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2008 NCAA Tournament Notes

April 8, 2008

In last year's NCAA Tournament, we saw the fewest number of upsets since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 (that's as far back as I have collected data). In fact, it wasn't even close. The sum of all the winning seeds in the 2007 tournament was 230. The next lowest was 271 (in 1993) and the average for 1985-2008 is 295. This season, we did have a few a few upsets - there were two #12 vs #13 second round games and #10 seed Davidson came within one shot of the Final Four - but the sum of winning seeds this season was only 285 despite the two 12/13 matchups. So following the crazy 2006 tournament, we've had relatively few upsets in the past two tournaments. In fact, 2008 marked the first time that all four #1 seeds reached the Final Four.

It shouldn't really surprise anyone that all four #1 seeds reached the 2008 Final Four. Kansas, Memphis, UCLA and North Carolina were all in the Regional Finals last year. Memphis was also in the Regional Finals in 2006. This season, UCLA reached the Final Four for the third year in a row. In addition to the tournament experience, all four of those teams returned key players this season. If there was ever a time to pick all #1 seeds in your Final Four bracket, this was it (for the record, I did not).

There were a few great games in this year's tournament including Western Kentucky-Drake, Duke-Belmont, Davidson-Georgetown and of course Kansas-Memphis, but all things considered, this was not a great NCAA Tournament from a competitive standpoint. I crunched the numbers and found that the average margin of victory in this year's tourney was 14.0, the second highest total since the expansion in 1985. The least competitive tournament was in 1993 with an average margin of victory of 14.6 points. The two most competitive tournaments were 1985 (8.7) and 2006 (9.8). The 2008 Tournament also tied the record for most games decided by ten points or more (42). So exactly two-thirds of the games were decided by ten or more points.

Here are some other numbers:

2007 NCAA Tournament Notes

March 24, 2007

The big story in this year's tournament has been the lack of upsets. Only two double digit seeds won first round games. This is the lowest double-digit win total since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The average number of double-digit seed winners between 1985 and 2007 is 5.6. There have been only three legitimate upsets (seed differential greater than three) in this year's tournament: VCU over Duke, Winthrop over Notre Dame and UNLV over Wisconsin. Incredibly, the Elite Eight is comprised of four #1 seeds, three #2 seeds and a #3 seed. This has indeed been a strange year. I can't wait for someone to blame it on global warming.

I think there are a few reasons why we haven't seen many upsets this year:

The following table shows just how few upsets there have been this year. I added the seed number of the winners for the first three rounds and found that 2007 had by far the lowest total since 1992 I don't have data prior to 1992). Through three rounds the sum of the winning seeds is 219. What a contrast to the 319 in 2006.

Sum of Winning Seeds - First Three Rounds (1992-2007)

YEAR Sum of Winning Seeds
1992 291
1993 271
1994 275
1995 274
1996 276
1997 303
1998 304
1999 321
2000 309
2001 319
2002 313
2003 277
2004 278
2005 297
2006 319
2007 221

It is also interesting that seven conferences are reprensented in this year's Elite Eight. Only the Pac Ten (UCLA, Oregon) is sending more than one team to the Regional Finals.

2006 NCAA Tournament Notes

March 26, 2006

For the first time since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there will be no number 1 seeds in the Final Four. We will also see a double-digit seed in the Final Four for the first time since 1986. George Mason's run to the Final Four illustrates both the increased competitiveness of the mid-major conferences and the watered down talent level in the major conferences right now. I think it is pretty clear that there are no great teams in college basketball this year. There are no teams like the 2005 versions of North Carolina and Illinois in this year's field. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. It is good for college basketball that a school like George Mason can compete for a Final Four spot. Not only did they compete, they were clearly the best team in that region over the past two weeks. Obviously, the games have been highly competitive. Of the 12 games played in the third and fourth rounds, four went to overtime and two others were decided with baskets in the final 10 seconds of regulation. The average margin of victory in those 12 games was only 6.5 points per game (the difference is only 4.9 if you do not include the overtimes). That is the lowest since 1993. Here are the averages for the past five years -- 2005: 6.5, 2004: 10.3, 2003: 7.5, 2002: 9.0, 2001: 10.8.

