Your 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket is out, and...huh. Forget your bracket pool—that'll be as impossible as always—this year it's tough enough just to predict a winner. Vegas is stumped, and a big part of that uncertainty comes from Louisville, the early favorite, being stuck in the stacked Midwest regional. How did the Cardinals earn this "reward?"
To even make it to Atlanta, Louisville has to escape a quadrant that includes Duke, Michigan State, mid-major power St. Louis, frisky Oklahoma State, and even Pac-12 champs Oregon, who are 21-4 when star point guard Dominic Artis plays. Any one of these teams is capable of a Final Four run, but the real eyebrow-raiser is Duke—to most observers, the third- or fourth-best team in the nation.
Just a few years ago, the tournament selection process would have kept Duke, most likely the committee's highest-rated 2-seed, away from overall No. 1 Louisville. It was called the "S-curve," and it worked kind of like a snake draft. The best No. 1 would tend it find itself with the worst No. 2, the best No. 3, the worst No. 4, and so on, in an attempt to better balance the regional brackets. But the S-curve is dead.
It's been on its way out for a few seasons, as we saw last year when the committee gave an unprecedented peek into the selection process. All four teams with a certain seed—say, the twos—are still ranked, but rather than be distributed by that ranking, geographic rewards and uniform conference distribution take precedence. Committee chair Mike Bobinski confirmed in an ESPN.com interview last night that the S-curve wasn't used at all this year.
This means that the committee may have had Duke at No. 6 overall, but keeping them away from top-seeded Louisville took a backseat to considerations like separating Louisville and Georgetown/Marquette/Syracuse, keeping the various Big Ten powerhouses away from each other, and rewarding the Blue Devils by keeping them fairly close to home.
So the Midwest is stacked, and Las Vegas oddsmakers, who have Louisville as a favorite, aren't convinced they'll even make it to the Georgia Dome. Sitting at 3-1 before the brackets were released, the the Cardinals fell to 9-2 last night, followed by Indiana at 7-1, and three teams—including Duke—at 8-1. It's a far cry from last year's odds, which saw Kentucky as clear 2-1 favorites.