The Gonzaga Bulldogs were a lock for a No. 1 seed as long as they ran the table in the West Coast Conference.
They came one game short.
The Saint Mary’s Gaels reduced the size of the bubble and won a very sweet WCC Tournament championship to reach the NCAA Tournament and wipe away the bitter memories of recent Selection Sunday snubs. The result is significant mostly for its effects on the bubble, but it also changes the equation on the 1 line. Gonzaga might still be a 1 seed in the West, but now that position is uncertain. Other teams — primarily North Carolina, Kentucky, and Duke, possibly Tennessee or the Big Ten Tournament champion — can climb onto the 1 line with a big week.
We return to the basic question which needs to be asked and revisited at this time every year: Is it more important to be a 1 seed anywhere than a 2 seed somewhere? A follow-up question: Is it worth getting a lower seed (a 2 seed) outside one’s region compared to a higher seed closer to home if it means a more favorable bracket?
One can make arguments and cite examples on both sides of these questions. The “2 seed away from home in a better bracket” argument includes Oklahoma getting a 2 seed in 2016 in the West Region. The Sooners went to Anaheim and handled Oregon (the 1 seed) in the Elite Eight despite the Ducks being in a Pac-12 market.
“The 1 seed close to home in a tougher bracket” argument was made last year. Top-seeded Kansas had to play second-seeded Duke in the Midwest Regional final. Duke was the toughest 2 seed in the field, but Kansas played the game in nearby Omaha. Kansas fed off the crowd and received balanced contributions from its roster in a win over the Blue Devils. Kansas was not a clear favorite in the game, and the Jayhawks enjoyed that, much as they did when they previously went to the Final Four in 2012, beating North Carolina in the Elite Eight.
Is it conclusively better to have a higher seed, or be closer to home, or get the favorable bracket?
People can argue those points. My main focus is that no one gets a championship based on seeds. Yes, seeds matter — No. 1 seeds do better than No. 2 seeds in a broader context — but matchups and brackets are very particular things. One team might have a very favorable Elite Eight matchup, but it might have to get through a thorny Sweet 16 opponent to get there.
North Carolina, Duke, and Kentucky fans all have to ask themselves if they want a 1 seed in the Midwest or West instead of a 2 seed closer to home in the South or East… or a 2 seed in the West with Gonzaga as the 1 seed in that region? Two of the three teams — Duke, UNC, Kentucky — will very likely be No. 1 seeds. The real question is if all three can move to the 1 line.
It might seem like a benefit — and it might turn out to be just that — but as I always like to say, either in covering tennis tournaments or the NCAA Tournament when people ask me who is the favorite:
“Wait for the brackets.”
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