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Women's Watch: Would computer do better job of making bracket?

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  • DePaul forward Jacqui Grant (34) begins a fast break against Northern Iowa during the second half of a first-round game in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament in Starkville, Miss., Friday, March 17, 2017. DePaul won 88-67.

    DePaul forward Jacqui Grant (34) begins a fast break against Northern Iowa during the second half of a first-round game in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament in Starkville, Miss., Friday, March 17, 2017. DePaul won 88-67.

 
 

He would never say it. DePaul women's basketball coach Doug Bruno is too classy.

So I'll say it for Doug.

His Blue Demons got (how should I put this delicately?) a raw deal by the NCAA women's basketball tournament selection committee.

"I'm just looking forward to playing Northern Iowa," Bruno said with a wink on Monday when it was announced on ESPN that his team earned its 15th straight NCAA tournament appearance.

DePaul was ranked in the Top 20 in the national polls most of the season, won the Big East regular season title and boasted a national RPI rating (strength of schedule) of 19. And the Blue Demons got a No. 7 seed in the Oklahoma City regional.

That means the committee believed that between 24 to 27 teams were better than the Blue Demons, who crushed No. 10 Northern Iowa 88-67 on Friday morning in first round action at Mississippi State.

Ummmm, no.

That's mistake No. 1 by the committee.

DePaul took on one of the most ambitious schedules in the country, with games against top-five teams Connecticut, Notre Dame and Baylor. Those were all losses, but I'd bet not many other teams, maybe not any, had the courage to face all three of those teams this season.

The Blue Demons also defeated No. 11 Syracuse as well as Northwestern and Western Kentucky, who were receiving votes in the Top 25 at the time of those games.

DePaul finished the regular season with a 26-7 record and a 16-2 run through an increasingly tough Big East while playing much of the season without Big East preseason player of the year Jessica January (finger) and leading 3-point shooter (and second-leading scorer) Ashton Millender (leg).

Meanwhile, Mart'e Grays, a certain starter as a versatile, athletic forward, didn't play a single second for the Blue Demons this season, out with a torn Achilles tendon suffered during the preseason.

January returned at the end of the season, teaming with Brooke Schulte to give the Blue Demons one of the best scoring backcourts in the country.

DePaul certainly has a lot of upside (which is supposed to be considered by the committee), despite losing in the Big East tournament championship game to Marquette, who hosted the tournament in Milwaukee. Marquette defeated DePaul three times this season, which some say killed DePaul with the committee.

But those three losses to Marquette were DePaul's only losses in Big East play. And Marquette is an impressive team, the second-best team in the Big East, with a quality tournament resume.

"Marquette did a great job, they have a nice Top 25 resume," Bruno said.

But Marquette, which had losses to lesser teams in the Big East (St. John's and Providence), got a No. 5 seed and DePaul got a No. 7 seed. Another Big East team, Creighton, which DePaul swept during the regular season, also got a No. 7 seed.

That's mistake No. 2. The committee missed on the seeding of the Big East's three tournament teams.

So would one win over Marquette, which played two of three games against DePaul on its own floor, been the difference between a No. 7 seed and a No. 5 seed for DePaul? Come on, NCAA selection committee. Part of your criteria is supposed to be "body of work," or performance across the entire season, not just a small cluster of games.

The committee's misstep with DePaul isn't even its worst mistake.

Maryland got hosed, as tends to happen to Big Ten teams come tournament time.

As an Associated Press voter, I placed Maryland among my top five teams all season. So did most of the voters on the panel.

The Terrapins were impressive with a 30-2 record and losses only to No. 1 Connecticut (87-81) and No. 12 Ohio State on the road. Maryland defeated No. 23 Arizona State, No. 7 Louisville, and won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles.

And the committee gave Maryland a No. 3 seed, meaning that eight to 11 teams were better than Maryland in its eyes.

Ummmm, no.

Maryland coach Brenda Frese was classy when asked her thoughts on the bracket by ESPN immediately after her team's placement. I was glad she at least said that she was surprised the Terps got a No. 3 seed. Yep, she was surprised, as was pretty much the rest of the country.

Other Big Ten surprises? Ohio State, a top 10 to 15 team in the Associated Press poll for much of the season, didn't get one of the top 16 seeds and a host site for the first and second rounds. The Buckeyes had a tough schedule and finished 26-6.

Meanwhile, Michigan, which was ranked in the Top 25 and finished third in the Big Ten with 23 wins, didn't even make the NCAA field.

Finally, Baylor must have had a few close friends on the committee.

The Lady Bears (30-3) got hammered in the Big 12 championship game by West Virginia and lost two of their three games in the last month of the season. Meanwhile, their best player has been hurt and her availability is still a question mark. As far as I know, the committee is supposed to take injuries into consideration.

And yet, Baylor got a No. 1 seed and might never have to travel more than 300 miles from home to win a national championship.

How about ACC foes Miami and Syracuse? Syracuse, the defending national runner-up, finished ahead of Miami in the ACC standings and beat Miami by 33 points in late January. But Miami (23-8) got a No. 4 seed and is a host site while Syracuse (21-10) is a No. 8 seed. Huh?

In the West, Cal finished 6-12 in the Pac-12, and got a No. 9 seed, higher than No. 10 Oregon, which finished ahead of Cal in the conference standings. Some would question Cal's invitation to the dance at all.

DePaul, Marquette, Maryland, Michigan, Baylor, Miami, Syracuse, Cal, Oregon. And those aren't the only examples of head-scratchers.

It seems small, but seedings can make a difference, especially on the women's side with host sites on the line for the top 16 seeds.

Maybe it's time to let a computer handle the seeding and placement of the entire tournament. Human error and bias seem to be playing too big a role in March Madness. It's maddening.

• Patricia Babcock McGraw also works as a basketball color analyst for games involving DePaul University, the Big Ten, the Big East, Northern Illinois University, Chicago Sky and the Illinois High School Association. Follow her on Twitter @BabcockMcGraw.

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