The N.C. High School Athletic Association used feedback from the N.C. Basketball Coaches Association to piece together a new basketball playoff format that will be used this season for the first time. The system works like a hybrid of some previous systems.
Last year, the NCHSAA overhauled its process by seeding the basketball playoffs. The number of automatic bids per conference was the same, but the teams were grouped into four 16-team regions based on east-to-west coordinates and seeded 1-16.
The coaches complained the process, which was finalized on Saturday before the first round of the playoffs, gave them too little time to prepare for a Monday night game.
“What we did this year, based on their suggestions, was to group conferences so they have an idea of which teams or at least what conferences so they can go in and see where everybody’s going to fall,” said Que Tucker, NCHSAA deputy executive commissioner.
Last year, the Raleigh-based Cap-8 4A Conference was in the easternmost region with Wilmington schools. This year, it’s in a region with mostly teams from the Durham-based PAC-6 and Cary-based Tri-9.
The Carolina 12 1A/2A Conference will also be affected with more trips to the eastern part of the state.
There will not be a chance for an area school to play a team from a “western” conference in the first round, which is what Green Hope’s boys (vs. Southeast Guilford) and Panther Creek’s girls (at Southern Alamance) did last year.
Another change recommended by coaches is conference tournament games, which start next week, will be counted in the overall seeding.
The conference tournament games will mean something even if there are few upsets in the tournament.
The conference tournament winner advances as the league’s No. 2 seed unless the regular season champion, which is the No. 1 seed, wins the tournament.
Counting conference tournament games in seeding can have an impact. If the league tournament results had counted last year, the Wakefield girls would have been at home against Clayton instead of playing at Clayton.
Rematches possible, but not plentiful
In football, the NCHSAA caught flak for conference rematches in the first and second rounds while using a pod system. Pods have been dropped for next season except in 1A football.
Conference rematches in basketball are not as likely as in football because basketball uses 64-team brackets and 16-team regions. Football uses a 32-team bracket and eight team regions. .
Last season, less than one-fifth of all boys’ and girls’ first-round playoff games were conference rematches. In a study done by The News & Observer, this year’s format would keep the number of those games at about the same level.
“We allowed the (N.C. Basketball Coaches Association) to make their suggestions,” Tucker said, “so at least there could be some buy-in with what they suggested. Many of them do not like playing their conference team in the first round, but there just isn’t any way to avoid that.
“The only way to avoid that would be to take conferences and spread them totally throughout the bracket so then you’d have to seed that way so you’d have 1-versus-32 and 2-versus-31 – well, that just increases your travel. Our principals, superintendents and even the coaches wouldn’t agree to that.”
End of the trial, tweaks left
This season will be the end of the NCHSAA’s two-year trial period with the basketball playoffs. After examining how both formats worked, Tucker hopes that the NCBCA and the NCHSAA can work on something permanent going forward.
“I hope what we learn is that this works and that coaches will, for the most part, be satisfied that this would be the way they’d want to continue going forward,” Tucker said. “Moving forward, if in fact they do want to continue to seed, then we need to lock in on the process. And then coming out of this, there are other sports sitting out there hoping that maybe they will get a chance to be seeded and maybe learn from what basketball is doing now.”
Many Triangle 4A soccer coaches and volleyball coaches, unhappy with how often the best area teams play one another early in the postseason, have expressed interest in seeded playoffs.
“If this way works, what we could do is share this with the other coaches associations,” Tucker said. “We would say ‘This is what we’ve done in basketball. Are you interested in being seeded? And if so, this is the format that is most successful, or at least the most acceptable by the coaches.’ ”
Blake: 919-460-2606 or Twitter: @JMBpreps