Fighting the Critics of College Basketball

I take it UConn fans are having a good time.

I take it UConn fans are having a good time.

Kentucky and UConn, two teams that couldn’t do any better than an eight and a seven seed respectively, are in the title game tonight.

For many, this game symbolizes everything wrong with college basketball. Connecticut is just coming off some recruiting scandals. Kentucky is a lightning rod for critics as the Wildcats go through recruiting classes the way car insurance companies go through advertising campaigns.

Tweets I’ve seen go as far as calling Kentucky “the Devil of college basketball.”

Kentucky went 4-6 against the RPI Top 50 in the regular season. Three of those losses were to Florida.

Connecticut went 7-5 against the RPI Top 50 in the regular season and has now defeated Florida twice if you count the tournament. But three of those losses came to Louisville. A team Kentucky has now beaten twice.

So both teams have taken out each others nemesis. Both have loss games to squads that failed to make the tournament. Kentucky had the embarrassing defeat to 14-20 South Carolina.

This game tonight is telling many people that the regular season does not matter. That’s a perception fans will have to get over.

Watching the women’s tournament explains why the men’s tournament should be rejoiced. There is a huge lack of parity in the women’s basketball. Parity that has made the men’s tournament so exciting.

Parity is why Mercer can beat Duke. Why Dayton can make it to the Elite Eight as bubble team. Why UConn and Kentucky can make it to the title game.

On the women’s side it was a foregone conclusion that UConn would meet Notre Dame. The two undefeated teams will meet Tuesday night. I’m happy for them and the women’s tournament should be respected. Just read some of the blog posts from the players themselves to see how important it is.

But while the women’s tournament values juggernauts, I like how open the men’s tournament is more. This is not a condemnation on the regular season. It’s just how deep the talent pool is in the men’s game right now. Soon, we will see a 16 seed take down a one. The parity of the sport is reaching that level.

So instead of whining about tonight’s game as a funeral for the good old days of college basketball, look at it as two teams that earned their way through tough competition to get here. The Huskies and Wildcats were challenged greatly on their way to the title game and persevered.

Isn’t that what we want in a national champion?

Nine Overlooked Details of March

Here are some things you might have missed while paying attention to all of the March Madness awesomeness.

No. 9: The Big-12 fails to boast
It’s very common for conferences to talk themselves up with postseason success and here is the Big-12’s attempt.

The more you know.

The more you know.

On the surface, this is impressive. However, the Big-12 has fewer teams than the other leagues on this list with only 10. Everyone else has 12 or more, hurting their percentage.

With that taken into account the chart doesn’t really say much at all. It doesn’t help that none of the seven Big-12 teams made it to the Elite Eight.

No. 8: NIT upsets

While there were several upsets in the NCAA tournament, there were quite a few in the NIT too. Robert Morris took down a No. 1 seed for the second straight year in St. John’s. Conference USA was able claim success having Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech reach the quarterfinals. Belmont was the victim of a court storming at Clemson. I guess beating Belmont is like beating Duke in the eyes of Clemson fans.

No. 7: Best fan photo ever

There have been some amazing photos of fans and players celebrating in the tournament. The best has to go to two rival coaches eating popcorn together. I’m biased being born in Kentucky, but Denny Crum and Joe B. Hall is just too good to pass up. Hard to believe they host a radio show together now.

No. 6: Year of the Bison

North Dakota State has to have the happiest athletic department this year. With a FCS championship and a basketball team that won its first ever NCAA tournament game, things are pretty darn good.

No. 5: Women’s NIT
There actually is a women’s NIT and unlike the men’s it is 64 teams. That’s a lot of postseason basketball that receives little to no media attention. This tweet confirms that.

That’s the best crowd for round 2? That’s 10 percent of the attendance for some of these men’s NCAA Tournament games.

No. 4: CBI team with a losing record

If you can’t get into the NCAA Tournament or the NIT there is always the College Basketball Invitational. The CBI has attracted some power conference teams in the past and got Penn State and Texas A&M in this year. So it’s sort of legit.

Problem is Siena is in the championship final. The Saints were the only team in the field to have a losing record and they might win it all. Kind of looks bad for the CBI but it’s not its fault. Other teams turned down their CBI bid like Indiana, allowing lesser schools to get in. Siena is making the most of their opportunity as it should. Postseason basketball should never be taken for granted.

No. 3: A women’s CBI exists too.

The Women’s Basketball Invitational has already crowned their champion as Illinois-Chicago defeated Stephen F. Austin in the title game. While attention is scarce, it is still a meaningful event to the team’s fans.

No. 2: CIT is still meaningless

Meaningful is the opposite of the College Tournament or CIT. Unlike the CBI, the CIT field is composed of nothing but mid-majors, most of which are from conferences with low RPIs. The CIT does not have a set bracket making it a tournament that’s constantly in flux and difficult to follow. Check out how many people attended a game at Eastern Michigan. Less than 400!

So what does the CIT do to validate themselves?

Rookie of the Year from 4 on Vimeo.

Because claiming Damian Lillard is going to make people care? Sorry, but finding the one or two guys from small schools who made it big in the NBA is not compelling enough. The other tournaments have more NBA prospects. Good luck with that.

