In the rapidly growing world of online bracketology, it seems that a new prognosticator or “expert” crops up every week, ready to proclaim that their picks are the best or most accurate or most realistic ones available for the avid college basketball fan. Each of these new additions to the bracketology pool also champion themselves as the “anti-Lunardi,” or an “underground alternative” to ESPN’s (in)famous bracketologist. Three years ago, that was our mantra as well (and it still is), as it is for most of the popular bracketology sites.
Admittedly, it’s easy to pick on Lunardi. He claims to have invented bracketology, he’s ESPN’s guy (Insider needed for most content, of course), he’s everywhere come Championship Week, and he comes across as a smug, easily-offended “genius” in a field where many know more and do better with their annual projections than he does. He also lost a ton of credibility in “the bracketology world” last season thanks to his shady, 11th hour, not-even-last-four-out-to-in-the-field George Mason inclusion.
What’s the point here? Well, last year at this point in the season, we at Bracketology 101 started a weekly “Questions For The Competition” post, which “asked” each of the major bracketology sites (ESPN, Bracketography.com, CollegeRPI.com, Bracketology 101) questions about their brackets. The questions were meant to point out glaring mistakes, omissions, inclusions, or confusing seed lines in each “expert’s” bracket. The whole concept started out of our weekly objections to Lunardi's work and the questions were an attempt for us to prove ourselves as a more reliable alternative to ESPN.com.
We planned on starting the “Questions” posts again this week, but instead, decided that in the end, there is only one question that needs to be asked to many in the bracketology world, and Lunardi specifically, before much more of the season passes:
What is the point of putting together a weekly bracket with the premise of “this is how the bracket would look if the season ended today?”
For years, this practice has bothered us. Since when did the college basketball season “end today,” when it’s mid-January, or mid-February? Are fans worried about their team today, or if come mid-March that team will be dancing?
All would prefer the latter, but many bracketologists don’t offer much of a look ahead. Their argument for an “ended today” bracket is for immediacy, and a need to make weekly sense of the crazy college basketball world. Their real reason, though, for this “ended today” way of putting together a bracket is this: By “ending a season today” current conference leaders (especially in the mid-major and low-major teams) get automatic bids, throwing everyone else in the league into the at-large pool. All that does is make life a million times easier for Joe Lunardi and Co, and makes their brackets, for lack of better terms, unreliable and fairly useless.
Take, for example, Lunardi’s handling of the A-10 in last week’s bracket. Lunardi has two teams in from the conference (Xavier and Saint Joseph’s) when there is little to no case that the A-10 deserves two teams at this point. Since Saint Joseph’s is in first place in conference (2-0), though, they get a bid, while Xavier gets the at-large bid. Seems legit right? Not exactly – especially if you are a fan of any of the teams on Lunardi’s Last Four Out list (Georgia Tech, Michigan State, Creighton, Providence) or Next Four Out list (DePaul, Missouri, Michigan, Illinois). If you are a fan of one of those eight teams, and only looked at Lunardi’s bracket, you have no clue where you stand. By taking the easy way out and putting two A-10 teams in (and justifying it by a meaningless 2-0 start to conference play), Lunardi has one less tough “bubble” decision to make each week. He’ll just put a 10-5 Saint Joseph’s team that might not be one of the four best teams in the A-10 and whose wins are against Charlotte and Temple (a combined 12-16) in the bracket instead.
These Last Four In and Last Four Out picks are the hardest for us at B101 to make each week. It takes a huge chunk of time to review all of these teams’ resumes, and decide who makes that final cut. There is, for us at least, no easy way out. There is, instead, each Monday, an accurate “bubble” and a bracket full of the teams that belong in the bracket now as well as those who will be in at the end of the year (not “today.”) The teams with the best resumes and the best projected resumes are in; those who are a phony 2-0 in conference and won’t sniff the Big Dance are not.
Now, I know the stats (and pokerplayr) will point out that we had one less team right last year than Lunardi (if we knew someone in the room we would have had 63 too), and some will say that this is a long-winded attempt to say we are the “best bracketology site ever.” That’s not the point. The point of this mini-rant is to get some insight and to pose one big Question To The Competition:
Why don’t you stop shying away from making difficult decisions and stop qualifying your easy-to-make bracket with “if the season ended today?”
Why don’t you start making brackets that reflect where teams really stand?
It’s January 14th, Joe (and Co.). Nothing’s over yet. The college basketball season “ends” in two months.
See if you can make one tough call by then.