Monday, March 17, 2014

Comments on 2014 NCAA Field

Hello, college basketball fans!

This post  is to compare my picks to the actual NCAA field.

My personal feeling is if you do not put together a bracket before they unveil the real bracket you have less to complain about afterwards. You can say this team belongs in the field and this team does not. But the fact is that no matter what year 68 teams make the field. It is easy to say Team X doesn't deserve to get in or Team Y does. But 68 teams make it and (starting this season) 36 at large teams make it. There may be more than 36 deserving at large candidates but you can only put 36 in. Or there may be fewer than 36 and you have to put in a team that deserves to but does not.

So let me compare my 68 to the NCAA's 68.

I have said in previous posts that I thought Iowa had no business being in the NCAA field. They lost six of their last seven games, choked in the Big Ten Tournament to Northwestern, and made it in with the lowest RPI of any at large team. It seems every year (with the exception of last year when I didn't miss any teams) that there is a team that plays well early in the season that chokes down the stretch. I throw them out and the NCAA says no problem. If you're going to do that, why wait until Selection Sunday? Do the bracket in February.

Another team I actually thought deserved to make the field but I didn't have in my field of 68 was Xavier. I had actually said on Friday I thought they did enough. There was really only one reason I didn't have them. They had lost a game in the Bahamas to Iowa. Because of the head to head, I really couldn't have put them in the field and left out Iowa even though I could always bring up Northwestern.

One of the last teams I did pick that didn't make the field was Minnesota. I'm sure most of you were wondering why I picked Minnesota and not Iowa. Iowa finished 9-9 in the Big Ten while Minnesota went 8-10. The teams split games this season. While Iowa lost to Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament, Minnesota also lost to them (at home no less!) When comparing them straight up, Minnesota had the higher RPI, the better non conference schedule, and the better finish down the stretch. If it was Minnesota and Xavier head to head, I probably go with Xavier. But between Xavier, Minnesota, and Iowa, I didn't want Iowa and couldn't pick Xavier so Minnesota had to be the choice.

The other team I put in my field was Southern Mississippi. No one wanted to discuss them being left out, but I'm sure they had the highest RPI of teams that didn't make the NCAA field. To me the RPI exists for a reason. People want to talk about beating good teams but what counts as a good team? Usually they mean the RPI. So why should teams be rewarded for beating a team with a high RPI but not for having a high RPI?

I posted on Twitter yesterday that Minnesota was in the Top 50 RPI while Iowa was not. Well Iowa gets credit for beating Minnesota as a "quality win" but Minnesota does not get credit for beating Iowa. That's ridiculous to me. Iowa finished with five Top 50 RPI wins in my last calculations but one was Minnesota and the others were Nebraska and Xavier who were in the low 50's. Minnesota not only beat Iowa but also Florida State who just missed the Top 50 RPI. I get you have to draw the line somewhere but you do have to look at the teams they beat instead of just counting Top 50 wins.

As for Southern Mississippi, they also had a Top 50 win over North Dakota State. I have seen several teams with high RPI's make the field even though they didn't win many (or any) Top 50 games so it isn't unprecedented.

The other team that I had in my field but didn't make the real field was Southern Methodist (SMU). I didn't like their RPI or their loss to Houston in the AAC tournament but I did like their two wins over Connecticut and their win over Cincinnati. One of the CBS guys also mentioned their non conference schedule as a reason they didn't get in and I think for a major conference team (you can argue whether the AAC is a major or not) to schedule that poorly is no excuse. I remember Colorado being left out a few years ago for the same reason.

Of the three teams I had in the field that didn't make the real field I had all three of them in play in games so I did think all three of them were questionable choices and aren't too upset with any of them not getting in. I still cling to the tournament should be 64 and had it been before they expanded to 68 they wouldn't have gotten in I can't complain too much.

