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NCAA Tournament | Message Board  | Onions Archive

By Adam Glatczak

March 10th, 2006

College Basketball: Championship Week Journal

-It’s felt like a lull since last weekend’s flurry of tourney games and big regular season finishes, so we’re glad to get busy again. To start off, just thought we’d note that as ugly as a lot of MVC tournament games were last weekend (and as much as a certain highlighter-toting TV personality has been squawking about it), the first days of the Big East and Big 10 tourneys were little better than Arch Madness in any way, shape or form. The Rutgers-Seton Hall, Pitt-Louisville, Penn State-Northwestern, Georgetown-Marquette and Minnesota-Michigan games the past two days have all bordered on unwatchable. Even the Syracuse-Cincinnati game, before its frantic finish, was more noticeable for its lack of defense than anything else. But again, you’ll never hear these things used as an excuse for why teams from these leagues shouldn’t be in the NCAAs...

-The good of the Big East tourney, of course, has been very, very good, and in particular we’re referring to the moments courtesy of Gerry McNamara and Syracuse. These two games in a row for the Cuse no doubt are reminiscent of Keith Van Horn winning two straight WAC tourney games in a row at the buzzer in 1997 for Utah.

Now, this will no doubt be considered blasphemy by ESPN and everyone else proclaiming how beating UConn makes Syracuse a lock for the NCAAs, but we’d just like to point out that we could still make a good case for keeping the Orangemen out of the tourney. Like Texas A&M and like Florida State, one should not let their vision be clouded too much by one good win when the overall body of work for all of these teams is still not that impressive. Even after beating the Huskies, Syracuse’s record against the top 50 teams is still just 4-9; that is not a good number by any means. But they’re playing well right now you say? Yeah, teams doing so deserve that benefit…but not when they lost by 39 to DePaul just a week earlier.

Too many people have been blinded in the past few weeks by the idea that one win over a top 5-10 team should get you in the tournament. Why should it? Especially when the performances around that game have been uneven, and particularly when a team has proven over the course of the year that it can’t even come close to splitting its games against NCAA teams? In the Orangemen’s defense, they’d still be about the 56th team of 64 in our field right now, and we’d put them in over FSU, A&M, Michigan, Cincinnati, Seton Hall and just about any other major conference bubble teams right now. But by no means is it an open and shut case.

-With that point, have to say that while Doug Gottlieb’s work in the studio for ESPN this week has been a breath of fresh air. Really enjoying his willingness to challenge the other ESPN heads, who haven’t seen a bubble team yet from the Big East, Big 10 or ACC that they’d keep out. Most of them come across as downright apologists and think it doesn’t matter if you beat good teams so long as you play them. Gottlieb has presented the seldom publicized view from the other side; if anything he’s guiltier of being too critical more than the opposite. His criticism of the non-conference schedules of Texas A&M and Florida State has been right on. He’s also pointed out how, with so many chances to beat good teams, a Syracuse, Michigan or Cincinnati should at least prove they can win those games with some regularity, not just play close. What an idea-not just play a tough schedule, but win some of the games! No one will ever confuse the guy for a lawyer like Jay Bilas or a basketball nerd like Rick Majerus (that description is meant with affection), but his studio analysis and its originality have blown away that done by anyone else on the Four-Letter Network this season.

-Mr. Boeheim, how many games was that again that you would have won without Gerry McNamara?

-Just kidding. Seriously, Boeheim was right on target with his anger and his defense of his point guard, even if his language got a little too colorful. Obviously one shouldn’t expect a coach to do anything less for his players, even if the idea of McNamara being overrated is not necessarily something that just came up. It’s been whispered in various circles for the past two years, but the timing of the Syracuse newspaper to be discussing this was inexcusable. The guy just had his Senior Day, a career including nothing less than a national championship is being celebrated…and NOW this story was printed about him being overrated? Absolutely dreadful timing. While major college athletics puts participants under a microscope-and the participants accept this-there has to be some humanity exercised in this situation. McNamara is still a student, not a paid professional, so there was no need to smear him during what should be a memorable time of his life. There was nothing newsworthy or otherwise about this story, nothing that had to be printed at the time it was, and for that this newspaper deserves the criticism it received from the coach.

