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Bruce Pearl suggests revamping NCAA Tournament pod system after Auburn selected for Spokane

Justin Hokansonby:Justin Hokanson03/19/24


AUBURN — Bruce Pearl is preparing for his 13th NCAA Tournament appearance, his fifth as the head coach at Auburn, as the 4-seed Tigers (27-7) face 13-seed Yale (22-9) on Friday at 3:15 pm CT in Spokane, Washington.

Auburn is fresh off winning second in the league during the regular season and winning the SEC Tournament championship over Florida on Sunday. Yale is coming off winning the Ivy League Tournament championship over Brown.

There was a lot of discussion around Auburn’s seeding after not just winning the conference tournament title and beating three NCAA Tournament teams in three days to do it, but being ranked No. 5 in the NCAA’s NET ratings, No. 4 in KenPom, No. 4 in Torvik ratings, on and on.

The Tigers were a consistent Top-10 computer-rated team for the last two months and enter the NCAA Tournament as the only team in college basketball that possesses an adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency inside the top 10. Every metric available says Auburn is a Top-10 or better team, so being seeded No. 15 in the tournament was odd. And being shipped to Spokane with the tournament’s top No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds was even more odd, considering everything discussed above.

The Tigers will prepare for Friday’s game, but before leaving campus on Tuesday afternoon, Pearl wanted to talk a little more about the process to send Auburn across the country.

“There’s been a lot of talk about our seeding. I’m fine with our seed. I’d like for it to be better, but I’m OK with our seeding. It could be better, but I’m OK with it,” Pearl said. “I’ve talked about it before and I’ll talk about it again. I’m very excited about going to Spokane, beautiful city. I’m very excited about going to Gonzaga and seeing that campus, but I’d prefer to go there fishing and hang out with Mark Few.”

But, Pearl added he does have a complaint.

“I just think about our fans and our players’ parents, and I think about the families that are trying to get out there,” Pearl said.

“The pod system was created so that you didn’t have to do this. That’s my only complaint. We’re leaving on Tuesday to play a game on Friday in another time zone. I’d love to leave Tuesday night, but we had to leave early afternoon. We had to miss class. And then, whoever is fortunate enough, but we know that if we win, and if we’re blessed to win, we don’t leave until Monday. Where should we go if we leave Monday? Come back to Auburn?”

If Auburn advances past the first and second round, the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds will be held in Boston, Mass. Whether Auburn simply travels on Monday from Spokane to Boston, or tries to travel back to Auburn and turn around and travel to Boston on Tuesday remains to be seen. The Tigers have to win two games first.

Auburn has the fourth-longest travel to their first-round site of any team in the tournament. It’s 2,468 miles from Auburn to Spokane. Only Charleston to Spokane, Yale to Spokane and Oregon to Pittsburgh have longer trips. Of course, Charleston is a 13-seed, along with Yale, while Oregon is a 11-seed.

4-seed Kansas only travels around 1,000 miles to Salt Lake City, while other 4-seed Duke only travels around 450 miles to Brooklyn. Final 4-seed Alabama travels over 2,220 miles to Spokane, but Alabama didn’t win a championship. Neither did Kansas. There are 21 double-digit seeded teams that will travel half as far as Auburn to their first-round location.

The NCAA first implemented the “pod system” in 2002. The goal is to keep teams, particularly higher-seeded teams (1-4), close to home as much as possible for first and second-round games. The NCAA’s own guidelines say this:

Teams will remain in or as close to their areas of natural interest as possible, as determined by mileage from campus to the venue. A team moved out of its natural area will be placed in the next closest region to the extent possible. If two teams from the same natural region are in contention for the same bracket position, the team ranked higher in the seed list shall remain in its natural region.”

Tennessee earned the No. 2 seed in the Midwest. Kentucky earned the No. 3 seed in the South. Conference foes and their seeding might have played a part in pushing Auburn away from a more natural initial location.

Seeding the bracket isn’t an easy task, there are many considerations, but Pearl’s main point is this: Evaluate recent tournament teams and where they originate from, and then possibly adjust first and second-round pod locations to better accommodate teams that deserve to play closer to home, but aren’t because the pod system is spreading locations all across the country, potentially unnecessarily.

“Rather than just complaining about things, my advice would be to do a study on where the teams are in the country that are making the tournament and if there’s a preponderance of teams in the southern part of the country, or the west, or northeast, then have more pods in those locations,” Pearl said.

“We’re very excited about being in it, but that would be something, I would not be doing my job as part of the process with the NCAA. I’m just a coach, but I’m part of it.”

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