UK Men's Basketball

If the NCAA used Calipari’s coveted S-curve, the Cats might have had a better path

Coach Cal and the Cats react to Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament draw

University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari and basketball players Reid Travis and Keldon Johnson respond to the NCAA Tournament announcement.
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University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari and basketball players Reid Travis and Keldon Johnson respond to the NCAA Tournament announcement.

John Calipari — long a proponent of the S-curve over the NCAA’s current way of bracketing the tournament field — was back at it again this weekend, advocating for his preferred version of placing teams in March Madness.

The S-curve, it’s often argued, would be a more balanced way of setting up the bracket. Instead of the NCAA’s current — and complicated — process of trying to place the top teams in the best possible geographical location, the committee would instead rank the teams, 1-68, and then simply place them in a snake-like order throughout the field.

The No. 1 overall team — in this year’s case, Duke — would get the top spot, followed by Nos. 2, 3 and 4. Then, the No. 5 overall team would be placed in the same region as the No. 4 overall team, followed by the No. 6 team with the No. 3 team, the No. 7 team with the No. 2 team, and the No. 8 team — the “weakest” 2 seed — with the top-ranked No. 1 seed.

And then you snake through the regions again, matching the No. 9 team — “strongest” 3 seed — in the No. 1 overall seed’s region, and so on.

Pretty simple, right?

Calipari’s argument is that this would be a more fair version of the tournament, especially in an age where team travel isn’t that complicated. If a good team on the East Coast gets shipped west, so be it.

“Everybody charters. Doesn’t matter where you’re playing. I believe you should do this,” Calipari said after the Cats’ loss to Tennessee on Saturday. “... Just do the S-curve, it’s easy. But they have a reason why they don’t to do it. I don’t agree with it. But I’m not in the room doing it.”

In Calipari’s perfect world — one where the selection committee embraces the S-curve — his Wildcats would have actually ended up in the nearby Louisville regional, instead of getting sent to Kansas City.

UK was ranked as the No. 7 overall team this year. The S-curve would have matched them with the No. 2 overall team, which is Virginia — the top seed in the South Region in Louisville.

Using the S-curve and the NCAA Selection Committee’s own 1-68 rankings, the top four teams in that South Region would have been Virginia, Kentucky, Texas Tech and Kansas State.

If you go all the way through the 68-team field using the S-curve, the Cats’ first-round opponent would be Colgate, followed by a second-round matchup with either Nevada or Minnesota.

Instead, UK will play Abilene Christian in the first round, and — if the Cats win that one — Wofford or Seton Hall in the second round.

North Carolina, the No. 3 overall team in the tournament, is the No. 1 seed in UK’s region.

Here’s what the full field would look like using the S-curve:

If the NCAA Selection Committee had used the S-curve



EastSouthMidwestWest
1DukeVirginiaNorth CarolinaGonzaga
2MichiganKentuckyMichigan StateTennessee
3HoustonTexas TechLSUPurdue
4Virginia TechKansas StateFlorida StateKansas
5MarquetteAuburnWisconsinMississippi State
6Iowa StateBuffaloMarylandVillanova
7LouisvilleNevadaCincinnatiWofford
8Utah StateOle MissSyracuseVCU
9WashingtonUCFBaylorOklahoma
10FloridaMinnesotaSeton HallIowa
11Ohio StateBelmont/TempleSt. Mary’sSt. John’s/Az St
12LibertyNew Mexico StOregonMurray State
13UC IrvineVermontSaint LouisNortheastern
14Northern KyGeorgia StateOld DominionYale
15MontanaColgateBradleyAbilene Christian
16NC Cent/ND StFDU/Prairie ViewIonaGardner-Webb
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