-Something hit me on Wednesday when watching Notre Dame. The Irish this year looked an awful lot like one of their fellow Indiana schools, a school that played a night before them and plays in a league considered well below the Big East. Notre Dame looked a lot like Butler. Like the Bulldogs, the Fighting Irish relyied on guards and three-point shooting to keep them in games against more talented teams. Of course, Notre Dame is in the Big East, so we could never say on TV that the Irish were less talented than other teams or that they played like a (bleep)-major school (that term is not permitted here anymore), but that’s what it looked like from this view. If anything, it’s a compliment to say a team plays like Butler, but maybe it also explains why ND just couldn’t get over the hump in so many games. Regardless, Colin Falls was fun to watch when he was hot, and the Irish will be better in the future.

-The aftermath of George Washington’s hardly surprising loss to Temple and a wild day in the A-10 quarterfinals is that the top four seeds in this tourney are gone, all defeated by teams that had to play their way into the quarterfinals. Naturally, this is going to lead some to suggest that all top seeds deserve byes in the semifinals now or something silly to ‘reward’ them, as if the reward of a bye wasn’t enough. Whatever, it’s quite remarkable to think that Temple, St. Joseph’s, Xavier or Fordham will be in the NCAA Tournament. Two of those teams have been the picture of inconsistency (Temple and St. Joe’s), Xavier was terrific early in the season but has struggled horribly of late, while Fordham has been the opposite, playing well now after a flat-out weird start (loss to St. Francis of Brooklyn at home???) Any of these teams in the tourney will be a great story, though Temple or Fordham would likely make the best story (either a possible final hurrah for John Chaney or the first bid for the Rams since 1992). We were fairly sure that somehow the Colonials would get beaten in this tourney and the A-10 would end up with a second bid, but like this? Crazy. Only bigger surprise would’ve been if Duquesne and St. Bonaventure barged through to the semis.

-By the way, the performances of top seeds like GW and Connecticut today are the exact reason why the major conference tournaments are NOT the best conference tournaments. Those teams had nothing to lose today, and they played like it, and as a result there are now two teams getting into the NCAAs that may well not have if not for these shanks. Give me the MAAC or OVC tourney any day, because at least in those you know you will see maximum effort from every team. We aren’t suggesting that teams are tanking on purpose, but it sure looked today (and has at various times in these tourneys for years) like some don’t take these games nearly as seriously as they would if it was their own NCAA bid on the line, and not someone else’s.

-Nice work by Gary Williams, that old pole cat. His job of manipulating the East Coast media of late has been a thing of beauty. He’s convinced them that his Maryland team, with its 18-11 overall record and 8-8 regular season in the ACC, deserves to be in the NCAAs, or at the least should be if the Terps win one more game. How easily they have forgotten that the Terrapins are 8-9 since finishing their non-conference schedule (which included eight home games and just one road game, at D-II Chaminade), 4-9 away from the Comcast Center, 2-7 vs. the RPI top 50, and just 5-7 in their last 12 games. In fact, Maryland has just one true road win this year against a Division I school. Their best win is over an extremely overrated Boston College team in December; their next best win was over Arkansas in November (see a pattern here?) Their third best win is over Virginia. Nuff said. This isn’t the same team as it was earlier in the season, and even if Chris McCray came back today, their entire season is nothing even close to deserving an NCAA bid, not even after routing Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC tourney. Even a run to the ACC tourney finals should not change that.

