Being selected as one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament is a great reward for an exceptional basketball season, but history says the only guarantee that comes with the honor is a single win - and that guarantee will also expire one of these days.
Beyond that, the anointment of the top seeds, and of the seeding of the entire tournament, for that matter, is nothing more than conversation fodder between Selection Sunday and Tip-off Thursday, except to the unfortunates sentenced to Dayton for further examination through the NCAA peephole before gaining access.
Once the ball goes up at 12:15 p.m. Thursday in Buffalo between Notre Dame and Princeton, one of those 5-vs.-12 matchups that makes hearts beat faster in March, what happens on the basketball court matters a lot more than what happened in the meeting rooms of New York last week.
Villanova wasn't given the smoothest path for a return to the Final Four, and Nova Nation squawked like a wildcat with its tail caught in the door when red-hot Duke was placed as the No. 2 seed in the East Regional. It sets up a potential Elite Eight showdown in Madison Square Garden that would promise great basketball, but not what Villanova fans thought their team had earned.
Well, maybe not, but the path is still a lot easier than the one that took the Wildcats to a national title a year ago. Starting with the regional semifinal, Villanova played (and beat) a No. 3 seed in Miami, a No. 1 seed in Kansas, a No. 2 seed in Oklahoma, and another No. 1 seed in North Carolina. Villanova was a No. 2 seed itself, having dropped off the top line with a loss in the Big East final.
Was that a fair seeding? Jay Wright said so at the time. Was it an accurate seeding? You can judge that by the outcome when the Wildcats were matched against Oklahoma, a team the committee believed was close enough in ability that the two should be seeded side-by-side. The Sooners were the sixth overall seed in the tournament, and the Wildcats were the seventh. In all probability, by all the metrics, all the "scrubbing" of their respective seasons, the committee's decision was sound. Of course, when the teams played in the national semifinal, Villanova won by 44 points. So, there's that.
Use that example to understand how much seeding means. In the last 20 tournaments, No. 1 seeds had the opportunity to advance to the Final Four a total of 80 times and were favored to do so each time. Only 32 of them - 40 percent - made it, and that's with the head start of that guaranteed opening win to get them rolling.
Just once in the history of the tournament, since seeding numbers were first assigned in 1979, have all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four. That was the 2008 tournament that featured Carolina, UCLA, Kansas, and Memphis. Kansas beat Memphis in overtime for the championship, thus saving the NCAA later embarrassment when Memphis had to vacate all its wins that season because one-and-done Derrick Rose should have been academically ineligible.
No basketball champion has ever been forced to give back the trophy (USC had to do so in football after a 2004 championship season), although John Calipari has certainly taken a run at it. The current Kentucky coach was at Memphis in 2008 and was at Massachusetts in 1996, when another Final Four appearance was expunged because of some hanky- panky regarding Marcus Camby. Having to vacate Final Four honors at two schools takes a special kind of coach, and maybe the tournament committee never quite forgets that.
If you want to find a team with a reason to complain about the current bracket, Kentucky is a good place to start. Those Wildcats won their conference regular season and tournament and earned the No. 5 overall seed, just a tick behind Gonzaga according to the committee, and their reward is a range-war opener against Northern Kentucky followed by a potential game against a seething, and very talented, Wichita State team that was brutally underseeded. After that? If form holds, Kentucky would have to get to the Final Four by then going through UCLA and North Carolina. Have a nice tournament, John.
"The seeding is really important if you want to advance," Calipari said. "If you don't think it's important, you've never coached. You've never been a part of this."
It's important, but it's not everything, as Villanova proved last season by winning, and by the two times in the preceding decade the Wildcats didn't reach the Final Four as a No. 1 seed. The committee's work is difficult, like ranking flowers for their beauty, and it does the best it can. Fortunately, the games end the debate every year, and the teams either prove the selection folks right or wrong. It is in the hands of the players now. Of course, if Duke denies Villanova on the doorstep of the Final Four, the debate could possibly be revisited around here.