Saturday, March 08, 2008

10 Championship Week stories

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it's Championship Week. Finally. College hoops is now down to its brass tacks, it's nitty-gritty, its fish-or-cut-bait time ... whatever peculiar, idiomatic metaphor you choose to imply that this is the nut-cutting stretch of the season, it's appropriate. C-to-the-Dub Week tips off in about two hours, thank everything holy. (By the way, if you need the best possible CW reference, check out the Bracket Board's One-Stop Shop. Invaluable.) Brackets are loosed a week from Sunday. Mmmmm ... basketball that matters.

So here's the 20 stories yours truly is most closely following over the next week-plus, the single best eight days (yeah, I said it) of the annual American sports calendar:

1. Cornell! Not CW related, really, but I pretty much resigned myself a couple of years ago to never seeing the Ivy represented by a school other than the Killer P's in my lifetime. The polar ice caps would melt, the brain-sucking aliens would descend, the zombies would conquer Congress, giant fanged butterflies would roam the skies, and come Selection Sunday there would still be Jim Nantz's head-in-a-jar telling you Princeton was a 13 seed in the South facing the Nevada Institute for the Genetically Enhanced. So I'll believe Cornell got the bid when I see them in the bracket and not a moment before.

2. Will Kent St. finish the job? The poor, poor benighted MAC. Year after year the MAC's had to stand by like the last kid picked on the playground and watch as every other decent mid-major league grabbed a second or third NCAA bid, while their own representatives felt the back of the NCAA's hand (and snakebitten Akron, as you've probably heard by now, somehow got left out of last year's NIT with a 26-7 record, setting some sort of Guiness World's Record for athletic unfairness.) That looks poised to change this year with Kent St. They've got the requisite RPI. They've got the signature win. At 12-3, at the moment they have the sufficiently gaudy conference record. But they don't have a bid yet. They visit Akron and then head to Cleveland for the always-terrifying MAC tourney. Lose two in a row (certainly plausible) and the bid is toast. There's work to do.

3. Who's going to make the most ridiculous condescending/obnoxious/ill-informed remark towards mid-majors as Selection Sunday approaches? Billy Packer is the all-time reigning champ in this category, of course, but my money's always on Jay "You're inviting these teams to play for a championship" Bilas, who I really think I might wind up kicking squarely in the testicles if I met him. I wouldn't mean to. It would be a reflex. I mean, it's Jay Bilas. Kicking Jay Bilas in the balls is like breathing; you don't have to think about it, it's just something your body does on its own.

4. Will we have a valid 16-seed upset candidate? I don't necessarily believe that the Atlantis/Loch Ness monster of bracketology, the 16-over-1 upset, is "bound to happen someday." Much as we gripe, the Committee's still light-years ahead of where they were seeding-wise back in the '80s; a team as strong as the legendary 1989 Princeton squad wouldn't be saddled with a 16 today. But hope springs eternal and all that, and right now it looks like we might have one 16 seed with a reasonable shot: Portland St., who Lunardi's had as a 16 off-and-on and pops up in various other bracket projections on that line as well. True, the Vikings don't have a lot on the resume that really suggests "giant slayer in waiting" (having been less than competitive in both their Pac-10 shots) but the Big Sky has some tradition of pulling stunners and PSU's top-100 RPI says they can play at least a little bit. Of course, first they have to survive the Big Sky tourney, but having clinched homecourt via the league title, I have a hunch Pete Carrill will be rooting for them somewhere come the NCAA's opening round.

5. Speaking of potential 16 seeds, who's getting the play-in shaft this year if there's a MEAC upset? If you'll recall, a Niagara team that was arguably 15-seed quality got dumped into the play-in game last year when SWAC champ Jackson St. and surprise MEAC champ Florida A&M were the pretty clear-cut bottom two teams in the field ... and the Committee decided that rather than endure the potential (and completely appropriate) sh*tstorm that might result from pairing two HBCU schools in the the play-in, they'd just wuss out and give some other unfortunate team a completely undeserved shafting. Don't look now, but the SWAC champ's a lock for Dayton--Alabama St. has the league's best RPI at 203 (!). Particularly if there's an upset in the NEC, Ohio Valley, or Patriot (or surprise league leader Lamar actually grabs the ring in the Southland) MEAC one-seed Morgan St. could legitimately avoid the play-in if they win the MEAC crown ... but if they don't? It will be very, very interesting to see if the Committee ducks the issue again and drops a clearly overqualified team like American or Austin Peay out of the bracket proper. (All just more evidence, of course, that as far as helpful "innovations" to sport go, the play-in game makes the designated hitter look like the idea to cut a whole in the bottom of the peach basket. It's a blight.)

