NCAA Tournament Preview
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GET OUT YOUR DANCIN’ SHOES – THE NCAA TOURNAMENT TIPS OFF TUESDAY NIGHT IN DAYTON AND WE GIVE YOU THE “FIRST FOUR” GAME PREVIEWS …
PLUS WHAT THE COMMITTEE DID RIGHT AND WHAT THEY REALLY GOT ALL WRONG! … PLUS THE ODDS TO WIN IT ALL AS FLORIDA’S THE FAV (ALTHOUGH YOU WOULDN’T KNOW IT BY ALL THIS SPARTY LOVE!)
By Jim Hurley
Can you believe it?
Maybe they shouldn’t even play this year’s NCAA Tournament now that all the ESPN “experts” have weighed in and each and every one of ‘em picked Michigan State to win it all!
Hey, maybe the likes of Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg, Jay Williams and Digger Phelps read our Jim Sez column way back last November when we forecast a Michigan State vs. Oklahoma State showdown in the NCAA Championship Game (and, yes, that could happen as they’re on opposite sides of the bracket) but it’s rather bizarre that all of the pundits on the all-sports network would snap up a #4 seed to win this year’s crown, right?
Gotta say – first off – we officially feel sorry for Michigan State now because everyone is picking ‘em these days and that will serve to add pressure to Tom Izzo’s Big 10 team that just demolished everyone in its way in the mini-tourney in Indianapolis and so don’t be terribly shocked if Sparty plays its first couple of games with an imaginary weight on its shoulders … you heard it here first!
The fact of the matter is some six or seven weeks ago we stated the belief that as many as 12-to-15 different teams could win this year’s NCAA Tournament and we’ll stick by that for a couple of reasons:
Number one, the way the NCAA Tournament jazzed up the Midwest bracket – where Wichita State, Michigan, Duke and Louisville represent seeds #1-thru-#4 – you could see any of the above navigate its way to the Lone Star State for this year’s Final Four.
And ditto – to a slightly less degree – in the South where overall #1 seed Florida, Kansas and Syracuse are the #1-through-#3 seeds, respectively, and gotta believe any of them could be wearing the crown next month.
Heck, that’s seven teams right there in just two regions that could win six games in a row and cop a national crown.
Obviously, one of the really fun parts about analyzing/dissecting the NCAA Tournament in the early hours/days is to forecast a long-shot team or two that could come from – let’s say – the #7 seed on down and for that may we suggest Connecticut (a #7 seed in the East) or possibly aforementioned Oklahoma State (a #9 seed in the West)?
Looking for a double-digit seed team that might wind up playing in the Sweet 16 and/or Elite 8 round?
Either #11 Nebraska (West) or #10 Stanford (South) might be hot-to-trot this first week/weekend of NCAA Tournament play.
Okay, but enough fun ditties here …
It’s time to get down to brass taxes and tell you what we liked and didn’t like from the not-all-knowing NCAA Tournament Committee folks and we’ll get that chat into high gear in a moment but first this important reminder:
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THE NCAA TOURNAMENT OVERVIEW –
It’s safe to say that – despite what the NCAA Tournament Committee folks tell you – the most important part of the early rounds of this tourney is to make sure there are teams playing close to their zip codes and no doubt the committee got most everything “right” here with Syracuse playing in Buffalo, Florida getting second- and/or-third-round games in Orlando, Wisconsin making the trek to Milwaukee and Duke and Virginia both getting to play in Raleigh.
Plus, notice all the West Coast teams that stayed out West as the likes of San Diego State, UCLA, Arizona and Gonzaga all will be playing on the left coast.
Secondly, for the most part we agreed with the bubble teams that were left out of the field such as Minnesota, St. John’s and Arkansas all deserved to booted to the curb – but we’re less inclined to fight the fight for guys like Wisky-Green Bay and Georgia State because those teams know they hail from one-bid leagues and that’s that!
Finally, we liked the fact the committee folks filled the field with 37 power conference teams and 31 non-power conferences teams (in last weekend’s Jim Sez we suggested 40-or-so power conference teams, but this is cool) – that’s a 54 percent to 46 near-split and consider the committee didn’t bend to “requests” from the SEC which cranked out just three tourney teams in this admittedly down year for that conference.
Now, with all that said-and-done, we have a few “bones to pick” with the committee:
Obviously, we’re not the first guys to show shocked looks on our faces in regards to Louisville being a #4 seed in this NCAA Tournament field.
The U of L Cardinals have won 14 of their last 16 games, shared (with Cincinnati) the regular-season crown in the American Athletic Conference and convincingly captured last weekend’s mini-tourney in Memphis, and yet the likes of Iowa State, Duke, Wisconsin, Creighton and Kansas all rank ahead of Rick Pitino’s red-hot team here … something does not compute but, alas, everyone on TV took up that argument on Sunday night and so we’ll pull back from beating that proverbial “dead horse”.
Maybe there was no conspiracy theory at work here, but we don’t like Wichita State’s draw either as the Midwest’s top seed has a mine field of tough teams to beat just to get back to the Final Four and – while we’ll take the chairman’s word on it that the committee wasn’t attempting to put the Shockers to the ultimate test here – we do believe their draw should not have been so challenging although some folks do believe that side of the bracket including #8 Kentucky and #3 Duke isn’t so bad but it does sure look like a Wichita State vs. Louisville matchup come the Sweet 16 and that’s rough.
