Monday, March 12, 2012
NCAA Tournament Thoughts and Provocations
I love the NCAA tournament. This week is my favorite week in the entire year. From Selection Sunday until the final game the following Sunday, I am addicted to basketball. There is nothing more thrilling to me in the entire sports world. Where else can you find a better guarantee for closely contested games, overtime, upsets, and pure mayhem? I submit that you cannot. This tournament is the best television I will watch all year. Nobody can deny it. But let's get on with some commentary.
Biggest Snub: Washington
While a lot of attention is going to Drexel, to me Washington is clearly a bigger snub. The teams are actually rather similar in a way. They are nearly identical in RPI (Drexel at 71, Washington at 69). They both won their conferences regular season title, but failed to win the conference tournament title.
The only real difference here is that Washington plays in the Pac-12 and Drexel plays in the … uh … Colonial Athletic Association. I know the Pac-12 is not on par with the ACC, Big East, Big 10, or Big 12 for basketball any longer, but winning the Pac-12 regular season title should mean a bid in the tournament. It's not like it was a bad conference record, they went 14-4. That's good! Washington's problem is the fact that they had some terrible losses in their non-conference schedule … and no decent wins. They lost to Saint Louis: reasonable. They lost to Nevada in overtime: not good. They lost to South Dakota State … by 19 … at home: embarrassing. Not to take away anything from the Jackrabbits, whom I love, but that's a rough loss.
At the same time, the Huskies didn't have the easiest of non-conference schedules. They played tough against Marquette, losing by two, and also well against Duke, losing by six. Put those games into the context of the tournament, Washington scores a hypothetical 11-seed, wins an upset in the first round over a 6-seed, then plays 3-seeded Marquette for a trip to the Sweet 16, and loses by two points. I'd watch that game. Sounds like March Madness to me.
What killed the Huskies — aside from the three bad non-conference losses — was their early exit from the Pac-12 tournament. Their first game loss to Oregon State hurt their chances quite a lot.
On the other side, Drexel lost to Norfolk State, Virginia, and St. Joseph's in non-conference play. They had no games against ranked opponents. I think Drexel's losses are worse than Washington's. Most people just can't see that because Drexel losing to Norfolk State seems, well, reasonable since they are in conferences of similar power. But Washington losing to South Dakota State seems horrendous since Washington is in the Pac-12 and the Jackrabbits are in the Summit League.
Norfolk State is in the tournament, a No. 15 seed in the West, facing Missouri in their first game. South Dakota State is in the tournament, a No. 14 seed, facing Baylor in their first game.
Drexel's strength of schedule was 224; Washington's was 88. As I see it, Washington has the advantage as biggest snub over Drexel in every category save one: Drexel's mascot is way cooler. Dragons will always destroy Huskies.
I think you could also make an argument for Oral Roberts as biggest snub, their big win over Xavier looked pretty good at the time, as Xavier was ranked ninth in the country, but Xavier's fall from the rankings left that win rather impotent.
In the end, 14-4 and regular season champions in the Pac-12 has to be more impressive than 17-1 and regular season champions of the Summit League or 16-2 and regular season champions of the Colonial Athletic Association.
Biggest Surprise: BYU
What? You thought I'd say Iona? Sorry, but Iona didn't shock me. They were 40th in RPI. They lost to Purdue in their opening game by one point. They beat Maryland (who admittedly had a bad year) by 26 in their third game. They had seven losses overall. They played well all season.
In fact, Iona is a truly dangerous team in this tournament. They averaged more points than any other team in Division I at 83.3. They're number one in assists with 19.3 per game. And they are second overall in field goal percentage, shooting over 50% on the season. That is not a team I want to play in the tournament. Marquette better be ready for them.
I like BYU. I didn't think they as a team were a huge surprise. Their body of work was solid. What was surprising is that they made it as the third team from the West Coast Conference. That means the West Coast Conference has more teams in the tournament than the Pac-12.
Yeah, I think Washington should have had BYU's spot.
Too High: Alabama
Can somebody tell me why Alabama is even in this tournament? What is their valuable win in this season? Wichita St.? They were 9-7 in an overrated SEC. Kentucky is great, don't get me wrong, and Vanderbilt is solid, but Florida is not that good and Alabama is worse. Alabama getting a nine seed is at least four seeds too high. They should have been a 13. I'd take every single 12-seed over Alabama.
Too Low: Creighton
Alabama's first round matchup should have been a 5 vs. 12 or a 4 vs. 13. A lot of the best mid-major teams got lower rankings than they should have. Wichita State at a five seed pleased me, but I thought they were a better four seed than Michigan, Indiana, or Wisconsin. I think Creighton was in the same boat. A solid 6-seed if not a 5-seed.
Murray State also got seeded a few too low. I thought they could have been a 3 instead of Georgetown. Memphis was also rather low for my taste.
Geography Fail: UNC and Duke
I thought Missouri should have had UNC's No. 1 seed and that Duke should have been a No. 3, giving way to Marquette or Florida Sate. Neither should have gotten any geographical advantage. They are both playing in Greensboro, a whole one-hour drive away from both campuses. That bothers me.
Most Intriguing Second Round Matchup: Wichita State vs. VCU
In any other tournament, Wichita State would have been the 12, not the 5, and I would have taken them over any power conference school in a 5-seed, but VCU has my attention. Their top five scorers were all on a VCU team that made a run to the Final Four last season. Experience is powerful in the tournament. Think about Butler making consecutive runs to the championship game. Their 2011 team was not as talented as their 2010 team, but that experience from 2010 helped them make another run. Could we see something similar from VCU?
In the end, I think Wichita State simply had a bad draw, the worst draw in the tournament in fact. We'll see what happens.
Most Intriguing Potential Third Round Matchup: Kentucky vs. UConn
The second game for all of the number ones is going to be a little more interesting than I think they'd like, but the defending champion is no fun, especially when we're talking a rematch of one of last year's semifinal matchups. Who knows if the Huskies will even beat the Iowa State Cyclones? But UConn vs. Kentucky sounds much more like a Final four game than a first weekend game.
Biggest Opening Round Upset: No. 12 Long Beach State Over No. 5 New Mexico
Not very bold, I know. I find the 13s rather weak in this tournament. I think 14s are actually stronger than the 13s. I'm on the fence about Belmont beating Georgetown. I may change my bracket before Thursday to an upset. I also won't be shocked if South Dakota State beats Baylor, but that's not an upset for my bracket.
First Number One Out: Michigan State
If Memphis doesn't beat them in their second game, Louisville will get them in their third. Then again, Creighton over UNC sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
Lowest Seed in the Sweet 16: 11 (NC State)
Georgetown looks vulnerable to me. Belmont could beat them in their first game, either San Diego State or NC State would be a tough matchup and I like the Wolfpack making a run in the Midwest.
Toughest Region: West
I truly think Michigan State, Missouri, Marquette, Louisville, Murray State, Memphis, and Long Beach State all have a shot to win this region.
Easiest Region: Midwest
I think UNC's toughest opponent in this region will be Creighton.
Final Four: Kentucky, Florida State, UNC, Missouri
Florida State is playing very well right now. I think they are well coached and good enough on the boards to be in the Final Four. Kentucky and UNC are obvious choices. I struggled with choosing Missouri, but my gut tells me Marquette is going to choke, despite all logic.
Champion: Florida State
To me, this tournament will play out like a mild version of last year's tournament. In 2011, UConn won the Big East tournament, got a 3-seed, and continued on to a national title. In 2012, Florida State won the ACC tournament and will cruise through the bracket, knocking off team after team on their way to cutting down the nets.