Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A few final points of interest ...

First, a questionable-quality but nonetheless enjoyable reminder of why I'm not worried about Butler traveling to the 'Ham:

Now, a few items to touch on as the clock ticks closer to noon tomorrow:

The Rotfang Conspiracy? I don't think anyone who's read this blog 'round this time of year would be surprised that I seriously sympathize with the point-of-view expressed in this excellent article from Joe Sheehan (and many places elsewhere) that the Committee should have done more to prevent mid-on-mid crime. The idea that a team like South Alabama might have been able to topple giants and slay dragons if they hadn't have crashed into an equally qualified giant-toppler and dragon-slayer like Butler at the very first hurdle is ... well, "more frustrating than the woman trying to pass off a shady-looking check who has to get three managers to look things over while you stand in line for 17 minutes with a toothbrush and a pack of Skittles" might be one way of saying it. Saying "We deserve better. The game deserves better. The teams that are forced to choose between playing home games or good games absolutely deserve better. The committee failed to serve the game this year," as Sheehan did, is a second and equally valid way.

But try as I might, I can't summon any outrage at the Committee for it. I've tried. But look at, say, Drake. There's only one non-mid 12 in the bracket (if you count Temple as a mid ... I don't, really, but for the sake of the "They're protecting BCS schools!" argument, we'll pretend they are) and that's Villanova. The Wildcats can't be in a pod with any other Big East teams and UConn's 4, Pitt's a 4, and Notre Dame's a 5. There's only one place for them to go, and that's across from Clemson. So Drake winds up with WKU.

Likewise, three mids wound up on the 10-seed line and two on the 7-line--given those seedings it was impossible not to have at least one mid-on-mid matchup and if you account for South Alabama and Davidson both being granted the courtesy of staying close to home, it's hard to see how the Committee can be faulted for not going out of their way to break those particular parties up.

This is what Sheehan's arguing: that since a mid's opportunity to prove itself an equal to a money conference team (on a neutral court and with the nation watching, of course) is the most precious gift it can receive, the Committee should make the extra effort--specifically, adjusting seedings in the 5-12 range--to hand that gift out as often as possible. There's something to this, but the importance of seed line is such that I can't endorse it. 6's are substantially more likely to make the Sweet 16 than 7's, which are substantially more likely to make the Sweet 16 than 8's. 10's make the second round a whole bunch more than 11's. And so on. I think the idea to seed Oklahoma ahead of Butler will go down in the history books as one of mankind's worst (or something like that), but if you honestly arrive at that conclusion, it's simply not fair to Oklahoma to drop to a 10 just because Butler "deserves" the right to take on, say, Kansas St.

As for the argument that it was Butler who got dropped to unfairly make way for Oklahoma, in the effort to eliminate as many mids as quickly and painlessly as possible: I can believe a lot of horrible things about the NCAA Selection Committee, but I'm not ready to believe that quite yet.

Oh boy. Yes, I am on the Siena bandwagon. Yes, I am considering jumping off now that there's no more room to stretch my legs, I can totally smell this heavyset dude right behind me, and the whole thing's just feeling a bit stuffy now, you know? When I got on this bandwagon, no one warned me about the flopsweat.

Actually, that's not true. I had a feeling this was trouble when Seth Davis put the wagon on its wheels right there on the Selection Show itself. So I can't blame Save the Shield's Phillip for pointing out (albeit in an odd location) that there are some serious parallels between this wagon and the Western Michigan one we all rode straight into a gaping canyon against Vandy in 2003. It's more than a little eerie.

But facts is facts: #1 lead-pipe cinch first-round upset candidates struggled for a while in the '90s, but they're doing much better in recent years. For Exhibit A, you don't need to look any further back than the Winthrop win over Notre Dame that sparked a million smug "Yeah, I called that one" remarks last season. In 2006, basically the entire country agreed that if Winthrop didn't get 2-seed Tennessee in Round 1, Wichita St. would in Round 2. Sure enough, the Vols only survived the Eagles on a bona fide miracle and were torn to pieces by the Shockers. Even in 2003, there was an upset pick every bit as popular as Western Michigan over Vandy: 12-seed Manhattan over Florida. Popularity did a good job of locating that one, too.

