DAYTON, Ohio -- Ohio State coach Thad Matta doesn't know how his team, seeded eighth in the Midwest Region, ended up in nearby Dayton, either.
Home games, or de facto home games like the Buckeyes' opening game against ninth-seeded Siena on Friday (and perhaps against No. 1 Louisville on Sunday), aren't supposed to happen to teams seeded eighth. When the NCAA tournament went to pods a few years ago, one of the major focuses of the selection committee was to reward the top four or five seeds with nearby games, if possible, and to avoid giving such an advantage to anyone else in the field.
Like Ohio State, seeded eighth in the Midwest, in a 2009 pod at Dayton.
But here the Buckeyes are, playing about an hour from home, in a game that's supposed to be the ultimate NCAA tournament toss-up. And this 8/9 game would be a toss-up if it were played at a truly neutral site. But Dayton won't be neutral, which means the Buckeyes have to be heavy favorites. And Matta doesn't really know how it happened.
"I can't fathom what those people go through," he said, referring to the selection committee.
Well, I can. And that's why this rant of mine isn't going to be the rantiest rant you ever saw. Nor will it include words that are 100 percent located in the English language. (Honestly ... rantiest?) I spent about 14 hours at the NCAA office in Indianapolis a few weeks ago for a mock bracket selection exercise, and putting together a spotless, blameless bracket wasn't easy. Or possible. Looking at the bracket and picking out the injustices after the fact ... that's easy. But actually putting together a bracket that makes sure to avoid every single possible scenario where one team would be favored over another? Impossible. Which leads me to Ohio State playing Siena in Dayton.
It's clearly not fair to Siena, which won a game in the 2008 NCAA tournament and returned its starting five and therefore should have been everyone's darling to become this year's George Mason or Davidson. Now, it will be a major victory for Siena simply to win a game in this tournament, because the home-court advantage in college hoops is enormous, and it's bigger than ever in the NCAA tournament, when de facto home teams have won nearly 90 percent of their games over the last decade.
So Siena deserves all sorts of sympathy, but let's understand that Siena got hosed for two innocent reasons: the seeding of Ohio State, and the tournament's own rules.
The committee seeds the field first, and Ohio State was deemed to be a No. 8. Fine. And since two No. 8s were sent to Dayton -- Ohio State from the Midwest and Oklahoma State from the East -- that gave the committee only two other regions to try to place Ohio State.
But in both of those other regions, the South and the West, a Big Ten team was seeded fifth -- Purdue in the West, Illinois in the South. That would have meant a potential matchup with the No. 8 seed, Ohio State of course, in the Sweet 16. And tournament rules prohibit such an early meeting between league rivals unless that league has nine or more teams in the field. Which the Big Ten does not.
So the selection committee could have switched the Buckeyes' seed, which would have meant two teams (Ohio State and whoever switched its seed with Ohio State) would have been seeded insincerely ... or the committee could hold its nose and put Ohio State in Dayton.
You know which way the committee went.
My only frustration over the whole thing is this: Why Siena? Why did Siena have to be the No. 9 seed that was forced to play this road game?
The selection committee's obvious preference for power conferences over mid-majors this year has been intensely scrutinized, and Siena being stuck in this game doesn't help. Tennessee was a No. 9 seed. So was Texas A&M. Better for one of them, teams used to playing high-major opponents on the road, to get stuck playing Ohio State in Dayton. Not Siena.
That wasn't so bad, was it?