Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bracket impressions

In a stunning and unprecedented development, this guy's former program appeared to get favorable treatment from the NCAA Selection Committee.

Snub Sunday. As expected here and most places, VCU got the back of the Committee's hand. And while some stragglers still saw Illinois St. in the field even after Georgia's last-second "smash-and-grab," as the British footie press might have termed it, it's hardly surprising the Redbirds got the shun as well.

It's disappointing, and I don't begrudge any supporters of VCU or ISU their anger over the inclusion of the likes of Oregon or Kentucky, but to be perfectly honest these aren't snubs remotely on par with Drexel's exclusion last year, Missouri St.'s in 2006, and a dozen others over the past decade. Oregon would have been the team I would have expected to have possibly been left out in favor of VCU, but even the Ducks finished with eight top-100 RPI wins to VCU's three and four W's ranked better by the RPI than VCU's best. I personally still think the Ram's regular-season title outweighs those numbers, but only the blindest of optimists would have expected the Committee to think the same way.

Combine that with the fact that I'm not sure I ever remember having quite so few gripes with the seeding--and even those aren't really gripes on mid-majors' behalf so much as a general "Huh?" in the direction of some power-conference seed choices--and I think I generally have less to complain about with this particular Committee than any I can recall. (Not that this represents a huge length of time, but still.)

I do, of course, credit the fact the Committee was chaired by a mid-major guy for this (relative) success.

Missed opportunities. Let's be honest: there should have been more mid-majors in the field. A couple of times I've read/heard the bobbleheads saying that mids hadn't "taken advantage" of the soft bubble, and my knee-jerk reaction was that that wasn't the case: it's hardly every year the Sun Belt, SoCon, Horizon, and MAC all have at-large worthy teams.

But no. It's true. Mids didn't take advantage this year. VCU didn't get the win over either Miami or Arkansas in San Juan that might have made the difference. Illinois St. whiffed on three shots against Drake, any one of which likely would have given them a bid. No one else in the Valley made a charge. The usually reliable WAC completely collapsed. After years of devouring their own, the MAC field (like the Valley) couldn't upset its champion when it needed to. Ditto the Horizon.

Things could have been worse. South Alabama could have dropped another ugly Sun Belt game somewhere along the line. St. Mary's could have dropped that opener vs. Drake. But it's dishonest to say things couldn't have been a lot better, at least in terms of NCAA bids, for mid-majors as well.

Horn-tooting. Is that allowed? Anyway, the JCCW bracket guess below pegged all 65 teams (not that anyone I've seen missed less than one, aside from Stewart Mandel and his inexplicable decision to file his final projection before the SEC/Big-10 finals ... as an aside, do you think anyone at SI ever wonders why they have their asses handed to them number-of-hits-wise?), got 28 teams on their correct seed line, and was off by a line or less on 54. That's one fewer on the right line as Lunardi and one fewer on the "one line or less" metric. Not terrible for just the one full bracket I did this season, no? Of course, there's an excellent chance I miscounted, Lunardi probably did worse than everyone else (I haven't counted anywhere else), and it still doesn't dull the pain of missing on three teams last year. So I should probably do less tooting, actually. (UPDATE: B101 sez Lunardi did indeed do worse than his peers, but I think he did even worse on exact seeding than they think ... I've counted three times now and get 29 every time.)

It's not perfect, of course. There are some things I don't get with this bracket. In fairness to Mandel, I took the same view when it came to Kansas vs. Tennessee for the final 1-seed, but it turns out the Vols weren't even in the running, to judge by their pairing across from UNC. In fact, the Committee apparently despised the Vols: in addition to giving them a 2, in addition to putting them in the same bracket with Carolina, they handed them an atrocious likely second-round matchup against Butler. The Vols love to run and force turnovers; the Bulldogs are of course experts at slowing things to a crawl and turn the ball over never (which is why they handled the Vols with relative ease in their preseason NIT run last season). And, oh, I doubt the Bulldogs are all that worried about having to come to Birmingham--the BJCC just happened to be where they upset Miss. St. and Louisville on their way to the Sweet 16 in 2003. (I was there. It was sweeeeet.)

Last year the Big 10 got all the breaks, both seeding-wise and in getting their patently unqualified teams into the Dance. This year? Not so much--double-champion Wisconsin is of course a 3 while champion-of-nothing Duke gets a cushy 2, but Indiana fell all the way to an 8 seed, clear-cut runner-up Purdue landed as a No. 6, and also under the "duh" heading they thankfully left Ohio St. out of the field.

This year the sun shone upon the Pac-10, which got everyone but Arizona St. in and saw Washington St. and Oregon both way overseeded with Stanford and USC ahead of where I had them and Arizona higher than according to most projections. Boo.

Another thing--it's not necessarily a gripe, but I guess they've abandoned the principle of re-seeding mid-majors by a line (or two, in the mysterious cases of 2006) to lessen their travel. How else to describe why Winthrop is headed to Denver as a 13 while Boise goes to Birmingham as a 14? (And if you think I'm bitter about this because I incorrectly bumped Boise up a line in my projection to get them in Denver, you're right.)

Oh, and there's the things we saw coming. At the start of Championship Week I said someone was going to get the play-in shaft if there was an upset in the MEAC. Sure enough, there was, and sure enough, Mt. St. Mary's is off to Dayton despite ranking 69 places in the RPI ahead of a Mississippi Valley St. team that failed to win the SWAC. There's a time and place for political sensitivity, but this is just unfair. The NCAA needs to either bite the bullet with the criticism that comes with pairing the SWAC and MEAC in the play-in or (much preferably) just get rid of the damn thing.

In that same link I also predicted the Missouri Valley would land three bids, but never mind that: I also added that either Butler or Drake would be handed an unfair 7-seed. And whaddya know? The Committee was better this year, but that doesn't mean they haven't always been predictable in certain depressing ways. (By the way, I'm gloating this much about prior predictions because I know that as soon as the tournament starts said gloating will come to an abrupt and humiliating end as my brackets slip into the kind of percentiles dominated out by octogenarians, sherpas, Antarctic research station employees who speak no English, and blind lemurs. Making hay while the sun shines, and all that.)

The annual worthless Million Dollar Bracket post coming (hopefully) Tuesday a.m.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As John Feinstein wrote last March, Darth Vader (Big Ten commish Delaney) and the majors have again cast a huge shadow over the selection committee. Pairing up all the mids against each other is a blatant move to reduce the chance of one of their precious majors losing to a mid.

The odds of this being pure coincidence over the last two years are getting really, really long.