-At least the Turtles won on Thursday, even if we disagree with their bubble status. It was almost painful to watch other bubble teams fall on Wednesday and Thursday like trees in the Northwest. Seton Hall wasn’t even in the ballpark with Rutgers. Repeat, Rutgers. Cincinnati and Syracuse, as mentioned above, played next to no defense in their game until the final five minutes. It looked like your stereotypical NBA game from 20 years ago, when many said the two teams should start with 100 points and play for two minutes to decide a winner. Michigan lost to Minnesota despite the Golden Gophers trying to give the game away with pitiful free throw shooting in the final minute. BYU got dumped by rival Utah, which is not having a great season. Even Colorado very nearly lost to Baylor. At least Syracuse, UAB and Kentucky were among the few that got their jobs done and seem to have locked up bids beyond a doubt.

-Speaking of Alabama-Birmingham and the Conference USA tournament, there hasn’t been much to talk about. As expected, top four seeds Memphis, UAB, Texas-El Paso and Houston are all in the semis, while the other games have been as non-descript as the bottom eight teams themselves have unfortunately been this year. Better days certainly lie ahead for this league; they have to. The drama now revolves around if the Cougars or Miners can somehow pull this off and ‘steal’ the automatic bid. Such a result would likely be the biggest surprise of this weekend, since almost everyone has conceded the title to Memphis or UAB. At least with these four teams there should be no shortage of offense.

-Just not much exciting about the first day of the Big 12, SEC or ACC tourneys. Baylor put more excitement into the day than Colorado bargained for, nearly beating the Buffaloes before blowing a late lead. Nebraska and Missouri was a tough game to watch, but we’ll give the Huskers at least that we wouldn’t mind seeing them in the NIT. Wake Forest’s dismissal of Florida State wasn’t as surprising as the seeds indicate. The Demon Deacons aren’t the worst team in the ACC but have had a lot of close losses, similar to Notre Dame, Drake, Drexel and others discussed ad nauseum this year. They’ve got a shot to go a long way in the NIT. Again 

-Also, haven’t exactly had much good to think about Penn State this year, but beating Northwestern by 18 was fairly impressive. Ed DeChellis is fighting a serious uphill climb there, but he looks to be slowly stockpiling some players to play his way. That is going to continue to be a tough job, though, but who knows? Maybe they can give Ohio State a run on Friday in the Big 10 quarters.

-Watch out for Toledo in the Mid-American tourney. The Rockets have been as hot as their nickname, winning nine of their last 10 heading into a tough semifinal game Friday against MAC #3 seed Akron. Toledo upset #2 seed Northern Illinois on Thursday, 78-77, and has already beaten the top seed Kent State once this year. Like Bradley in the Missouri Valley, this is a team whose late season schedule was set up for a surge, and like the Braves, the Rockets have taken advantage. It’s been a long time since Toledo has made the NCAAs, too-1980, to be precise, back in what may be called the glory years of Toledo basketball. In the other semifinal on Friday, Ohio University continues to try to recapture the magic it created in last year’s MAC tourney when it takes on Kent State. It’s been five years now since the Golden Flashes made the Elite Eight, but center Nate Gerwig still remains from that memorable team. Seems like Gerwig has been around longer than former Utah forward Britton Johnsen, who seemed to have about seven years of eligibility for Rick Majerus.

-Congratulations to Monmouth and Montana on winning the Northeast and Big Sky tourneys, respectively. The Hawks just outplayed Fairleigh Dickinson in an NEC final that likely isn’t going on any Knights highlight reels. FDU looked much more talented but did not do a particularly good job handling the Hawks’ zone, to say the least. Fantastic job, though, by the scrappy Hawks, hanging around all game and seizing it at the end. And we like big John Bunch, an absolute mountain of a man who made FDU’s Andrea Crosariol (listed at 7-0) look puny. Biggest dude in the Northeast Conference since Melvin Whitaker prowled the paint for Mount St. Mary’s. And Montana looked like a machine in winning the Big Sky final at Northern Arizona. It’s going to be very interesting to see if the Grizzlies can give someone a run in the NCAAs. Though not physically imposing, they have good spacing on offense, know how to play the game and look to have the poise to play with a higher seed.