Final Four Participants since 1985 (National Champion in boldface)

Year Seeds Teams
1985 1, 1 ,2, 8 St. John's, Georgetown, Memphis, Villanova
1986 1, 1, 2, 11 Duke, Kansas, Louisville, LSU
1987 1, 1, 2, 6 UNLV, Indiana, Syracuse, Providence
1988 1, 1, 2, 6 Arizona, Oklahoma, Duke, Kansas
1989 1, 2, 3, 3 Illinois, Duke, Seton Hall, Michigan
1990 1, 3, 4, 4 UNLV, Duke, Georgia Tech, Arkansas
1991 1, 1, 2, 3 UNLV, North Carolina, Duke, Kansas
1992 1, 2, 4, 6 Duke, Indiana, Cincinnati, Michigan
1993 1, 1, 1, 2 North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan, Kansas
1994 1, 2, 2, 3 Arkansas, Arizona, Duke, Florida
1995 1, 2, 2, 4 UCLA, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma St
1996 1, 1, 4, 5 Kentucky, Massachusetts, Syracuse, Mississippi St
1997 1, 1, 1, 4 Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Arizona
1998 1, 2, 3, 3 North Carolina, Kentucky, Stanford, Utah
1999 1, 1, 1, 4 Connecticut, Duke, Michigan St, Ohio St
2000 1, 5, 8, 8 Michigan St, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin
2001 1, 1, 2, 3 Arizona, Duke, Maryland, Michigan St
2002 1, 1, 2, 5 Kansas, Maryland, Oklahoma, Indiana
2003 1, 2, 3, 3 Texas, Kansas, Marquette, Syracuse
2004 1, 2, 2, 3 Duke, Connecticut, Oklahoma St, Georgia Tech
2005 1, 1, 4, 5 Illinois, North Carolina, Louisville, Michigan St
2006 2, 3, 4, 11 UCLA, Florida, LSU, George Mason

As usual, Boston College's season ended with a heartbreaking loss. Of the five keys to the game that I outlined last week, BC accomplished two, failed miserably on two and one was a mixed bag. Here are those keys to the game:

  1. Minimize the Three Point Deficit
  2. Hope for the Right Refs
  3. Sean Marshall Needs to Step Up
  4. Free Throws, Free Throws, Free Throws
  5. Sean Williams Needs to Play More Minutes

On the positive side, BC played outstanding defense, holding Villanova to just 35% from the field and 21% from the three point line. BC actually had one more three point basket than Nova (a Three Point Surplus). One of the few bad defensive plays the entire night was the mental lapse that gave Villanova the winning basket. Another positive was Sean Williams who played 24 minutes and had 7 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. His block on the last play of the second half was sensational. The mixed results came from Sean Marshall who had 10 early points but couldn't find his shot the rest of the night.

On the negative side, the officiating was a nightmare. As I said last week, the last thing BC needed was "touch foul" refs and that is exactly what they got. BC was ahead by about 15 points early but everything changed when this officiating crew decided to take over the game. Pretty much the entire BC eight man rotation was in foul trouble by the first TV timeout in the second half. The touch foul mentality, however, didn't apply to Villanova players whacking away at Craig Smith most of the night. The "traveling" call on Sean Williams with under a minute left in regulation was as bad a call as you will ever see in a tournament game. About the only call they got right the entire night was the goaltending on Williams that gave Villanova the win (why couldn't they blow that one?). The officiating was far from the only reason that BC lost, however. Free throw problems reared their ugly head once again on Friday. BC made only 8 of 17 from the line including three misses on the front end of a 1 and 1. So essentially, they were 8 of 20 (40%). They also committed too many unforced turnovers. BC has had a hard time all year with the full court press but they actually handled that pretty well. Most of the turnovers were lazy passes in the half court offense or fumbles on the fast break. I have not seen BC turn the ball over like that in the half court offense all season. Timing is everything.

In my opinion, Boston College has had seven Final Four caliber teams since 1984. Those teams played in the NCAA Tournament in 1985, 1994, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Each of those teams lost heartbreaking games in the second, third or fourth rounds. All of those games were winnable with a minute left in the second half. BC now has the most wins in the NCAA Tournament among teams that have never played in the Final Four.

BC-Villanova wasn't the only game where the referees were an embarrassment. Some of the calls at the end of the UCLA-Gonzaga game were mindboggling. The refs failed to count a continuation basket that hindered UCLA's comeback effort. In the final seconds, they called a ridiculous loose ball foul on Gonzaga's Batista that saved UCLA. Of course, had they not botched the earlier call, UCLA might not have needed saving. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Once again, the Selection Committee failed to balance the regions. The weakest regions always seem to be: (a) the region in the West and (b) whatever region UConn plays in. UConn has two championships largely because of an easy draw to the Final Four in those years. It almost happened again this year. Thank you, George Mason.

Speaking of George Mason, their great performance the past two weeks does not in any way excuse the Selection Committee for bypassing Hofstra and taking George Mason. I am very happy for the George Mason players, coaches and fans but what happened with the Selection Committee makes me sick. One of two things happened: either George Mason's A.D. abused his position on the Committee to get his team in the tournament ahead of Hofstra or the other members on the Committee decided to do a favor for their buddy. When I make my bubble predictions next year, I'll be sure to first check to see who is on the Selection Committee.

