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Monday, March 17, 2003

Seeds Of Discord

It’s time for the annual complaints about the deeds of the NCAA Selection Committee.

We all know by now about the BYU mess. I must admit I might not have thought of that myself (BYU playing on Sunday), but, then again, it’s not my job to make these picks. Fortunately for the selection committee and for office pools everywhere, I don’t see anything that suggests they can beat Connecticut.

The first impression I get: this SEC-worship has to stop. Of course, Kentucky is the real deal, and Mississippi State is about where they belong, but Florida hasn’t looked like a #2 in a while and has been sinking like a rock for weeks. Auburn doesn’t belong in the tournament. Neither does Alabama. LSU is legit, but got a generous seeding at #8.

The Big East, other than Syracuse, got short shrift. St. John’s and Seton Hall may have played themselves out of the tournament last week, but BC has spent the last two months doing everything – with one obvious exception - right. Despite a horrendous early season, they won a regular season divisional title in the Big East. They won a tournament game. If you’re going to punish them for failing to beat Connecticut, you should punish Butler as well, since failure to beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee is a bigger sin, or, heck, BYU for losing in a conference semifinal to Colorado State, or for having not one true quality win anywhere on their schedule. (Actually, I’d take ‘em all and leave Auburn to the NIT.) A big exception to the Big East hose is the pampering given to Syracuse, who doesn’t have to leave its fan base (it plays in Boston and Albany) until the Final Four if it gets there, as a #3 seed.

My feelings about Pitt are weird. On the one hand, I think a conference-winning team ranked #5 in the polls should get a #1 seed from its region if everyone ahead of it is outside its region. It’s at least as deserving as Texas, a team that won neither its regular season conference title (Kansas) nor its conference championship tournament (Oklahoma). On the other hand, well, I see a team who has trouble scoring, whose best player is a point guard who’s not much of an outside shooter, or much of a free throw shooter. (Oh, yeah, and he’s hurt too.) Not only that, but they were unbeaten at home, which means that they don’t like road games. That sounds to me like a high seed begging to be taken out, if not in the first round (I don’t think Wagner’s good enough or experienced enough) then in the second or third. Indiana, their likely second round opponent, is certainly good enough to take them out.

Even though the Big Twelve can’t collectively complain at all with six bids and strong seeds for all of them save bubble-dwellers Colorado, I have to wonder if Texas Tech doesn’t belong here as well, despite my lifetime loathing for anything having to do with Bobby Knight. (And, for that matter, most things originating from the state of Texas apart from a few personal friends and Tex-Mex cuisine. On a completely unrelated note, this may mean I have to start buying Dixie Chicks product.) If you’re on the bubble, and you beat a #1 seed (Texas) and follow that up with an overtime loss to another #1 seed (Oklahoma), that should be worth something.

The A-10, one of my two “home conferences,” did well for itself. Too bad Temple couldn’t have forced the committee to take a fourth A-10 team (Xavier and Dayton were locks, and the #7 seed for Saint Joe’s suggests they were in even if the committee had to take Temple.) It’s always fun to watch a John Chaney-coached team at the Big Dance because they’re always dangerous, regardless of how little talent they might be blessed with at the time. I don’t quite trust Xavier with a #3 seed, and I’m even inclined to take Maryland (underseeded at #6, but I understand why it was done) in a likely second round match with them. Xavier finished their season playing three effectively home games (the A-10 tournament was played at nearby Dayton) and they did not distinguish themselves, barely beating a bad GW team, and losing to a sub-par Temple squad.

My favorite three upset picks:

Weber State v. Wisconsin
There’s always a 5-12 upset. Every time I see Weber State in there, I think “upset.” Every time I see Wisconsin, the Final Four appearance notwithstanding, I think “upset.” Plus this game is in Spokane, much closer to Ogden, Utah than to Madison. Weber State ran the table in the Big Sky Conference and comes in hot. Wisconsin comes in cold, having dropped a first round Big Ten tourney match to 8th place Ohio State. I’m also watching Butler vs. Mississippi State as a possibility.

Penn v. Oklahoma State
De facto home game for the underdog, check. (This game’s in Boston, full of Ivy League-types.) Favorite coming in cold. check. Underdog coming in on a winning streak, check. A team that doesn’t score that well against a team that can shoot (despite being forward-dominated), check. Me biased in favor of fellow Ivy teams and looking for upsets in what I think will be an upset-laden tournament, check. So I have the Quakers penciled in to beat the Cowboys, even though the Mascot Method* of choosing winners says that this is a terrible pick. However, it is an Eddie Sutton team, and OSU has a good record in the tournament, and Penn’s schedule is pretty weak.

Holy Cross v Marquette
Yeah, I’m from Worcester. Can’t you tell? However, after scaring Kansas and Kentucky the last two years, the Crusaders finally get a crack at a team not quite at that level in the Big Dance in the Golden Eagles. Size is frequently a problem for Big Dance underdogs but it’s actually Marquette that’s undersized in this matchup. Did you know that #14 seeds have won a first round match 13 times in 18 years? (Which means their odds are generally long, but statistically there is one such upset in a field at least as often as there aren’t any, and I’d be far less shocked by HC winning than by Colorado State beating Duke or Troy State upending Xavier.)

My first-draft final four is as follows:
Kentucky: Duh.
Arizona: Tough bracket, but I think they can do it. This isn’t Duke’s year, and I think ‘Zona can take Illinois or Kansas.
Maryland: Weak bracket; Texas is the shakiest #1, Florida is one of the worst #2 seeds ever, Xavier and Stanford are not especially strong, and UConn is probably too young. Plus the Terps have tons of crunch time experience. They lost in the conference semis last year too – it didn’t seem to affect them much.
Syracuse: Boston and Albany. I’m not sold on Wake Forest. I like Oklahoma, but I like home court advantage more than I like Oklahoma. Besides, who knows how healthy Hollis Price is? Other than getting a relatively tough #14 seed in Manhattan, the committee was very kind to the Orangemen.

* The Mascot Method involves imagining who would win a theoretical fight between the team’s mascots. For instance, in a matchup between Virginia and Xavier, you’d take Xavier since the Musketeers would have guns and the Cavaliers wouldn’t. But you wouldn’t pick Xavier against Ole Miss, because the Rebels would have better guns of a more recent vintage. You’d also take fiercer animals would more timid ones, so you’d pick, say, the LSU (or Princeton) Tigers over, say the Colorado Buffaloes or the Oregon State Beavers.


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