Tag Archives: NCAA Basketball Tournament

Watching the play-in game of the NCAA tournament…

Workflow is down, Dick Vitale’s blood pressure is up and just about everybody is filling out brackets this week in preparation for the NCAA tournament, which kicks off with the infamous play-in game between Winthrop and the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

ARPB is making their first ever tournament appearance this year and therein lies the problem.  The selection committee never should have put them in the play-in game out of respect for the tournament and giving this school their first true experience at The Big Dance.

Tonight’s game will be played in Dayton, Ohio at the University of Dayton Arena, not at an NCAA tournament site.  The winner will advance to have the distinct pleasure of losing to Duke University in Jacksonville, Florida on Thursday. 

Winthrop has a deep tournament history, shocking college basketball two years ago as an 11-seed when they defeated sixth seeded Notre Dame in a 74-64 upset. 

Now, both these teams are fairly even and ARPB certainly has as good a chance as any to take down the Eagles of Winthrop and move on to actual tournament play in Jacksonville, but putting them in a situation where they would be denied that opportunity is something the selection committee should be ashamed of.

For their first time in the dance, the Golden Lions should be at an actual tournament site, getting schmoozed and treated like NCAA darlings, the cinderella of the South region and the Jacksonville site.  They should be exalted as the team that gets first shot at mighty Duke and be asked “what if” questions for the day leading up to the tournament.

“What if the #16 seed can take out a #1 for the first time?”

“What if Duke really is the weakest #1 seed and maybe the Golden Lions will be in the right place at the right time?”

“What exactly is a Golden Lion?  Aren’t all lions kind of golden?”

The ARPB story is actually a fantastic and inspirational one.  The Lions started the season by losing eleven straight games.  They finally broke into the win column on January 4th, their first game of the new year.  On that day, they squeaked by Mississippi Valley State University in a 69-68 overtime win.  Two days later, they beat Alabama A&M before losing their 12th game out of 14 on January 11th to Alabama State.

But the most significant thing about the first 14 games on the Golden Lions’ schedule was not the 12 losses.  It was the fact that all fourteen were played on the road, away from the cozy confines of H.O. Clemmons Arena in Pine Bluff, Arkansas where the team plays its home games.

Imagine having a basketball team on campus that begins a season in earlier November, but never plays at home until three and a half months later in mid-January?  Talk about road warriors.

After starting 0-12, ARPB won five of six and then finished season by winning 11 of 12, including the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship in the final against Texas Southern last Saturday.

Their story as road warriors takes on new meaning when considering the schedule they played, traveling to NCAA tournament teams Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma State, UTEP and Georgia Tech.  ARPB also played big time programs like Michigan, Oregon, Arizona State and Colorado.  Why was everyone so afraid to play at Clemmons Arena?  Is ARPB really that big of a giant killer, having never played in the NCAA tournament?

The Golden Lions finished the season having played a whopping 20 of their 29 games on the road.  Having just nine home dates would have to be debilitating to any fledgling program.  Too bad for the people of Pine Bluff.  They were denied plenty of good basketball from a NCAA tournament qualifier.

Nothing against Winthrop or any other team in the tournament, but why couldn’t the other three 16-seeds be in the play-in game over first time dancer ARPB?  East Tennessee State (8 appearances), Lehigh (3) and Vermont (3) surely wouldn’t mind giving the Golden Lions a true NCAA tournament experience.

The real problem with this unfortunate situation lies with the decision the NCAA made a few years ago to go to 65 teams just to get in one last bubble team.  The bi-product ended up being that team 65, the loser of the play-in game, doesn’t really go to the tournament at all.

The SWAC should proud to cheer on their representative tonight and hopefully the rest of America is behind those Golden Lions.  I know I will be.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Basketball, College Basketball, NCAA Tournament

Watching the Pac-10 lose the West…

As the NCAA Selection Committee prepares to finalize their brackets on Sunday night, the scene will shift from the conference tournaments to the Big Dance, but we should all be reminded that this season -above any others in recent memory- has seen a shift in power out West, one that members of the Pacific-10 conference should be mindful.

The Mountain West Conference (MWC) and the West Coast Conference (WCC) currently stake more claims at NCAA berths than the Pac-10.  Those aren’t combined figures, individually the two conferences have better outlooks on Selection Sunday than the Pac-10. 

The MWC has four teams (New Mexico, BYU, UNLV, San Diego State) that have legitimate claims at the NCAA tournament.  The WCC will get two in the dance after Saint Mary’s beat Gonzaga in the conference championship,

The Mountain West begins tournament play in Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday.  BYU and New Mexico are locks to make the tourney.  UNLV is close to a lock as long as there aren’t too many bubble busters this year.  If the Rebels can take down Utah in their first round game (something they haven’t done this year, losing in Vegas and in Salt Lake), they should all but punch their ticket.  SDSU probably has some more work to do, but a deep run into the MWC tourney should solidify their resumé for the selection committee.  Four teams in the dance is a real possibility for the Mountain West.

