How a single-site women’s NCAA tournament would impact Bracketology

    Charlie Creme projects the women’s NCAA tournament bracket for ESPN.com.

Editor’s note: This story was originally posted on Nov. 25, after it was announced that the men’s NCAA tournament would be held at a single site. The NCAA announced Monday that the women’s NCAA tournament would be played in one geographic area, likely San Antonio, which was set to host the 2021 Women’s Final Four.

For those still upset that Oregon got to play in the Portland Regional as a No. 2 seed in the 2019 women’s NCAA tournament … for anyone proclaiming disgust that UConn so often gets to play its way to the Final Four through nearby Albany, Bridgeport or Kingston … for every South Carolina fan who still can’t understand why the Gamecocks were sent west three times in four years … for every college basketball fan who has come to despise the word “geography” as it relates to the bracket … this is the day of which you’ve been dreaming.

An entirely neutral-court 2021 women’s NCAA tournament might be on the way, with travel a one-time proposition and placement in the bracket not dependent on the mode of transportation necessary to reach a site. Last week, the NCAA announced that the 2021 men’s college basketball tournament would be played at a single site because of the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The women’s tournament is expected to follow the same format. A number of details still need to be addressed, but the move to a “controlled environment” — Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, did not call the single-site concept a “bubble” — might give the tournament its best chance of crowning a champion.

All 67 men’s NCAA tournament games are likely to be played in Indianapolis. Perhaps Indianapolis could be used for the women as well, whether at the same time or with staggered dates.

Or is this the opportunity to give Las Vegas a shot? Florida worked for both the NBA and WNBA bubbles this summer. Beginning Wednesday, Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, is hosting “Bubbleville,” an 11-day event with more than two dozen men’s and women’s college hoops teams to get multiple nonconference games played in a short period of time. On Tuesday, however, the Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge there was canceled after UConn, one of four participants, paused activity for 14 days following a positive COVID test. Still, more than 40 games were initially scheduled, and if it works, the blueprint for the NCAA tournament might have been discovered.

If the NCAA decides to play the women’s tournament at a single location, what changes?

Every season, teams battle to finish in the selection committee’s top 16 spots, which earn the right to host first- and second-round games. With a single location, being a top-four seed would still be nice, but it won’t come with the perk of hosting games the first weekend. Fans who have been screaming — or tweeting — for years about this home-court inequity would have their wish: all neutral, all the time.

Lower-seeded teams with geographic advantages in the regionals — such as No. 2 seed Oregon in Portland in 2019 and No. 3 seed Kentucky in Lexington in 2016 — would be eliminated. Louisville could have been that team in the Cincinnati Regional this season. Because the Cardinals could bus to the Queen City rather than fly, they would have been there, regardless of their seed status or that of any team seeded ahead of them. Now it doesn’t matter. Most would view that as a good thing.

With geography no longer a consideration, the NCAA tournament bracket becomes easier to construct. All that is needed is a true S-curve. The weakest No. 1 seed gets paired with the strongest No. 2 seed, the weakest No. 3 with the strongest No. 4. True balance is possible, with the exception of the need to avoid conference conflicts. With five SEC teams and four from the Pac-12 in the top 16 of most major polls, we should expect some shuffling of the S-curve.

While bracketing becomes easier and seeding becomes less important with a one-site NCAA tournament, picking the teams might be harder than ever. Constantly changing schedules, 14-day quarantines, games added on the fly and uncertainty across the board about how many games any team will play make the evaluation process for the selection committee — and yours truly — throughout this turbulent season unlike anything anyone has experienced.

But the bubble gets bigger. With the Ivy League opting to cancel all winter sports, the usual 32 automatic qualifiers — the teams that win their conference tournaments and the berths that come with them — become 31, increasing the at-large pool to 33.

Source: Read Full Article