I kind of expected Iowa to make the field. I do like the fact that they were in a play in game. While the NCAA calls them the first round games, I think of them as play in games. To me, if you are one of the last four teams to make the field, prove you actually belong in the field. I think the First Four games should be all play in games. Let the teams that earn their way into the field get their day to play one of the top teams in a "regular" site. I don't consider the Dayton experience the same as the real NCAA experience. To me, that is playing one of four games at a site and the small conference Big South teams playing ACC opponents, not Big South opponents playing Southland opponents. But if you didn't win the automatic berth then I don't mind you missing out on the regular Field of 64 experience. And let's be honest, you would rather see Dayton play BYU and Nebraska play Arizona State than see Albany play Mt. St. Mary's or Cal Poly play Texas Southern. Then again, if a team goes 11-19 like Cal Poly does, maybe they deserve to have to fight their way to play a top seed rather than just get the experience. How about one play in for the lowest two automatic berths and three for at large teams?

While I kind of expected Iowa to make the field, the one that shocked me on Sunday was North Carolina State. I'm guessing the win over Syracuse was a big reason to put them in (but apparently losing to Northwestern is acceptable too). Also in the last month Syracuse lost home games to Boston College and Georgia Tech so why is beating Syracuse that big a deal right now? Mike Krzyzewski lobbied for the Wolfpack to make the field yesterday. The fact that the head of the AD was from Wake Forest, a fellow ACC member, makes me wonder about that choice. 

When the NCAA's released their bracket guidelines this season, they said the First Four matchups are to put the two worst automatic bids in one game, then the next two worst automatic bids in the other. The same holds for the at large bids. According to the NCAA seed list, these were followed. If I were in charge, I would put the worst team against the fourth worst and then the second worst against the third worst. Right now, one of the two teams you thought were the two worst teams to make the field will make the Field of 64 while one of the two teams you thought were better will not. Same applies for the at large bids. If you think Iowa and Tennessee are better than NC State and Xavier, why are you rewarding NC State and Xavier and guaranteeing one will make the Field of 64 while saying one of Iowa and Tennessee will not?

As for seeding, I thought even after Virginia won that Michigan was the better choice for the last #1 seed win or lose in the final although you can make the argument for Virginia. I believe I heard a committee member say that had Michigan won they would have been the last #1.

Some people thought Louisville should have been a #1. I didn't. I had them as a #3. But I thought #4 was low for sure. I moved the Spartans up to a #3 at the end after they won over Creighton.

Another team I was shocked at their seed was New Mexico. They win the MWC title and beat San Diego State two out of three times but get a  #7 while San Diego State gets a #4? You can argue the Aztecs are better (beating Kansas in Lawrence is impressive) but three seeds different is ridiculous.

The other team I was shocked at was Kentucky. They were playing for the SEC Tournament on Sunday and got a #8? They had the SEC championship game on late. I was watching the Big Ten at the time but I heard Kentucky almost won. Would UK still had been a #8 if they had won that game? That's crazy. Even after losing, I can't believe they were that low.

I also had Connecticut a #5 instead of a #7. Remember they won two of three from Cincinnati, who is a #5.

I had Iowa State over Villanova as a #2. Iowa State won the Big 12, beating Kansas as well as two other NCAA teams while Villanova choked in their first game against a team not even in the field. You can say Villanova won the Big East regular season but even I will admit the Big 12 is much more loaded than the Big East and Villanova choked twice against the only team in the field from their conference seeded above a 10 seed. The only good win Villanova had all year was Kansas, a team Iowa State also beat.

I had Syracuse a #4 based upon their slide. You can't tell me Syracuse is a better team than Michigan State or Louisville.  The others I thought were overseeded were Oklahoma and Massachusetts, both seeded two above where I had them.

Charles Barkley complained that he felt that they stacked the deck against Wichita State. I think the reason why is because of the four NCAA regional sites that Indianapolis is the most centrally located. Usually teams are placed in the regionals by placing the highest rated of each seed in the regional that is the closest geographically while spreading out conference foes in the first four lines. Well Michigan is a natural fit for Indianapolis and so is Louisville. Duke would probably be closer to New York but because Virginia is there Duke couldn't go there so they went to the next closest site which was Indianapolis.

