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Coaches Corner: How to Make Seeding Basketball Sectionals Work

Coach's Corner: Tim Chase

While much debate the last few months involves the shot clock, another change that came through that did not receive as much debate was the process of seeding of the state tournament.

I believe the intended goal of altering the seeding of the state tournament is to provide the best teams a path to the state championship. But what happens when the two best teams are in the same sectional? Also, how many teams get tired of playing the same team over and over again every year? Some teams end up playing multiple teams three times in one year when their regional turns into a conference championship. Playing new teams is exciting and will help grow basketball throughout the state. We need a system that promotes this change.

Some people may appreciate the rivalries. While I believe that is great for conference play, the tournament should be about getting the best teams playing at each round. Last year state ranked #3 Pewaukee played #7 Eisenhower in a round of 32 game. #1 Edgewood played #2 Whitewater in a sweet 16 game. Two undefeated teams in Aquinas and Melrose-Mindoro played in a sweet 16 game. These are the kind of games that should be at a sectional final or state tournament. Getting the best teams playing each other at the end of the year will help grow basketball because these are great games that no one saw unless local to those areas. If those kinds of games are played at state, more enthusiasm will be produced for the game.

Here is my dream of the tournament series:

Step #1: Use the Current Model of How the WIAA Splits Teams into Sectionals

This will provide a baseline for starting the process.

Step #2: Seed the Whole Sectional.

This is already done at Division 1 in some sectionals. Right off the bat more variety is necessary because we will get several different match-ups than what the current system allows. Some teams never have the opportunity to compete against the other half of the sectional. This option this will aid in the competitive balance in the event that one half is stronger than the other.

Step #3: Regionals

A big objection to step 2 is travel distance. One way to remedy this issue would be to move the first round to Saturday instead of Tuesday. After the play-in game, each division would have their 64 team bracket. From there, the regional format would continue as it is currently played with the higher seed hosting throughout the regional championship.

Step #4: Seed the Sweet 16

This proposed step will likely trigger some debate. After regionals, each sectional will have four teams. Those teams will then be seeded 1-4 based on their previous seed. The top seed at each sectional will be the #1 seed for that sectional. The #’s 2, 3 and 4 will all come from a different sectional. So an example of this change would include the Sectional 1 #1 playing Sectional 4 # 4, while the Sectional 2 #2 plays Sectional 3 #3. Winners play with a trip on the line to state in the sectional final. The sectionals that face off against one another can be rotated each year.

Every sectional has four representatives from different areas of the state, and this promotes the best teams getting to the state tournament during sectionals. The variation that teams and fans across the state will see should create extra buzz, thereby giving it more of an NCAA Tournament feel.

While following the proposed plan, these could have been the four brackets of four in D1 last year: Appleton North would be a top seed and would face DSHA with the winners of that matchup playing the winners of Sun Prairie and Hamilton. Germantown would be a top seed playing Middleton with the winners squaring off against the winners of DC Everest and Oak Creek. Milwaukee King would have been a top seed playing Chippewa Falls with the winners of that game playing the winners of De Pere and Madison East. Finally, Mukwonago would be a top seed playing Sheboygan North with the winners playing the winners of Appleton West and Brookfield Central.

Instead of having conference match-ups in sectionals or having the same match-ups year after year, just look at the new match-ups that have been created. This is a great way for the whole state to see new teams. I truly believe most coaches, players and fans want to see their teams playing different opponents.

In order to carry out this model, it would make sense for the sectionals-semi to be switched from Thursday to Friday. For teams that travel a lot, the Thursday-Saturday sectional is very demanding. Currently, teams may have long travel for a Thursday sectional game often not getting home until much later with a school day to follow. Switching to a Friday-Saturday sectional would alleviate a lot problems for the teams that have to travel. The sectionals used to be done this way at one location. It is one change that has been much harder for certain teams to deal with than others who may face less travel time.

Step #5: Keep the State Tournament as It Is

We have a final four field that has earned their spot. This year they are seeding the state tournament. Seeding at this stage is just a bit too late. Seeding at the sectional level would be a better way to produce the most entertaining games and promote getting the best teams into the final four.

A few problems I foresee could include gyms being booked on a Friday for both a girls sectional and boys regional. We could move up game times. We do this for so many spring sports right now, so it could be done for basketball as well. Obviously, there would need to be some scheduling flexibility. Some sites like a college campus, may even want to host multiple sectionals. A lot of these issues can be solved with forward thinking.

Weather is always a concern. If a game gets postponed for a regional it would not change much because their seed will be determined after all the regional championships are finished. Teams that travel for a sectional may have to plan based on the weather.

Travel cost could also be a serious concern. However, we are talking about the WIAA Tournament Series. What is more special than that for a high school basketball player? Communities and schools will find a way to get this done for the 80 schools that get the opportunity to play in sectionals.

Imagine Pius, Slinger, Onalaska, and Stoughton in a D2 sectional. Hayward, Oostburg, Marshall, and Mayville in D3. Colfax, Cuba City, Thorp, and Algoma in D4. Clayton, Newman, Black Hawk, and Bangor in D5. Each of these sectionals would create excitement because these teams are from different parts of the state. Each division would also have three more sectionals that look just like these.

Obviously, there are several logistical challenges that would need to be addressed to carry out the plan that has been mapped out. However, I strongly believe that there are many coaches, fans, and players that would like to see more variety in who their respective teams play. This is the type of plan that could also make its way into other sports as well. I can think of several other sports that have loaded sectionals. One of the biggest days for a high school sports team is when the sectional pairings are released months before the season even starts. Under the suggested plan, the top four teams in any sectional will have the opportunity to compete for a trip to state against a variety of teams, as opposed to facing off against the same teams that they play in sectionals year after year. People want to see the best teams playing at state and not having the state tournament field decided by the sectional placements. It is definitely something to think about during a time where we are making changes for the betterment of the game.

Written by Beaver Dam girls basketball coach Tim Chase, who has coached for more than 20 years and led the Golden Beavers to an undefeated Division 2 state title in 2017.

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