Aside from the Louisville seeding issue and the Wichita State “death march”, the committee really blew it on two major fronts:
No doubt the folks holed up in their hotel rooms in Indianapolis decided that the above-mentioned American Athletic Conference was not nearly as good as advertised even though four ranked teams made it into this NCAA Tournament field: That’s Louisville, Cincinnati, Connecticut and Memphis and yet we contend that all four of these teams were “under-seeded” as fifth-seeded Cincinnati should have been a #3 or a #4 seed; seventh-seeded UConn should have been a seed line or two higher; and Memphis is a tad too low as a #8 seed.
Throw in the fact that SMU – who we believed was a no-brainer to make it into this NCAA Tournament – was left on the outside looking in and unquestionably the committee really pounded the AAC for its lower level teams such as Rutgers, UCF, Temple and South Florida … but was the Atlantic-10’s lower-level teams (Rhode Island, Duquesne, George Mason and Fordham) all that much better and yet the A-10 sent six teams to the “Big Dance”?
SMU should have been sent an invitation and so too for that matter should have Georgia and Southern Miss – go ahead and quibble but they deserved bids even if a couple of ‘em would have been forced to play in these “First Four” games that do nothing but serve as more inventory for this money-grabbing NCAA.
Finally, the committee continues to send out “mixed signals” when it comes to just how they seed the teams in general:
Does winning one’s conference tourney carry special significance?
If so, then why was original bubble team Providence (Big East mini-tourney champ) not any higher than an #11 seed in the East?
Heck, we would have placed the Friars at #10 or #11 after Ed Cooley’s club beat St. John’s in a tourney quarterfinal game last Thursday and yet UCLA – the Pac-12 mini-tourney champ – surely was rewarded with a #4 seed in the South following its title win against Arizona. If the Bruins lost that game, we would have projected ‘em as a #6 seed – no better than that.
So, there remains inconsistencies that have been there for years as mini-tourney play, strength of schedule chatter and Top 50 wins seems to benefit some teams and yet an argument is made against others that don’t hold water.
In this year’s case, if you agree that Louisville was mis-seeded by two or three lines and then admit mini-tourney winners were rewarded with some of their seeds and not so with other mini-tourney champs than you must say that the overall seeds are not accurate and thus the NCAA Tournament matchups/brackets are out of kilter.
And that’s a big problem, folks.
THE NCAA TOURNAMENT ODDS TO WIN IT ALL –
Here’s the Las Vegas odds as per Sunday night in terms of this year’s NCAA Tournament:
|San Diego State||75-1|
NCAA TOURNAMENT –
“THE FIRST FOUR”
The 68-team field NCAA Tournament swings into action on Tuesday/Wednesday nights in Dayton and here’s our quick-hitter looks at what’s on the early-bird menu:
On Tuesday, it’s …
#16 MOUNT ST. MARY’S (16-16) vs. #16 ALBANY (18-14) – 6:40 p.m. ET, Tru TV
The tourney tips off with this battle to see who’ll next play mighty Florida and we’ll see if Albany G Peter Hooley (15.7 ppg and team-leading 69 triples) can dent the two-point underdog Mountaineers from deep here.
Mount St. Mary’s tandem of Rashad Whack (17.7 ppg) and Julian Norfleet (17.5) led the top scoring team in the Northeast Conference at 76.3 points a game.
#12 N.C. STATE (21-13) vs. #12 XAVIER (21-12) – approximately 9:10 p.m. ET, Tru TV
Gotta say we think the N.C. State Wolfpack got hosed by having to play in this out-bracket affair and the $64,000 question is will scoring whiz T.J. Warren (24.8 ppg) and mates have their legs after playing three games in as many days in the ACC Tourney versus Miami, Syracuse and Duke?
The X-men are a two-point betting favs at press time.
On Wednesday, it’s …
#16 TEXAS SOUTHERN (19-14) vs. #16 CAL POLY SLO (13-19) – 6:40 p.m. ET, Tru TV
Talk about stealing a show!
The Cal Poly kids were the seventh seed among eight participating teams in last week’s Big West Tournament and yet they’re a 3 ½-point favorite against a Texas Southern squad starring 6-foot-10 stud Aaric Murray, who poured in 27 points and 10 rebounds in the SWAC mini-tourney win against Prairie View.
#11 IOWA (20-12) vs. #11 TENNESSEE (21-12) – approximately 9:10 p.m. ET, Tru TV
Put it this way:
The Iowa Hawkeyes are happy to be here – the surging Tennessee Volunteers (won six of their last eight including a 27-point victory against Missouri) not so much as Cuonzo Martin’s club had to think more along the line of being in one of the famed #8 vs. #9 seed games.
Here, Tennessee’s Jordan McRae (18.6 ppg) will look to take over against an Iowa team that has lost six of its last seven games including that stunning 67-62 setback against 14-point dog Northwestern in the Big 10 Tourney’s opening round … ouch!
Note: Get more NCAA Tournament Previews in the next edition of Jim Sez.
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