Saturday, March 14, 2009

Does the Bubble Even Exist This Year?

I have isolated something that is bothering me about Championship Week this year: The major-conference conference-tournament system is totally flawed.

The teams that are already NCAA Tournament locks have little incentive to win, to want to play 3 or 4 games in 3 or 4 days or to truly play with any sense of urgency at all. (Obviously, there are exceptions, but far more are following this rule this year than are exceptions to it.)

Teams that are on the Bubble do care. Teams that are out of the Tournament entirely do care. That's why you see Baylor beating Kansas. Or Maryland beating Wake. Or Mississippi State beating LSU. Or Ohio State thumping Michigan State.

And, yet, the system gives away NCAA Tournament bids to the conference-tourney champs -- and seems to overvalue conference-tourney wins -- even though those wins may be iffy.

If Wake or Kansas or LSU or Xavier or Michigan State don't really seem to give a shit, does Maryland or Baylor or Mississippi State or Temple or Ohio State beating them really prove those winners are Tournament-worthy? Maybe it does, but maybe we shouldn't overrate the wins.

I'm just saying: We place this out-sized value on conference tournaments (and even individual wins in conference tournaments), when many of the leading participants -- at least the ones that care more about the national title than a provincial one -- have no reason to care.

We'll see if UNC joins the group, in a battle with Florida State.

By the way, if every Bubble spot is accounted for by these shady conference-tournament results -- does the Bubble even exist this year? I would argue it doesn't.

-- D.S.

Saturday 03/14 (Very CBB) Quickie

I mean: How can you NOT be rooting for Baylor?

Sure, it seems a little weird that you can overrule an entire season's body of work by simply winning 4 straight games in mid-March. But that's part of the Tournament's charm.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the teams that simply don't get it done when they need to. I'm talking about Florida -- who will miss the Tournament after losing to Auburn last night, and (even as a Florida fan) I have no sympathy. Too many opportunities (throughout the season) to control their own destiny that they weren't able to take advantage of. The Gators don't deserve it -- for a 2nd straight year.

(Speaking of taking advantage of opportunities, there is Maryland, which should have punched its ticket by beating Wake Forest -- sure seems like a lot of Tournament locks are simply "taking off" the conference tournament season: Wake, Pitt, UConn, Kansas, Oklahoma. They didn't need to do anything in these tournaments, and thus played with zero sense of urgency.)

But, hey, how about Duquesne!

(Here's a weird one: St. Mary's got shellacked by Gonzaga in the West Coast final. That should have been the final word on their Tournament resume for the Selection Committee -- but then they scheduled a random non-conference game against Eastern Washington, who they clocked. Will the Committee pay attention to that? Is it the tiny nudge they need to make the field? Imagine if, after losing last week, Davidson had quickly scheduled power-conference Bubble team in the Top 50, giving both the chance to add one more impressive W.)

Wow, Syracuse is on some kind of roll. Hope for their sake they don't peak this week, rather than next week (or the week after).

Today's Games to Watch:
Big 12: Baylor-Mizzou (Go Baylor.)
America East final: Binghamton vs. UMBC (15-16 record!)
ACC Semi: Maryland-Duke (Amazing hatred)
P-10: USC-Ariz St (USC win would bump a Bubble team)
C-USA: Memphis-Tulsa (Go Tulsa.)
SEC: Miss St-LSU (MSU playing for bid?)
A-10: Duquesne-Temple (some Bubble team is screwed)
Big West: SD St-Utah (SD St in, even if they lose? Hmm)
Big East: Syracuse-L'ville (Cuse all the way?)

Enjoy a great day of hoops. A whole bunch of Bubble teams are screwed already, with more holding their breath today. But, as I said: No sympathy. They had their chances. Plenty of 'em. (Not that I'm bitter about Florida. Oh no, not at all.)

-- D.S.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday 03/13 A.M. Quickie:
6OT, Baylor, Pitt, Oklahoma, More

Here's the question of the day/week/month: How much stock do you put in a team's performance in the conference tournament?

Because if you put any, then you best be avoiding Pitt, Oklahoma, Kansas and UConn going particularly far on your bracket, come Sunday night.