Three times in this year's tournament, teams with the same nickname have played: UCLA vs Belmont (Bruins), Villanova vs Arizona (Wildcats) and UConn vs Washington (Huskies).

So much for all of the Big Ten/Big East hype we heard all year. The Big Ten was a Big Flop and the Big East failed to put any of their eight tournament teams in the Final Four. Actually, Villanova and UConn didn't really belong in the Elite Eight. It is looking like an all SEC final but given how things have gone this year, anything is possible. This will be the first year since 2000 that the national champion has not come from the Big East or the ACC. This is the first Final Four appearance by a Pac Ten team since 2001 and the first appearance by an SEC team since 2000. Here is the Final Four breakdown by conference for 2001-2005: ACC 6, Big XII 5, Big Ten 4, Big East 2, Conference USA 2, Pac Ten 1.

March 19, 2006

Four teams seeded 7 or lower advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. The victories by Georgetown and Wichita State qualify as only minor upsets in my book but not many predicted either George Mason or Bradley in the Sweet Sixteen. George Mason advanced by beating two of last year's Final Four participants, Michigan State and North Carolina. Bradley beat the Big XII champs and a Pittsburgh team that advanced to the Big East finals. The number of second round upsets have been fairly consistent in recent years. Since 1998, no less than three and no more than five teams seeded higher than #6 have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Bradley is the first team seeded 13 or higher to advance to the third round since Oklahoma in 1999. Like the first round, I was struck not so much by the number of upsets but by the competitiveness of the lower seeds. The higher seeds won 11 of 16 games in the second round but LSU, UConn, Villanova and UCLA were all just one shot away from losing to teams seeded 8 or lower.

The Missouri Valley conference certainly proved that it was worthy of the four NCAA bids. Bradley is a long shot to beat Memphis, but Wichita State is even money to advance to the Elite Eight. Exactly half of the teams in the Missouri Valley (2), the ACC (2) and the Big East (4) survived the first two rounds. Two of six SEC teams in the tournament and just one of four from the Big XII advanced to the third round. The biggest collapse came from the Big Ten where all six NCAA participants were eliminated. All year long, ESPN has been bragging about the Big Ten and the Big East. The jury is still out on the Big East, but the Big Ten showed that they are not one of the two or three best conferences. This was not entirely unpredictable. No one in the Big Ten could win on the road this year. That trend continued in the NCAA Tournament.

I cannot stand hearing commentators claim that the Selection Committee was justified in taking George Mason over Hofstra simply because George Mason advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. You can certainly make the argument that both George Mason and Hofstra deserved bids, but there was simply no justification for taking George Mason and not Hofstra. George Mason is in the tournament because their athletic director was on the Committee. I don't care if they win the National Championship. It was a slimy move no matter which way you slice it. Plus, who's to say that Hofstra wouldn't have won two games?

I love the "points off turnovers" graphic that is flashed from time to time on NCAA telecasts. When Duke and UConn play, I think there should be a "points off bad calls" graphic. The refs bailed out UConn again today.

I was quite amused by CBS's game score graphic in the Bradley-Pittsburgh game. CBS uses abbreviations for the school names and in this particular game, the score read "Brad Pitt". That loud sound you heard was Jennifer Aniston's television crashing to the floor.

When is the NCAA going to change the rules and stop allowing players to call timeout while they are in midair about to fall out of bounds? It is ridiculous. In order to call a timeout, a player should be required to have at least one foot on the floor in bounds.

Three teams that have had problems getting through the first two rounds in the recent past played outstanding second round games and advanced. I'm talking about Boston College, Florida and Gonzaga. BC broke a five game second round losing streak on Saturday. Gonzaga had gone four consecutive years without reaching the Sweet Sixteen and lost in three of those years to lower-seeded teams. Florida's recent past has been even more ignominious. In the past five years, the Gators have lost twice in the first round as a #5 seed and three times in the second round to a lower-seeded opponent (once each as 2, 3 and 4 seed).

The Atlanta bracket went pretty much according to plan. Three of the top seeds - Duke, Texas and LSU - advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. The #6 seed West Virginia was only a slightly more popular choice than Iowa in that group of four teams. If not for Duke, this bracket would make for a pretty good football tournament.