The point is that just because a bandwagon is overcrowded doesn't mean it's not taking you where you want to go. Does Phillip's Pomeroy research give me pause? Does the fact that Vandy's been called out in every conceivable way over the past few days make me worry? Do I agree that Siena (as I said myself) doesn't leap off the page or screen as a likely bracket-wrecker? Yes, yes, yes. But for starters it's too late to abandon ship now, and more importantly it seems perfectly reasonable to expect this game to be close--and equally reasonable to expect the country's seventh-luckiest team to this point to have a close game go against them.

No drama? Isn't it aggravating when your head and heart violently disagree? Mine came to blows Monday looking over this year's crop of 14, 15, and 16 seeds. My heart's nursing a hell of a shiner and my head's got a band-aid on his cheek and clutches at his ribs when he walks. They look like they've been held prisoner by one faction or another on Lost. It's not pretty.

Their argument goes like this: Head says this is the weakest set of low seeds he can remember, the lamest excuse for a bunch of "shock the world" pretenders he's ever seen. Heart says that's why they're to be feared: for the first time ever, no one is giving any team seeded lower than 13th even the tiniest sliver of hope for an upset. Meaning that times have never been better to catch a giant out-and-out napping.

Head says that's manure. Look: Boise is far and away the most dangerous 14 and they're playing a Rick Pitino-coached team with a better efficiency margin than Carolina. Cal St. Fullerton likes to run and is playing a Wisconsin team that swallows run-and-gun teams whole. Cornell could put one dude on another dude's shoulders and still not stack up with the Lopezes. Georgia's out of miracles and doesn't even count. As for the 15's, UMBC's the only one with a prayer and that's assuming Roy Hibbert doesn't have 27 offensive rebounds by halftime. Sure, Portland St. should have been a 15 and they've got some nice players, but... Kansas. Come on.

Heart says that's the point: Kansas isn't even bothering to think of reasons they might lose to Portland St., but they're there. The Jayhawks have been bombed out of the past two tourneys and whaddya know, the Vikes shoot 40 percent from three and have the country's 11th-best eFG. Self sucks at preparing Kansas for first-round games: ask Bucknell and Bradley. In this any more of a mismatch than UConn and Albany? Remember: they were up 10 with the ball.

OK, maybe that's not going to happen, Heart says, but there's no guarantee American (they did beat Maryland, you know) catch fire at the same time Tennessee starts clanking like mad? Belmont could go nuts, too, and they've got experience galore--sure they've been blown apart the last two seasons, but if you'll recall Winthrop got whipped their first few times. Texas is overrated and even if Austin Peay doesn't look like much, remember that even-sorrier looking Eastern Kentucky making Carolina work last year? I know none of these individually are likely, but if you start adding up Pomeroy's log5 odds, it's like a 10 percent chance per region on average, so it's 40 percent across the tournament, and when you add that to last year's tournament, when the odds were even better weren't any ... you might even say that by now it's likely.

You're deluding yourself, Head says. According to those odds and that thinking, a 16 should have won years and years ago. Dumb-ass.

Heart responds that 1's have been taken to overtime twice and been in two other one-possession games. Odds are the next one that close will go to the 16 seed. I'm telling you, Heart says, things are just too damn quiet for nothing to happen. It's not the way sports works. We're about to see something seismic.

Head says if that's what you need to believe to get yourself excited for Thursday and Friday, be my guest. But there's not going to be that kind of drama.

Me? I know head's right. But I'm going to watch every second anyway.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You don't really think that Gonzaga deserved a 7 or Davidson 10? It isn't that they had to match 7s and 10s. It's that both got screwed and then matched. Only 2 ranked teams to play in the first round.