I appreciate the "won't tire themselves out" thing (Pitt), along with the "they played a much more motivated team" thing (Oklahoma), but isn't that mitigated by the idea that it's not like they lost in the conference finals to another heavyweight -- they lost in the quarters. In Kansas' case, they lost to a team that isn't even very good.

Now, West Virginia was probably underrated (no longer a problem), and Syracuse is a very good team that matches up well with UConn.

But you can't help wondering if you should factor these losses in when you're filling out your bracket. It's a huge mind-frak, that's for sure. And it leads today's SN column.

That said, the best thing that could happen to Pitt or to Oklahoma or to Kansas is this:


It's all anyone will, can or should be talking about this morning -- instantly, the most memorable game of the season so far, arguably the greatest Big East Tournament game ever and arguably the most thrilling conference-tournament game in a generation (AI vs. Ray Allen in Big East '96 comes to mind, but you really can't beat the endless amazing of six -- SIX -- overtimes.)

Whether we're talking about Pitt or Oklahoma or Kansas or UConn or Syracuse, there is a lesson to be gleaned from yesterday's games -- a reminder that we'd all be well to consider heading into Selection Sunday:

In the end, no one knows anything. Not you. Not me. Not "experts." Not anyone. It's why the NCAA Tournament is the best event in sports, and it's why the biggest fan can have the worst bracket picks.

Over the season -- even starting before it -- I come up with a couple of bracket biases that I know are going to come into play. My preseason pick of Louisville to win it all. Watching Pitt play so dominantly down the stretch. My unease with picking UNC to win it all after the past three seasons' failures. Even a carry-over from last year's UCLA bias.

I mean, cripes: I was all set to pencil Pitt into the Final Four (obviously depending on their actual path, but I was having a hard time seeing a team that could stop them before the Final Four) -- yesterday's loss rocked my confidence:

Do I take the early exit as a motivator that they will carry through the first 4 games of the NCAA Tournament? Do I take it as foreshadowing that they're going to, once again, fall short of expectations? Do I need to worry when they are bracketed to meet, specifically, a "WVU-like" team? Confidence yields to doubt yields to insanity. It's an annual rite.

In recent years, I have tried not to over-think: To go with my first instinct as much as possible. But maybe this year -- after last year's debacle -- I should go with the "Opposite George" strategy.

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

ZOMG: NCAA Tourney Live on My iPhone

This is a game-changer: CBS Sports is going to let me watch streaming video of the NCAA Tournament LIVE on my iPhone for $4.99. Done. (Don't screw this up, CBS!)

-- D.S.

Thursday 03/12 A.M. Quickie:
Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Big Day

The success of the Big East this season won't be defined by its epic regular season -- it will be defined by how many of the 8 teams playing in today's quarterfinals make the Sweet 16... or even the Final Four. The gold standard is 1985: 3 teams in the Final Four, including the champ.

So: How may of the Big East quarterfinalists will make the Sweet 16: 2? 4? 6? In the meantime, you can marvel that there probably hasn't been a quarterfinal round of any conference tournament ever that has been as loaded as this one is today. That leads today's SN column.

Meanwhile: Of course all the other Big Ten first round games are on TV... except Northwestern-Minnesota at noon. Not like NU isn't the best story of the Big Ten this season or anything.

Sporting News forced my hand: By naming Blake Griffin as SN's national Player of the Year now, that forces me to name my own Player of the Year now: Pitt's DeJuan Blair. (Now, now: I'm not saying Griffin isn't a great player -- just like no one is saying Hansbrough isn't a great player by naming Griffin as POY. I just think Blair has been better. Would love to see them match up.)

Enjoy the sprint to Sunday. Complete column here.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Thursday 03/11 A.M. Quickie:
Bubble, NoDak, Netherlands, LT, More

Lots of things I'm loving in today's SN column:

Butler crashing the Bubble after losing to Cleveland State: Not only does this force out an undeserving Bubble team, but it exposes Butler as entirely overrated.