There will be a very interesting matchup on Thursday in the Oakland bracket when UCLA battles Gonzaga. UCLA was brilliant in the first game but barely scraped by in the second round. By contrast, Gonzaga nearly lost to Xavier in the first round but won pretty comfortably in the second round. The Zags proved on Saturday that they can beat a good team even when Adam Morrison is not on top of his game. Six Gonzaga players scored in double digits against Indiana. I found it absolutely amazing that Indiana hit 16 three pointers to Gonzaga's two and still lost by ten points. Bradley will attempt to become the first 13 seed to reach the Elite Eight. Teams seed 12 or higher are 1-18 in the third round since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

There are lucky wins, there are incredibly lucky wins and there is UConn's win over Kentucky on Sunday afternoon. A lot of people felt that UConn was a cut above the rest coming into this tournament. I think UConn's first two games in this tournament have proven that they are among the best teams in the country but not any better than the other major contenders. In most years, you could cut the final 16 into three groups: an "A list" comprised of great teams that have the best chance to win it all, a "B list" containing teams with a chance to win the title but not on the level of the A group, and a "C list" comprised of the teams that really have no chance to win it all and very little chance to reach the Final Four. Last year, North Carolina, Duke and Illinois were clearly on the A list. Kentucky may have been in that group as well. This year, I don't think there is an A list. I don't think there are any great teams in the historical sense. There is a B+ list that includes: the four #1 seeds plus UCLA, Gonzaga, Florida, BC, Texas, LSU and maybe Washington. Georgetown and West Virginia are on the B- list with Bradley, Wichita State and George Mason on the C list.

I am glad I am not the only one who was dumbfounded by Tennessee being granted a 2 seed. In the Yahoo Sports Pick 'em game, only 2.8% of the particpants chose Tennessee to advance to the Final Four. Of the other #2 seeds, 23% chose UCLA and 17% chose Ohio State and Texas. It's hard for me to understand how the general public can see something that ten guys who are supposed to experts in their field cannot. UConn's #2 seed last year was pretty bad but the Tennessee seeding decision was far worse. I'm not anti-Tennessee in any way. Bruce Pearl has done a remarkable job this season and they are going to be a force in the future. I'd just like to know what type of temporary insanity caused the Committee to seed them that high.

After nearly throwing away a great season with eight minutes of bad basketball on Thursday, the BC Eagles bounced back and played an outstanding game on Saturday. Montana simply had no answer for Craig Smith who scored 22 points and had 16 rebounds. Jared Dudley scored 20 points and Tyrese Rice ended his shooting slump by going 4 for 6 from behind the three point arc. Sean Williams blocked 5 shots and Louis Hinnant had only one turnover for the second game in a row. The only Eagle that isn't playing well right now is Sean Marshall who is 2 for 10 from the floor with 7 points in the tournament so far. BC didn't exactly slay the dragons in beating Pacific and Montana to reach the Sweet Sixteen, but they deserve a lot of credit for overcoming the fatigue that surely existed after playing three tough ACC games the previous weekend, flying to Boston, flying to Salt Lake and then playing a double overtime game. BC will have six full days of rest before facing Villanova on Friday - at sea level, just one time zone away.

If Boston College keeps winning, there is a decent chance that they will play old Big East foes Villanova, Georgetown and Connecticut in the next three rounds.

BC-Villanova is a tremendous matchup. You have BC's powerful inside game against Villanova's potent outside shooting. Here are the keys to the game for BC:

  1. Minimize the Three Point Deficit -- By Three Point Deficit, I am talking about the number of points Villanova scores on three pointers minus the number of points BC scores on threes. During the season, Villanova averaged 9.1 successful three point shots per game compared to 5.8 for BC. This is about ten points per game. BC can probably live with similar numbers on Friday night. If Villanova hits 13 or 14 three pointers, however, it will probably be a long night for the Eagles. BC can offset Villanova's outside shooting advantage if they continue to drain the three pointers themselves. They hit only 26% from behind the arc against Pacific but drilled 47% of their attempts against Montana.

  2. Hope for the Right Refs -- I'm not talking about bad calls. I'm talking about how the game is officiated. BC will want to play a physical game with a lot of banging around in the paint. Villanova will hope for more of a fast tempo finesse game. If the referees allow for a physical game, it will be to BC's advantage. If they call every touch foul, BC's chances of winning will sink rapidly because (a) they will not be able to play their usual aggressive style (b) the big men could get into foul trouble and (c) Villanova is an outstanding free throw shooting team and BC is not, so more free throws will probably mean more net points for Villanova. The refs allowed for a physical game on Saturday and BC dominated. It was a bit ridiculous that Craig Smith attempted 23 shots, almost all of them in the paint, and did not go to the free throw line once, but the refs called it that way on both ends of the floor so I have no complaints.

