Tuesday, March 19, 2013

NCAA Bracket Rants: Did MTSU and St. Mary's Deserve Bids

by John Huffstetler

Did MTSU, St. Mary's, LaSalle, and Boise St. Deserve Bids?

MTSU- MTSU did not deserve to receive a bid. The Blue Raiders dominated the Sun Belt this season losing just two games at a decent Arkanasas St. team in OT and in the conference tourney to FIU. The Sun Belt, however, had a down year with a strong Denver team leaving to join the WAC. There were other teams that posted similar records in better conferences, like both LaTech and the previously mentioned Denver squad from a solid WAC conference, that did not receive consideration for an at-large bid. So why Middle Tennessee? That's a good question that I can't answer. They played 5 solid teams during the non-conference schedule: Florida, UCF, Akron, Ole Miss, and Belmont. They were blown out by Florida and Belmont, lost in OT to Akron, and beat Ole Miss and UCF. This means they beat two tourney teams this year in Ole Miss and the mediocre Western Kentucky squad that stole their Sun Belt bid. Mid-majors deserve a chance, but they need to accomplish more during their season than simply crushing bottom-feeders.

St. Mary's- In past seasons, St. Mary's has failed to receive at-large bids to the tourney because of their traditionally soft non-conference schedule. This year, their schedule was still soft, but they managed to receive a bid they didn't deserve. The Gaels have a strong squad, but their wins just don't stack up when compared to those of Tennessee and UVA. Their best wins this season came against Creighton, Utah St. (before injuries killed their season), and BYU twice. They also lost non-conference games to good, not great, Pacific, Georgia Tech, and Northern Iowa teams. If this St. Mary's team played any of their squads from the last 5 years, they would probably lose. So the timing of this bid considering their lack of quality wins is curious. Like MTSU, the committee seemed to award beating mediocre teams and amassing high win totals over beating quality.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

NCAA Bracket Rants: Maryland, Tennessee, and Virginia Left Out of the Tourney

by John Huffstetler

Maryland, Virginia, and Tennessee left out of the draw-

Maryland- As a Maryland grad, the Terps deserved to miss the tournament. Outside of their 2 wins over Duke, MD only defeated one tourney team (NC St.). They also lost to a fellow bubble team in UVA twice this year. Their soft non-conference schedule hurt their cause dramatically, and the Terps were not helped by their strongest non-conference foe Kentucky looking mediocre for most of the year. They also were unfortunate to draw a soft Northwestern squad in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. When I asked Mark Turgeon when I ran into him this year at Rio Grande in Bethesda, MD about the soft non-conference scheduling, he said they purposefully kept the schedule soft because most of the scheduling was done before he signed several key recruits. In other words, they wanted the schedule soft because he was unsure how good the team would be this year. Expect a tougher non-conference schedule next year and their first NCAA tourney bid in his tenure.

Virginia- Virginia deserved to be in this tourney based on how they played later in the season. UVA accomplished much more in conference than MD, but was essentially doomed by some head-scratching non-conference losses. The Cavs went 0-3 this year against Colonial teams! They lost early to both George Mason and Delaware and mid-season to ODU. Interestingly, this was universally considered a terrible year for the CAA with VCU leaving for the A-10 and perennial powerhouse ODU (who defeated UVA) going 5-25! UVA posted great non-conference wins over fellow bubble team Tennessee and at a solid Wisconsin team, but the Colonial losses tarnished their non-conference results.  In conference, they went 11-7 and posted two wins over Maryland and wins over NC St., UNC, and Duke. If you take out the first 3 games of the season, Virginia is a tourney team. The committee gave too much weight to the early losses to Delaware and George Mason. Remember, even Miami lost to Florida Gulf-Coast early in the year. Teams can start off the year slowly and still be among the best 68 teams in the nation.

Tennessee- Unlike Maryland, Tennessee played a brutal non-conference schedule and deserved to be rewarded with a trip to the tourney. Of their 12 losses, only 5 came against non-tourney teams (2 to UGA, 2 to Bama, and 1 to Ark) and even those losses weren't bad. UGA was considered a "bad loss" by ESPN when they showed the Vols tourney resume, but UGA played much better basketball in the 2nd-half of the season. In fact, I cashed several betting tickets supporting Georgia in their late-season surge. These losses, however, probably unfairly doomed the Vols tourney chances. One could point to the Vols wins and say there was a lack of quality, but the committee demonstrated by including St. Mary's and MTSU that having a lack of quality wins is not important in their decision-making process. Tennessee's quality wins over Florida, Kentucky, Mizzou, Wichita, Xavier, and UMass, while slightly lacking, put the wins of these aforementioned teams to shame. To compare, MTSU's most impressive wins this year came against UCF and Ole Miss, and their domination of the Sun Belt came in a down year for the conference following the departure of a strong Denver team for the WAC. Although I support mid-major teams getting an opportunity to prove themselves, there is a glaring problem with including MTSU and leaving Tennessee out when you compare their results side-by-side.

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