But if you use that logic, guess where the worst teams go? Of course. The West. Going by the official seed order, the Midwest got the #3, #6, #9, and #13 ranked teams while the West got #2, #8, #11, and #16. In the three years since they went to seeding 1-68, the West has gotten the weakest #2 seed all three times. They got the weakest #1 seed two of the three years with this year the exception because Arizona is a western team so they got to stay in the west. Last year's Midwest Regional (also in Indianapolis) had Louisville, Duke, and Michigan State. There is usually one stacked regional and if you look at a map you can probably see why. The west nine out of ten times is going to be the worst of the four regionals. So either you tell some of the better teams you have to go out west or you're going to get unbalanced regionals. Or better yet, why have a West Regional at all? This year it does make sense because of Arizona. But I've seen years Connecticut and Duke were sent out west as the #1 seed. If Arizona or UCLA is the best team out west they are virtually guaranteed the right to stay out west. You can't say that about any other regional.

But at least Los Angeles and San Diego are nice places to go. You got the sun and the beach. Why is the NCAA insisting on punishing teams and shipping them to Spokane? Congratulations Michigan State for winning the Big Ten Tournament and beating Wisconsin and Michigan. You've won an all expense trip to Spokane ... again (they were there in 2010!) You can complain about Buffalo and Raleigh all you want but there are plenty of top NCAA teams close by. Who's close to Spokane? Gonzaga (and they're not even playing in Spokane). They assign teams to first weekend sites in the seed order. Michigan State and San Diego State were #14 and #16 on the list of the top four seeds. I believe the only reason MSU got punished is because UCLA (#15) was so close to San Diego that they decided to let them play there.

But if I wasn't clear, NO ONE WANTS TO GO TO SPOKANE!

I also think it is time to move the games (at least some of the time) from Dayton. If you go by strict competitive balance, then in theory the winners of the two play in games should play the two best #1 seeds. Well the second #1 seed was Arizona. It is a little too much to have teams go to Dayton on Tuesday night and then fly out to San Diego on Thursday to play Arizona. So instead of getting a play in winner, Arizona has to play a regular #16 seed (technically a #15 if you say the four worst #16's are the four #16's).

As for the at large berths, usually I would have the play in games as 12 seeds. But most of the 12 seeds are placed in western sites. Of the four #12 seeds, two play in Spokane and one plays in San Diego. So they then have to give one of the play in winners a #11 seed (although according to the seed list the highest of the last four at large teams, Tennessee, was #44 which was a #11 seed anyway). I often feel that if you are one of the last four teams to get in, you should have to go to Spokane and not complain about it because you should be happy you get to go at all. Well the last four teams get to avoid Spokane (or Boise if they host) altogether while teams that earn conference titles have to be punished and sent to Spokane. Or better yet, get rid of sites like Spokane altogether. When most of the teams have to fly more than halfway across the country to play there, they shouldn't be hosting.

I have actually once commented to someone who works for the NCAA's about the imbalance of NCAA teams from the west. While this seasons field has six Pac 12 teams and seven Big 12 teams, college basketball for the most part is dominated by teams East of the Mississippi River. The last Pac-12 team to win the national championship was Arizona in 1997 and since then just one Big 12 team (Kansas) has won the national championship. Since 2000, only one (Kansas) out of 14 national champions came west of the Mississippi River. The NCAA has to account for that. It seems unfair that far more eastern teams have to fly west than the other way around. Have more sites east of the Mississippi and fewer west. Or put the sites in the west in Texas or Kansas City or Denver. I can live with California. But the Pacific Northwest? Maybe Seattle or Portland once in a while (next year BOTH host which makes no sense whatsoever). But Spokane (or Boise)? No way!

Coming shortly, Schmolik Bracket Analysis.

1 comment:

  1. Of course people want to go to Spokane and/or Boise. They're both very underrated cities. Stop with the East Coast bias.