  3. Sean Marshall Needs to Step Up -- On the second to last weekend of the regular season, Sean Marshall played a phenomenal game at NC State. He and Sean Williams were the best players on the floor that day. Since then, Marshall has been in a funk. He's not making outside shots and not playing great defense. As BC fans know, Marshall is one of those guys whose confidence ebbs and flows. The good news is that when he gets off to a quick start in a game, he's usually effective the whole night. The extra rest this week will help all of the Eagles physically. It could help Sean Marshall mentally.

  4. Free Throws, Free Throws, Free Throws -- I couldn't be happier with BC's 31 for 40 performance in the tournament so far. 77.5% might not be stellar for a lot of teams but for BC, it is outstanding. Jared Dudley is 10 for 10 in the NCAA Tournament and 14 for 14 in his last three games. This needs to continue.

  5. Sean Williams Needs to Play More Minutes -- I noticed that the Villanova guards were very comfortable shooting the quick six to eight foot jumper against Arizona on Sunday. The Arizona big men really weren't much of a shot-blocking presence. Sean Williams (and John Oates to a lesser extent) need to make Foye, Ray and Lowry think twice before taking shots within ten feet of the basket. Williams, at times, is even a factor on three point shots.

March 17, 2006

I have to hand it to the lower seeds. I have never seen such competitive first round games from the number 13 through 16 seeds. In a repeat of last year, the low seeds were 2-14 in round one with a 13 seed and 14 seed winning. In 21 the prior years, 35 teams seeded 13 or lower won first round games so two major upsets is pretty close to the norm (which is 1.67 per year). However, six other bottom seeds had a legitimate chance to win with a minute left in their game. Xavier, Davidson, Pacific, Winthrop, Murray State and Penn all could have easily won. Another six teams in the 13 seed and under group were competitive. One of those teams was #16 Albany which led #1 UConn by 12 points midway through the second half. This was easily the best I've ever seen the 16 seeds play. Only two teams, Belmont and South Alabama, were blown out.

I wanted to quantify just how competitive those lower seeds were this year so I looked at the average margin of victory in games won by the higher seeded team over the past nine years. Here's the data:

Year # 13-16 Upsets Avg Margin in L's Teams
2006 2 12.9 #13 Bradley (Kansas)
#14 Northwestern St (Iowa)
2005 2 12.6 #13 Vermont (Syracuse)
#14 Bucknell (Kansas)
2004 0 16.8 None
2003 1 16.5 #13 Tulsa (Dayton)
2002 1 17.1 #13 UNC-Wilmington (USC)
2001 3 19.8 #13 Kent St (Indiana)
#13 Indiana St (Oklahoma)
#15 Hampton (Iowa St)
2000 0 17.0 None
1999 2 22.5 #13 Oklahoma (Arizona)
#14 Weber St (North Carolina)
1998 2 23.1 #13 Valparaiso (Ole Miss)
#14 Richmond (South Carolina)

These numbers really show the increased competitiveness of the lower seeds over time. In 1998 and 1999, the average margin of victory (wins only) for a 1 through 4 seed in the first round was about 23 points per game. From 2000 to 2004, the average margin of victory for the top seeds hovered around 17 (except for 2001). In the past two years, the top seeds have won by an average of less than 13 points per game. The closer games haven't translated to many wins for the underdogs but I fully expect these low seeds to start winning more games in the coming years.

As for the middle seeds 5 through 12, it is hard to call a victory by the lower seed an upset. This year, the 5 seeds, 6 seeds and 7 seeds were all 2-2. Strangely enough the 12 seeds (11-13) have outperformed the 10 and 11 seeds (9-15, 8-16) over the past six years. Historically, the 11 and 12 seeds have had similar success in the first and second rounds. As you would expect, the 8 seeds are 12-12 against the 9 seeds over the past six years.

Conference performance is always a big topic of discussion in the early rounds. The ACC led the way with a 4-0 record while the SEC was a surprising 5-1. The Pac Ten also had a nice first round with a 3-1 record. The Big East was 0-3 on Thursday but bounced back with a 5-0 Friday. The Big XII lost twice with higher seeds but #12 Texas A&M beat #5 Syracuse to give that conference a 2-2 record. The Missouri Valley had mixed results (2-2). The biggest disappointment to many was the Big Ten which was 3-3 and nearly lost Ohio State and Indiana.

Four seed BC probably caught a break when #12 Montana upset #5 Nevada on Thursday. However, as a 4 seed last year, BC appeared to catch a break when #12 seed Wisconsin-Milwaukee beat Alabama in the first round. It was anything but a break. Bruce Pearl's team made 11 three-pointers and was 20 for 22 from the free throw line. BC is a better team this year, but there remains a great possibility for an upset because of the fatigue factor. BC will be playing their fifth game in eight days, they will be coming off an emotional double overtime game and they will have traveled somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 miles in the past ten days. Add to that the altitude of Salt Lake City which adds to the fatigue.

