If you blinked, you probably missed the fact that Villanova slipped off the No. 1 seed line in ESPN’s mock NCAA Tournament bracket for all of three days last week because it was finishing a 27-day stretch of inactivity resulting from two pauses brought about by positive coronavirus tests.
And almost just as quickly, the Wildcats were back as a top seed in last Friday’s bracket along with Gonzaga, Baylor, and Michigan. They replaced Iowa, which fell to a 2-seed after losing to Indiana while Villanova was defeating Seton Hall.
That’s the issue of playing in a pandemic as teams halt team activities because of positive tests. Of the 50 scheduled games last week involving teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, 14 were postponed, with Texas and Texas Tech each sitting out a pair of games.
That makes crafting the brackets a challenge for ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.
“It’s something we’ve never had to deal with,” he said Monday. “So much of what I do is based on precedent, like how has the [NCAA selection] committee handled situations like X, Y, or Z in the past. There is no precedent here. I’m just trying to apply common sense to situations where I think advanced analysis is probably not applicable.
“It won’t be the same thing that makes sense in every situation. What games were missed? If Villanova misses three guarantee games at home, that’s one thing. If they miss three challenging Big East games, that’s another. So each situation is different and I’m simply trying to make the best kind of educated guess that can be made.”
Iowa had passed Villanova, he said, because of more victories. The Hawkeyes won five games during the Cats’ pauses.
Lunardi said Villanova is ranked fourth among the four No. 1 seeds, with Michigan holding down third because its “overall resume is a good bit stronger than Villanova’s at this point.
“But now Michigan’s on pause so we could be looking at a reverse dynamic where Villanova passes Michigan by continuing to play and win,” he said.
Another interesting dynamic in the bracketology process is the down years the so-called “blueblood” programs are having. The example that struck Lunardi last week concerns Duke, winner of five national championships but struggling along this season at 5-5.
“So I’ve been doing this public bracket since 1996, over 25 years,” he said. “The Friday bracket that went up was the first one ever in that time that didn’t have Duke in it. The last time they missed the tournament was the year Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] was injured and had back surgery in 1995.”
Duke is unranked this week and did not earn a single point in the AP balloting. Neither did Kentucky (5-9) nor Michigan State (8-4).
“Kentucky’s probably not going to make the tournament,” Lunardi said. “Duke is 50-50 at best. Michigan State is the last team in. So had this happened in any other year, we’d say, ‘There would have to be something truly catastrophic going on.’ Well, there is.”