The NCAA Tournament field was unveiled last night. Thank God Charles Barkley was there, because his lack of professionalism and preparation made the committee look a little closer to competent by comparison. Look, I know TNT and TBS are carrying some games this week – and I’m happy about the additional coverage – but why do we need Chuck talking about “that Jimmer kid out west” and making it painfully obvious that he did zero prepwork for his One Shining Moment? I don’t have a problem with Ted Turner wedging himself into the March Madness mix. Just swap Chuck out for Ernie Johnson and things might be okay. He was turr’ble last night.
Anyway, on to the field itself. Obviously, there are some much-discussed head-scratchers like UAB and VCU. Maybe you can make a case to say Colorado deserved a spot. But I don’t get too hung up on “who’s in, who’s out” because the bubble was simply awful, so trying to field a group of 68 teams this year must have been a real challenge. This was clearly not the year for expansion. If anything, last night made the case for contraction.
The bigger problem I have with the committee is similar to what we saw last year. Teams continue to be poorly seeded (this year more than last) and regions are wildly unbalanced (not quite as bad as last year). Last year, you’ll recall the outrage about the supposed third 1-seed Duke being given a very advantageous bracket, while overall 1-seed Kansas received the most challenging region. When Duke cut down the nets in Indianapolis after squeaking by a feisty Butler team, many pointed to their relatively easy path as being a major reason for their title run. Similarly, Pittsburgh (again, the third 1-seed) seems to have received the rock-star treatment this season. Pitt’s draw may not be quite as ridiculous as what 2010 Duke received, but it’s still pretty remarkable when you look at it beside the other three regions.
Seeding was the real story this year. Kentucky trounced their opponents in the SEC tournament and finished their season on a very strong note. Their struggles on the road during the heart of the season were well-documented, but it seemed the Wildcats were putting it together at the right time, closing the season at a very high level. The committee saw it differently, as Kentucky received a 4-seed in the toughest region of all, the East. (Oh, and as a bonus, they face the Ivy League again, so get your “hicks vs. pricks” jokes ready, my fellow Elitist Jerks!)
To make it to the Final Four, Kentucky would have to go through #1 overall seed Ohio State and possibly Syracuse or North Carolina. Compare that to Florida, the team Kentucky boatraced Sunday afternoon to take the SEC tournament title. The Gators received a 2-seed in the aforementioned and relatively soft Southeast region. Kentucky ended the season #7 in the Pomeroy ratings, while Florida was #19. Both are quality teams, but the seeding gap (especially factoring in regional strength, location, etc.) is hard to overlook.
Texas is another team who ended up a 4-seed despite having a very strong season. Granted, they may be the anti-Kentucky, peaking in the middle of the season and closing meekly. But still, they had a quality resume and finished #4 in the Pomeroy ratings. Their path? A match-up with Duke in the Sweet 16, followed by (if chalk holds up) San Diego State or UConn.
Or how about Washington? They end the season #15 in the Pomeroy ratings and draw a 7 seed, potentially playing recently-red-hot-but-now-entirely-uncertain North Carolina in Charlotte in the second round. It almost makes you believe that “east coast bias” crap those crunchy hippie nutjobs talk about. Almost.
Oh, and while we’re in the East, how about the reward Ohio State received for being the best and most complete team in college basketball all season. 32-2, #1 in Pomeroy, and they get North Carolina, Syracuse, and Kentucky. And let’s not overlook a potential matchup with a legit George Mason team in the second round. If the Buckeyes make the Final Four, they will look back and know they fought for it.
Speaking of Big Ten teams, how in the world did some of these squads receive such inflated seeding? Penn State and Michigan State as 10 seeds? Illinois as a 9? I’m starting to wish Jim Tressel would fire Gordon Gee and Gene Smith.
Finally, I’d like to take a moment to laugh at Seth Greenberg. He routinely schedules a quilted Northern® soft non-conference slate, hangs around .500 in the ACC, and then cries on the second Sunday night of March. Back in the day, 8-8 or 9-7 in the ACC would be certainly good enough. But that was when the ACC had more than three really good coaches. Look, I know the Hokies had some really terrible injuries and without them Virginia Tech would probably be safely in the Big Dance. But stuff happens, and you have to adapt. His team fell short yet again, and we all expected Seth to complain. The difference this year was that Greenberg didn’t stop at hoarse-voiced whining. He essentially floated the theory of some sort of anti-Virginia Tech conspiracy. Greenberg said:
“Just disappointed. You almost wonder if someone in that room has their own agenda and that agenda doesn’t include Virginia Tech. Just plain and simple. I totally wonder it, if someone in that room has an agenda. The explanation was so inconsistent with the result that it was almost mind-boggling. I guess they even brought up our non-conference schedule. Kansas State, Purdue, Oklahoma State, UNLV, Penn State, St. Bonaventure that was supposed to be big and Mississippi State that was projected to win the SEC. I’d say that’s a pretty significant slate and challenge. So they must not have looked at it very closely. But I guess they did. I feel for these kids. Doesn’t take away from what we accomplished this year … but it’s extremely disheartening. You would hate to think that politics would be involved, but it makes you wonder.”
First of all, Seth, if you think the committee is capable of organizing and carrying out a conspiracy, you’re giving them too much credit. Second, play somebody. Third, get your guys motivated for games against teams NOT from the Triangle. Fourth, there’s a phrase you need to become familiar with: “Man’s game, bitch.”
When play starts this week, most of what you have just read will no longer matter. As I’ve said before, the NCAA tournament is the greatest event in sports, and no matter how hard they try, the committee just can’t ruin it. So, call in sick Thursday and Friday, crack open a beer at 11 a.m., and root for your favorite team and your Cinderella pick. And by all means, check in at EJSIC for more tourney coverage (from the other guys) and nonsensical, self-absorbed drivel (from me).