Analyzing the Women's NCAA Bracket

We now know that the Lady Vols are a 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. There are a lot of interesting stories contained within the bracket, however, especially since the women's committee operates under a slightly different rules structure than the men's. Here's a link to the bracket, courtesy of the NCAA. Now let's take a look at a few of the interesting turns in the bracket.

Last 4 In = 9 Seed?

Yes, in women's ball. Florida was on the edge and is happy they made the tournament at all. But a 9 seed? Here's the hitch: once teams are initially seeded, the committee is free to swap seeds around to avoid conflicts in terms of putting certain teams within certain host regions as well as keeping teams from the same conference from meeting prior to the Elite 8. To meet those two goals, lower seeds often get flopped around. So Florida most likely got swapped with another team who would normally have been a 9 seed.

It also helps explain their matchup against an apparently underseeded #8 Ohio State. If OSU was swapped around a bit, then it makes sense to match them up with a team that got bumped so they preserve some semblance of their normal first round match. I.e. if OSU went from a 5 seed to an 8 seed, then it makes sense to give them a team that could easily have been a 12 seed. This logic is not uncommon in the women's bracket.

#2 Duke may face #7 Vandy - in Nashville?

Yep. Vanderbilt is a host team this year, so by rule they must be placed in the Nashville region for the opening weekend. (This also precluded Tennessee from being placed here due to conference affiliation.) Since the committee settled on Vandy as a 7 seed, that forces them to place a 2 seed in Nashville.

Again, this comes about because - in the women's tournament - the opening weekends are held at sites hosted by schools. If there is any argument at all to include a school in the tournament (which Vandy obviously has and, by contrast, Florida State failed to do), then they are de facto placed in that location. This allows fans of these schools the opportunity to go to the game without the cost of travel, thereby increasing the on-site attendance and making things look better on television. Men's games will sell well regardless of location; the women's game still needs some caretaking when most schools average attendance lower than 1,000 per game.

Note: this also happens to Tennessee, who goes to Chicago where DePaul is the 7 seed.

Was Duke the fourth 2 seed?

Remembering that seeds are generally placed by proximity, the highest 2 seed (Maryland) went to Raleigh. Kentucky went to Kingston, which appears to define them as the second 2 seed. With Tennessee at Ames, Duke is now in the Fresno region and looks like the fourth 2 seed.

Most likely, however, they were shuffled around with Miami going to Kingston as a 3 seed. It would normally make more sense for Duke to go to Kingston as the 2 and Miami to Ames or Fresno as a 3, but that might have caused a cascade of seeding and siting issues downstream that were most easily fixed by swapping Miami and Duke (location-wise, not seed-wise).

The committee first places the 1 seeds. Then they generally treat 2 and 3 seeds as virtual equals, and only favor the 2 seeds if there really isn't a reason to do otherwise. This makes sense if you remember that there's really little difference between being a 2 vs. a 3. Historically the competitive level is very similar for these teams, and since they meet in the Sweet Sixteen round, all you're really deciding is who gets to wear white jerseys.

It's just personal speculation that Duke was bumped out, but it's very sensible in the women's seeding process.

Tennessee vs. Baylor in the Elite Eight? We already saw them this season.

I have no idea if the committee cares about repeat matches, but I have the sense that they don't. It'd be nice to separate the 1s and 2s so that there are no repeats among them until the Final Four, but it's not always possible because the top programs tend to play each other every year (e.g. Stanford-UT, UConn-ND, Duke-UConn, Baylor-UT, etc.).

The oddity this year is that the repeat could have been fixed by switching Kentucky and Tennessee. This is why it seems that the committee doesn't care about repeats. If Kentucky was the higher 2 seed, it wasn't enough difference to override the ability to avoid a repeat, so the lack of override suggests that repeats are not a concern.

Hopefully this helps highlight a few of the seeding differences between the men's and women's committees. The women's tournament has much more restrictive seeding rules and gains flexibility by allowing the committee to swap seeds (e.g. Florida). This maximizes live attendance without causing placement scenarios that are untenable, such as having multiple teams from the same conference within the same sub-bracket.

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