|Hot finishes don’t mean much to committee|
|Sunday, March 16, 2014 8:07 PM|
The man in charge of the NCAA selection committee insists a win in November is worth the same as a win in March.
Don’t believe him? Check out the seeds slapped beside these conference champions:
—A 4 for Louisville of the American Athletic.
—A 4 for Michigan State of the Big Ten.
—Yet another 4 for UCLA of the Pac-12.
—A 7 for New Mexico of the Mountain West.
Oh, and don’t forget that 8 for Kentucky, which had the ball and a chance to beat Florida, the NCAA tournament’s top overall seed, in the waning seconds of the SEC title game.
Only Virginia, which wrapped up the ACC tournament Sunday to back up its regular-season title, seemed to get a significant bump from the conference tournaments that polish off resumes of teams before the start of America’s favorite office pool — March Madness.
Ron Wellman, chair of the NCAA selection committee, said the Cavaliers, considered a 2 or 3 on most mock-ups, “continued to impress us throughout the year.”
Asked to explain the mediocre seed for a team like Louisville, the defending national champion that has won 12-of-13 and rolled through the AAC tournament, Wellstone explained the committee looks at the entire resume, not just March.
“We look at the total body of work, everything they did from November to March,” he replied. “Every time we scrubbed that seed, Louisville ended at the same place every time when compared to the people above them.”
The people above them in the Midwest region, which shapes up as the toughest, include top-seeded and undefeated Wichita State, No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 Duke. Yes, that’s three of last year’s Final Four teams. The national semifinals are April 5 in Arlington, Texas.
On the ‘1’ line in the West was Arizona, which stayed there despite falling in the Pac-12 title game to UCLA. The Bruins are a ‘4,’ same as Michigan State and Louisville — their fellow power-conference champions.
“They pass everyone’s ‘eye test,’” Wellman said. “They’re playing as well right now as anyone in the country. If you look at the last three or four weeks, they probably would’ve been seeded differently. When you look at the entire season, then it’s a little bit different.”
Of course, the numbers are just that — numbers. In an era of one-and-done, superstar coaches and unending parity, the real drama starts after the brackets are out. That’s why Warren Buffett had no problem paying the insurance premium against a $1 billion payoff for anyone who fills out a perfect bracket.
“There’s more good teams and less great teams,” said coach Bill Self of second-seeded Kansas. “The difference between a 2 seed and a 7 or 8 seed is as narrow as it’s ever been.”
The last four bubble teams in this year’s draw were 12th-seeded North Carolina State and Xavier, who play in the First Four on Tuesday, and 11th-seeded Iowa and Tennessee, who play Wednesday.
Left out of the tournament was SMU of the AAC — a team almost all the experts had securely in the bracket.
But not the folks in the conference room, who couldn’t overcome the Mustangs’ strength of schedule: 129.
“When I saw Louisville, I kind of figured that they didn’t have a lot of respect for our conference,” said coach Larry Brown. “But we only can blame ourselves, that’s the way I look at it.”
The committee handed out only seven at-large bids to mid-majors after they took 11 in each of the last two seasons.
The Big 12 led all conferences with seven teams, though winning the conference didn’t move Iowa State past the ‘3’ line.
Other conference titles that didn’t change much:
—St. Joe’s was the champion of the six-bid Atlantic-10 and got a 10 seed while the team the Hawks beat, VCU, was seeded fifth.
—Providence went from the bubble to Big East champion and was seeded 11th.
Meanwhile, Kansas lost in the semifinals of the Big 12 but remained a 2 seed because of its ranking in the RPI — No. 3. The Jayhawks have to get through the first weekend without center Joel Embiid, out with a back injury, but could face a third-round game against Mountain West champs New Mexico.
“Off the top of my head, I can’t remember exactly what the conversation was about New Mexico,” Wellman added. “I can tell you the conversations about New Mexico were very positive.”
In the West, Arizona’s second game could come against eighth-seeded Gonzaga, which lost its second game as a No. 1 seed last year, or No. 9 Oklahoma State, which has one of the nation’s best players in Marcus Smart. The nation’s top scorer, Doug McDermott (26.9 points per game), is on the other side of that bracket with No. 3 Creighton.
On Virginia’s side of the East bracket is one team nobody wants to play come tournament time — No. 4 Michigan State, which hadn’t won back-to-back games since late January, but strung three together to win the nation’s second-toughest conference.
“You don’t get many teams that are talented, have inside and outside, show toughness, are together, have great chemistry,” coach Tom Izzo said. “I’ve said three times in my career that I thought we were good enough to get to a Final Four. I thought this team was next in line.”
Still possible NCAA surprises without ‘Dunk City’: Mercer has already been to “Dunk City” on the way to its first NCAA tournament since 1985, grounding the darling team everyone got to know last March.