North Dakota State: First year of NCAA Tournament eligibility, they get a bid. Amazing. And the way they did it? Oakland ties the score late -- does ND St take a TO to set up a play? No. NO! They come back down and score the winning basket.

Who else loathes the micro-managing way coaches call a time-out late to set up a game-winning shot, only to give the defense plenty of time to stop it?

I'm sure there is plenty of analytics out there -- Gasaway, I mean you! -- that quickly running your play (presuming you've actually spent practice time preparing for the moment) gives you a better shot than taking a T.O. and setting up a play, but giving the opposing team its own chance to set up. It's college hoops coaching micro-management at its worst.

Georgetown losing, DePaul winning: Yes, I was sort of hoping that the Hoyas would make a 5-game run to make the NCAA Tournament -- I'm a sucker on them this season to the end -- but having them lose in the first round is just so symbolic of the season, the final affirmation that all those other losses weren't aberrations at all...this team just underachieved.

Meanwhile, how amazing that DePaul could go 0-18 in the Big East regular season, then waltz into MSG and win. Hypothesize with me for a second: If DePaul ran the table in the Big East Tournament, what kind of seed would they get? On the one hand, they would have the worst record in the Tournament; on the other, they would have beaten, like, 4 Top 20 teams in a row. Would that make them a 14 or a 15? Would the NCAA put them in the Tuesday play-in game?

Western Kentucky: Any chance they repeat last season's run to the Sweet 16? If you had to pick between WKU and Siena -- which pulled a 1st-round upset last year and returns all 5 starters to this year's Tournament -- which team will go further next week?

The Netherlands: Greatest. Baseball Upset. Ever. And while I am sort of taking advantage of the best kind of Instant History, please post to the Comments what upsets would be bigger... Dodgers over A's in '89? Reds over A's in '90? Not really.

Maybe Marlins over Yankees in '03? Hmm... MAYBE Marlins over Yankees in '03. But Josh Beckett was the best player on the field for either team that series, and has the MVP ring to prove it -- there wasn't a position on the field where Netherlands had an advantage over the D.R. Also, when you win a best-of-7 series, it can hardly be called an "upset" -- not in the same way an "elimination" tournament can present.

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday 03/10 A.M. Quickie:
VCU, Zags, Siena, Big East, A-Rod, Vick

I make a startling confession in today's SN column. Do you know who my favorite coach in college basketball is?

(Hint: It's NOT Billy Donovan.)

It is Anthony Grant at VCU -- who almost replaced Donovan at Florida (during Billy D's NBA flip-flop) and whose Rams are back in the NCAA Tournament after being the mid-major upstart of 2007's tournament. (Who WASN'T cheering on VCU when they took out Duke in Round 1?)

Obviously, it depends on their path, but I could see taking VCU to the Elite Eight -- they will undoubtedly also be one of the most "sexy" picks of the mid-majors to break through.

(If it's any consolation, Donovan is my 2nd-favorite coach in college basketball. But, yes, as I lead in the column, I was more than happy to replace Donovan with Grant after the 2007 Tournament and Donovan seemed to be off to the NBA. What is NOT a consolation is that I can't see any reasonable scenario where Georgia doesn't hire Grant away next month. At least, if they had any idea about what they were doing.)

Meanwhile: Speaking of sexy picks, there's Siena, back in the Dance... Chattanooga takes Davidson's spot in the field from the Southern auto-bid... And is it too much to ask Georgetown to win 5 games in 5 days, including what would have to be wins over two likely NCAA 1-seeds?

*Dwyane Wade for NBA MVP! (What a shot!)
*George Steinbrenner may have financed the hit on Nancy Kerrigan!
*Michael Vick could be playing in the UFL!
*A-Rod's surgery will have him back by May!
*And more!

Complete column here
. Don't forget to sign up for the Tournament Challenge -- group name: Daily Quickie Readers.

-- D.S.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Tournament Challenge: Sign Up Now
For The "Daily Quickie Readers" Group

The original is back: The Daily Quickie Readers group in the Tournament Challenge.

Not quite sure it'll ever get back to the 2006 level, when it was the 3rd-largest group on (and my unborn son -- picks via his mom -- came in 10th out of more than 1,000 entrants).