Second round karma is not on BC's side either. Since 1996, the Eagles are 6-1 in the first round and 0-5 in the second round. BC has an amazing 12-1 record in the first round of the NCAA Tournament since 1970 (13-3 in their history).

One of BC's two biggest weaknesses popped up again on Thursday. At times, the Eagles have had problems defending the perimeter. Pacific got back into the game the other day with a barrage of three-pointers. At one point they were 10 for 19 from the arc. The three point shot ruined BC's ACC title run last Sunday and was the main reason why they were knocked out in the second round last year. On the other side of the coin, BC's other weakness, free throws, was more of a strength on Thursday and really saved them from the upset. BC was 24 for 29 from the charity stripe (83%) including 16 for 16 combined from Tyrese Rice, Jared Dudley and Louis Hinnant. Craig Smith missed four of nine from the line but made the two most important free throws to send the game to a second OT. Smith was his usual unstoppable force (25 points, 13 rebounds) and Jared Dudley was on top of his game (23 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals). Louis Hinnant continues to play amazing basketball. The senior guard scored 14 points on 5 for 7 from the field and dished out nine assists. He turned the ball over just once. In his last 11 games, Hinnant has 60 assists and only 17 turnovers (a 3.5:1 ratio). BC needs more offense from Sean Marshall and Tyrese Rice if they are going to make a deep run in this tournament. The duo was just 2 for 12 from the field on Thursday.

March 14, 2006

I have been filling out brackets for twenty years and this is easily the most difficult NCAA Tournament to predict. Typically, I have six or seven teams in mind that I think are legitimate Final Four/championship contenders and I have to struggle to trim that number down to four. This year, I'm having hard time finding any clear-cut championship caliber teams. I find myself trying to build up to four teams, rather than trimming my list to four. Also, in a typical year I don't give teams seeded higher than a 4 seed much of a look for a Final Four spot. This year, many of the 5 to 8 seeds are legitimate Final Four contenders. The #8 seeds are Arkansas, George Washington, Arizona and Kentucky. I'm not picking any of those teams in the Final Four, but it wouldn't shock me to see one of them in Indianapolis. Michigan State is a 6 seed. Does anyone think they are not better than 2 seed Tennessee? Pittsburgh is a 5 seed and I'm guessing that as many people will pick the Panthers in the Final Four as will pick Oakland's 2, 3, and 4 seeds, UCLA, Gonzaga and Kansas. I'm pondering it myself. In general, the 4 seeds look as strong, if not stronger, than the 2 seeds. In fact, 4 seed Kansas beat 2 seed Texas just the other day. Even the 1 seeds have weaknesses. Both Villanova and UConn failed to make the Big East finals (each losing to 5 seeds) and Duke went to wire with 4 seed BC in the ACC Championship. I think this year's tournament could be a repeat of last year where we had few major upsets in the first round but there were plenty of upsets (and near upsets) in the second, third and fourth rounds.

I don't normally post predictions because I don't want to get a flood of angry emails if my choices don't pan out. Some people believe that having the stats guarantees success. As I've said in my trends analysis, the stats are a nice tool but who wins in games between similarly-seeded teams really comes down to who is on top of their game on that particular day (who is shooting well that day, who is more tired than normal) and luck (who gets the calls, does the final shot rattle in or rattle out?). Take last year's Elite Eight, for example. Illinois, Louisville and Michigan State advanced to the Final Four but if just one successful shot had missed its mark in each game, Arizona, West Virginia and Kentucky would have been in St Louis. North Carolina won it all but most people think they deserved to lose in the Sweet Sixteen round to Villanova. So I won't post predictions, but I will offer plenty of stats. Here are a few observations followed by some statistical rankings (the top and bottom) for the 65 competitors in this year's tournament.

Conference Tournament Fatigue -- if you have read my NCAA Trends Analysis Part I (link at the bottom of this page), you know that my analysis has shown that teams seeded 3rd or lower who play three or more conference tournament games perform worse in the second round, on average, than the teams who play only one or two games in their conference tourney. Keep in mind that I only analyzed teams from the major conferences. Also notice that I am talking about the second round. The numbers tell me that these teams don't have as much of a problem with fatigue in the first round but that it catches up to them in the second round. Here are some teams that I feel are at risk (this doesn't mean that I am necessarily picking against these teams).

