-- The geographical component to bracketing the field is often the most difficult. It's harder than choosing the 64 teams. It's more difficult than seeding them.
The NCAA selection committee hasn't always been consistent in this area, either, which adds yet another challenge to predicting the next bracket. Worse, sometimes being geographically friendly to the top teams hasn't always been competitively friendly. A handful of recent examples helped keep airline miles down, but forced certain teams to draw tougher opponents at the regional level than they probably earned.
The NCAA has said that playing as close to home as possible is the chief desire of coaches and student-athletes. The committee has taken plenty of heat satisfying that wish. In recent years it has created some seemingly unfair pairings. The committee obviously tries to avoid any competitive imbalance, but we know that is no longer the priority. Still, if it's possible, it should be done, right? That being said, most seasons it is impossible to keep everyone satisfied when it comes to geography or a perfectly balanced bracket.
That's exactly the case this season. It is why there was another regional shift for some of the top teams in Sunday's Bracketology, just seven days shy of Selection Monday. Trying to imagine what the NCAA selection committee will do with some of these very dilemmas is what keeps me up at night.
South Carolina's convincing win over Tennessee, and Maryland completing an undefeated sweep through both the Big Ten regular season and tournament should conclude the debate on No. 1 seeds. Connecticut, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Maryland it is.
But where to put them?
For the last few weeks the decision was to have South Carolina in the Greensboro Regional. That kept a team organic to the area as the top seed there. Also, with the way the rest of the seeds played out, it allowed a traditional ACC team to be there.
Here's the problem: That also meant Tennessee, the top team on the No. 2 line, either would have to go to Spokane -- if taking the competitive balance route -- to be paired with the last No. 1 seed (Maryland), or Albany, if proper geographic placement was ruled a bigger factor. (Note: The Lady Vols could not go to Greensboro because the now clear change for 2015 does not allow teams from the same conference to be in the same region as top-four seeds unless there is a fifth team within those top-four seeds.)
Although it best balances the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, Tennessee to Spokane is unlikely to happen because of the stated desire of the committee in the principles and procedures, which reads: "The committee will attempt to assign each team to the most geographically compatible regional and first- /second-round site, by order of the s-curve."
The Lady Vols to Albany means a pairing with UConn, which would put the top No. 1 seed and top No. 2 seed in the same region. This is not a scenario the NCAA feels has to be avoided, and despite never knowing the committee's 1-64 list, we can intelligently guess it has happened (in fact, the most glaring example might be 2008, when the Huskies and Rutgers were in the same region as 1-2).
The UConn-Tennessee pairing can be avoided, but it means no South Carolina or traditional ACC team in Greensboro. Both cannot be done. Now that Oregon State has fallen to No. 3 seed status and the Beavers' spot in Spokane is easier to manage, this becomes the hottest topic on my mind heading to next Monday.
Which direction will this committee go? I am now leaning toward UConn and Tennessee in different regions, and Notre Dame -- not South Carolina -- in Greensboro.
The committee could go in either direction, which likely means six more sleepless nights.