6. The Davidson issue. I'm hoping like the proverbial bloody hell this one winds up a non-starter, and I think that's where the smart money is. No one in the SoCon really even came that close to knocking off the current mission-from-God Wildcats (the closest call was a two-point decision at Elon back when things were still being ironed out and in their season finale they routed the SoCon's second-best team, Georgia Southern, by 20) and the gap looks just too damn wide between Stephen Curry and Friends and anyone else to expect an upset. Let's pray that's the case, because reading a week's worth of this kind of cow excrement regarding a team that's won 20 friggin' games in a row, my blood pressure's going to go through the roof.

7. Speaking of potential snubs ... who's getting the snub? I'm with the Hoops Junkie ... As far as mid-majors go, it's not so much Selection Sunday as it is Snub Sunday. After seeing mids with an RPI of 21, a 17-1 conference record, or a half-dozen RPI road top-100 W's all kept out of the field the last few years, I think we've reached the point where we can safely assume that whatever criteria the Committee can use to justify excluding some qualified mid-major on the Bubble, that's what they'll focus on. This year? I'm guessing "conference performance" is out and "high RPI" is in, leaving VCU out of the field when George Mason puts together their run. It won't be fair--VCU won the #13 RPI conference by three full games and beat two other at-large candidates in Maryland and Houston--but that's Snub Sunday.

8. Continuing with potential Committee gripes, how low will Butler and Drake go? Remember the good old days when Gonzaga would roll to a 29-3 regular season record, get "rewarded" with a 6-seed, and become so flustered by the ensuing uproar they lost to Wyoming in the first round? Wait, those weren't "good" days, they were despicable days ... and with neither Drake not Butler having any top-notch BCS pelts hanging on their wall, I'm worried they're going to be here again this year. My guess is one of the two ends up a wholly unfair 7-seed or worse.

9. The Big MAAC. Is any conference tourney more intriguing for the casual fan? Four teams--Siena, Rider, Loyola, and Niagara--all of which enjoy moving up and down the floor, all of which essentially tied for the league title, all battling for the single bid. I know K-Dub's been all over this, but this is why Champion Week rocks the way Championship Week rocks ... hoops distilled to its best and purest essence, and all that.

10. Three-bid fun! Upsets in the one-bid leagues (like, say, Tennessee St. potentially undoing Austin Peay's good work later today) sorta suck--the more quality bullets in Chaos's chamber entering the Tourney, the happier I am--but no, I'm not exactly going to shed tears when Syracuse's job gets harder because the WCC might land three teams when San Diego wins the whole thing at home in the best-nicknamed arena in the land. (Remember? It's named after Jenny Craig, so they call it the Slim Gym. Genius.) Which I'd wager they will--the Toreros are a solid team (we all know they beat Kentucky, but they played a genuinely rough nonconference slate and running the WCC table outside of SMC and the Zags is just as impressive) and teams that know they have to win to get in always have that slight edge over the teams that say they do ... but also have that small part that believes they don't.

Which is all the MoVal "Curse" talk (the league champ hasn't won the tourney since 19-dickety-two, or whatever) that's been tossed around the last few weeks amounts to. If you've won the Missouri Valley, you're in. There's not a lot of question about it. Hunger matters. And it will again, because Creighton ... Creighton is still Creighton (they have Booker Woodfox, after all) and they're not getting in without beating Drake and Illinois St. If they do ... is that three bids for the Valley? Given the weakness of the major-conference bubble at the moment (and that ISU was a decisive second in the Valley), I have to think it is.


Anonymous said...


Preach on brother. As a Davidson grad (with 2 Auburn siblings), I have written similar sentiments about Bilas and the committee's various contortions of logic employed to screw the little guys.

Come visit us at our forum,


Jerry Hinnen said...

"Contortions" is without question the right word. I'm rooting for the Wildcats. Best of luck.