Tuesday, February 24, 2009

ESPN's college hoops analysts can get seriously bent

"Siena, Davidson and Utah State had better win their conference tournaments. This isn't breaking news, but if you slice the results apart, you'll see that none of the three have wins that could stack up against some of the high-major teams' best wins, even those teams that had long losing streaks. The committee has 10 varied personalities, and it may value regular-season championships in lower-profile leagues more than we did, while also believing those smaller programs pass the eye test. But it could be a hard sell if those teams don't win their leagues."
-- Andy Katz, analyzing the ESPN mock bracket selection process

Andy, I mean this with all due respect and I genuinely hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I hope spiders lay eggs underneath your toenails. I hope your next door neighbors host this year's World's Loudest Bagpiper competition in the middle of the night. I hope ESPN names a guy named "Dogz" your editor just to spite you. I hope she just wants to be friends. In a word, Andy: Upyours.

Actually, not just up yours, but up all your non-Joe Lunardi colleagues, who contrived to take Maryland and Notre Dame over Siena and Utah St. in what has to be the stupidest, most biased mock bracket exercise ever performed. According to Lunardi, in the ESPN mock-up:
Niagara defeated Siena for the MAAC championship. This led to the most lengthy and passionate discussion of the day; namely, whether to vote the Saints into the field as an at-large. In a very close vote, Notre Dame became the final at-large team and Siena just missed the field (for the record, with the Irish reaching only the quarterfinals of the fictitious Big East tournament, I voted for Siena) ... Davidson (Southern Conference) and Utah State (WAC) failed to secure automatic bids in their leagues and received little to no at-large consideration.
Yet another why you should never, ever listen a thing anyone at the Worldwide Leader other than Lunardi or Tom Brennan (and possibly Fran Fraschilla) has to say about mid-majors. They hate them. They want them to go away. They take Notre Dame over Siena, and they do it every time.

This is despite the fact, of course, that Siena has had the better season by almost every metric we've got. Record: Saints 22-6, Irish 15-11. Conference performance: Saints 15-1 league champions of No. 13 RPI conference, Irish 6-8 9th place in RPI No. 3 conference. RPI: Saints 26, Notre Dame 72. Last 12 games: Saints 11-1, Irish 4-8. Record vs. RPI top 100: Siena 5-4, Notre Dame 4-10. Record vs. Sub-RPI 100: Siena 19-2 (.904), Irish 10-1 (.909). Road record vs. top 100: Saints 1-2, Irish 1-6. Average RPI win: Siena 158, Notre Dame 164. And the Saints play in the MAAC! So Siena is hotter, better in conference play, better against good teams, at least as good on the road, and a fraction of a percentage point worse at playing weaker teams.

"But wait," Digger Phelps will surely tell us, "Notre Dame has three RPI top-50 victories: Louisville, Texas, and Georgetown. Siena went 0-4 against the RPI top 50." This is true. But Notre Dame has also had 12 opportunities to win top 50 games, four of them coming at home. Let Siena play eight more top-50 games right now: how do you know they wouldn't win three of them? You don't. Let Siena host the likes of Marquette and Georgetown at home in Albany: how do you know they don't sweep them off the court? You don't. And before you suggest that Siena didn't challenge themselves out-of-conference, consider: they played just as many nonconference top-50 games as Notre Dame did, and played no opponents outside of D-1 or lower than 200 in the RPI. Notre Dame scheduled six such games.

Of course, none of that matters to ESPN, since Siena committed the awful sin of losing a single time in conference, as Mark Schlabach will tell you:
The Saints took care of business in their BracketBusters game Saturday, beating Northern Iowa 81-75 at home. But the victory won't do much for Siena's résumé, leaving it without a victory over an RPI top-50 opponent ... The Saints have wins over Saint Joseph's (road) and Northern Iowa (home), but they also have ugly losses to RPI No. 141 Rider and No. 146 Wichita State.
As Keeping Track of the MAAC points out:
Since when did losses to teams with RPI's in the 140s become "ugly" ones?

