Jason’s Blog: A 64-team Highway?
If there's someone who knows more about Minnesota high school boys basketball than Ryan James, I'd like to meet them.
James, an Austin, Minn., native, writes for an online publication called Northstar Hoops, and is as plugged in as anyone when it comes to college basketball recruiting in the upper Midwest. He is a former Gopher men's basketball student manager during part of the Clem Haskins era, and is a first cousin of former Gophers standout Sam Jacobson.
I respect James' opinions on the state of high school and college basketball in this area as much as anyone, but I offer this lengthy rebuttal to his recent take on Twitter that Class AAAA needs to adopt a 64-team (NCAA-style) statewide bracket to correct Section seeding injustices.
First, let me point out that James is not alone in pleading for a re-arranging of the section basketball tournaments for the state's highest class. This is an idea that's been floated around for several years now by many of what I would classify as Minnesota's basketball elite -- namely, high-powered coaches and administrators from the Twin Cities who enjoy being the local gateway for famous college coaches. I don't consider James to be part of this group, sure, he's plugged in, but he has roots in outstate Minnesota and I sincerely believe he has the best interests of the game and the kids at heart.
I even agree in principle that it would be nice if we could balance the teams throughout the state to prevent some of the best squads from being grouped together in the same section.
My point is simple, though: I prefer consistency. If you're going to make changes in the name of fair play, do it for everyone. This is why from the beginning of our new era of state tournament seeding, my position has been if you're going to do it, then seed all teams in all classes (The Minnesota State High School League has yet to adopt this procedure).
James' argument with respect to Class AAAA basketball is that it should have a different section assignment/seeding procedure than the rest of the schools because the great majority of the teams are bunched in the metro area, thus travel headaches are not cured by grouping these teams in geographical sections.
I would be persuaded by this argument if it were true, but as I am about to illustrate, it's simply not true.
To be sure, it doesn't seem right that Robbinsdale Armstrong's boys basketball team is the No. 5 seed in its section when they are among the Top 15 in the state. Likewise, in Section 3AAAA, you have East Ridge and Eastview as No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, respectively, when they are both ranked in the Top 10.
I get the frustration -- it would be nice to fix this problem (I would prefer to fix it throughout the state -- locally, we have a Blooming Prairie girls basketball team with just three regular-season losses as the No. 4 seed in its subsection), but if geography and travel is a concern of the MSHSL, then a 64-team bracket won't work.
Let's start by recognizing that the 32 Class AAAA section quarterfinal boys basketball games that will be played this week will cover 1,087 miles for traveling schools (an average of 34 miles per game), and nearly half of those miles (481) will be traveled by Section 8 teams.
In Sections 2 through 6, the average mileage per game is 14.2. In Section 1, the average is 30.7. In all honesty, as is presently, only four teams in Class AAAA will pay at the pump in the quarterfinals this week -- Bemidji (189 miles to St. Michael-Albertville), St. Cloud Tech (168 miles to Moorhead), Duluth East (146 miles to Blaine), and Brainerd (102 miles to Rogers).
No other Class AAAA boys team will travel more than 55 miles for their first game -- and 23 of the 32 visiting teams will travel 20 miles or fewer.
Now, let's take a look at what the first-round road trips would look like under my version of the 64-team Class AAAA Tournament.
I want to use a 100 percent objective method in seeding these teams, consistent with the argument that the goal is to seed them in a way that provides the best chance for the top eight teams to make it to state. The best way I can think of is using the QRF Rankings as my seeding chart, where the four No. 1 seeds, in order, are Champlain Park, Apple Valley, Eden Prairie and Hopkins.
From there, consistent with the NCAA Selection Committee, the Champlain Park Bracket will feature the Rebels hosting the worst No. 16 team in the field, which this year, according to the QRF, is Rochester Century. The Champlain Park bracket will have the worst No. 2 seed (East Ridge) vs. the best No. 15 seed (Irondale), the best No. 3 seed (Shakopee) vs. the worst No. 14 seed (Park of Cottage Grove), the worst No. 4 seed (Stillwater Area) vs. the best No. 13 seed (St. Cloud Tech), the best No. 5 seed (Chaska) vs. the worst No. 12 seed (Bloomington Kennedy), the worst No. 6 seed (St. Francis) vs. the best No. 11 seed (Rochester Mayo), the best No. 7 seed (Centennial) vs. the worst No. 10 seed (Blaine), and the worst No. 8 seed (Andover) vs. the best No. 9 seed (Elk River).
The total mileage traveled in the Champlain Park Bracket by road teams in Round 1 is 412, an average of 51.5 miles per game. Only three teams of eight get the benefit of traveling less than 25 miles.
