Seeds Matter, Delay for Brackets Not As Much, Coaches Agree

By Stephen Sports
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After a long day and night of wondering who teams will play in their Western Massachusetts tournament openers and, for some, a little time wasted thinking about the wrong opponent, the consensus among coaches who shared their thoughts with was pretty clear.
They would rather know the seeds are correct than have an extra day to plan for a specific foe.
Wednesday’s Western Mass soccer seeding meeting was supposed to be the official kickoff to the post-season in the section for boys and girls teams. Instead, it was the start of 10 hours of confusion as, by mid afternoon, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association was forced to take the brackets down from its website because the power rankings used to seed teams were incorrectly calculated.
In the end, nearly every one of the 15 county teams in the tournament was affected in some way -- either by having their own seed adjusted or by having their opponent’s seed changed. None was more seriously impacted, perhaps, than the Hoosac Valley girls, who lost a No. 5 seed and a first-round home game in the Division 3 girls tournament. Most of the changes were not so dramatic, with teams shifting seeds by one or two places.
As the hours dragged on Wednesday night, posed a question to several of the area’s coaches: Given the trope, “It doesn’t matter where we’re seeded because we have to beat everyone eventually anyway,” does it really matter if your seed changes by one spot or, would you rather have the extra practice session -- in this case Wednesday -- to prepare for whoever you’re going to play in the first round?
The general consensus is that while knowing your opponent early can help, it is not critical this time of year. And those little movements in the brackets can make a big difference, so it is important that the seeding committee gets them right -- even if they have to reseed in order to do so.
“The higher you are, the easier the quarterfinal match is,” said Mount Greylock’s Blair Dils, whose boys went from No. 3 to No. 4 in Division 3. “And with the compressed schedule of the tournament, it's nice to be able to rest some starters toward the end of a quarterfinal game if it isn't that close. Being healthy and rested is most important to us.”
Drury boys coach John Jacobbe, whose team went from No. 3 to No. 4 when the MIAA reshuffled the deck, agreed that seemingly small changes to the brackets can have a big impact. Jacobbe pointed to an example from another sport he coaches, where just getting to the semi-final venue has an allure for teams.
“Seeding matters a lot because of matchups but the coach speak of, ‘You have to beat everyone to win,’ is also true,” Jacobbe said. “Last year in girls basketball we were trying to get the 5th seed because then we did not have to play Hoosac, Hampshire or South Hadley to get to the Cage. When we lost some games late and dropped to the 7th seed, we knew we would have to beat Hoosac or South Hadley away, which would be a much tougher challenge than beating Greenfield, who ended up being the 4th seed.”
Pittsfield girls coach Andy Waluszko was not concerned about what line his Generals ended up occupying.
“As a coach you do want the better seed and a potential home game,” Waluszko said. “It’s always nice playing at home in front of your fans and not having  to travel. But at the end of the day you do have to beat everybody.
“As to who we play, all the teams that make the tournament are very good (some better than others) so it really doesn’t matter. It’s a great accomplishment for a team to qualify and to keep your season going.”
The Generals ended up grabbing the No. 8 seed in the eight-team Division 1 tournament. In the bracket’s first incarnation, they were seeded seventh.
Lenox’s girls ended up moving from a second-seed to a third-seed, which, in and of itself, is not a major concern for Millionaires coach Kyle Zinchuk.
“I would say that the, ‘It doesn't matter where we're seeded,’ statement isn't just coach speak for the most part,” he said. “If your goal is only to get past the first round, then the seedings might make a big difference. But if your ultimate goal is to win the tournament, you have to expect that you are going to be playing and have to beat the top teams at some point.  
“That being said, depending on the specific case a change in one place can have an effect. For example, a switch of a 8/9 seed flips home field advantage. Depending on the number of teams, a small switch can also mean having a bye or not. Fortunately for us, our 2 to 3 seed change didn't affect much of that. We still have a bye, we still have to wait for the first round of games on Saturday to know who we're playing for sure, and we still have a home game. Big seed changes (like what Hoosac dealt with) obviously can carry some more weight.”
Zinchuk’s counterpart in the Lenox boys program, coach Matt Cote, was only marginally affected. The Millionaires started and ended the day as a No. 2 seed, but their potential quarter-final opponent went from the Pioneer Valley Christian-McCann Tech winner to the Pioneer Valley Christian-Smith Vocational winner.
Cote echoed a thought expressed by several coaches: tournament preparation is not so much about the opponent as it is his own team.
 “I'm not trying to be dismissive of the question here, but I don't really think that it is about preparation for a specific opponent at this point,” Cote said. “No. 3 to No. 2 or No. 9 to No. 8 matters very little, I'd say. We have to win three games, and instead of beating McCann/PVCA, Drury, Hopkins, it looks like we'll have to beat PVCA/Smith Voc, Mount Everett, and Hopkins.  Either way, it's more about us than them.
“No doubt I will scout those teams if possible, but if not, we will focus on being as good as we can be, and let the chips fall where they may.”
Pittsfield boys coach Andrew Antil, whose team ended up staying put at No. 8 in the Division 1 bracket, agreed.
“While it is good to scout opponents and find their star players, formations, tendencies, etc. so that we know what to expect, at the end of the day I believe in my system and my boys, so our main goal is to impose our system on the other team and force the opponent to play the game the way we want it played,” Antil said. “In my experience, the team that works hardest and smartest will take the upper hand. So in short, it is nice to know your opponent, but if neither team knows who they are playing until the last minute, it comes down to how well you can execute your own system.”
Of course, no one seeded lower than first is ever going to be completely satisfied with his or her placement in the bracket. But the bigger concern for Lenox’s Zinchuk is the seeds of doubt that were sewn when the tournament seeds were retracted.
“For me it's not so much that it is clearly more important to have the "right seed" or to know your first opponent a day earlier, but rather you just want to be able to move forward and know the path in front of you,” he said. “So when there's wholesale changes like some of the brackets saw yesterday, it immediately makes teams start to wonder ‘what if?’ with something that's not really in their control. It just adds an unnecessary distraction when it's not done right the first time.
“So that's going to be my message to the team, focus on your play and your preparation.  Take care of you, and let everything else take care of itself.”
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