“Perception is reality”, as the old saying goes. In college basketball, how we perceive our team (and other teams) tends to exist within a particular space, and that space is buttressed, altered, and filled by circumstantial evidence that supports our existing thought process.
Nowhere is this more true than in NCAA bracket projections, which are very fluid, not just from year to year, but within the same year as well. We get an idea of what a 3-seed or a 4-seed “looks like”, and then we compare that ideal to our own team. In most fans’ cases, their perceptions are off. Why? Because they tend to only look at the evidence that directly relates to their team, rather than looking at things holistically across the entire potential tournament field.
There’s been a lot of talk about Indiana’s seeding potential. Most people came into today saying something close to the following: “Well, if IU wins this, they’ll be a 3. If they lose, they’ll drop to a 5.” Seems logical, yes?
Well, I would argue that IU is still very much in 3-seed discussion, even with today’s loss. Let’s look at the teams involved.
Everyone agrees that there are two teams on the 1-seed line as absolute locks for that seed: Kentucky and Syracuse.
There’s also a clear consensus on the next six teams, which would comprise (in some order) the remaining two 1-seeds and all four 2-seeds: Kansas, Ohio State, North Carolina, Michigan State, Missouri, and Duke.
So with 8 teams gone, we now find ourselves in the 3 and 4 seed range, for spots 9-16 on the S-curve. Who are the teams that occupy that space right now?
I would argue that it’s the following: Michigan (by virtue of their shared conference title), Marquette (who lost in the Big East tournament), Wisconsin (who has an incredibly impressive resume), Indiana (who owns three of the best wins in college basketball), Georgetown (who also lost in the Big East tournament), Baylor (whose resume is solid but not overwhelming), Louisville, Florida State, and UNLV.
Given what has occurred so far, I would rank those teams in this order:
12. Indiana (last 3 seed)
16. Florida State (last 4 seed)
There isn’t much separating most of these teams, but that is perfectly normal; the NCAA tournament is the ultimate in creeping incrementalism. In looking at, say, Georgetown and Indiana, the comparison is very close — almost too close to call. So you then have to look at the wins. Whose wins do you like better? Do you prefer Marquette, Memphis(2x), and Louisville? Or you prefer Michigan State, Ohio State, and Kentucky? I think we’ll find that the committee favors the latter.
Obviously, there are still factors that could change the situation. Louisville beating Syracuse would probably push them into the 3 line. Baylor beating Kansas would almost certainly do the same. And Florida State beating one of the top two teams in the ACC would likely accomplish the same. But those things are future occurrences, not existing ones, and it’s the existing ones that we have to use to project the bracket.
So if you’re an IU fan, don’t write off the 3 seed yet. Seeds are awarded based on accrual, and the Hoosiers have accrued quite a bit this season.