom of the column.) The committee can move teams around if those numbers get too out of whack. Otherwise, they will do their best to keep teams as close to home as possible.

In other words, there is no such thing as an S-curve.

I don't know that I or anyone else who takes bracketology even remotely seriously thought that the S-curve was a hard-and-fast rule governing team distribution, or that geography didn't play a role, but it's nice to see that Davis is happy to use boldface, italics, and capitals to say "I'm right" in different words ... even if he's wrong.

The construction of a No. 1 to No. 68 seed list indicates that there's an S-curve to be made every year; whether it's used in tournament selection processes or not is really besides the point, as Davis avoids acknowledging, and though the process of readjusting for competitive balance suggests that the selection committee does, in fact, pay attention to something like an S-curve, it's probably fairer to say that the committee considers geography first, then balances brackets according to the seed list much as an S-curve would permit.

You might think that doesn't matter, but: If Florida's not getting a No. 1 seed, and the concessions made to its geographic needs are few, it helps us figure out where the Gators are likely to go.

It bears explaining, before we go further, that Florida's probably locked into a No. 2 seed now. Looking at The Bracket Project's compilation of the projections to this point, we see that Florida is still fourth in average seed, at 1.47, but lags well behind the Nos. 1 in projections released since Tuesday's loss to Missouri, and is a No. 1 seed in just six of the dozens of projections released after it. Florida's still got some room to move up to a No. 1 seed, especially if the Big Ten and ACC winnow their No. 1 seed contenders to just one per conference, but Missouri was the highest-RPI team remaining on the Gators' schedule, and was still outside the RPI's top 30.

The only way Florida's going to get another big win is if Florida meets Missouri in the SEC Tournament, basically, and even that big win is unlikely to change a lot; the losses from here on in are all likely to be damaging enough to send Florida down another seed line. The Gators are in a no-win situation every night out, taking every team's best shot and having to fend it off to remain where they are while relying on other teams to get them a leg up.

That said: A No. 2 seed is not bad, and there's a way for Florida to have a No. 2 work out really well for it and screw it at the same time. That requires being sent to the West Regional.

If the selection committee is as concerned about geography as Davis argues it is, then Florida's probably going to get placed in the South or East if it's high enough on the seed line; that's what being the lone SEC team worthy of a top seed means. But if that principle of avoiding rematches until (or in) the Elite Eight between teams from the same conference leads the selection committee to avoiding putting a No. 2 seed Big Ten team in a No. 1 seed Big Ten team's regional, then things might shake out to send Florida to the West.

A No. 1 overall seed Indiana is getting the Midwest Regional, obviously, because it terminates in Indianapolis. That means a second No. 1 seed Big Ten team (Michigan or Michigan State) has to go somewhere else — and, because Gonzaga's looking more and more like the West's No. 1 seed, that Big Ten titan would probably end up in the regional, either the East or South, that remains after either Duke or Miami gets the last remaining No. 1 seed (without Ryan Kelly being a lock to return, Miami's the better bet).

And that sets up three regionals that would be trying to avoid taking a No. 2 seed from the same conference, with those conferences providing a number of candidates for those spots. The No. 2 seed that comes from the Michigan/Michigan State pairing is probably going to be sent somewhere other than the Midwest; the No. 2 seed from Duke/Miami will duck its conference rival; the No. 2 seed that Wisconsin (which has beaten both Indiana and Michigan, and might yet beat Michigan State, and could add Big Ten Tournament wins) could earn might make the movement easy: Some Big Ten team would end up in the West, the other one would end up in the one bracket of the other three that isn't topped by a Big Ten team, Duke/Miami would go to one of the other two brackets, and the last No. 2 seed would be Florida's or Kansas' in whatever regional remained.

That leaves Florida playing either Indiana or Miami, probably. Neither is exactly ideal, because both of those teams are truly among the nation's five best. The Gators are, too, I think, and no team in a bracket with Florida is going to be very happy about being in that bracket.

But Florida sneaking into the West, where, if you extrapolate the math, the Nos. 1-4 lines might be populated by a Gonzaga team playing an even lighter schedule than Florida, an Arizona team that mounted an irreproducible rally to win at home over the Gators, and a No. 4 seed that Florida has likely already seen (the current No. 4 teams at Bracket Matrix are all Florida foes: Georgetown, Kansas State, Marquette, and Wisconsin) might actually be the best bet for Florida, because, if it does, it would not have to see a Big Ten behemoth until the Final Four.

This is the flip side of last week's argument, which suggested that geography might be better for a Florida team that has struggled with good teams on the road: The easiest route to the Final Four may be a longer one, if it is significantly less bumpy.

And unless Florida gets the No. 1 overall seed, a seeming impossibility at this point, it's not getting both. So which would you rather have?

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