Exhibit A for reseeding NCAA tourney: KU-Villanova matchup
SAN ANTONIO — Don’t mind Kansas or Villanova if the winner starts cutting down nets Saturday night.
In the most lopsided Final Four bracket since the tournament was expanded in 1985, these two No. 1 seeds square off in what might as well be called the “Big Boy Semifinal.” Barring an injury or something else totally unexpected, the winner will be favored to take the championship two nights later against either third-seeded Michigan or the Sister Jean-inspired, 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago Ramblers.
Monday night’s game is, naturally, not a topic anybody playing or coaching is very interested in discussing at this point — everyone is well-versed in taking it one game at a time.
But it brings up the on-again, off-again discussion of whether the sacred NCAA bracket should be reseeded at some point to ensure the matchup between No. 1s is more likely to take place at the end of the tournament instead of the semifinal.
“My concern is that the very thing that makes the tournament so popular would be diminished in some way,” said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA senior vice president of basketball. “You’d set up barriers as you advance in the tournament that make it harder for the lower-seeded teams. Loyola is a great example of, hey, they had one region to play in, there were upsets in that region, and they took advantage of that opportunity.”
Some of the greatest moments in the Final Four have come thanks to underdogs such as Loyola. Two of the poster children for those sorts of upsets: Kansas and Villanova.
Coached by Larry Brown and led by Danny Manning, “Danny and the Miracles” of Kansas made it to the Final Four as a No. 6 seed in 1988 and beat No. 2 Duke and No. 1 Oklahoma on its way to the title.
Three years before that, in the first 64-team tournament, Rollie Massimino’s eighth-seeded Wildcats shot 78.6 percent in the final to knock off top-seeded Georgetown 66-64.
And yet, neither of those Final Four brackets was as lopsided as this one. This marks the seventh time since 1985 — but only the second time since 2002 — that two No. 1s have squared off in one semifinal with a guarantee they wouldn’t face another one in the final. In 1986, when LSU and Duke were in the “other” semifinal, their seedings added up to 13. Michigan and Loyola add to 14.
But never have the numbers meant less in the way of predicting winners at the tournament than this year, which featured the first 16-vs.-1 upset (UMBC over Virginia), along with the first 9-vs.-11 regional final (Kansas State vs. Loyola).
“They might win the national championship,” Michigan coach John Beilein said of his opponent Saturday. “So I’m not saying that seeding is wrong. I’m just saying it’s an inexact science to try to figure out.”
In Las Vegas, they try to make setting point spreads an exact science, and the bookies have spoken. Villanova will be a 5 1/2-point favorite over Michigan and a 9 1/2-point favorite over Loyola-Chicago, or Kansas will be a 1 1/2-point favorite over Michigan and 5 1/2-point favorite over Loyola.
Villanova is a 5-point pick over Kansas on Saturday.
A key matchup in this game involves AP Player of the year Jalen Brunson of Villanova against the Big 12 Player of the Year for Kansas, Devonte’ Graham.
“It will be a chess match with both of them,” KU coach Bill Self said.
Part of the beauty of the bracket as currently constructed is that both teams have known they might play each other for more than a week, so they’ve assigned assistant coaches to break down tape and take copious notes about their possible upcoming opponent.
It’s one element that would go out the window — to say nothing of the fact that simple-as-pie office pools would be a thing of the past — if the NCAA ever decided to reconfigure the bracket after two rounds, or four.
Bottom line: It’s sports. There’s no way to make everything perfectly fair.
“Someone asked our assistants about that and they said, ‘Could you imagine winning a game and thinking you get so-and-so for the next game, then all of the sudden, no, you’re playing Kansas?'” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
It’s a 1-vs.-1 matchup that, Wright insists, is difficult enough to prepare for, even with plenty of time.