Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Lessons From the 2013 NCAA Tournament
With the hangovers still pounding in Louisville (and Ann Arbor), the 2013 NCAA tournament is in the books. Despite the dramatics in Monday night's finale, it wasn't a pretty tournament. The play wasn't all that spectacular. The officiating was horrendous (horrrrrrrrrrrr-endous!!!!!). There weren't many transformational individuals and the most memorable story was Kevin Ware's broken leg.
Factor in the major distractions at Rutgers with Mike Rice and Pac-12 officiating version of bountygate — during Final Four week no less — and the NCAA could have had a better past few weeks.
With that said, the NCAA tournament is such a great product that the TV ratings were still through the roof at historic levels. And nobody is going into next March thinking, "Yeah, I normally love the tournament, but last year's wasn't awesome enough so I'm not going to do a bracket this year."
(And if they are, they're stupid and they probably never liked the tournament in the first place.)
So rather than dwell on this year's shortcomings, let's take a look at what transpired over the past few weeks and see what we can learn.
Lesson 1: In the absence of greatness, pick toughness. This was the thing I took the most away from this year's tournament. Louisville is a great example, but the best example came from Wichita State. The Shockers didn't even win the Missouri Valley, but they made the Final Four because they were the toughest team in their region.
The same lesson played out over and over. Minnesota over UCLA. Colorado State over Missouri. Marquette over Miami (without Reggie Johnson). Syracuse over Indiana. Michigan over Florida. Whenever a team was demonstrably tougher, that team usually won.
Lesson 2: Don't ever trust John Thompson III, Frank Haith, or Mark Few. Just don't. Ever. Each one of them may prove me wrong once in the next decade, but I'll take the trade-off of being right the other nine years.
Lesson 3: On the opposite end of the spectrum, don't bet against Brad Stevens, Shaka Smart, Sean Miller, or Roy Williams in the first round.
Lesson 4: Pay very close attention to the "Round 1" teams who play in Dayton. More specifically, pay attention to "Last Four In" teams, because one of the two winners is winning at least their first game, if not going further. VCU made the Final Four in 2011. South Florida won in a 12-5 upset in 2012. And La Salle made the Sweet 16 this year. This is what we in the business call a "trend."
Lesson 5: Well, not so much a lesson as a thought: I can't wait to see how some of these major power teams adjust to their new conferences next year. Teams are in large part a byproduct of their surroundings. If you're going to play a bruising Big East (as it was) or Big Ten schedule, you have to adjust to match that specific style of play. But over the next couple of years, teams will still be adjusting. So Maryland will still be playing ACC ball in the Big Ten. And Syracuse will still be playing Big East ball in the ACC. And who knows what the American Athletic Conference will be? Next year is going to be weird.
Lesson 6: When a team's stats look much better than they should for their seeding, it's usually because they're inconsistent, and that inconsistency will rear its head at the worst possible time. I call this The Pitt Rule.
Lesson 7: A note for any CBS producers out there — just because I guy develops a following for being snarky on Twitter or radio doesn't mean they'll be good at a studio show. I call this The Doug Gottlieb Rule.
Lesson 8: The major figures for next year's NCAA tournament are probably in high school right now. Of course there will be plenty of upperclassmen who make a huge impact, but it's going to be guys like Jabari Parker (Duke), Aaron Gordon (Arizona), and Andrew Wiggins (school undecided) who will be the major storylines. And of course you won't be able to walk within a mile of a season preview story that doesn't start and end talking about Kentucky's vaunted recruiting class.
Lesson 9: Then again, maybe not. Look at the top five classes (according to ESPN) for this year and how far they went in the tournament:
1. UCLA: Lost first round, thanks in part to Jordan Adams getting hurt in the Pac-12 tournament semifinal.
2. Kentucky: Didn't make the yournament and lost to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. Again an injury played a big role, but it's not like the Wildcats would have been Final Four-caliber even with Nerlens Noel.
3. Arizona: Sweet 16, losing on last-second three to Ohio State. With the entire class returning, the addition of Gordon, and the eligibility of transfer point guard T.J. McConnell, the Wildcats will be a major threat out west next season.
4. Texas: Didn't make the tournament, lost to Houston in the first round of the CBI. Nothing positive to say here.
5. Baylor: Didn't make the tournament, won the NIT. Scott Drew has shown he can collect talent. I'm not sure he's proven he can pull that talent into a cohesive consistent team yet.
Not exactly a whole lot of tournament credentials on that list.
Lesson 10: We haven't seen the last of "Cinderella" runs from 15 seeds, and a 16-seed upset over a one seed is coming. Last year, Norfolk State and Lehigh won their first-round games as 15 seeds. This year, Florida Gulf Coast took it a step further by making the Sweet 16. There's no reason to think this is an aberration. And if a 15 seed can do it, why can't a 16? Is there that much of a difference between FGCU and Southern, who put a real scare into Gonzaga? Is Georgetown really much worse than some of the weaker one seeds we've seen (again Gonzaga as an example)? The 16-1 upset coming. Prepare yourself now.
Until next year!