Join in now! Just search for the "Daily Quickie Readers" group -- open to all, no password necessary. Winner gets the glory of a post in their honor, among other things.

-- D.S.

Monday 03/09 A.M. Quickie:
UNC, Davidson, N'western, TO, More

...And the dream is over for Northwestern. Dammit. Came very very close.

The dream may be over for Davidson, too. In today's SN column, I presume that they would get an at-large bid on the strength of last year's Tournament performance and the star power of Stephen Curry. But apparently the numbers say that their inclusion (as an at-large) would be laughable. It's going to be very very interesting to see how this develops.

Meanwhile, the C-Week game of the week could be tonight's Gonzaga-St. Mary's West Coast final: The Zags are in, whether they win or not. I think St. Mary's MIGHT be in, even if they lose, by putting up a tough fight that shows they would be competitive in the NCAA Tournament; obviously, if they win, they get the league's auto-bid -- and will be everyone's 1st-round Cindy.

I actually led the column with UNC and Tyler Hansbrough, reminding everyone that unless he wins the national title, he is this generation's Ralph Sampson -- super-talented, super-dominant...but ultimately not a champion. (No: The ACC regular-season and Tournament championships don't count as much -- not when you consider yourself a "national" power.)

More in the column: Yankees without A-Rod (pitching is more important), Bills with T.O. (instant relevancy, if not likeability, for the franchise), Magic > Cavs as it relates to being able to take down the Celtics in the playoffs (neither will anyway, so it's moot) and More.

Complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sunday 03/08 (Very) Quickie

Loved that Morehead State-Austin Peay game: That the 4-seed toppled the 1-seed made it all the more amazing.

Louisville deserves a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament for winning the Big East regular-season title outright and for being the No. 1 team in the country right now, capped with that win at West Virginia. As long as Pitt, Louisville and UConn all make the Big East semis, they should all be considered top contenders for a 1-seed, with UNC.

(My preseason pick for Louisville to win the national title looks really good right now, although the bandwagon is going to get super-crowded this week.)

Um, so what was that about Missouri being a team to watch? (Honestly, that really just speaks to the underrated depth at the top in the Big 12.)

Blake Griffin: 33 and 14 and the new single-season rebounding record in the Big 12. I think Oklahoma has a tougher path to a 1-seed than UNC or the Big Three from the Big East. But if they win the Big 12 Tournament, I could see the Committee wanting a little geographic parity among the 1-seeds, with one to OU, one to UNC and two to the top 2 out of L'ville, Pitt and UConn in the Big East Tournament.

Props to Washington for coming out of nowhere (compared to preseason expectations) and winning their first outright Pac-10 regular-season title since the mid-1950s. I'll admit to being totally baffled as to how to evaluate the Huskies' chances in the NCAA Tournament. (But I probably give them a better shot of going further than any other team from the Pac-10, except UCLA, for whom I remain in the tank for, bracket-wise.)

I said this last week and meant it: The SEC deserves one team in the NCAA Tournament -- the conference tournament winner. LSU losing at Auburn says less about Auburn (although Auburn IS underrated) than it does about LSU being absurdly overrated. I'd could see Auburn, hotter than any team in the conference, win the conference tournament.

(Tennessee? Meh: If they can win the SEC Tournament, they earned it -- otherwise...really? South Carolina? Feh. And Florida? You saw what I had to say about the Gators yesterday; as I project them to lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, regardless of opponent, they'll be stealing an NCAA bid from a team that deserves it more, and I say that as a huge fan.)

T.O. to the Bills: There's not a lot of glitz or cachet to his new home city -- not like Dallas or Philly or San Francisco.

But the fans are arguably the best in the NFL, and they deserve the attention/circus that will come from having T.O. on the team. Not sure if they'll end up liking it...

WBC: Netherlands over the D.R. -- the D.R. is the A-Rod of the WBC. (Meanwhile: Does Adam Dunn's start in the WBC bode well for his new stint with the Nats?)

Counting down to Northwestern's play-in-to-play-in today at 5 at Ohio State. Biggest regular-season game for the program in its history...

-- D.S.