-More congrats to Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Long a laughingstock and doormat of Division I, the Golden Lions have had their best year ever on this level and now are in the SWAC semis after beating defending tournament champion and #2 seed Alabama A&M. Next up for UAPB is #3 Grambling, while top seed Southern gets Jackson State in the other semifinal.

-A final kudos to Wyoming for its upset of #2 seed Air Force in a Mountain West quarterfinal. We’ve read that Cowboys Coach Steve McClain is likely out at Wyoming after this tourney, and while we’re admittedly not the most familiar with the situation, it’s pretty hard to understand why. No, the Cowboys haven’t been to the NCAAs in four years, but they hadn’t been there for 14 years before that, either. McClain’s teams have usually played an exciting style, and he was highly sought-after following the 2002 NCAA win over Gonzaga. One would think he would have more time than this to get back on track, but if not, then it’s good to see Wyoming making one more run under him. As for Air Force, they are out of the MWC tourney early again, and this time it may cost them. While the Falcons survived a quarterfinal ouster by Colorado State in 2004 to grab an at-large bid, this year’s 24-6 record with a poor strength of schedule plus zero top 50 wins is going to be a tough sell to the committee. The one saving grace for the Academy could be if the committee looks favorably on the Falcons’ wins over ACC middleweights Miami and Georgia Tech and is impressed by the sheer overall record.

-Nevada is hosting the WAC tourney, but we still would not be surprised if the Wolf Pack doesn’t win it all and this league, like the Atlantic 10, also grabs a second bid. Their semifinal opponent is a dangerous New Mexico State squad, while Louisiana Tech and Utah State meet in the other semi. Utah State won at Nevada earlier this year, while only a Nick Fazekas basket at the buzzer allowed the Pack to escape the Men Techsters in Reno. La. Tech is playing very well right now, and if bids were given simply on how you are playing now, perhaps the Bulldogs deserve to be in the conversation for an at-large spot. Like the WAC and Nevada, while San Diego State now seems to have a clear path to the basket in the Mountain West with #2 Air Force and #3 BYU gone, there’s no guarantee the Aztecs will win that tournament, either. Utah (meeting Wyoming in the semi opposite of SDSU/UNLV) already won earlier this year at the Cox Arena, and the Utes present some matchup problems for the Aztecs.

-Our new favorite go-go-go team, Long Beach State, is in the Big West finals after another high-scoring win, this time 94-91 over baseball rival Cal State-Fullerton. Would really enjoy a Pacific-Long Beach final in that league, the Tigers’ experience and discipline against the flying 49ers. However, UC Irvine is going to be a test for The Beach on Friday.

-Finally, here’s how we break the bracket down after Thursday. Before proceeding, it must be noted that even with just three days of games left, this is the most uncertain the field has looked at this point in years, and it probably won’t change much. It is going to be nearly impossible to predict what the committee will do, no matter how many “bracketologists” try. Many of the decisions are going to come down to a matter of philosophy. Is the committee going to follow the statistics presented by the RPI and let in teams like Creighton, Missouri State and Hofstra, or are they going to dismiss them in favor of another factor? Will the committee give weight to teams that consistently prove they can beat tourney-caliber teams, even if they aren’t from the mainstream at-large eaters, or are they going to put more weight on teams’ having one huge late season win and ignore their otherwise undistinguished profiles. Will non-conference schedules matter and will teams like Creighton, UAB and Missouri State be rewarded for at least attempting to schedule some people or going on the road, or are teams like Florida State and Texas A&M going to be rewarded even though they made no attempt whatsoever to play anyone out of their leagues? How much do Seton Hall’s many great wins cancel out their myriad bad losses? And is the committee going to punish teams that finished weakly in top conferences, like Michigan and Cincinnati, or lean on the crutch of their conference schedules? We know what we’d do, but it’s hard to guess what the committee will do.

