Tuesday, March 21, 2017

First And Second Round NCAA Tournament Post-Mortems

With the ACC decimated over the previous weekend, leaving North Carolina as the only representative, four conferences - the PAC-12, SEC, Big 12, and Big Ten - have emerged as the best in the nation, each represented in the Sweet 16 by three teams, replete with mountains of egg splashed across the collective faces of the tournament selection committee.

Remember when there was talk of 11 teams from the "elite" ACC headed to the NCAA tourney? Yes, there was madness circulating even before March. Now that Duke, Wake Forest, Virginia, Florida State, etc. have all been embarrassed and kicked to the collegiate curb, perhaps the genii which operates the tournament might consider smaller conferences or, perish the thought, more teams from the other power conferences.

Along with the ACC, the Big East took it on the chin pretty hard as well. After Villanova was bounced in the second round by Wisconsin (Big Ten strikes again), only Butler and Xavier remained of the seven teams originally offered bids to the tournament. The other four - Creighton, Seton Hall, Marquette and Providence - didn't win a single game. Another blunder by the almighty committee. Providence, which finished with a positive, 10-8, record in the conference, was awarded a play-in proposition, but couldn't muster past USC, from the PAC-12, which sent only four teams.

Of those, three remain: UCLA, Oregon, and Arizona, seeded 3, 3 and 2, respectively. Incidentally, the USC Trojans not only defeated Providence, but they also slipped by everybody's "sleeper" pick, #6 SMU in the East region, so the four teams from the PAC-12 have conspired against the tournament elitists to an 8-1 record, clearly the best of any conference. Maybe Utah (11-7 conf., 20-12) or Cal (10-8, 21-13) might have had a case, rather than the harping and crying over Syracuse, bounced out of the NIT by Ole Miss at the Carrier Dome?

There was much crying and griping in Philadelphia (Been there lately? You'd complain, too.) after sweetheart Villanova went down in disgrace to the #8 seed in the East, Wisconsin. The complaints generally questioned how a team that was ranked in the Top 25 almost all season could end up a #8, upsetting the path to the championship for the beloved Wildcats. One could lay the blame for that squarely on the selection committee's head again, which is why committees, whether they be in the corporate, political or sporting world, just plain suck. Next year, the NCAA might think about using computers to make up the 68 team field, rather than obviously flawed humans. But, I digress, because, after all, I'm a human, too. (I love my computer. Really, I do.)

Let's not forget the Atlantic-10 and American conferences when it comes to epic fails, though. The A-10 sent Dayton, VCU and Rhode Island to the tourney, none remain. VCU, in case anybody hasn't noticed, isn't the same kind of team since Shaka Smart left, and Dayton, despite winning the conference regular season with a 15-3 mark, lost their final game to George Washington and opened the conference tourney with an embarrassing 73-67 loss to Davidson.

The Flyers got whacked by Wichita State, 64-58. The Shockers were a solid team that took Kentucky, the #2 seed in the South, right to the final buzzer, losing 65-62. Not bad for a #10 seed. The Shockers made the case for Illinois State, as it were.

Rhode Island was the only team from the A-10 with a win, over Big East blowhard, Creighton, but the Rams were eliminated in the next round by Oregon. Boo-f-ing-hoo.

Out of the American conference came SMU (we already know what happened to them) and Cincinnati, which won its perfunctory one game, downing Kansas State, 75-61 in the opening round. Honestly, the Wildcats of K-State should have gone to the NIT. They were 8-10 in the Big 12. They got stomped, but, proving that the American conference is anything but red-blooded, the Bearcats were easily handled by UCLA, 79-67, in the second round.

If anything is clear, it's that the PAC-12, SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 have the best teams remaining and those two "Big" conferences were fairly represented, with the possible exclusion of Kansas State, though the Wildcats did beat up wake Forest in the play-in game. Of the seven Big Ten schools, only two - Maryland and Minnesota - lost in the opening round, and from the Big 12, only the Cowboys of Oklahoma State failed to win a single game.

The SEC sent five teams, and three of them, Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina are still alive. Arkansas won one game, dumping Seton Hall (Big East) in the opening round before scaring the bejeezus out of Narth Carolina, losing to the Tar Heels, 72-65. Nobody was convinced Vanderbilt belonged, and those skeptical were rewarded with a first round loss to Northwestern, by a mere deuce. Speaking of Northwestern, since it was their first ever appearance in the tournament, they deserved to win, but they probably should not have been picked.

So, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Michigan will soldier on for the Big Ten and the Big 12 teams remaining are Kansas (overrated), Baylor and West Virginia.

All the excuses in the world cannot lift the veils of stupidity and bias from the selection committee. The NCAA tournament has become like everything else in America, too complex, over-hyped and flawed by excessive media attention, the same media that has polluted our politics, our prime time viewing and entire generations of formerly sensible people (Baby Boomers and GenXers, and Millenials).

If the United States of America is ever to rise from the ashes in which it currently smoulders, East coast bias must be trampled forever into dust. There's a real world out there in the hinterlands of Minnesota, Nebraska, Utah and elsewhere, and yes, some of those people can play hoops. When media powerhouses like CBS and TNT readily share blame for egregious lapses of sanity such as the NCAA seeding process, perhaps the country can move ahead again.

Of course, there might still be the circus known as the US congress in Washington, DC, with which to contend, but that's a story for another day, in another place.

Tomorrow: Match-up Madness in the West and Midwest Regions
Wednesday: South and East Sweet 16 Match-ups

NCAA Tournament Conference Scoreboard
Through Sunday (3/19) Games
Conference (# of teams) Record Winners (# of Wins)
ACC (9) 7-8 Notre Dame (1), Florida St. (1), Virginia (1), Louisville (1), Duke (1), North Carolina (2)
Big East (7) 5-5 Villanova (1), Butler (2), Xavier (2)
Big Ten (7) 8-4 Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (1)
Big 12 (6) 8-3 Kansas State (1), West Virginia (2), Iowa St. (1), Kansas (2), Baylor (2)
SEC (5) 7-2 Florida (2), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (2), South Carolina (2)
PAC 12 (4) 8-1 USC (2), Arizona (2), Oregon (2), UCLA (2)
Atlantic 10 (3) 1-3 Rhode Island (1)
American (2) 1-2 Cincinnati (1)
West Coast (2) 3-1 Gonzaga (2), St. Mary's (1)
All Others (23) (4-23) Mt. St. Mary's (1), UC Davis (1), Middle Tennessee (1), Wichita State (1)

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