Who's Hot and Who's Not -- Only Gonzaga and Nevada come into the NCAA Tournament riding 10 game winning streaks. A total of 13 teams have won 9 of 10 and another 16 teams have won 8 of 10. Among the 9-1 teams, only Kansas plays in one of the six major conferences. The Jayhawks are 15-1 in their last 16 games. BC is 15-3 since January 14th and two of those losses were by two points to Duke. I think the more interesting list are the teams who have been losing a lot lately. Four teams are 4-6 in their last ten games: Michigan State, Wisconsin, Northern Iowa and West Virginia. Six teams are 5-5 in their last 10 games: Hampton, Seton Hall, NC State, Georgetown, Indiana and Marquette. Wisconsin is a pitiful 5-9 since mid January.

Battle Tested -- I'm not sure that the RPI Top 50 is what it once was. After all, George Mason and Hofstra are in the Top 30. Still, a team's record against tournament caliber competition is an important metric. UConn was an amazing 12-3 against the RPI Top 50. Duke was 9-2 and Villanova was 9-4. Iowa was an impressive 10-5. Washington was 5-1 thanks largely to beating UCLA twice. Michigan State played the most top 50 teams but could manage only a 9-9 record against that group. Arizona's 2-7 record against the RPI Top 50 is certainly a red flag. Kentucky was 3-8. I guess that's why they are both in 8/9 games.

Road Warriors -- Some schools may have a large fan contingent at a tournament game but no one plays on their home court. This is why it makes sense to look a team's road and neutral court record. Duke led the way with a 16-2 record away from Cameron Indoor. Iona was next best at 16-3. Other major conference notables on the positive side are: Villanova (13-3), UConn (11-3), Memphis (11-2), UCLA (10-3), North Carolina (9-3), Florida (11-4), Boston College (12-5) and Texas (11-5). On the flip side, you have some teams that have had a very difficult time winning away from home. The bottom two are Alabama (3-8) and Wisconsin (5-9). Arizona, Seton Hall and Marquette all won less than 43% of their road/neutral games. Bradley, despite being in the Missouri Valley Conference, was only 7-9 away from home.

The Key Stats -- Below you will find stats for the 65 teams participating in this year's tournament. I've given you the top five to ten and the bottom five in each category. If you would like to see all the numbers, I recommend that you visit According to my research in Trends Analysis Part II (link at the bottom of this page), the most important stats are field goal percentage, opponent field goal percentage and rebounding. Free throw shooting produced mixed results.

Points Per Game - Top Ten

Rank Team Points Per Game
1 Duke 82.5
2 Washington 82.4
3 Belmont 81.8
4 Connecticut 81.3
  Tennessee 81.3
6 Memphis 80.9
7 Iona 80.4
  North Carolina 80.4
9 Gonzaga 80.1
10 Montana 79.5

Points Per Game - Bottom Five

Rank Team Points Per Game
65 Southern Illinois 60.9
64 Air Force 64.0
63 Monmouth 65.1
62 Southern U 65.9
61 Northern Iowa 66.1

Field Goal Percentage - Top Ten

Rank Team FG Pct
1 Florida 50.8%
2 Belmont 50.0%
3 Utah State 49.8%
4 Montana 49.5%
5 Duke 49.4%
6 Pacific 48.9%
7 Boston College 48.6%
8 George Mason 48.4%
  Iona 48.4%
10 Air Force 48.3%

Field Goal Percentage - Bottom Five

Rank Team FG Pct
64 Southern Illinois 41.2%
  Seton Hall 41.2%
63 Hampton 41.8%
62 Villanova 42.6%
61 UNC Wilmington 42.7%

Three Point FG Percentage - Top Five

Rank Team 3pt FG Pct
1 Iona 41.1%
2 Utah State 40.5%
3 Air Force 40.0%
  Marquette 40.0%
5 Duke 39.6%
  Indiana 39.6%

Three Point FG Percentage - Bottom Five

Rank Team 3pt FG Pct
65 Alabama 31.1%
64 Arizona 31.6%
63 Pennsylvania 32.1%
61 Southern U 32.2%
  Hampton 32.2%

Free Throw Percentage - Top Five

Rank Team FT Pct
1 Gonzaga 78.3%
2 Michigan State 77.1%
3 Davidson 76.3%
4 Duke 76.1%
5 NC State 75.7%

Free Throw Percentage - Bottom Five

Rank Team FT Pct
65 Hampton 61.5%
64 Illinois 63.4%
63 George Washington 64.1%
62 Syracuse 64.3%
61 UAB 65.0%

Opponent Points Per Game - Top Ten

Rank Team PPG Against
1 Air Force 53.9
2 Bucknell 55.3
3 Southern Illinois 56.3
4 Northern Iowa 57.9
5 Illinois 58.1
6 George Mason 58.8
  Iowa 58.8
8 UNC Wilmington 59.0
9 UCLA 59.1
10 Georgetown 59.5

Opponent Points Per Game - Bottom Five

Rank Team PPG Against
65 Belmont 75.9
64 Tennessee 73.7
63 Gonzaga 72.5
62 Iona 71.9
61 Montana 70.8

