After winning an unprecedented five games in five days the UConn basketball team will be taking a well-deserved day of rest today. The Huskies may not be stepping onto a basketball court, but they will find out what the next step on their journey is when the NCAA Tournament brackets are revealed today at 6 p.m. on CBS. With that in mind, let's take a look at where the Huskies might end up and more importantly who the Huskies should be hoping to avoid when the brackets are unveiled.
But first... a programming note. We will have an OpenThread up tonight for the selection show so be sure to come on by and we will break down the bracket as it is unveiled and offer some instant reactions. Over the next couple of days we'll have all manner of posts breaking down what UConn's road looks like from here. When it comes time for the tournament to actually tip off we will of course have previews, recaps and OpenThreads whenever UConn plays, but we will also have general NCAA threads so even if the Huskies are not playing we'll be here to discuss all the action. Finally, we will once again be running a bracket pool with details to follow.
Okay, programming note over. As far as the brackets themselves go, the online consensus seems to be that with last night's win the Huskies have at least vaulted onto the 3-line and they might even get lucky and steal a 2 seed. Jerry Palm from CBS has UConn as a 2 in the East Regional. So does ESPN's Joe Lunardi. Andy Glockner from SI has us as a 3 in the Southwest, and Blogging The Bracket's Chris Dobbertean agrees.
I still have a hard time believing a team with 9 losses could grab a 2, but the committee loves hot teams and UConn has gotten a ton of media attention so it could happen. The difference between a 2 and a 3 seed is not that big though, so UConn fans should not sweat it. What they really should focus on is this:
First of all, do not fall to a 4 seed. This seems incredibly unlikely at this point, but it still bears mentioning. The four has two large disadvantages. First, you get matched up with a 1 seed in the Sweet 16 instead of Elite 8 and second, while the 15 and 14 seeds have put up a decent fight in the past, by the time you get to the 13-seeds there are some really dangerous teams. Some poor 4-seed is going to get Belmont dropped on them and have a much shorter tourney than they would otherwise.
The second thing and the most important one now is who UConn gets paired with. As a quick refresher, the committee does not sit down and list four 1 seeds, four 2s, four 3s, etc. Instead, they make a list from 1-68 and follow an "S-Curve" so the No. 1 overall seed winds up in the same bracket as the weakest No. 2 seed, the weakest No. 1 gets the best No. 2 seed and so on. This gets tweaked a little bit to keep teams in the same conference separated, but it mostly stays true to form.
The general belief at the moment is that the S-Curve looks something like this (though obviously the Big 10 and ACC championship games could modify it):
1. Ohio St.
4. Duke / Notre Dame / San Diego St.
What that means is that if UConn is on the edge between a 2 or a 3 seed, they're likely in the 7-10 region of the S-Curve, probably an 8 or a 9, which puts the Huskies right in the firing line for Ohio St. and Kansas. That is terrible news.
It is tough to objectively measure teams across conferences, but if anyone has a system I trust it is Ken Pomery. His efficiency-based system is a very reliable predictor of NCAA success especially if you are a team near the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Take a look at his standings and it is clear there are three teams UConn needs to avoid for as long as possible:
1. Ohio St. (Adj O rank: 1; Adj D rank: 10)
2. Duke (Adj O rank: 5; Adj D rank: 5)
3. Kansas (Adj O rank: 4; Adj D rank: 12)
This is an admittedly down year for college basketball, but if anyone is elite, it is those three teams. There are other very talented squads, but they have a clear weakness, like Texas who is No. 1 in AdjD, but 19 in AdjO, or Pitt, who is 6 in AdjO but 21 in AdjD.
You're going to have to play good teams eventually if you want to go far in the NCAA's, but you want to play them as late as possible. If you're looking for UConn to have a good bracket, then hope like hell that Ohio St., Duke and Kansas are no where near it. If they are, hope you only have one of them (the nightmare scenario is Glockner's bracket from SI that has Kansas as the 1, Duke 2 and UConn 3 ... *gulp*).
One final thing to keep in mind: every year the selection committee swears that it does not seed with specific matchups in mind. I do not buy this for a second and it matters to UConn because one of the sexiest possible matchups would by a UConn-BYU Sweet-16 game pitting Jimmer Fredette against Kemba Walker. Since BYU and UConn are both on the 2/3 line this is possible (though it would probably require some S-curve manipulation). This might be UConn's dream scenario, because BYU has struggled since kicking Brandon Davies off their team and looks like the weakest of the teams in line to get a top-3 seed.