Thursday, March 3, 2011

Here We Go Again

By Paul Foeller

Duke Blue Devils "earn" another one-seed.

Let me start by saying that the Blue Devils are not a bad team. As a matter of fact, they're well above-average. But just like last year, they're also ranked entirely too high. All season long, they've beaten only three teams that are locks for the tournament (North Carolina, Kansas State, and Temple) — and that's it.

Given that, one might be left wondering why Duke would even be considered for a top-seed. I can think of two reasons that the Blue Devils will find themselves atop another regional bracket, and quite frankly, both of them make me sick every year around this time.

The first reason is that they're Duke. You may not like it (personally, I hate it), but it doesn't matter to the money-crazed Selection Committee. They see a team that will draw a bigger audience, and in turn fill the pockets of the higher-ups in college basketball and so before the season is even over, some of them have decided that, with rare exception, teams like Duke must be penciled-in as the one-seeds.

Last year's Duke team almost undoubtedly wouldn't have even made it to the Final Four, let alone won a national championship, had they been in any other regional bracket. Don't expect this year's version of the Blue Devils to have a more difficult road than that group did. The Selection Committee is smart enough to realize that there's just not enough money in it if they do.

The second reason they'll get an undeservedly easy path to the Final Four is that the Selection Committee won't bother to look at the schedule Duke has faced. Believe it or not, the ACC has a lower Conference RPI than the MWC. So it's a given that BYU and San Diego State will get higher seeds than Duke in the tournament, right?

If you think the answer to that question is yes, you have way too much faith in the intelligence of the Selection Committee. It stands to reason that teams who not only have a better record, but have amassed that record against better top-to-bottom competition, would be considered the better teams. But when have the powers that be in college basketball ever been accused of standing for reason?

Another mid-major shocks the world by beating a one-seed early in the tournament.

To begin with, I'd like to clarify something about this headline.

I'm not talking about a BYU-type mid-major, or any other team that everyone has had their eyes one for some time now. I'm talking about a team like last year's Northern Iowa team that some said was ranked too high as a nine-seed. I'm talking about a team that comes out of nowhere to shock the world.

The stage is set for another crazy, surprise-filled tournament. There isn't a single team that looks like they should be able to run away with it. Even the teams that have stayed in the top-five all year long haven't dominated even the bottom-feeding teams in their own conference.

Given the relative weakness of the top of the field this year, we may even have more than one Northern Iowa-type Cinderella team dominating headlines in this tournament. So to clarify on this prediction, I'm saying a one-seed will lose to a team currently not in the top 25 sometime before the party moves to Indianapolis.

No Big East teams reach the Final Four.

Is the Big East the best conference in the nation? Absolutely. Could there conceivably be 11 Big East teams in the tournament? Sure. But even the top of the conference is anything but a sure bet against quality opponents.

The four highest ranked Big East teams (Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville, and Syracuse) have played a combined total of one road game against out-of-conference opponents. That came when Louisville beat Western Kentucky convincingly three days before Christmas — and eight days after losing a home game to Drexel. Along the same lines, the Big East teams currently ranked in the top-25 are winning 57% of their road games overall. Ranked Big Ten teams are winning 68% of their road games and ranked Big 12 teams are winning 60% of their road games.

Again, I'm not saying the Big East is a bad conference, or even denying that it's by far the best top-to-bottom conference in the nation. But I don't like the chances of a Big East team against elite competition away from their own home court.

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