The West Coast Conference also played their tournament in Las Vegas, at The Orleans Arena.  Saint Mary’s blew Gonzaga out of the arena and into The Orleans’ casino, cruising to a 81-62 win.  The Gaels had been 0-2 against Gonzaga this year.  The Zags are sure to get an at-large bid and Saint Mary’s will not have to sweat it out as a bubble team this year, although their resumé would have been pretty impressive.

How about the Pac-10? Most experts believe that the University of California will be in after winning the conference’s regular season title, going 13-5. Washington and Arizona State are firmly on the bubble, making for great drama in the conference tournament this week. The conference had a down year and getting only one team (if Cal wins the Pac-10 tourney) is a real possibility, especially if at-large bids continue to be stolen by schools like Saint Mary’s.

The one thing the Pac-10 has going for it is that their top three teams have ended the regular season on streaks. Cal won seven of their last eight, UW has won four in a row and ASU was victorious in six of their last seven. It’s no secret that the selection committee likes schools that are playing their best ball in March, but the stage has been set to see a power conference get just their tournament champion in the dance like most mid-majors are used to every year.

However, one down year does not a crisis make, right?  Think again.  The MWC in particular has finally begun to steal the western showcase as the premier conference in the last few years.

This year’s edition of the Pac-10 went 4-5 against the MWC and 6-6 against the WCC.  Modest numbers for the lesser conferences and embarrassing for the Pac-10, one of the premier conferences in the country.  Many of these games were in Pac-10 arenas, as big schools continue to be weary when it comes to going into a rabid environment as a favorite against a potential giant killer.

Need more evidence to show that the Pac-10 is no longer the dominant force in Western college basketball?  Check the rankings.  Currently the MWC has two teams ranked: BYU (#15 in the AP Poll/#14 in ESPN’s Coaches Poll) and New Mexico (#8 in both polls).  UNLV is receiving votes in the Coaches Poll.  The WCC’s Gonzaga is ranked #18 in the AP Poll and #14 in the Coaches Poll.  Saint Mary’s is receiving votes in the Coaches Poll.

The Pac-10?  The conference has zero teams in the top 25 in both polls and only one team (Cal) is receiving votes.  Even the WAC (Western Athletic Conference) has Utah State receiving more votes in both polls than the Pac-10’s Cal Golden Bears.

Clearly, better basketball is being played in the lesser conferences out west than in the Pac-10.  ESPN’s bracketologist, Joe Lunardi has four MWC teams in the NCAA tournament, two in from the WCC and two in from the Pac-10 with Cal and ASU making the cut, though ASU is listed as one of the last squads in.  Washington is among Lunardi’s first four out of the dance.

The news gets even worse when one starts talking about the Pac-10 and the Mountain West in college football.  In 2009, three MWC teams finished in the top 25 of the AP Poll.  Texas Christian University finished ranked #6, BYU earned a #12 ranking and Utah finished at #18.  The Pac-10 had only two teams in the final poll, with Oregon ranked #11 and USC finishing at #23.

In the last two years, the MWC has done exceptionally in head-to-head matchups against Pac-10 schools.  In 2008, the MWC dominated the Pac-10, going 6-1 in the regular season and losing in the only bowl game the conferences played against one another (an Arizona win over BYU).  In 2009, the MWC went 2-3 against the Pac-10 with both wins coming in bowl games. 

Combine the last two years and the MWC can boast a 8-5 record against the Pac-10 in football, including a 2-1 record in head-to-head matchups in bowl games.

Is it time for the Pac-10 to panic?  Probably not.  It’s unlikely that historically strong basketball programs like UCLA and Arizona won’t recover with strong recruiting and superior coaching.  In football, no one thinks USC will stay down for long and certainly programs like Oregon, Washington and Stanford are strong teams that are on the up-and-up.

However, the success of the Mountain West should not be ignored as the conference is making a bid to be the second major conference from the west.

Is it any wonder that the Pac-10 is talking about expansion?  Furthermore, if the conference does add more schools, some of the teams being mentioned include MWC members Utah, BYU, San Diego State, Colorado State and UNLV.

If you can beat ’em, join ’em (or in this case, invite them to join you).

2 Comments

Filed under Basketball, Championship Week, College Basketball, College Football, Football, Mountain West Conference, MWC, NCAA Tournament, Pac-10, Pacific-10 Conference, West Coast Conference