Seedings are a growing debate

just ask Louisville, sprouting as a No. 4

March 21, 2005|By David Steele

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Before their teams even met yesterday, Rick Pitino and Paul Hewitt made observations that sum up this year's NCAA tournament as well as any could.

After Georgia Tech defeated top-seeded and second-ranked North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals a week ago, Hewitt anticipated the reaction and warned listeners, "This is not an upset."

And on Saturday afternoon, Pitino answered a question about a pair of high-quality opponents facing off so early, in the second round of the tournament, by saying, straight-faced, "Well, it could be bad seeding."

Pitino quickly pleaded to have that remark taken off the record, but he was only half-joking even then. The truth is that "seeding" and "upset" are relative terms this March, maybe more than usual, and Pitino's Cardinals are perfect examples. Thursday's Albuquerque Regional semifinals pit the No. 1 seed against the No. 4 - and against all logic, Louisville is the lower seed, against Washington.

Not that Washington hasn't justified its position so far, but it hasn't had to play a team like Georgia Tech. The Jackets had a solid claim to being under-seeded as well at No. 5, yet Louisville ran and shot them off the Gaylord Entertainment Center floor yesterday. Louisville led by 10 points 4 1/2 minutes into the game, and by the midway point of the first half, the question was becoming not if the Cardinals would win, but by how much.

The last sniff at a chance for Georgia Tech came with just under 10 minutes left in the game; the Yellow Jackets finally had strung together something of an offense, had their three key players in something resembling a groove, and had gotten the deficit back to single digits, at 52-43, for the first time since the opening minutes.

Soon afterward, three straight three-pointers by Taquan Dean ended that dream; they put the lead back to 18, and it eventually ballooned to 23. B.J. Elder and Will Bynum (11 points combined) might as well have gone back to Atlanta between games, and at halftime, Jarrett Jack (11 points in the first eight minutes, none the rest of the game) might as well have joined them.

These, again, were the runners-up in the tournament for the best conference in the country, one that sent three teams to the regional semifinals. Louisville treated them like a Conference USA cellar-dweller (or one from its future home, the Big East).

The Cardinals faithful (many of whom turned the arena into Freedom Hall South all weekend, even when Louisville wasn't playing) eagerly await the selection committee's explanation of why the No. 4 team in the country, and its 29-4 record, was dropped so low in the field in the first place. Louisville was lumped into that seed with three frauds: Boston College, Syracuse and Florida, which was artificially boosted after winning the Southeastern Conference tournament but got slapped around by Villanova in the first game of yesterday's doubleheader.

Besides that, two No. 2 seeds and three No. 3s went down the opening weekend. In their place in the Sweet 16 are one 12th seed, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a 10, N.C. State - which 10 days earlier had been in the same position as Maryland, an opening-round ACC tournament loss away from checking on arena dates for the NIT. That probably isn't chafing Gary Williams much at all.

Overall, the committee's perceived wisdom took a beating, and its reputation landed slightly north of Mark McGwire's post-congressional hearing. Talk about a lack of trust and credibility.

Of course, a gracious person would point out that this reflects the rampant parity the decade-long defections to the NBA have created. To his credit, Pitino chose to be gracious; even as he joked before and after the game about the seeding, he admitted to being only so upset.

"There are no levels anymore. Everybody is at the same level," Pitino said. "That's what makes it so exciting. That's what makes it so much fun. ... And that's what makes it so tough to seed."

Thus, neither he nor his players plan to join the masses talking about motivation or vindication this week. Dean simply claimed that for him and his teammates, there is "not a chip on our shoulder."

Once they got over the initial anger of Selection Sunday, Pitino said: "I told them that's the last time we're going to talk about that. We're just going to focus on playing great ball."

And they have. But what else do you expect from a top seed?

Besides actually getting a top seed, that is.

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