Sunday, March 15, 2009

Selection Sunday Redux

I plan on releasing my full NCAA Brackets at some point this week. Not sure exactly what day just yet. I’ve haven’t quite decided what my Final Four is going to be nor have I figured out which first round upset I’m going to pick. For now just a few quick-hitter thoughts and some advise in filling out your brackets:

Kudos to the Selection Committee. I was in transit to NYC during the 6 o’ clock selection show, and I fully expected to turn on ESPN when I got to my apartment and see Dicky V ranting and raving about what team got snubbed from the Big Dance, “ARE YOU SERIOUS BABY WITH A CAPITAL S!!!! DIPSY DOO HOSE-A-ROOO!!!”

To my surprise, however, the NCAA Tournament Selection by and large got it right. In fact in all the years I’ve been following college basketball this may be the best job of selecting and seeding teams that I’ve seen. My one gripe is about too many Big Ten teams represented in the field of 64, but that’s also my gripe every year (more below).

During an interview with ESPN, The President of the Selection Committee said that Saint Mary’s was the first team left out. Therefore, we can assume the final debate same down to: Arizona (at a 12 seed the highest seeded at-large team in the field of 64) vs. Saint Mary’s. I completely agree with choosing Arizona over Saint Mary’s. Although, Saint Mary’s has a gaudier win-loss record and presumably a higher RPI (computer formula ranking), I’ve always felt that it’s not a matter of computer rankings or number of wins that should determine who makes the NCAA’s but rather: who have you beaten? What good wins do you have?

Arizona holds quality wins this year over: Kansas, Gonzaga, San Diego State, USC and UCLA. While Saint Mary’s best win is over an NIT bound Providence squad. Moreover, the best team they played the entire year (Gonzaga) beat them twice.

In making your selections be wary of the BIG TEN. Every year the Big Ten (which by the way is a ridiculous name for a conference with 11 schools….seriously) gets a six or seven teams in the “Big Dance” and then by the second weekend there is maybe one left. Like clockwork they got 7 teams there again this year.

I have many theories as to why the Big Ten has always gotten so many teams in the NCAA tourney and then had so many bow out early. In fact, many of these are the same reasons why the Big Ten has such a poor college football bowl record as well.

These reasons include but are not exclusive to: inferior athletes, television exposure which inflates the value of teams leading to higher than warranted rankings (looking squarely at you Michigan State), huge alumni bases that travel well making them financially attractive postseason selections, a slow-down brand of half court basketball which may work in conference play but does not lend itself to the frantic full court type games which occur in March.

Another problem is that they get teams into the tourney based on performance in the Big Ten regular season….but how much value should we assess to that?

Take Wisconsin as an example. They played three tournament teams in their non-conference schedule…and lost all three: Marquette, to UConn on a neutral court by 20, and to Texas at home. Therefore, the reason they made the field of 64 was because of their “strong” 10-8 Big Ten record.

But what does a 10-8 record in the Big Ten mean? Is that even really any good? If you have a slightly winning record in a conference that perennially disappoints in the post-season, has lost EVERY…I repeat EVERY ACC/Big Ten Challenge contested (there have been 10), and whose best team (Michigan State) lost in their backyard in Detroit earlier this season to a shorthanded UNC team by 35 points….does that even make you a good team? Probably not.

For these reasons I’m going to pick against the Big Ten again this year.

Be wary of so called “Hot Teams”. Every year there are teams that come into the NCAA tourney on a roll. They’ve won a number of games in a row and/or made deep runs in their conference tournaments. These teams usually become very popular, chic picks to win a bunch of games in some people’s brackets.

However, in many instances these teams disappoint with early exits. An example that comes to mind is the streaky Syracuse team that, in 2006, won 4 games to claim the Big East Tournament Title and then were upset in the first round by a more consistent Texas A&M team.

Mississippi State comes in hot this year, having won the SEC title today, and will be a popular pick to upset Washington in the first round. Hint: I wouldn’t be so quick to take that upset.

Since some teams have to wait five, six, or seven days from the end of their respective conference tournaments to play their first round NCAA Tournament games. With that type of lay off match-ups become more important than momentum.

Some other “hot” teams to be careful of: USC, Purdue, Oklahoma State, and Maryland

Good luck with your brackets. I’ll release mine soon.

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