Screwed. Taken as individual cases, the Creighton and St. Mary's snub jobs by the Selection Committee yesterday aren't all that criminal. The Bluejays and Gaels had good reasons for inclusion--Creighton in particular, with --but their exclusion doesn't quite rise to the level of injustice as classic snubs like Missouri St. 2006, Butler 2002, etc. Neither Creighton nor St. Mary's won an outright league title, neither had a top 25 RPI win, and most critically neither played a particularly challenging nonconference schedule, with the Jays checking in at 140 and St. Mary's at 104. I totally agree that some leeway should be granted for the difficulty for good mids in finding good games, but Siena managed it. Butler managed it. Miami (OH) managed it. It's not impossible. And clearly this Committee placed a premium on nonconference scheduling: Siena was handed a No. 9 seed and clearly would have been given an at-large, while a Utah St. team with a very similar profile in terms of overall record and conference performance landed an 11-seed and probably would have missed if they'd lost the WAC final to Nevada. Even in high-major land, this was the case: Wisconsin finished a game ahead of Michigan in the Big 10 standings and swept the Wolverines, but only just squeezed into the field as a 12-seed while the Wolverines were safe at No. 10. Why? Probably because Michigan beat Duke and UCLA while the Badgers' best noncon win was Virginia Tech. (Not to mention, of course, that Penn St. didn't get in at all.)
Here's the problem with that: two years ago, this wasn't the case. That year, Drexel played a murderous nonconference slate and came out the other side with a bevy of huge wins: at Villanova, at Syracuse, at St. Joe's, at Temple, at Creighton. But the Dragons were left out anyway, because--we were told--they weren't dominant enough in Colonial play.
This is why I was once again shouting obscenities at Greg Gumbel as soon as Arizona appeared on the screen and grinding my teeth throughout the night and into this morning: for mid-majors, what counts as "qualified" is a moving target. Great nonconference performance? Sorry, this year we're worried about how well you took care of business in your league. Share of a title in a good league and a great record vs. the top 100? Sorry, now we're concerned with how you scheduled and played outside of your league.
Meanwhile, those same standards get shifted around to accommodate power-conference teams. Hey, Arizona, I see you didn't win a single road game against the top 100 in eight tries and lost five of your last six, but you know what? This year, we're not going to care about those sorts of things. Every ... freaking ... year the last team in, the one that makes you say "What?" is a power-conference team*. Arizona this year, Illinois and Stanford in 2007, and on and on. Yes, occasionally worthy high-major teams get snubbed (Cincinnati '06 and Syracuse '07 come to mind), but if you're a fan of one of the big boys, you can rest assured that there's always a chance you'll get the benefit of the doubt.
Once again, however, the Committee's made it clear to mid-majors that no such benefit exists. Remove all doubt, or get the back of the bracket's hand.
That said, it could be worse. After the outrages of 2006 and 2007, the last two Committees have restored some form of sanity to the selection process. There's still a lot of questionable seeding decisions and there's the mid-major-based gripe above, but particularly amongst the high seeds, there seemed to be a lot fewer head-
scratchers than usual. There's only three or four teams whose seeding or placemen I look at and think "that's just wrong"; usually there's a dozen. This is tow years running I've been almost pleased with the bracket--I give the credit for this to the Committee chairs, a mid-major guy last year and SEC commish Mike Slive this year. See, mids and Southerners are where it's at.
Speaking of the SEC, though ... Boy, if there was any thought that having a friendly face at the head of the Committee would do the affiliated league some favors, this year put that soundly to rest. LSU's 8 seed has to be a record for the lowest seed ever given a BCS-conference champion; Tennessee had the best nonconference record of anyone in the league and the nonconference-obsessed Committee still somehow dropped them to a 9 seed; and while I think giving Miss. St. a 13 is completely fair, it's lower than I and a lot of other bracket guys expected. (Not to mention that Auburn and Florida didn't make the bracket, though I don't know of anyone not affiliated with the teams themselves who expected them to.)
Eye test? I found the seedings of the mid-majors at the bottom of the bracket really interesting, since it seemed to suggest the Committee might have actually been watching the Championship Week games involved. Cal St. Northridge and Portland St. both looked much better in their finals, I thought, than their records or RPI would suggest; both landed higher seeds than I expected (Portland St. all the way up at 13 was a big surprise.) Meanwhile, Binghamton and Robert Morris both had RPIs and records that suggested a possible 14 seed, but both looked sloppy in their respective finals; both got 15's. That said, there's absolutely no explaining the 16 seed handed to East Tennessee St., who looked tremendous in disposing of Jacksonville and will now face Pitt for their troubles. The Bucs finished one spot in the RPI behind Cornell and only two behind Portland St., but got bracketed two seeds worse than the Big Red and three worse than the Vikings. I strongly suspect that Northridge and ETSU were swapped so Northridge wouldn't have to travel all the way from California to Dayton (the Matadors are in Kansas City now).
On the plus side: I actually like the Bucs' chances better against Pitt than I would against the Memphis team Northridge is facing, and now we have at least one totally legit opportunity for the first-ever 16-over-1 miracle.
Aaaarrrgggghhh. I'll talk more about this when I release this year's edition of the Million Dollar Bracket, but it's hard to find a Cinderella--a double-digit seed mid-major that makes the Sweet 16, as per my personal definition--in this bracket. Most often, those teams come from the 10, 11, or 12 line--and this year a) there are no mids on the 10 line b) the two 11's you might consider, VCU and Utah St., would have to go through Pomeory-approved heavyweights in UCLA and Missouri c) the two eligible 12's, Northern Iowa and Western Kentucky, both have to travel to Portland and frankly I'm not particularly high on either one. Even if you include Dayton and Temple, they're facing two seriously underrated teams in West Virginia and Arizona St. (According to Pomeroy, the 6-seed line is much, much stronger than either the 3, 4, or 5 lines.) I'm expecting plenty of first-round shockers, but getting Cinderella into the Sweet 16 this year may be a chore.
If I'm allowed to toot my own horn a tiny bit: Yesterday's JCCW Bracketology would have scored a 309 on the (somewhat ridiculous) Bracket Matrix scoring system, with 33/34 at-larges correct, 31 teams seeded correctly, and 55 teams within a line of their correct seed. (I think I should get a bonus for having Michigan-Clemson and Arizona St.-Temple matched up correctly, too ... nevermind that I had all of their seeds wrong.) Which makes me better at this than Joe Lunardi! Of course, half the brackets tracked on the Matrix site can say that, so I should probably keep my mouth shut until I catch up with Jerry Palm.
OK, the last BlogPoll ballot until after the tournament:
|24||North Dakota St.|
|Last week's ballot|
Dropped Out: New Mexico (#22), California (#24), Dayton (#25).
Just a few quick thoughts:
1. Pitt beat UConn twice. Louisville lost to UConn by double digits at home. Simple enough.
2. Suddenly, I'm crazy high on Gonzaga. They looked as good as I've ever seen them in the WCC tournament, which is why they'll probably lose to Akron Thursday.
3. Sorry, Florida St., but squeezing past Georgia Tech and then a totally unmotivated North Carolina playing without Ty Lawson doesn't earn you much in my book. You're lucky you're even ranked.
4. Yes, North Dakota St. and Utah St. The latter for handily winning a road game against a good opponent with everything on the line; the latter for just generally being awesome.
*OK, so in 2006, Utah St. snuck in unexpectedly, but Air Force was the even bigger surprise and that Committee was the worst one of all-time. Doesn't count.