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Devils take down Kansas in the finals
By Ken Davis
Let’s give the NCAA Tournament committee some positive feedback. That group had a rough Selection Sunday.
At least they got the top four seeds right. And that wasn’t as easy as it might have looked. In the past two weeks, Ohio State and Kansas were the only teams that played with the obvious confidence of No. 1 seeds. They secured things by winning their conference tournaments.
Pittsburgh and Duke were wobbly but made it into the other two spots. In large part, that’s because other candidates, such as North Carolina, BYU, Notre Dame and Purdue, didn’t take advantage of their opportunities.
That’s about it for the positives.
Other than some unbalanced brackets, the committee had done its job reasonably well in recent seasons. Not so in 2011. When the post-selection debate focuses on the teams that were snubbed, that’s a pretty clear indication the committee didn’t do its job (kinda like those officials in the St. John’s-Rutgers game last week).
Once the games begin, most of us will move past the snubs, but at places such as Virginia Tech, Colorado, Harvard and Alabama, the hurt will linger all summer. It won’t feel better until everyone gets back on the court next October, and then the mission will be renewed. If you haven’t noticed, there is an obsession with making the NCAA Tournament. When you are kept out for unknown reasons, frustration turns to anger.
Virginia Tech and Colorado have the biggest gripes. And since this has become an annual thing for Tech, coach Seth Greenberg really couldn’t contain himself. Instead of going national on TV, Greenberg met with his local beat writers in his office. He voiced his concern that someone on the selection committee has an “agenda” when it comes to Virginia Tech.
That’s likely nonsense. But you cannot blame Greenberg for feeling that way. He has been told he needs to strengthen his non-conference schedule, so he did so. His Hokies beat Duke near the end of the season, but all that wasn’t enough.
“I totally wonder if someone in that room has an agenda,” Greenberg said. “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 thing that politics would be involved, but it makes you wonder.”
It would be one thing if Gene Smith, Ohio State’s athletic director and NCAA Tournament committee chairman, offered any direct and specific explanations when asked about particular schools. But that never happens. It is chair tradition to answer questions without really answering them. They hide behind the “15 indicators” used to judge a team and then say, “That’s the way the vote turned out.”
Schools that have been left out should be provided with specific feedback and data, reasons that they missed the field. Without that, how can coaches and programs use this as a learning process?
The message sent to Colorado and Alabama was that their improvement over the course of the season didn’t matter. Both the Buffaloes and the Tide were much more successful in conference play than non-conference play. There was a time when one of the committee’s “indicators” was performance in the past 10-12 games. They say that isn’t used any more. I’m not sure it should have been dropped completely.
I watched all or part of probably 10 Colorado games on TV this season. The Buffaloes are NCAA worthy. So is Alabama, champion of the SEC West. Did you see Tommy Amaker’s face as Harvard walked off the floor after losing to Princeton in that playoff game Saturday? He probably knew right then that the NCAA committee wouldn’t take two Ivy League teams.
On the other hand, UAB evidently was rewarded for winning the Conference USA regular-season title. The Blazers got a First Four game against Clemson Tuesday at Dayton. (Don’t even get me started on Clemson’s resume.)
The winner in all this? The NIT. Alabama, Virginia Tech, Colorado and Boston College received No. 1 seeds in the NIT.
“I just feel like the way we’re playing right now, we’re one of the top 68 teams in the country,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “I know that. But we’re not in the tournament. We have to deal with it and move on. We have to make a statement in the NIT.”
Welcome to Move On Monday, the day after Selection Sunday.
Florida really got a gift with a No. 2 in the Southeast. The Gators were clobbered 70-54 in the SEC championship game by Kentucky. Florida won the SEC East but still lost to Kentucky twice. The Wildcats got a No. 4 seed. That makes no sense.
Just a few weeks ago, Texas was being called the best team in college basketball. Then the Longhorns struggled a bit offensively and lost three of four (including one to Colorado). Then they lost to Kansas in the Big 12 tournament championship game and suddenly they are a No. 4 seed. That’s quite a tumble. Texas will play more like a No. 2 or No. 3.
Call this a weak tournament if you wish, but when you have Kentucky, Texas, Louisville and Wisconsin as the No. 4 seeds … well, that’s not too shabby.
All the snub talk Sunday took some pressure off the Big East Conference. It was no surprise the league landed 11 teams in the field but the anticipated criticism was reduced a bit by the other distractions.
