The state basketball tournament set records this year for its lopsided scores in the semifinals, and many of the highest-ranked teams were beaten by other highly ranked teams before they could get that far.
One local coach says the problem is the Georgia High School Association’s method for constructing the brackets, and his plan — to seed the 32 playoff teams using computer rankings – is on the agenda for the GHSA executive committee’s spring meeting April 14-15 in Macon.
‘’Too many state finals or semifinals are being played in the second round or quarterfinals; that’s what we’re trying to eliminate,’’ said Alexander boys coach Jason Slate, whose proposal was introduced to the GHSA by Alexander’s Region 5-AAAA. “From the response I’ve gotten, people are tired of how the tournament is done right now. People just want to see a better format for the state of Georgia.’’
Except in Class A, which uses a points system to seed its public and private teams, the GHSA seeds very bracket sport based each team’s finish in its region. The draw does not consider the strength of regions. As a result, certain quarters of the draw might be much stronger than others.
In the recent state tournament, No. 1-ranked Tift County and No. 2 North Cobb played in the Class AAAAAA boys quarterfinals. North Cobb won in overtime. Eventual state champion Norcross met unbeaten and second-ranked Parkview in the girls’ second round. Norcross won in two overtimes. In the semifinals, Norcross beat Langston Hughes 62-16.
‘’When you have Parkview and Norcross, arguably the No. 1 and the No. 2 teams in the state, playing in a second-round game and then Norcross wins a semifinal by 50 points, that’s a joke,’’ Slate said. ‘’If you look at the NCAA tournament, you’re not going to have Western Kentucky seeded No. 1 because they won their conference championship. But according to Georgia High School, it doesn’t matter how crappy your season was. If you win your tournament, you’re going to have a No. 1 seed. It doesn’t make sense.’’
At the GHSA, executive director Ralph Swearngin expressed concerns about the feasibility of a plan that involves computer models.
“I find it interesting that so many people see computer rankings as the answer, but every year in the BCS – which are the most technical and sophisticated computer models – there’s no consensus of the accuracy,’’ Swearngin said. “I’m not convinced it’s going to work.’’
Swearngin also expected that a bracket that did not consider geography in the first round would create travel nightmares. Slate said he had crunched some hypothetical numbers that didn’t support that fear.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to Slate’s idea would be getting votes from regions whose teams figure to be at a competitive disadvantage if not guaranteed equal billing on the draw with the other regions. Slate’s plan could become a metro Atlanta vs. rural Georgia issue since metro teams have won 46 of the past 54 state championships in basketball and figure to benefit most by computer ratings.
What Slate doesn’t propose is changing is how teams qualify for the state tournament. The GHSA takes the top four teams from each region. Slate will not ask the GHSA to budge on that.
But Slate doesn’t want to stop with the seeding format. He also proposes that the top eight seeded teams host a pair of first-round games. For example, first-round games between the No. 1 vs. No. 32 seeds and the No. 16 vs. No. 17 seeds would be played as a double-header at the site of the No. 1 seed.
Slate said having only eight first-round venues per class instead of 16 would require fewer, and presumably better, officials. Slate also wants the quarterfinals returned to neutral sites. For the first time in history, they were held at the site of the higher-seeded teams this past season.
“By us having quarterfinal games at one school, we’re taking away from the experience that these kids have,’’ Slate said. “A tournament is supposed to be at a neutral site. You’re playing at a college, a bigger arena. The quarterfinal is a special game, but you’re not doing anything special for it.’’
But Slate’s main target is to see more competitive games and more of the better teams advancing to the semifinals and finals. The average margin of victory of the girls’ semifinals this year was 21.1 points, making them the most lopsided in state tournament history.
The boys’ semifinals average margin of 11.9 points, on the rise from 11.0 in 2012 and 9.9 in 2011. Miller Grove won 72-38 in Class AAAAA. Eagle’s Landing won by 26 points, Columbia by 27 and Johnson of Savannah by 22.
“The ultimate goal is to get the best four teams in the semifinals,’’ Slate said. “Is it going to happen? Not always, but at least it’s set up that way. There are going to be upsets. But you can’t tell me that Parkview’s girls shouldn’t be playing in the semifinals. That’s a tragedy.’’