A few bloggers have raised the question as to why has the NCAA Selection Committee placed so many like-conference teams against each other. First off, how much of this is really going on? I looked at seeds 5-12 where the good mid-conference teams and mediocre big-conference teams appear. Seeds above 12 are usually the domain of mid and lower level conferences, so matchups there are constrained by seeding. Here is the breakdown of the 16 matchups in the 5-12 range:
Big v. Big: 7
Mid v. Mid: 4
Big v. Mid 5
I’ve included in the Big v. Mid category matchups that fall on the margin such as Michigan St. v. Temple or Oklahoma v. St. Joseph. Even doing so, 11 of the 16 place teams from similar conferences against each other. The 2007 tourney arrangement is similar.
Why would the Selection Committee go this route?
Consumer demand? One of the attractions of the tournament is pitting David v. Goliath. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. After all, mid-level teams can and do face off in home-away series in the regular season. The same holds for big conference teams. Maybe there are some natural rivalries in the mix that might spark more interest. Yet, nothing really jumps out from that perspective.
Increasing chances of advancement for big conference teams? It ensures mid majors reach the second round, but does it reduce their chances of going farther? I calculated the likelihood of advancing to the sweet 16 a couple of different ways — using historical winning percentages from seedings. There was no clear advantage one way or the other. Pitting mids against mids ensures that both teams cannot reach the sweet sixteen, but the same effect holds for the big conferences.