Confused. That's the word that immediately came to mind at first glance of the NCAA Division I women's basketball committee's initial reveal of the top 16 seeds Monday.
The head-scratching it induced isn't really about which teams were selected, or even the order of the top 16. The confusion lies in which region the teams were placed and the subsequent imbalance of the bracket that resulted.
The questions, as they often do, have to do with geography and its relationship to the S curve. And the questions start right at the top. But first, a look at the top 16:
Why is No. 1 overall seed Baylor in the most challenging region?
The Lady Bears were placed with the second-best No. 2 seed in Notre Dame and the best No. 4 seed in South Carolina. As a result, the bracket is badly imbalanced.
To determine how well balanced the regions are, add up the true S curve ranking numbers of the teams. The lower the number, the better the region. Ideally, the numbers in all four regions are close, producing a fairly laid-out bracket.
For example, the Greensboro, North Carolina, region in Monday's reveal totals 31 (Baylor 1, Notre Dame 6, Maryland 11, South Carolina 13). That's too low when the Albany, New York, region totals 37 and the Portland, Oregon, region has a 35. The disparity is unusual. With geographical considerations and keeping teams from the same conference separated, it's next to impossible to have a perfectly balanced scenario -- but the idea is to get close. A 31 and a 37 shouldn't happen.
If Baylor and Notre Dame are paired together, why are they in Greensboro and not Chicago?
The only reason to forsake bracket competitive integrity with the Baylor-Notre Dame pairing would be to place them in Chicago, where the tournament can capitalize on the Irish fan base. Otherwise, putting the No. 1 and No. 6 overall teams together seems strange.
As fellow No. 2 seeds and ACC compatriots, Notre Dame and NC State could be switched, which would result in a more credibly balanced bracket. That would put No. 1 with No. 8 and No. 3 with No. 6, holding the S curve as it was designed.
The Irish can't drive to Greensboro like they could to Chicago, so they would board a plane for the regional whether it is Greensboro or Portland.
When the S curve was compromised in years past, it was because of significant geographical and travel considerations. That doesn't appear to be the case here.
If Baylor and Notre Dame have to be paired together, it makes sense for them to be in Chicago because it would also allow Louisville to play in Greensboro. What the committee seems to be saying here is that Louisville can bus to Chicago and Baylor has to get on a plane in either scenario, so let's have the Cardinals and their fans drive 300 miles to Wintrust Arena. That decision causes a domino effect of the rest of the bracket that is not as competitively sound as it could be.
Once Louisville and Baylor were placed, the committee appeared to go strictly by closest region for the next team on the top-16 list, ignoring the S curve. That is what created this imbalance. And adjustments could have been made.
Why is Miami in over other ACC teams?
The Hurricanes landing in the top 16 is far from a bad decision; it's just an odd one. Florida State and Miami have the same number of top-50 and top-25 wins, but the Seminoles (20-4) have a better record than the Hurricanes (21-5), a better RPI, a stronger schedule, and they beat Miami in their Jan. 31 meeting (a 62-58 victory in Tallahassee).
Perhaps Miami's two top-10 RPI wins to Florida State's none made the distinction. However, one of those top-10 victories came against Syracuse, a team that the committee oddly didn't value as one of its top 16. Only once in the past two seasons has a team in the top 10 in the RPI been as low as even a No. 4 seed (UCLA in 2017). The Orange are not only No. 9 in the RPI, but also have the sixth-rated schedule in the country and have five top-50 wins. Granted, some other power rankings don't have Syracuse as high, but given recent history and the data on which the committee typically leans, it's strange that the Orange aren't on this initial list.
How did NC State get to the 2-line?
NC State (21-2) and Marquette (21-3) were No. 8 and No. 9, respectively, overall. That is the difference in being a No. 2 or a No. 3 seed. The Golden Eagles' numbers, other than one additional overall loss, are better than NC State's across the board.
The teams are also on different trajectories. Marquette has won 12 games in a row, while the Wolfpack have lost their past two. Perhaps NC State got the nod because it was the last unbeaten team in the country, or because of how remarkable Wes Moore's squad has been despite so many injuries.
But Marquette has had the better season. Of course, this falls under that be-careful-what-you-wish-for column. As a No. 3 seed the Eagles were placed in Chicago, less than 100 miles from their campus, while the Wolfpack, if the season ended today, would have to go through Portland to get to a Final Four.