No. 1: Central Missouri shows dedication

The University of Central Missouri won the division II basketball title Saturday and congratulations. UCM goes with the Mules for its men’s teams and Jennies for its women’s. I guess the Philadelphia Phillies are a softball team then.
The main story here though is how UCM reacted to the championship title. Whoever runs their Twitter account was updating a softball game for the “Jennies” while the “Mules” won the championship game on the hardwood.

This has to be the most dedication to a job I’ve seen by an athletic department. Most would have solely focused on the basketball game but here is UCM weaving it in and out with regular season softball coverage.

Props to Central Missouri to making sure the Jennies get the same amount of respect as the Mules. Feminists better rejoice.

Are teams shooting too many 3s in the NCAA Tournament?

No wonder they miss. They're wearing Nikes.

No wonder they miss. They’re wearing Nikes.

A stat I keep seeing over and over in the NCAA Tournament is the sheer volume of 3-pointers some teams are taking. I used to see the three-pointer as an equalizer for the smaller schools. A way for schools lacking in size to stay competitive against the basketball elite. Yet it’s the basketball elite that are launching the 3s in this tournament. And the underdogs start a dance circle every time those 3s go up. Literally.

Oklahoma shot 30 3s against North Dakota State and made 12 of them. The Bison only took 14 and made six for a higher percentage. Why would a Big-12 team good enough to make the tournament settle for so many jumpers against a mid-major?

Ivy League schools like Harvard are expected to be filled with finesse jump shooters. Yet in its upset vs. Cincinnati, Harvard shot 12 more free throws because it attacked the rim more.

Manhattan nearly pulled off the upset over Louisville even though it only attempted five 3s. In comparison, Louisville went 4-13 from deep.

And then of course there’s Duke, a member of basketball’s royalty. Yet against underdog Mercer, Duke attempted 37 3s! Duke even made 15 of them and still lost. That’s because it gave away 22 free possessions to Mercer with all those misses from deep. The Bears went to the free throw line 15 more times the Blue Devils. Two days later against Tennessee, Mercer only attempted nine foul shots. The correlation is evident.

Even the best 3-point shooting teams in the country are clanking left and right. Creighton, the No. 1 3-point field-goal percentage team in the country, shot 5-24 from behind the arc in its embarrassing 85-55 defeat to Baylor.

Gonzaga, a top 10 3-point percentage team, shot 6-16 in its loss to Arizona in a game that was never competitive.

One team even won last week while not hitting a single 3 at all. Stanford defeated Kansas 60-57, despite going 0-9 from 3. It helped that Kansas went 5-16.

Dayton defeated Ohio State but only went 3-13 from 3. The Buckeyes didn’t do any better going 3-12.

Syracuse went 0-10 in its loss to Dayton. After a 0-7 start you would think the Orange would get the hint to attack the basket.

St. Louis was the worse among all of them against Louisville, going 0-15 from 3. Might as well have been 15 turnovers.

The first weekend of the tournament validated all the people who say you must attack the basket. In six games against above average defenses, no team is going to be hot from 3 all the time. You have to have multiple ways to score.

Now the pressure falls to schools like Michigan, Michigan State, UCLA, Baylor, UConn, and Dayton. All are top-50 teams in 3-point field goal percentage but will now be shooting in large NBA and even NFL venues this weekend. These larger venues are not to kind to shooters who are trying to gauge their range.

We’ll see if the feast and famine trend from the 3-point line continues. For those who rely on the 3, I sure hope they have a contingency plan.

A Bracket to Make Fun of

Since I’ve grown accustomed to being wrong on many things in life, I decided to go ahead and post my bracket. Maybe it will help you out with yours or just give you a good laugh. If you missed my upset specials you can find a detailed look at them here.

I’m picking Florida to win it all mainly because of their stellar defense.

I have Wichita State meeting them in the title game as the Shockers have played quality teams this year. Don’t believe the lies of Digger Phelps.

Now it’s time for you guys to laugh at me. Enjoy!

Bracket Florida 2014Bracket Virginia 2014Bracket WisconsinBracket WSU 2014

Upset picks that are not for the faint of heart

Hey they have the same record! Hint, hint.

Hey they have the same record! Hint, hint.

While winning an office pool is nice but the real test of a March Madness “expert” is calling for a massive upset and getting it right. Picking upsets all over the place is not going to work and is cheating. But if you have the stones to pick an occasional 15 over a 2, then this post is for you.

5. 12 seed North Dakota State over 5 seed Oklahoma

Some people are even picking North Dakota State to go to the sweet 16. I can see why as the Bison are a spark in a munitions factory in terms of offense. NDSU is No. 1 in the nation in field-goal percentage shooting 50.9 percent. Oklahoma is nothing special on defense so it should be a coin-flip game. Take the little guy in those situations.

4. Dayton goes to the sweet 16

Ohio State and Syracuse are not perfect, opening the door for a Cinderella there. How about Dayton as it should be fired up to play Ohio State. The Buckeyes have been afraid to put the in-state foe on their schedule, but they can’t be avoided now. Dayton is a top-50 team in both rebounding and 3-point shooting. As long as the Flyers don’t turn the ball over, both Ohio State and Syracuse are in trouble.

