CINCINNATI -- If you’re a believer in conspiracy theories, it would be easy to surmise that the NCAA Selection Committee delivered a little payback to the University of Cincinnati for comments Mick Cronin made about the seeding process.
Here’s what Cronin said two weeks ago: “You may get moved a seed line if -- and it may not be us -- but teams could get moved around from a 4 to a 5, or an 8-9 out of that to a 7-10, to get that pod to sell more tickets. Now, nobody will admit that because it’s all about the student-athlete, supposedly.”
Did the committee’s answer come Sunday?
After all, the Bearcats, who were 15th in the RPI, ended up with a sixth seed. They were shipped to Sacramento. They left for the trip without knowing who they will play in the first round. UCLA, the highest-scoring team in the country with the player who could go No.1 in the NBA draft, awaits if UC survives the first round. And, if the Bearcats somehow made it to the Sweet 16, they’d likely face Kentucky.
That's the old quint-whammy.
As a longtime semi-successful bracket filler-outer, I think UC got a horrible draw. Cronin wouldn’t say one way or another if he thought his comments affected UC’s draw.
“I’ve got news for them if they think they did,” he said, “if they think I lose one ounce of sleep over what they say would mean I respected their opinion, which I don’t. Unless Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino are in that room.
“They’ve got a tough job. It is what it is. It’s guess work, which is really what I tried to tell you two weeks ago.”
UC will play the winner of Wake Forest-Kansas State on Friday in Sacramento. UC has gone out west for the first round three of the past four years.
“I don’t even understand it,” Cronin said. “Again, they can do what they want and justify it any way they want to. Anyone who challenges them, they’re going to say they’re off base and they’re a bad guy and they should be reprimanded.
“It doesn’t bother me in the least bit.”
Cronin did say the American Athletic Conference deserved better. Southern Methodist, the regular season and tournament champ, got a sixth seed as well.
“Our league was disrespected,” Cronin said. “That’s not what we’re worried about. I’m telling you. I haven’t thought about it. I don’t care about. My point is even if you’re a 3 seed -- in my opinion -- us and SMU are as good at 3 seeds.”
Cronin did downplay the fact that UC still doesn’t know who it will play Friday.
“We wouldn’t have presented the players our opponent till late tonight anyway,” Cronin said Tuesday. “That’s what we’ll do when we land. The game will be ending or close to ending. We’ll get to the hotel. We’ll eat and present the opponent. We just scouted both. In this day and age, it’s easier.”
This is UC’s seventh straight trip to the NCAA -- one of only eight schools on a streak that long. But the Bearcats have only made it out of the first weekend one those previous six appearances.
Getting to the second weekend this year would likely mean getting by UCLA, a team some are picking to win it all. That’s undeniably a tough draw, but for the season to be considered a success, UC has got to get to the Sweet 16.
“In the past years, we’ve been trying to make it out of the first round,” UC forward Gary Clark said. “We want to make a deeper run into March. We feel confident if we go out and play defense and handle business, everything else will handle itself.”
The players aren’t concerned with the draw.
“You can’t be afraid to play anyone,” UC guard Troy Caupain said.
“Strange things happen in March,” Clark said. “Whether you’re a higher seed or a lower seed, you’ve still got a chance of losing and vice versa.”
It sounds like that is coming from Cronin.
“I’m a believer that everybody in the NCAA tournament is good,” Cronin said. “A couple of weeks ago when everybody got caught up in what I said, my whole point was the number next to your name doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. You don’t let other people define you. You’re going to have to play somebody.
“Every team’s fan base thinks they got a bad draw. Every team. Every team’s pretty good. Everybody’s hoping they’re going to get to play 15th or 16th seeds all the way to the Elite Eight. It’s not realistic.”
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.