Kentucky head coach John Calipari had himself a nice little rant on ESPN after the news became official that his Wildcats would be a No. 4 seed in the same region as Indiana and North Carolina.
Most of his rant was directed at his players. At heart, it was a motivational tactic — oh, they hate us, they don’t respect us, it’s us against the world — but Cal did speak some truths during that rant: When a team gets miss-seeded, the people that actually get hurt are the ones that have to play the team that is seeded too low.
Just ask No. 6 Arizona.
The Wildcats drew No. 11 Wichita State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and the Shockers — owners of the nation’s No. 1 adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com — totally stifled Arizona, beating them 65-55. The Wildcats managed just 19 first half points and found themselves down 53-29 before they finally were to string a couple of baskets.
Fred VanVleet led the way for the Shockers with 16 points while Ron Baker chipped in with 13 points and six assists.
Arizona committed 19 turnovers, as Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Kadeem Allen and Gabe York were totally out of sorts as they tried to get Arizona into offensive sets. It was as bad as we’ve seen Arizona player this season, and this isn’t a typical Arizona team.
And it begs the question: Should the Shockers have been seeded higher?
The story was beaten to death throughout Championship Week, but the bottom-line is this: Wichita State had the most unique tournament profile that we may ever see. Their résumé, whether you subscribe to KenPom or the RPI, consisted of wins over one top 50 team and three more top 100 teams. That’s not enough to be considered for an at-large bid in any year, even one where two tournament teams were ineligible and Syracuse got a No. 10 seed.
But Wichita State, prior to Thursday’s beatdown of the Wildcats, was the No. 9 team in the country according to KenPom.com, which is widely regarded as the most accurate ranking metric in college basketball. It’s not often that you see a team get seeded lower than their ranking on KenPom.com, but that’s precisely what happened in this situation.
Here’s the catch: KenPom’s formula is not designed to measure accomplishment. It’s a measure of possession-by-possession efficiency. It’s predictive, a way to determine who will be whom on a neutral court. The RPI is a measure of what a team has accomplished based on how good their opponents are. It was invented in 1980, and it’s terrible. (You can take my word for it, or you can let Andy Glockner explain it to you.)
KenPom isn’t perfect either, though. Just like there are way to game the RPI, there are ways to game KenPom’s numbers: You beat the brakes off of mediocre-to-bad competition. That’s why Wisconsin and Pitt always ended up higher in his formula that they should have been.
I say all that to say this: None of the metrics are perfect. No rankings system is perfect.
But hopefully, after seeing the Shockers go from the play-in game to the second round, to Selection Committee will realize that maybe — just maybe — when the outlier happens to be a KenPom ranking that is completely out of whack, we should believe what the number is telling us.
I’m not saying that the Shockers should have been a top three seed.
But maybe it yould have made sense to have them on the No. 6 seed line instead of playing a No. 6 seed on the opening day of the Big Dance?