3. The winner of Iowa and Tennessee goes to the sweet 16

Since these “opening round” games have come about at least one of those teams makes it to the sweet 16. VCU and LaSalle are the ones that really come to mind. Iowa is a top-50 team in rebounds, turnovers and offense. Tennessee is a top-50 team in defense. UMass will have a fight on its hands for sure. And some crazy thing might happen to Duke.

2. No. 14 seed Mercer over 3 seed Duke

Mercer matches up well with Duke as both like to shoot the 3. Mercer defeated last year’s Cinderella in Florida Gulf Coast to get here and almost won at Texas. The Bears should hang around in this one and get Duke unhinged. They lost to 15 seeded Lehigh not too long ago so another Duke collapse is not a stunner anymore. Mercer is also a top-50 rebounding team so Duke must dominate the turnover battle. If the Bears protect the ball they could pull it off.

1. No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky over 2 seed Kansas

And boom goes the dynamite. Eastern Kentucky is No. 2 in the nation in turnover margin. Just behind Louisville. Kansas is dead last in the Big-12 in turnovers. That’s a problem. Plus, if center Joel Embiid is out like we think he is for this game than Kansas will take a hit to its biggest advantages on the floor. That being blocks, rebounds and interior defense.

Will Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins be able to handle the pressure that comes in the NCAA tournament if a 15 seed is ahead with 2 minutes to go? Eastern Kentucky is also a top-50 3-point shooting team so it should not be gun-shy. If the Colonels connect from deep I truly think they’ll win. Better get ready Jayhawks. You’re on upset alert.

Honorable mentions
Stephen F Austin over VCU, Harvard over Cincinnati, Baylor to sweet 16, New Mexico to elite eight.

Two Sides of the Bubble

In a night where the brackets were released and ESPN complained for hours (seriously, even the 30 for 30 on the Big East was two hours of whining) it was great seeing how schools responded. Particularly the bubble teams.

First the good news, a bubble team that did receive a spot was North Carolina State. The reaction from the Wolfpack is simple and priceless.

Before the announcement was this gem. A photo of the of the team and the phrase “No matter what.” Love it.

Whether the Wolfpack deserved a spot is not the story here. It was a great display of the pure emotion of just getting into the NCAA tournament.

The team that did not get into field but still had a great response was Southern Mississippi. I thought the Golden Eagles deserved a bid and was the highest ranked team in the RPI that was left out. To make its case, the athletic department went to the media.

I like it. Bubble teams should be doing everything it can to promote themselves. Especially the schools from the smaller conferences. Plus the stats it gave were convincing.

The bad news goes to SMU, the team many feel were robbed. Meet the new depressing tweet of the year candidate.

Being on the wrong side of the bubble really stinks but it shows how quickly teams must turn things around. SMU will be playing a home game in the NIT Wednesday night against UC-Irvine. Now is not the time to sulk.

Coach Larry Brown went through in the classic cliché of “It is what it is” at the 11:30 mark in this press conference video. Let’s just say it’s not a press conference anyone would want to be a part off.

Better refocus soon SMU. UC-Irvine wants to win the NIT. Do you?

Under the radar conference tournaments to watch

Conference tournaments are in full swing with the power conferences but here are some other tournaments with interesting story lines.

1. WAC

Remember when New Mexico State played at Utah Valley?

These two teams might meet up for the conference championship game Saturday night. Talk about bad blood and intrigue. Be sure to keep an eye on the WAC in case these teams square off again.

2. Conference USA

This is a deep league with five teams in or flirting with the RPI top-100. Southern Miss, the school we like to make fun of for its videos, is the story here. The Golden Eagles are on the bubble and will probably miss the tournament because it plays in Conference USA. Southern Miss has a No. 39 RPI but Middle Tennessee State is the favorite to get the automatic bid. If Southern Miss loses to MTSU in the title game, it could go 28-6 and still miss the tournament. That would be a travesty and the Golden Eagles will be the snub we all talk about Sunday Night.Obscurity Report new

3. MAC

The MAC is in the same boat with Toledo. The Rockets have a No. 36 RPI but could fail to get an at-large bid because they play in the MAC.

Yes, it would be another travesty but Toledo is the favorite to win. Problem is, the MAC is also deep with five teams in the RPI top-100. It will not be easy for Toledo.

4. Big West

No. 2 seed UC-Santa Barbara was blown out by No. 7 seed Cal-Poly 69-38 in the first round. I wanted Hawaii to win but it got knocked out in overtime last night. That means if No. 1 seed UC-Irvine doesn’t take care of business you might have a squad with a losing record represent the Big West. Hello total failure.


Sadly a team from this league will get in.

With four ineligible teams and only three with winning records, this tourney is a joke. Still, somebody has to make it. For the SWAC’s stake, I hope Alabama State gets the automatic bid. It’s No. 257 RPI out of 349 is superior to the remaining teams. Yes, 257. Good grief.