These are teams we think would be in the field of 64 as of Friday morning:


ACC (4): Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State, Boston College

Atlantic 10 (2): George Washington, automatic bid winner

Big East (7): Connecticut, Villanova, Pitt, West Virginia, Georgetown, Marquette, Syracuse

Big 12 (3): Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas

Big 10 (5): Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin

CAA (1): UNC-Wilmington

Conference USA (2): Memphis, UAB

MVC (6): Wichita State, Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Bradley, Creighton, Missouri State

Mountain West (1): San Diego State

Pac-10 (3): UCLA, Washington, Arizona

SEC (6): Tennessee, LSU, Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama

WAC (1): Nevada

One-bid leagues (19, minus one play-in team=18 bids)

=59 bids thus far

This is how we think the field should look right now and is a judgment based on a combination of what we think will happen (ex. Bradley & Alabama being in) and what we think should happen if the committee is looking at the evidence correctly (ex. 6 bids for the MVC, only 4 from ACC). Even if this is correct and the MVC does somehow get six bids (most are doubtful of that scenario), there are still five bids available, most likely for some of the following teams: Indiana, Hofstra, George Mason, Texas A&M/Colorado winner, and a possible second team from the WAC/Mountain West if someone knocks off Nevada/San Diego State. Other teams competing for those last spots will be Cincinnati, Seton Hall, Michigan, Florida State, the Texas A&M/Colorado loser, Air Force and California. Bucknell also is in line for an at-large if it loses the Patriot final to Holy Cross.

The final teams we have in our ‘field of 59’ are, in order of first to be left out: Missouri State, San Diego State (if no automatic), Creighton, Alabama, Bradley, UAB, Syracuse. The rest are likely comfortable, though we’d question Arizona’s merits. Even Alabama, Syracuse, UAB & Bradley should be in with little question; only the Bears, Bluejays and Aztecs are really much of a debate, though some might say Bradley is too.

If we were going to guess what the committee will do, we’re thinking they’ll put in Indiana for #59, leave out Hofstra in favor of George Mason for #60, and will find space for the A&M/Colorado winner (61) as well as most likely Cincinnati (62). Throw in California (63) and either Air Force, Seton Hall or a second WAC/Mountain West team, though those last four spots are really almost ‘draw out of a hat’ because unless one is claimed by an automatic bid, none particularly deserves it over the others. California may be closer than others if it gets to the Pac-10 final, though not necessarily by resume as much as by affiliation. Also wouldn’t be surprised if Creighton got bumped, though it shouldn’t happen. It is possible that Missouri State is left out because the Bears’ record vs. top 50 teams isn’t much different from Cincinnati, Michigan or even Syracuse, but we think the Bears will somehow squeeze in because of their high RPI. Our good sense tells us teams like Florida State, Michigan and Air Force are likely out now after their early conference tourney exits, but again, it’s hard to know how the committee will evaluate the MVC, CAA or Mountain West.

Personal opinion: Indiana should not be in unless it beats Wisconsin. Again, this is our opinion, but the Hoosiers lost 7 of 8 before their recent streak of four wins in a row. Those recent wins were against Purdue, Penn State, and struggling Michigan and Michigan State teams, personally do not see enough proof that this team is back to the form it displayed early in the season or that it deserves a bid at 17-11. By contrast, while Creighton is 6-4 in its last four, it lost all four of those to likely NCAA teams, and more importantly has been playing without its point guard. Comparing them head-to-head, the numbers favor IU on paper slightly, but Josh Dotzler’s absence and Indiana’s generally poor play since mid-January ought to have the Bluejays in and the Hoosiers out, unless IU beats Wisconsin.