Sir Charles Barkley was about the only analyst leveling shots at the Big East. That wasn’t a surprise either, but this time his soap box was the CBS set. Joined by his TNT/TBS/NBA buddy Kenny Smith, Barkley launched his CBS invasion by continuing his complaint that one conference shouldn’t have 11 teams. (This merger will be good viewing, but I’m not sure about the commentary.)
And while everyone else was praising Kemba Walker and UConn for winning five straight games to capture the Big East tournament, Barkley was saying something about a 9-9 team not deserving the opportunity to play five games. Never did quite understand that point.
One problem the Big East has created for itself is third-round (formerly known as second-round before expansion) matchups against conference foes. But something had to give. Possible third-round games include: Marquette vs. Syracuse and Cincinnati vs. Connecticut.
“That’s a double-edge sword,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun told The Hartford Courant. “They know you; you know them. It does take away a little bit of preparation or adjustments.”
Smith said the committee didn’t struggle too much with that wrinkle.
“They have a conference scheduling format where they don’t play each other twice, some schools that only play once,” Smith said of the Big East. “When we did that bracketing, knew that we’d have rematches, we tried to match up the one plays and not the two plays. That created a slight challenge, along with all the other regular season matchups of other teams we were bracketing.
“It was a little bit more challenging than normal, but it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated it would be. It worked out very well. Actually, that question speaks to why a particular team is not always in its true seed. As you well know, teams can be moved one line. We try to avoid that when possible because we want to stay true to the integrity of the seeding process. But when you are in those scenarios, inevitably teams get moved.”
Georgetown guard Chris Wright has been cleared to play in the NCAA Tournament. A healthy Wright makes the Hoyas a different and better team. Wright broke his hand late in the season, and the Hoyas averaged 53 points in three games without him. The Hoyas are the No. 6 seed in the Southwest and will open against the winner of the USC vs. VCU game in the First Four. It will be interesting to see how limited Wright will be and whether he is wearing a cast.
St. John’s will be without senior forward D.J. Kennedy, who suffered a torn ACL in the loss to Syracuse in the Big East tournament. Coach Steve Lavin said Kennedy will travel with the team and assist with coaching duties. The problem for the coaches will be splitting up his minutes and finding production to make up for Kennedy, who was the top rebounder and third-leading scorer for the Red Storm.
Duke guard Nolan Smith seemed to bounce back quite well from the toe injury that sidelined him temporarily during the semifinals of the ACC tournament. The big mystery continues to surround freshman guard Kyrie Irving, who told reporters Sunday that it is possible he could return to action in the NCAA Tournament. Coach Mike Krzyzewski downplayed that possibility but Irving raised eyebrows working out before ACC games Friday and Saturday. If he is cleared medically, you can bet Coach K will use him.
Florida State is still waiting on clearance for forward Chris Singleton, who has missed six games with a foot injury. He dressed and went through warm-ups in the ACC Tournament. Coach Leonard Hamilton said he never considered playing Singleton. The Seminoles are the No. 10 seed in the Southwest and play Texas A&M in the second round. They desperately need Singleton.
West. No. 1 Duke should still reach the Final Four. But this region is loaded with No. 2 San Diego State, No. 3 UConn, No. 4 Texas, and No. 5 Arizona. I like Duke over Texas and San Diego State over UConn in the Elite Eight. San Diego State will have a home crowd in Anaheim for the final, but Duke will prevail.
Southeast. Top-seeded Pittsburgh gets to Houston by beating Butler, Belmont and surprising UCLA, the No. 7 seed. I have UCLA beating No. 10 Michigan State, No. 2 Florida and No. 3 BYU. No. 13 Belmont is the Cinderella team of the tournament. The Bruins are going to stun No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 12 Utah State, a winner over No. 5 Kansas State.
BEST SECOND-ROUND GAMES (formerly first-round games)
East: No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 11 Marquette
West: No. 7 Temple vs. No. 10 Penn State
Southwest: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Morehead State
Southesast: No. 8 Butler vs. No. 9 Old Dominion
UPSET SPECIAL (5 vs. 12, of course)
Utah State over Kansas State
THIRD-ROUND GAMES WE WANT TO SEE
East: No. 7 Washington vs. No. 2 North Carolina
West: No. 5 Arizona vs. No. 4 Texas
Southwest: No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 2 Notre Dame
Southeast: No. 3 BYU vs. No. 6 Gonzaga
FINAL FOUR PREDICTIONS
Duke over Syracuse; Kansas over Pittsburgh
Duke over Kansas