The case against Kansas – or the case for Houston, depending on your perspective, came in at about 60 words.
We’ll print all 60, but context first: The Jayhawks landed in the West Region for the NCAA tournament, meaning a possible Las Vegas date for the Sweet 16 (if they survive the first two rounds) instead of the cozy seclusion of Kansas City. Houston swept the second No. 1 seed behind Alabama and the T-Mobile Center in KC.
And that 1v1 examination, per Selection Committee Chairman Chris Reynolds during an interview with CBS, boiled down to a few criteria.
The 60 words:
“Well, if you look at Houston – combined 15-2 in the Quad One and Two. Compared to Kansas – 21-7 in the Quad One of Two,” Reynolds said. “And Houston, they were competitive in all their games they lost except today, and we understand they were without their best player today. And that’s why we kept Houston at number two.
Maybe this is too in the weeds, but I wasn’t about to write about the braces reveal. Often too much is made of it. You don’t play against all the teams in your region. Disruptions happen. KU defeated an 8-seed in the national championship game a year ago. It’s not called madness for nothing. Still a fun topic of conversation. I get it.
To be clear, KU’s tough draw hasn’t changed my mind, even if it’s a special heavy draw. Five of the top-11 teams on KenPom all live in the West region, which also gives KU the fourth best chances – not winning it all, but just getting out of the region. UConn is above KU in almost every predictive stat, and that’s a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup for a team that thought it could enjoy the benefits of being ranked No. 1 in the tournament.
So yes, it’s a tough draw. That’s not why I write.
Why? The inconsistency in the messages. It’s the expiration date on the system that allows for the inconsistency in the first place.
I do not understand how members of this committee came to their selection. will you? Do they?
This is an old problem, willfully ignoring new solutions, but KU happens to be right in the middle of it – the same KU team that was, mind you, the draw beneficiary a year ago. The committee has not targeted KU. You could write this column almost every year. Coincidentally, this year is about Kansas.
What are the committee’s priorities?
Well, Reynolds outlined two main reasons why Houston hit the Midwest and shipped KU to Sin City.
And before we get into both, let’s point out that there are better, unified ways to do this. My colleague Jesse Newell has long favored “wins over bubbles”, which isn’t as complicated as it sounds, but that’s not really the point – the point is that it’s consistent.
Selection Sunday was not.
The first criteria Reynolds used compared KU and Houston’s records to Quad One And Quad Two teams. If the two quads are going to be combined in the debate room, why separate them in the first place? Oh, because they’re different, and the former seems to have favored the team they didn’t pick.
Houston was 7-2 against Quad One teams, the stat we thought would have a big impact in that room. Kansas was 17-7 against them. Ten more wins against the best competition in the country. You could point out that Houston had a better win percentage, but if 128th place Temple had been a Quad One loss instead of a Quad Three loss, Houston would be 7-3 and therefore have a worse win percentage.
KU lost to no one outside of the first quad. Should the Cougars capitalize on the fact that one of their losses is a Real bad loss? Outliers are ruled out?
But most of the time you are surely wondering how many other resumes are intertwined – Quad One And Quad Two – instead of their original separation.
Reynolds’ second point offers a likely answer – not much. Because this is where it gets really inconsistent.
Reynolds noted that Houston’s losses were competitive—well, except for that one Sunday. Ignore that one. But the other two? They were close games. (Gosh, I’d hope Temple’s loss was close, since it was a loss far worse than any loss on KU’s sheet. Temple is 128 in the RPI, while KU didn’t lose to anyone outside the top 63.)
But to the careful listener and careful follower of college hoops, Reynolds seems to be referring to predictive statistics without saying it outright. That margin of value of victory and defeat. If that’s what the committee is using, they picked the right team. The property statistics love Houston. KenPom has Houston as the top team in the country. There is little doubt that the Cougars would be favored against Kansas if they met on a neutral field.
I love those statistics. There’s one problem, though: Houston is also ahead of Alabama in those same stats. If losing margin is indeed a factor, well, Alabama lost games by 24 points (Oklahoma), 15 (Connecticut), 10 (Gonzaga), nine (Tennessee), and six (Texas A&M). Why didn’t that matter in a discussion of Alabama or Houston for No. 1 overall? Houston beats Alabama by win/loss margin, and by the way, Houston had the better Quad One and Two record combined.
By the way, you know how other teams like those stats like KenPom and T-Rank? Utah State, the 10th seed to take on seventh-seeded Missouri. Utah State scores significantly better than any other 10-seed, a trickle-down effect that also makes it harder for Mizzou. Oh, and Florida Atlantic, which settled for a No. 9 seed, scores ahead of Virginia, which earned a four seed, in almost every predictive measure.
Do we use the margin of victory and defeat or not? Do we use Quad One and Quad Two records combined or not?
They were named on national TV to determine one battle, when it seems the committee ignored them in most other decisions. Which leaves the optics that these decisions are made – one way or another – and the reasoning follows, rather than the other way around.
We can all choose selective data points in any close selection battle. There are plenty within reach. Use the one you like; to hell with the rest.
In this case, some prefer Houston, some prefer Kansas. I would argue that the overall resume favors KU, while Houston is actually the better team, and entry into the NCAA Tournament should be more about what you’ve accomplished than what you can achieve. (That’s why injured players and the potential of a head coach’s availability should weigh literally 0.0 on the whole scale.)
There are smart people who disagree with that last point – who point out that Houston is the better team and therefore gets the better seed.
Fine. The most important thing is to know what the committee is in favor of. We will all find out together on Selection Sunday. And on a day that should bring clarity to that question, we’re more confused than we were in the hours before.
How did they get here?