Other than Indiana, it should be emphasized again that Creighton has a better profile than just about all of these bubble teams. Texas A&M also should not be in ahead of Creighton or Indiana. The Aggies do not deserve to be rewarded for their horrible non-conference schedule and their complete disregard for the committee’s request for teams to play people out of conference; however, they’ll likely get in based on their Big 12 record. Never mind that 10-6 in the Big 12 this year does not mean what even 9-7 in that league has meant in the past. We’d personally endorse Cincinnati or Hofstra over the Aggies, but would suggest A&M over Florida State or Michigan.

Other than Creighton, Indiana and Texas A&M, some other quick comments: Cincinnati and Michigan should not be in based on their poor finishes (6-10 for UC, 2-7 for UM) and their poor records vs. the RPI top 50. Neither has shown much down the season’s stretch. For that matter, Missouri State is also only 4-8 vs. the top 50, but has a better road record and finished much better than either the Bearcats or Wolverines. Florida State, like A&M, deserves to be punished for its non-conference schedule and lack of quality wins. It’s possible this may be the same for Hofstra, though the Pride have a few more good wins through their league and don’t have the scheduling advantages of a Florida State, not that the latter will be a factor with the committee. If the committee docks FSU and A&M for their non-league slates, though, it almost has to do the same for Hofstra. Just have a feeling Seton Hall is going to pay for its schizophrenic play, while Colorado will almost look pretty good compared to these teams if it beats A&M on Friday. However, CU hasn’t proven much on the road, and a loss to the Aggies likely means kiss the Buffs goodbye. California’s profile is just…blah. Some good wins, some bad losses, sort of a Seton Hall Lite. Hard to make a compelling case for them over the Big East teams. San Diego State’s overall profile screams NIT, but we still think the Aztecs will somehow get an at-large if needed based on their Mountain West regular season title. And finally, regardless of what Gary Williams says, Maryland should not even be close to an at-large bid unless it makes the ACC final. 2-9 vs. the top 50 + 4-9 in road/neutral games + 5-7 in their last 12=NIT for anyone, no matter how much they would squawk otherwise.

Up next:

-Bucknell hosts Holy Cross in the Patriot League final. No doubt the Bison have gained a significant number of fans in the past week, as many will be hoping they take care of business at home and don’t get thrown into the pot of teams looking for at-large bids.

-The Atlantic 10, WAC and Conference USA semifinals won’t be the main card today, but they’ll all be worth a peek. Inevitably, people are going to be wondering what Fordham is still doing alive in the A-10, while Temple and St. Joseph’s will be terrific. The C-USA and WAC semis should include no less than seven postseason teams total.

-Big East semifinals. We are pleased to report that, no matter how much this league expands, it all comes back to the standbys. The last four left (Syracuse, Georgetown, Pittsburgh and Villanova) are all Big East members from the league’s ultra-heyday in the 1980s.

-MAC semis feature the state of Ohio. Kent State, Akron, Toledo and Ohio U. are the semifinalists.

-Pac-10 and Mountain West semifinals include a California/Oregon game that may actually hurt the Golden Bears more than help. A win isn’t going to really impress the selection committee; a loss most certainly won’t.

-ACC, Big 12, SEC and Big 10 play quarterfinal games. Texas A&M/Colorado is the obvious biggie, but keep an eye on Alabama/Kentucky and Indiana/Wisconsin. A loss and the Crimson Tide are just 17-12 with a bad road record, not much for non-conference wins and some puzzling losses (Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia, Notre Dame, Temple). Bama is likely in regardless, due to a strong SOS, but wouldn’t want to put that to the test. Ditto for IU against the Badgers, loss leaves them at 17-11 and with a decent but far from overwhelming profile.

-Finally, the Big West semifinals include that fun-and-gun Long Beach State team playing UC Irvine for the second time in a week. This one will be on ESPNU, check it out. Pacific meets Cal Poly in the other semi, unfortunately not on TV.




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