Florida Gulf Coast, which last year became the first No. 15 seed to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, isn’t in this 68-team field after losing at home to Mercer in the Atlantic Sun Conference championship game.
So can those Bears (26-8) from Macon, Ga., duplicate what their Atlantic Sun rival did last year? Will another double-digit seed step up in all the madness this year?
Maybe it could be the team from deep in the heart of Texas with a 28-game winning streak. Or possibly some Fightin’ Blue Hens, Chanticleers or Jaspers.
Mercer’s five senior starters are at least getting a chance they felt was missed last March. The Bears drew a No. 14 seed in the loaded Midwest Regional and play Duke on Friday in Raleigh, N.C.
While watching FGCU’s captivating NCAA run last year, after the Eagles won at Mercer for the Atlantic Sun title, all that went through Bears guard Langston Hall’s mind was, “That could have been us.”
Stephen F. Austin (31-2), the Southland Conference team from Nacogdoches, Texas, hasn’t lost in nearly four months — only No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Wichita State have won more games. The Lumberjacks, a No. 12 seed facing VCU on Friday, were also motivated this season by a conference championship loss last March that left them out of the Big Dance then.
“It was definitely disappointing but it’s definitely fueled our engines for this year. We’ve been playing with a chip on our shoulder,” said Jacob Parker, the floppy-haired junior forward who was the Southland Conference Player of the Year. “We always say one team, one dream. And coach’s big motto is dream big.”
Ivy league champion Harvard (26-4) is in its third consecutive NCAA tournament after a 66-year drought, and is a No. 12 seed against Cincinnati. The Crimson got their first NCAA tourney win last year as a No. 14 seed, upsetting New Mexico 68-62.
But Harvard’s lone victory last March was overshadowed by that No. 15 seed from “Dunk City.”
One of the No. 15 seeds this season is Eastern Kentucky (24-9), an OVC team that is among the national leaders for made 3-pointers (9.2 per game) and steals (8.8). The Colonels’ first NCAA tournament game since 2007 is Friday against Big 12 regular-season champion Kansas (24-9).
The other 15s are Patriot champion American playing Wisconsin; Southern Conference winner Wofford taking on Michigan, a Final Four team last year; and Horizon champ Milwaukee against Villanova.
MAAC champ Manhattan (25-7) got in the field for the first time since 2004, when as a No. 12 seed the Jaspers won a first-round game against Florida. They also won as a No. 13 seed against Oklahoma in the 1995 tourney. This time, they are a No. 13 again and take on defending national champion Louisville in the Midwest.
North Dakota State has won three consecutive FCS national football championships but the Bison (25-6) are in the NCAA basketball tournament for only the second time — a No. 12 seed facing Oklahoma (23-9) of the Big 12. The Summit League champion Bison are the nation’s best shooting team, making 51 percent of their field goals this season, and also are one of only 13 teams with less than 10 turnovers a game.
The Blue Hens from Delaware (25-9) won the Colonial Athletic Association championship game on a late field goal by 6-9 forward Carl Baptiste, who finished with a career-best 24 points. Devon Saddler, the Blue Hens career scoring leader, convinced his coach to go inside to Baptiste instead of having him take a final shot like everyone else expected before Delaware’s first NCAA berth since 1999.
Big South tournament champion Coastal Carolina (21-12) is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993, which was two years after they became the first Big South team to make the field.
Seventh-year Chanticleers coach Cliff Ellis previously took South Alabama, Clemson and Auburn to the NCAA tournament. But his last trip was 11 years ago when Auburn made it to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen for the second time in five years.
Ellis had been hopeful of maybe getting in one of the games in Dayton to start the tournament. The Chanticleers are instead a No. 16 taking on Virginia on Friday.
Ohio State meets Dayton in NCAA South Region: Sixth-seeded Ohio State meets 11th-seeded Dayton in the second round of the NCAA tournament’s South Region.
The teams will meet Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y.
The Buckeyes (25-9) have been one of the most up-and-down teams in the field, rising to No. 3 nationally after a 15-0 start only to lose five out of six and fall out of the Top 25.
Ohio State closed the regular season by beating eventual Big Ten tournament champion Michigan State at home- but lost to regular-season champ Michigan in the tournament semifinals.
The Flyers (23-10) lost in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals to keep them on the NCAA bubble. Dayton last made the tournament in 2009.
The schools are located about an hour apart, with their last meeting coming in the NIT in 2008. Many people in Ohio have been critical of Ohio State coach Thad Matta and athletic director Gene Smith because the Buckeyes don’t play in-state Division I teams away from their home court but they’re now meeting in the NCAAs.
Dayton is coached by Archie Miller, the brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller. He was on Matta’s staff with the Buckeyes.
The Dayton-Ohio State winner faces the winner of third-seeded Syracuse and 14th-seeded Western Michigan in Saturday’s third round.