Last week, the NCAA held its annual mock selection exercise for members of the media at its headquarters in Indianapolis. I had planned on attending, but the bad weather knocked out my flights. My absence, however, gives me the chance to practice the part I traditionally play on CBS'
Why don't you play along as well? You can
You should know, by the way, that this committee only considered games through last Tuesday night. In addition, the NCAA staff gave the committee make-believe results coming out of make-believe conference tournaments in order to simulate what happens during the actual selection weekend. This year, the NCAA tapped the following teams as conference tournament champions: Arizona (Pac-10), Wichita State (Missouri Valley), Tulsa (C-USA) and Iona (MAAC).
I'll start with the most important decisions the "committee" had to make: Who's in and who's out. As you can see from the bracket, the media's last few teams in were: Missouri, Maryland, Xavier, Saint Mary's, South Florida, Charlotte and Florida. Among the teams left out were: Cal, Siena, Virginia Tech, Minnesota, UAB, Arizona State, South Carolina and Mississippi State.
To me the biggest whiff here is Saint Mary's. Even though this bracket was put together before the Gaels lost at Portland on Thursday night, their best wins to that point were at home over San Diego State and on the road at Utah State. Those will not hold up (though the SDSU win is getting better as the Aztecs keep winning). Nor should South Florida have been voted into the field. The Bulls have too many losses, including a sweep by Notre Dame, so at the very least the Irish should be ahead of them.
It also amazed me that the committee not only put Marquette in (which I wouldn't have done as of last Wednesday), but made the Golden Eagles a No. 8 seed in the East. That's way too high for a school with just two wins over top 50 teams, plus losses to N.C. State at home and to DePaul on the road.
The three teams I would have placed into the tournament instead are UAB (which ranks 33rd in the RPI and claims wins over Butler and Cincinnati), South Carolina (which bolstered its case by beating Florida on Wednesday night) and Siena (especially since the Saints had not yet lost at Niagara). However, given how subjective all this is, and given how closely bunched these bubble teams are, the committee didn't do anything that would cause me to wax indignant on the
Now on to my region-by-region breakdown:
Kansas beats Purdue. Syracuse beats Kentucky.
In a fitting way to end a rematch of the 2003 final, Kansas'
Man, I can't wait to do this for real in four weeks.
• It was a brilliant move by
• In fact, I have to wonder why, given the success
• Prediction: Kentucky will lose at least one game in the next 12 days. The 'Cats are going to play five games during that span, four of which come on the road against Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Georgia.
• One last thought from the Kentucky-Tennessee game: Anyone else notice that Tennessee's undershirts were illegal? They're supposed to be a solid color and the same as the game jerseys, but UT's undershirts had white stitching on them. You won't be seeing those in the NCAA tournament.
• How does an Arizona team fighting for its tournament life lose at home to Oregon State?
• It's time to start talking about
• Too many people are arguing that
• One of the best rules changes of the last 10 years was the decision to count technical fouls toward a player's personal fouls.
• Keep your eye on
• How about
• By the way, the rumors that have
• I am mystified by the disappearing act Michigan State's
• Whenever I see Saint Joseph's coach
• Texas Tech is a great example of why you can't just look at a team's RPI ranking to determine its tournament status. The Red Raiders are ranked 36th, and their overall strength of schedule checks in at 19th. Yet, they have just one win over a top 50 team, and that came at home against Oklahoma State. Their big win at home in overtime over Washington, which briefly vaulted them into the rankings, looks a lot less impressive now than it did then. That's why Texas Tech's loss at home against Texas A&M was such a missed opportunity. And it doesn't get easier from here: Next the Radiers face Baylor on the road, followed by Texas and Kansas State at home.
• Likewise, Virginia Tech is a great example of why you can't just look at conference standings and records. If you'll recall, two years ago the Hokies went 10-6 in the ACC and got left out. Now they are 20-4 and tied for second in the ACC loss column with Wake Forest with a 7-3 conference record. That should make them a shoo-in, but they too only have one win against a team ranked in the RPI top 50, and that came against Clemson at home. More damning is their nonconference strength of schedule, which ranks 340th. Virginia Tech is in very good position, but it can't afford any bad losses the rest of the way, and it needs at least one more quality win. Beating Wake Forest at home Tuesday night would be an excellent start.
• I'd love to see one of the stat geeks out there come up with a way to chart what players are doing in game-pressure situations -- say, in the last five minutes of the game with the scoring margin at six points or fewer. Can you get on that for me, Pomeroy and/or Gasaway?
• I've picked on Butler's
• I disagree with the argument, which has been made often in the wake of the controversial timeout call at the end of the Syracuse-UConn game, that teams should no longer be allowed to call timeout unless there is a dead ball. This strikes me as an over correction. All we have to do is go back to the way it was before 1997, when coaches were given the ability to call timeout. If a coach wants a timeout, he should have to tell the player, and the player should then tell the ref. End of problem.
• Penn State guard
• It's a mystery sometimes why certain things work, but smart coaches don't mess with success. When BYU senior guard
• I have been dismayed by the increasing trend of midseason firings, but I'd say Penn interim coach
• Speaking of Cornell, sometimes a guy comes out of nowhere to have a big game, and it's the start of something big. And other times ... it's not. Exhibit A is Cornell's senior forward
• Georgia Tech freshman forward
• Interesting to see Temple's
• I hope LSU coach
• I say it every year, but there are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Notre Dame on the bubble.
• This is a big week at Wisconsin.
• Sorry to see
• Could the season get any worse for Oklahoma?
1. Kansas (1)
The Associated Press doesn't give us any instructions on this stuff, so it's up to each individual voter to decide what is important at this point in the season. I try to balance a team's entire body of work against what it has done recently. You could make a case that Syracuse, with just two losses, still deserves to be ranked fourth, but I knocked the 'Cuse down a peg because both of their losses came at home. Plus, Louisville had just gotten embarrassed at St. John's. Meanwhile, I only dropped Georgetown five spots because, while Rutgers is not a good team, the RAC is still a tough place to play. On the other hand, I also had to consider that the Hoyas lost recently to South Florida at home. I can give a team a mulligan for one loss against a middling Big East team, but two in two weeks is harder to justify.
Michigan State suffered the other big tumble at the top, mostly because the Spartans' loss to Purdue came at home. West Virginia lost twice last week, but I couldn't see fit to punish the Mountaineers too badly for losing to a team ranked ahead of them (Villanova) and to a good team in triple overtime on the road (Pittsburgh). The Panthers deserved to be rewarded for that win, though, so they're back on my ballot after being absent for just one week.
I wasn't sure where I was going to rank Wake Forest, but I knew the Deacons were going to be on my ballot. I'm assuming my fellow voters will agree because we've been a little late coming around on this team. Wake Forest has now won six of its last seven games to surge into a tie for second place in the ACC. Its nonconference wins over Gonzaga, Richmond and Xavier are looking even better now than when they happened.
I am still not ready to drink the Atlantic 10 Kool-Aid, but Temple did knock off Villanova a while back, and Xavier's road win at Florida on Saturday was impressive, so those guys are back on the board. (Remember the Musketeers also nearly knocked off Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse.) The other teams I strongly considered but didn't rank were Northern Iowa, Siena, Missouri and Ole Miss. Better luck next week, guys.