Here’s who the NCAA screwed (and more on the tournament)
Compared with last year’s debacle, the field for the 2014 NCAA tournament seems to make some sense. There’s probably one more team than necessary from the ACC, one too few from the Big East and deservedly six representatives from the A-10. Larry Brown’s team didn’t make it; probably shouldn’t have lost those six games in America’s Conference. But hey, the selection committee needed to make room in the field for N.C. State.
Based on the RPI, these are the worst teams included and best teams left out (shown with ESPN’s BPI rating at right):
Interestingly, Southern Mississippi was in almost exactly the same position last season: 35 RPI and a ticket to the NIT. If there’s any lesson from Virginia Tech, who used to be in the same circumstance every year, it’s don’t fire the coach! How has that worked out for Virginia Tech?
What did Phil Martelli say?
Does the selection committee have it out for the Hawks? St. Joseph’s won the Atlantic 10 title in a thrilling game against VC “don’t start no stuff, won’t be no stuff” U on Sunday. As a reward, the Hawks received a 10-seed, while the league’s top Rams earned a 5-seed. Now VCU’s RPI and ranking from ESPN make that 5 seem reasonable. But 10 for the gregarious Phil Martelli seems a little harsh, not to mention sticking them on a path straight to a Big 5 game in round 2 with Villanova. Real cute, guys.
Crazier still, UMass is a 6-seed from this league. No doubt they should be in the field, but four seeds ahead of a team that a) finished higher in the standings and b) won three more games in the conference tournament? Hard to explain that. Then again, these are the same folks who put the winner of the Big East tournament in at an 11-seed. (Providence won two of three meetings with Creighton and ended up eight full seeds below the Jays.)
Based on the RPI/seeding chart below, Texas seems to have gotten a pretty sweet deal. Everything always comes up roses for Rick Barnes. New Mexico, Kentucky, Gonzaga, BYU and Colorado were not so lucky. Their high seeds stick out from the pattern below. Looks like everyone on the committee goes to bed too early to watch those left-coast teams. Both rating systems strongly agree that Kentucky is better than an 8-seed. The same is true with less vigor for Gonzaga. ESPN’s rating system really likes Pitt and Iowa, likely due to schedule strength. Or it could be the network’s conference television agreement. Who’s to say.
Then there’s North Dakota State. These guys are the Bison, not to be confused with the Fighting Sioux of the U. of North Dakota. (At this point, how has neither team claimed the name Frackers? That would be awesome!) ND State, 25-6, which has the RPI rank one spot ahead of Texas, 35, has been assigned a 12-seed, while the Longhorns are a 7. And the NCAA thinks this is being generous! Actual headline on the NCAA’s official website: No. 12 seed is about respect for NDSU. Respect? That would be an 8 seed, exactly what you would get if you ranked the teams purely on RPI.
Certainly Duke is Duke…
As Pete Gillen will tell you, they’re on TV more than Leave it to Beaver… reruns. So it’s no surprise then that one of the most popular teams for television also happens to be one of the teams the NCAA takes the most care of with regard to travel. While fellow 3-seeds get to hop on plane to San Antonio — Iowa State will travel 1,005 miles and Creighton 919 miles — Mike Krzyzewski’s team will take a leisurely jaunt over to Raleigh, which is basically where they would have to go to get to the airport anyway.
Here’s a fun fact: 2014 will be the seventh time in the past nine tournaments to offer a first-round site in North Carolina that the Blue Devils will be starting there. (There were no N.C. venues last season or in 2010.) Only twice since Chris Duhon graduated (2004) has Duke had to actually go on the road. Just the way Vlad Putin likes it.
And would it kill the people running this tournament to actually put more games in the northeastern United States, where people actually live? Sure, MSG scored a coup this season by getting a regional site. Great. But there is no excuse for not having a first round site every year in one of the large, Big East cities.
The play-in games
Another thing that continues to be wrong with the tournament setup is the stupid play-in games. The problem isn’t that they exist, although 68 teams is really pushing the upper bounds on this event. What doesn’t make sense is putting automatic qualifying teams in these games. The NCAA does it every year to the would-be 16-seeds from small conferences.
Look, no one is saying Cal Poly (13-19), Mount St. Mary’s (16-16) or Albany (18-14) are great teams. But the fact is they were determined to be the champions of one of the 30 conferences not called the Ivy League that determines its best team by an arbitrary postseason tournament. Whatever. These teams should be in the tournament, full stop. They should get to experience the thrill of having stupid people pencil them in brackets, hearing their game called by Bill Raftery and not having to go to Dayton, Ohio.
The better application of the play-in games is to actually let marginal, bubble teams play their way in to the tournament. The NCAA sort of did this with the expansion to 68 teams, making actual 11- and 12-seeds face off. But they kept the system of matching up two 16-seed auto-qualifiers for two of these games, ensuring that at least two actual conference champions will not be in the real tournament. This is fairness to the NCAA.
Coming Thursday: the tournament all-name team!