There are 343 teams playing Division I basketball. Even at No. 146, Wichita State ranks in the top 43 percent of all Division teams in the RPI.

Losing to teams, say, ranked 241 or 246 ... that would be ugly.

But losing to 141 and 146?
Siena wore their conference's biggest bullseye when it traveled to Rider and lost by two points, and Schlabach says we should hold it against them. Notre Dame was just another Big East team when they traveled to St. John's and lost by six points, and Schlabach says nothing about it. Rider's RPI is 142. St. John's is 149. And yet Schalbach and, no doubt, the majority of ESPN's analysts would like you to believe Siena's loss of the two is "uglier." You can't even call it a double-standard when the two losses aren't equal--because of the motivation Rider has for beating Siena, the Notre Dame loss is worse. It's Notre Dame's loss that's less explicable. ESPN is simply, flatly wrong about this, and should Siena beat Niagara on the road Friday but fall to the Purple Eagles in the MAAC tourney, what is right compels the real Selection Committee to realize that difference.

I don't expect ESPN to be any different, of course. As Kyle has pointed out repeatedly, when covering college basketball for a major media outlet is your job, you don't like things that make that job harder. And mid-majors like Siena make it harder. It's easy comparing Notre Dame to Cincinnati or Maryland or the rest of the power-conference mediocrity pack. Comparing Notre Dame to a MAAC team is ... well, I don't think it's all that difficult, but there's subtleties to it (like the St. John's-Rider comparsion) that it takes an effort to make. Guys like Katz and Phelps and Schlabach don't want to have make that effort. So they vote Notre Dame. It might not be fair, might not be accurate. But it's easier, and who cares what Siena fans think anyway?

Which is why I hope they collectively fall into an open sewer and die. As Mel Brooks said, that's comedy. It's what might happen to the likes of Siena if they don't pull out their automatic bid that's the tragedy.


jd said...

I know the RPI isn't the end-all be-all of ranking college basketball teams, but when Siena has an edge over Notre Dame by 46 spots (26 vs. 72), the records vs. whomever shouldn't even come into the discussion. Better overall record, better conference record, better RPI, all by ALOT.

BTW, Auburn is only 12 RPI spots behind Notre Dame, with a better overall and conference record. Do you think if Auburn's jerseys said "Kentucky" on them, we'd be getting alot more praise and bubble consideration???

Jerry Hinnen said...

jd, I think we'd be getting a tiny bit, rather than the "none" Auburn's getting now. But even Kentucky with Auburn's resume--I mean, our best win is still probably over Tennessee at home by 2--wouldn't receive any genuine consideration. It's just not SEC quality.

FWIW, while you have to assume a couple of teams in the SEC East will play their way in, I'd be stunned if UT, UK, and UF all made the tourney. All three have reasons to recommend them--UT their noncon wins, UK their sweep of UT, UF their defense of homecourt--but all three have major problems, too (UT the UK sweep, UK all those home losses, UF a total lack of quality road wins). The guess here is that the Gators end with a thud and miss, but we'll see.

Tim said...

This post reminded me of why I had to stop paying attention to all the bubble chatter from MSM analysts a couple years ago. It's just too f*cking infuriating!!!! The tortured rationalizations; circular "logic"; the overhyping of such-and-such a BCS league as the "best and deepsest ever"; the constant talk of how the Committee has to take at least a dozen teams from each of the power leagues. It was just too much. I had to stop.

It's sad that Andy Katz has thrown his lot in with the BCS crew at ESPN. He used to be a pretty staunch defender of Mid-Majors and the tourney field having some semblance of equity. Guess spending all that time covering Duke practices and Tyler Hansbrough sightings has gotten to him.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Tim, I can usually ignore it--I've stopped reading anything Bilas churns out, for instance, and I quite seriously change the channel if I get stuck with Phelps dithering on about something during halftime.

But something about this collective agreement as an organization that Siena wasn't worthy ... I don't know, it struck a nerve. Fortunately, if they beat Niagara (a pretty freaking good team in their own right) on the roaf Friday I think the Committee will see it differently regardless.