Loyola Chicago as an 8-seed was a “joke,” Jim Rome tweeted in the final minutes of the Ramblers’ win over Illinois in the Second Round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. The seeding was “unfair” to Loyola and Illinois, Pete Thamel said as Loyola built an early 10-point lead. “They deserved better,” tweeted Rodger Sherman, and “everyone knew” they shouldn’t have been an 8-seed, added Chris Vannini.
Those four, and dozens of other highly respected sports journalists are wrong. Loyola’s seeding wasn’t a joke. It wasn’t unfair, they didn’t deserve better, and not everyone knew they should’ve been seeded higher.
"I know the committee has a hard job," Porter Moser said before their win over Georgia Tech in the First Round. "We did what we could control. They use the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET). According to that, we were 9. One through 4 got all the 1-seeds. Five through 8 got all the 2-seeds. No. 9 got an 8-seed. So we've just got to control what we can control."
Loyola ranked ninth in both NET and KenPom entering the Selection Show. They were 12th in road wins, top 25 in BPI, and didn’t have a loss outside Quadrants 1 and 2. Those numbers are more reflective of a 5- or 6-seed.
These numbers are more reflective of an 8-seed: Top 40 in SOR and Sagarin, 51st in Quadrant 1 wins, 34th in Quadrant 2 wins, and 65th in average NET loss.
And these numbers are more reflective of an NIT team or double-digit auto-bid: 182nd in average NET win, 146th in average opponent NET, 143rd in NET SOS, and 102nd in NET non-conference SOS, and a five-point road loss to NET-120 Indiana State. Loyola’s best wins (their lone Quadrant 1 wins) came against a bubble team, Drake, one of which included the absence of the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, Shanquan Hemphill. They needed overtime to beat NET-214 Southern Illinois at home and nearly lost to NET-229 Valparaiso at home.
Is that enough to replace Oregon, Florida, Clemson, or UConn as a 7-seed? Maybe. Each of those teams had a worse loss and ranked lower in NET and KenPom. But they averaged nine wins in Quadrants 1 and 2, Oregon and UConn were great on the road, and all but Clemson ranked in the top 40 in most metrics.
There’s a reasonable argument Loyola should’ve been ranked higher, especially if the committee did rely heavily on predictive-based metrics (e.g. KenPom, Sagarin) in seeding the teams as committee chair Mitch Barnhart claimed. There’s also a reasonable argument the seeding criticism is built on the Ramblers’ Final Four run in 2018. Because we saw Moser lead a four-game run as an 11-seed 2018, we assume this year’s team could do that, too, especially after watching them eliminate the nation’s hottest team.
“This year’s team has a higher upside,” former player Clayton Custer told Sports Illustrated in February. “I don’t want to make any of my teammates mad from a couple of years ago, but I think the team this year has an incredible upside.”
It’s fair to believe Moser, Cameron Krutwig, and Lucas Williamson can do it again because they earned the “they proved it” distinction. But, that’s bias. Four wins three years ago don’t–and shouldn’t–matter in seeding this year’s March Madness field. Blasting the committee for anti-mid-major bias is asinine without acknowledging your own bias.
Loyola played a near-perfect game to upset the hottest team in college basketball; that doesn’t mean they were underseeded or poor Illinois was given an “unfair” matchup.
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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @DoughtyBetMGM