There weren’t a whole lot of surprises when the field for the 2017 NCAA tournament was announced Sunday, but the selection committee still left room for a time-honored — if unofficial — tradition.
March Madness gets its angry side from inevitable complaints about seedings, who got in and who got left out. This season’s discord begins at the top line.
Not that anyone would disagree with defending champion Villanova as the overall king of the hill and No. 1 seed in the East Regional. Or with Kansas heading the Midwest and Gonzaga atop the West.
But opinions vary about the South, where North Carolina grabbed the No. 1 slot.
“We were very clear that these are our four solid ‘one’ teams,” Mark Hollis, chairman of the selection committee, said on CBS when the top seeds were announced.
Las Vegas might differ.
One sports book had North Carolina favored to win it all; two had Duke — which defeated the Tar Heels on the way to winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Those two won’t get any argument from Mike Krzyzewski.
““We’ve had a heck of a year, and we’re at our best in the last month, once we got everyone together,” the Duke coach said after his team finished off Notre Dame for the ACC crown.
Other questionable choices sneaked into a field that, for the most part, matched expectations.
Wichita State seems low at No. 10 in the South, as does a hot Michigan team at No. 7 in the Midwest. There was speculation about Syracuse being left out with six wins against teams in the Rating Percentage Index top 50, though the Orange had a dismal record on the road.
On the flip side, Vanderbilt grabbed the ninth seed in the West with a 19-15 record. That’s the most losses ever for a team reaching the tournament with an at-large bid.
Selection Sunday felt a little different than in years past if only because the NCAA released a sneak peek last month, issuing a preliminary version of its top 16.
Baylor stood at No. 3 in that version but, as Hollis said, “too much has happened since Feb. 11.”
The Bears faltered down the stretch, allowing North Carolina to rise from the No. 5 spot. As for Duke, the Blue Devils made a late run but hit a brick wall known as “scrubbing.”
When the selection committee decides to raise a team, Hollis said, it goes through the process of comparing that squad to the one directly above it, looking at a number of variables that stretch beyond wins and losses.
After a regular season marked by injuries and off-court drama, Duke stood at No. 16 a month ago, so climbing a dozen slots to a top seed — with a head-to-head comparison, or scrubbing, at each rung — proved insurmountable.
Krzyzewski seemed to know that after the ACC final.
The Blue Devils would be fine with “whatever they decide,” he said of the selection committee. “We’ll go wherever they want, and we’re OK with whatever seed.”
Similarly, there should be no real debate about where L.A.’s teams ended up.
UCLA grabbed the No. 3 seed in the South despite a less-than-spectacular Pac-12 Conference tournament. The Bruins get to start close to home in Sacramento and have a path that leads directly to a rematch with Kentucky, a team they upset in a December game.
Across town, USC can also be happy.
The Trojans were on the bubble until the very end, making it into the draw as one of the last teams selected. That means they will face Providence in a First Four play-in game on Wednesday.
They lost to the Friars, 70-69, in the tournament last year. If they can turn the tables this time, they will advance to the first round against Southern Methodist, a team they defeated in November.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12, conference tournament champion Arizona rose to a No. 2 seed in the West while Oregon slipped to No. 3 in the Midwest. A late-season knee injury to Chris Boucher — the Ducks’ leading shot-blocker — did not help.
“That was a consideration … as most injuries are,” Hollis said.
As usual, the tournament will feature a handful of potential Cinderellas, including both East and Middle Tennessee. North Carolina Wilmington returns as a 12th seed in the East after putting a scare into Duke last year.
The West has Florida Gulf Coast and its total of 149 dunks this season — one more than in 2013 when current USC Coach Andy Enfield led the Eagles on a surprise run to a regional semifinal.
Hollis said that seeding this year’s field was made tougher by favored teams’ winning most of 20 conference tournaments as compared to only 11 in 2016. With fewer darkhorses earning automatic qualification, the gap between teams was not as wide.
That could make Villanova’s task all the tougher.
The Wildcats are already feeling the weight of history. Only one school — Florida — has repeated as champion in the past quarter-century.
Coach Jay Wright expects the pressure on his players to increase with that overall No. 1 seed.
“Just staying humble. You get a lot of attention,” he said. “Handling all that is going to be the biggest obstacle.”
No one can argue with him on that.
Follow @LAtimesWharton on Twitter