Late last week, I was midway through completing a column that argued that the seeding system in the open state basketball tournaments was flawed, and that having a No. 1 team square off against a No. 16 was an utter waste of time, along with other high seeds facing low seeds.
It was Thursday afternoon, and I was fresh off seeing a handful of low-ranked girls teams get smoked in the first round. The opening rounds for the boys side started that evening, and I decided to stop midway through writing to see how the other games unfolded, and I fully expected to finish up on Friday with a whole new batch of butt-kicking’s to use to my benefit.
I spent Thursday night at Cranston East, and my coverage began with No. 1 Bishop Hendricken taking on No. 16 Cumberland. The Hawks topped the Clippers in the regular season, had a significantly better overall record, and were defending champs, there was no chance that Cumberland would win. I was even worried that the Clippers would simply make it a game, which would foil my argument, but that could never happen, right?
Not only did the underdog Clippers make it a game, they flat-out outplayed the Hawks for most of the second half and cruised to a late victory, becoming the first-ever 16th seed to beat a No. 1 seed in Rhode Island history.
Hendricken did not play poorly in my opinion. I’m sure the team would disagree, and pick apart moments in the game that could have been different. But from what I saw, they were simply victim to a team that hit its peak at the right time, as the Clippers later cruised past Toll Gate in the Elite Eight and will now face Woonsocket in this weekend’s Final Four.
As for my argument though, I am not totally backing off of it, but certainly cannot dig in and allow it to be the hill I die on. Not only did Cumberland top Hendricken, but No. 13 Barrington pulled off another big upset beating No. 4 Narragansett.
Do I now think that the seeding system is fantastic and should remain as is for the long term? No. However, I do think this shows that there may not be the need for a major overhaul like I, and some other members of the media believe, or once believed.
Look, history was made in the past week, and that is what was required to break the norm … a historical performance.
When the Clippers pulled away in the end and completed the upset, social media went wild. It became the talk of RI sports for the ensuing days, with everyone outside of Cumberland, or maybe even those in Cumberland, being in total disbelief.
Although it is easy to look at the Hendricken and Barrington upsets and argue that they prove that the seeding system is fine … you also have to look at the reaction. If the seeding format was flawless, and efficient, then upsets like those wouldn’t have made so much noise.
When looking at the other matchups, everything went as expected for the most part. No. 2 North Kingstown beat No. 15 Ponaganset by 44 points. No. 6 Mt. Pleasant and No. 7 Westerly each won their first rounds with ease. No. 9 Toll Gate topped No. 8 Wheeler, but we all figured that would be a close match.
On the girls side, every higher seed won in the first round, and every higher seed also won the second round as of Monday morning. No. 1 La Salle topped No. 16 Pilgrim by 38 points … No. 2 South Kingstown cruised past No. 15 Central by 41 points. Point being, and generally speaking, these opening round matchups simply don’t work.
I admit that I am a little all over the place and am being far from decisive when trying to take a side. I guess my ultimate point is this: I believe that the RIIL should revisit the playoff seeding format. I believe that it is a good idea to include the top 16 teams in the state, using the same formula for ranking them. However, I would perhaps mix up the opening round matchups in a way that wouldn’t (usually) result in a blowout.
Maybe they could draw numbers randomly like the lottery, maybe have the brackets divided into quadrants so teams ranked 1-4 played, then 5-8, and so on. There are a handful of options to improve the format, and I still believe, even despite the two upsets this past week, that these ideas should be explored.
Prior to last week, my feeling was much more drastic. I was bordering on the idea of scrapping the open state tournament all together and keeping it to just divisional championships like most other sports. However, I have to backpedal, but I won’t completely jump ship just yet.
It is called March Madness for a reason, and this past week the madness was on full display.