Judging the Seeding Impact of Major Injuries and Suspensions

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 3rd, 2017

The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee faces a number of difficult decisions while building the field for this year’s NCAA Tournament. After sifting through home and road performances, quality wins, RPI and every other tool currently available, the committee faces one particularly difficult task: evaluating teams that were without the services of a certain player because of injury or suspension. Of the myriad criteria the committee considers, no subject is more nebulous as judging a missing player’s effect on games in which he was not involved. The committee does not ignore those games nor does it consider them victories had the player been in action, but the gray area in between those two extremes is where it gets tricky. The injury bug and suspensions have hit quite a few likely NCAA Tournament teams this year, but four in particular could face some upward or downward seeding movement based on those missing players. Those four teams — Creighton, Xavier, Arizona and Duke — will be evaluated on more than just their wins and losses.

The Loss of Creighton’s Maurice Watson Makes the Bluejays a Tough Decision (USA Today Images)

  • Creighton: The Bluejays lost Maurice Watson, the nation’s assist leader and catalyst of Creighton’s high-powered offense, to an ACL injury two weeks ago. In the four-plus games since his season-ending injury, Creighton has been a mixed bag. The next two games were troublesome, with the Bluejays losing a home game to Marquette in which they gave up 102 points, followed by a blowout defeat at Georgetown. Since then, a win over lowly DePaul and an impressive victory over Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse seems to have steadied the ship. It appears that head coach Greg McDermott is rerouting his team’s trajectory by increasing the offensive load carried by Justin Patton and Marcus Foster. Creighton’s ceiling as a Final Four contender has certainly changed, but its overall resume should be strong enough to place the Bluejays safely in the NCAA Tournament. This team’s performance in its final eight Big East games will heavily impact the committee’s seeding decision, though, especially in crucial games like a February 25 rematch with Villanova.

  • Xavier: Xavier also lost its point guard to an ACL tear when Edmond Sumner suffered the injury against St. John’s last weekend. Two crucial differences, however, separate Xavier’s position from Creighton. First, Creighton has played without Watson for four games and, although the drop-off is noticeable, it has not been devastating. Xavier has played only one game since without Sumner in what turned out to be a narrow home win over Seton Hall. Xavier’s status without Sumner will be much more clear after upcoming games against Creighton and Villanova over the next nine days. Secondly, Creighton built a better resume with Watson in the lineup than Xavier did with Sumner. To date, the Musketeers have played and lost all five games against RPI top 25 competition. If Xavier without Sumner struggles down the stretch and drops a first round contest in the Big East Tournament,  it is not inconceivable for the Musketeers to end up in the First Four or, with a true collapse, miss the Tourney altogether.
  • Arizona: After Allonzo Trier’s strange suspension was finally lifted, Arizona has looked like one of the best teams in college basketball. The Wildcats have won all three games in which Trier has played, staying undefeated in Pac-12 play. Before his return, Arizona had been widely considered a very good team but probably still a step below the tier of teams fighting for a #1 seed. Now that the Wildcats have added such a talented player, their 17-2 record without his services seems even more impressive. The two losses came to Butler and Gonzaga on neutral courts nearly two months ago. Arizona will have two more cracks at elite teams in the regular season — Saturday at Oregon and on February 25 against UCLA. If Arizona wins either of those along with the Pac-12 crown, the Wildcats could be in position to earn a coveted #1 seed.
  • Duke: The Durham soap opera known as the Duke men’s basketball team has featured so many twists and turns this season that the committee may be unable to truly assess this team at full strength (or even moderate strength). Grayson Allen was suspended for one game. Jayson Tatum missed time with an injury, as did Harry Giles, Marques Bolden and Amile Jefferson. Most importantly, head coach Mike Krzyzewski missed seven games for back surgery and is due back this weekend. When Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim missed a number of games fulfilling a suspension last season, the committee chair was quoted in saying, “We treat player availability and coach availability the same.” No coach receives as much respect as Coach K, so his time away — and Duke’s 4-3 record under Jeff Capel — will absolutely factor into any committee decision. When push comes to shove, Duke’s roster has been juggled so much that it may be difficult to separate out any differences except for those seven games without Krzyzewski on the sideline. If there is a noticeable difference in Duke’s play when he returns, expect the Devils to bounce up a seed line or two higher than expected.
Shane McNichol (30 Posts)

Shane McNichol is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He is also the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com and has contributed to SALTMoney.org and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

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