In the Apple Valley Bracket, the Eagles, as the second-best No. 1 seed, will host Henry Sibley, the third-best No. 16 seed. Then it's third-best No. 2 seed (Roseville) vs. the second-best No. 15 seed (Anoka), the second-best No. 3 seed (Eastview) vs. the third-best No. 14 seed (St. Louis Park), the third-best No. 4 seed (Moorhead) vs. the second-best No. 13 seed (Woodbury), the second-best No. 5 seed (Robbinsdale Armstrong) vs. the third-best No. 12 seed (Brainerd), the third-best No. 6 seed (Bloomington Jefferson) vs. the second-best No. 11 seed (Duluth East), the second-best No. 7 seed (Lakeville North) vs. the third-best No. 10 seed (Burnsville), and the third-best No. 8 seed (Lakeville South) vs. the second-best No. 9 seed (Mahtomedi).
The total first-round mileage traveled by road teams in the Apple Valley Bracket is 649, an average of 81.1 miles per game. Four teams travel 40 or more miles, led by Woodbury, who can read War and Peace on their 251-mile journey to Moorhead. Duluth East can probably get Moby Dick polished off in its 171-mile jaunt to Bloomington Jefferson.
Life is a little better in the Eden Prairie Region, where the Eagles, the third-best No. 1 seed, host Minneapolis Southwest, the second-best No. 16 seed. Then it's the second-best No. 2 seed (Maple Grove) vs. the third-best No. 15 seed (North St. Paul), the third-best No. 3 (Minnetonka) vs. the second-best No. 14 (Minneapolis South), the second-best No. 4 (St. Michael-Albertville), vs. the third-best No. 13 (Eagan), the third-best No. 5 seed (Rochester John Marshall) vs. the second-best No. 12 seed (Owatonna), the second-best No. 6 seed (Rogers) vs. the third-best No. 11 seed (Rosemount), the third-best No. 7 seed (Chanhassen) vs. the second-best No. 10 seed (White Bear Lake), and the second-best No. 8 seed (Northfield) vs. the third-best No. 9 seed (Forest Lake).
As I said, the road teams get off easier in the Eden Prairie Region, traveling a total of 311 miles (A 38.9 mile average) in the first round, but this is still higher than the first-round average travel for teams under the current system. Six teams still will travel 30 or more miles.
The last 64-team Class AAAA region is the Hopkins Region (Or should we call it the Ken Novak Jr. Region?). The worst No. 1 seed, the Royals, host the best No. 16 seed (Coon Rapids). Then it's the best No. 2 seed (Cretin-Derham Hall) vs. the worst No. 15 seed (Bemidji), the worst No. 3 seed (Wayzata) vs. the best No. 14 seed (Park Center), the best No. 4 seed (Edina), vs. the worst No. 13 seed (Robbinsdale Cooper), the worst No. 5 seed (Mounds View) vs. the best No. 12 seed (Cambridge-Isanti), the best No. 6 seed (Hastings) vs. the worst No. 11 seed (Farmington), the worst No. 7 seed (Prior Lake) vs. the best No. 10 seed (Osseo), and the best No. 8 seed (Tartan) vs. the worst No. 9 seed (Buffalo).
In the Hopkins Bracket, road teams travel 417 miles in Round 1 (An average of 52.1 miles per game). This is weighted heavily by Bemidji's 225-mile caravan to The House That Mauer Built, but you still have Buffalo making a 55-mile cross-metro trip to Tartan and Osseo heading nearly 30 painful west-metro miles down to Prior Lake.
The end result here is obvious: per usual, change isn't always the right answer for the MSHSL. I'm a consistency guy myself. You can talk about playing games within the various regions to ease the travel headaches, but then you're back to deviating from your original purpose -- to get those best eight to state.
I'm not buying it. Take out Section 8, which is used to heavy travel, and you're talking about an average of just 25.3 miles per game in Round 1 with the current system versus 55.9 miles per game using the Metro 64 model. That's more than double the gas expense, not to mention valuable time out of the classroom for the student athletes.
And for what? To ensure that Eden Prairie, Hopkins, Champlin Park, Apple Valley, Minnetonka, Maple Grove and Cretin get to play in a 19,000-seat arena when those teams could all jam into Lindbergh Center on any given Saturday and about 100 Twin Cities sports fans -- most of whom would be college recruiters -- would be the only ones to notice?
I respect your thought process, Ryan James, and I love your work. But I guess on this one I side with consistency and fairness for all Minnesota teams. Seed all classes, seed all eight, and keep geographical integrity in our section tournaments.
Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays on KRFO-AM 1390 at 3:50. Leave a comment below and follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.