Fixing the state basketball draw

  • By Aaron Swaney Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, March 4, 2014 5:36pm
  • SportsSports

March Madness is on the horizon.

But it could be more mad. What if instead of having a committee slot each team according to their RPI rankings, the NCAA just drew names from a hat, so, you know, Florida and Wichita State could conceivably tip off in the first round.

Sounds crazy, right?

That’s basically what the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association does with its state basketball draw. Now to be fair it’s a little more nuanced than that. Some of the top seeds aren’t allowed to play each other in the first round, but, like Jackson and Garfield this year, the system can set up possible semifinal matchups that deserve to be in the championship game.

What if instead of just picking teams to play and posting them in the bracket randomly, the WIAA implemented a ranking system that slotted the teams into each bracket like the NCAA tournament (they seem to have it figured out, right?).

That, of course, brings up the problem: How would they be ranked? There’s no RPI system in Washington high school basketball and the Associated Press poll only ranks 10 teams and can be notoriously unreliable.

So here’s The Herald’s plan for bringing change to the Washington boys and girls basketball state tournament draw. Instead of picking teams at random out of a hat, let’s use the educated folks from around the state and some computer magic and rank the teams to help build better brackets.

Start with the Associated Press poll. Yes it has its flaws (all of us media types do), but overall it ranks the top teams well enough to be part of a ranking system.

Second we introduce the computer. Scott Odiorne runs scoreczar.com, a website that ranks every high school basketball team in the state according to a simple formula: Points Against/Points For multiplied by Strength of Schedule. This past weekend, Scoreczar’s predictions based on his rankings had a winning percentage of .800 (64-16). That’s pretty good.

The final piece of the ranking puzzle could come from the coaches. If the coaches want change they can put their money where their mouth is. I say let a committee of coaches rank the eight teams in the quarterfinals for a de facto coaches poll.

Lastly we throw all three of these into a pot and get our final rankings. Based on where the eight teams fall in each of the rankings they get a number. If a team is No. 1 it gets eight points, No. 2 seven, and so on and so on. In the case of the AP poll, if a team is not ranked it gets a zero.

For example, here’s how the Class 4A draw would have gone under this plan (I made a best guess on the coaches poll):

The Herald plan

1. Jackson AP-8+Coach-8+Comp-8=24

2. Richland AP-7+Coach-6+Comp-7=20

3. Garfield AP-6+Coach-7+Comp-5=19

4. Beamer AP-4+Coach-4+Comp-6=14

5. Kentridge AP-5+Coach-5+Comp-4=14

6. Issaquah AP-2+Coach-2+Comp-3=7

7. Gonzaga Prep AP-3+Coach-3+Comp-2=8

8. Wenatchee AP-0+Coach-1+Comp-1=2

For a tiebreaker I decided to go with head-to-head (which didn’t help since Kentridge and Beamer split during the season) and then with highest number between the two teams. Since Beamer had the highest number, it gets the edge.

That gives us a different looking bracket, with first-round matchups of Jackson-Wenatchee and Beamer-Kentridge on the top and Richland-Gonzaga Prep and Garfield-Issaquah on the bottom.

Because this is the quarterfinals it’s not wildly different but semifinal matchups of Kentridge-Jackson and Garfield-Richland look more appealing to me than what the current bracket has to offer.

In a podcast he posted on his website last week, Odiorne discussed the archaic “draw from a hat” system the WIAA employs now.

To listen to Scott Odiorne, of scoreczar.com, discuss his ideas for the state draw, click here.

“Here in Washington we are on the leading edge of technology … but yet we’re drawing names from a hat. There’s no need for this,” Odiorne said.

Last week Colbrese talked with Herald writer David Krueger and myself on our weekly prep sports radio show on Fox Sports 1380. Colbrese said that he felt computer rankings were too subjective and that he was not in favor of using them as a way of helping rank teams for the state bracket.

Odiorne disagreed.

“I take the same math formula and I apply it to each team in the state evenly with no deviation and I get the product I get,” Odiorne said in his podcast. “You can’t ask for a more objective system. It’s not subjective in the least.”

Odiorne wants it to be simply the computer that picks the matchups (which he did here). I suggest a mix of the computer and human polls. I know that sounds an awful lot like the BCS, and maybe it is, but in this format, with eight teams making the tournament, this would simply rank them so that the best teams aren’t facing off in the semifinals or worse, the quarterfinals.

It’s got to be better than what we have now.

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