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Sunday, February 20, 2011

SEC tourney scenarios, and why re-seeding may not solve things

When the East dominated last year in men’s basketball, there was talk about the need to re-seed for the SEC tournament. At last year’s SEC spring meetings, the basketball coaches met behind closed doors – but not closed enough that word eventually leaked out – and opted not to re-seed.

It was pretty clear the Western coaches put a block on it, publicly saying that the imbalance between the division was just cyclical.

Well, guess what? That cycle is lasting another season.

The league’s top five teams, according to the RPI, are all in the East. And yet if the season ended today only two of them would get byes in Atlanta, while two western teams, including one that had a losing record entering the weekend, would get the first round off.

Fair, ain’t it?

Here’s how it would go as of today, using tiebreakers:

First round
W5. LSU (10-17, 2-10) vs. E4. Georgia (18-8, 7-5).
E6. South Carolina (13-12, 4-8) vs. W3. Ole Miss (17-10, 5-7).
E5. Tennessee (16-11, 6-6) vs. W4. Arkansas (16-10, 5-7)
W6. Auburn (10-17, 2-10) vs. E3. Kentucky (19-7, 7-5).

W1. Alabama (18-8, 10-2) vs. LSU-Georgia winner
E2. Vanderbilt (20-6, 8-4) vs. South Carolina-Ole Miss winner
E1. Florida (21-5, 10-2) vs. Tennessee-Arkansas winner
W2. Mississippi State (14-12, 6-6) vs. Auburn-Kentucky winner

Not only is this scenario unfair to the East in general – Mississippi State gets a bye but Kentucky and Georgia don’t – but it doesn’t help a team like Georgia if it enters Atlanta still on the NCAA bubble. Playing LSU (or Auburn) won’t help at all, and then it would have to play a team in the quarterfinals that had a day off.

So how different would it look if it were re-seeded? As of today:

First round byes:
1. Florida
2. Alabama
3. Vanderbilt
4. Kentucky (tiebreaker over Georgia, better record vs. top teams in league)

First round
5. Georgia vs. 12. Auburn .... winner plays Kentucky
8. Ole Miss vs. 9. Arkansas .... winner plays Florida
6. Mississippi State vs. 11. LSU ... winner plays Vanderbilt
7. Tennessee vs. 10. South Carolina ... Alabama

So this is a bit more fair in terms of first-round byes. But as it turns out, Georgia is opening against an even worse team, then playing a tougher one in the quarterfinals. Whether that’s good or bad could go both ways. A loss to Kentucky would be more acceptable to the selection committee than one to Alabama.

In any case, does re-seeding solve the problem?

You could make an argument that the issuee isn’t the SEC not re-seeding the tournament - it’s having divisions in the first place. The ACC and Big East don’t do it, even though the ACC does it for football and the Big East has almost as many teams as the NBA.

The SEC likes having the divisions because there’s consistency – you know you’re playing five teams twice a year, and six teams just once. There’s a lot of merit to that.

But it’s always going to make it tougher for teams like Georgia and South Carolina. The fact is Kentucky – other than the occasional blip – is always going to be a force, Florida is looking like it will be that way too, and Tennessee and Vanderbilt care a lot about basketball.

Whereas the West doesn’t have a program that’s been consistently good for awhile. The teams there just lack the tradition and, it seems, the passion and dedication to basketball as its counterparts in the East.

Simply put: While nearly every SEC school pours resources into football, less than half of them also do in basketball - and the vast majority of them are in the East.

So the chances are the inequity between divisions, and the issue of whether to re-seed, will be around for awhile.

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