Opponent Field Goal Percentage - Top Ten

Rank Team Opp FG Pct
1 Kansas 36.8%
2 Connecticut 37.3%
3 Memphis 37.8%
4 Bucknell 38.1%
  Iowa 38.1%
6 Texas 38.3%
7 George Mason 38.6%
  UNC Wilmington 38.6%
9 Southern U 38.7%
10 Xavier 39.3%

Opponent Field Goal Percentage - Bottom Five

Rank Team Opp FG Pct
65 Tennessee 47.2%
63 West Virginia 45.1%
  Arizona 45.1%
61 Kent State 43.9%
  Belmont 43.9%

Turnover Margin - Top Five (Best)

Rank Team TO Margin
1 UAB +8.0
2 West Virginia +7.5
3 Arizona +5.6
4 Tennessee +5.3
5 Texas A&M +4.9

Turnover Margin - Bottom Five (Worst)

Rank Team TO Margin
65 Southern U -2.3
64 Alabama -1.8
63 North Carolina -1.3
62 Michigan State -1.0
61 Belmont -0.9

Rebound Percentage Score - Top Ten

Note: Rebound Percentage Score is the percentage of offensive rebounds each team collected over the course of the season plus the percentage of defensive rebounds they collected. For example, a team that gets 35% of all possible offensive rebounds and 75% of all possible defensive rebounds would have a score of 1.10 (.35 + .75).

Rank Team Reb Pct
1 Oklahoma 1.15
2 Texas 1.12
3 Pittsburgh 1.11
  LSU 1.11
  Washington 1.11
  Connecticut 1.11
  North Carolina 1.11
8 Wisc Milwaukee 1.10
  Memphis 1.10
10 Illinois 1.09

Rebounding Percentage Score - Bottom Five

Rank Team Reb Pct
65 West Virginia 0.87
63 UAB 0.90
  Air Force 0.90
62 Monmouth 0.91
61 Duke 0.92

March 12, 2006

As usual, the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Selection Committee did a horrible job of seeding and choosing the final at large teams. The process is obviously more political than analytical. The Committee contradicts itself at every turn. Sometimes wins against the RPI Top 50 matter, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes how you are playing down the stretch matters, sometimes it doesn't. Here are the top five outlandish choices made by the Committee in no particular order.

  1. Tennessee Gets a 2 Seed -- In my final analysis, I gave Tennessee a 5 seed and I thought that might be have been generous. The Vols have lost four of their last six games including an SEC Tournament quarterfinal loss to South Carolina. They nearly lost to Vanderbilt in the regular season finale. Given Tennessee's seven losses overall and their recent poor play, it is hard to justify selecting them ahead of conference champions like Florida, Gonzaga, Kansas or Iowa or teams that are playing exceptionally well like BC and North Carolina.

  2. George Mason In, Hofstra Out -- These two teams from the Colonial have very similar NCAA Tournament resumes. George Mason was 23-7 overall and 15-3 in the conference. Hofstra was 24-6 overall and 14-4 in the conference. Hofstra was slightly better against the RPI Top 50 (3-2 vs 2-4). They were both 8-2 in their last ten games and had similar road/neutral records. Here's the big difference: Hofstra has played George Mason twice in the past two weeks and won both times. If I'm on the Selection Committee, I can invite them both or leave them both out but there is no logical defense for taking George Mason and not Hofstra. I wondered how this could possibly happen. My research took me to a list of ten people on this year's Selection Committee. Lo and behold, one of them is George Mason Athletic Director Tom O'Connor. Now it all makes sense.

  3. Air Force Gets the Nod -- I'm a big supporter of the military but this is ridiculous. Air Force was a bubble team coming into the Mountain West Tournament and they didn't exactly enhance their resume when they lost to 12-17 Wyoming in the conference tournament quarterfinals. Ironically, the Committee raised eyebrows just two years ago when they invited Air Force as an at large participant despite the Falcons' RPI ranking of 70 (the second highest ever for an at large team). I've noticed that a good portion of the most bizarre at-large selections of the past ten years have come from the Mountain West or the WAC. There seems to be a Rocky Mountain bias when it comes to selecting bubble teams.

  4. Utah State Gets the Nod -- As for Utah State, their only win of consequence this year was a road win at Nevada. Their best non-conference win came at home against BYU. They finished 11-5 in the WAC. Does anyone really think that Florida State and Cincinnati wouldn't have won more than 11 games in the WAC? The Committee claims that they are looking for the 34 best at-large teams. You could make the argument that Bradley, Wichita State and maybe even George Mason are better than Florida State and Cincinnati. You cannot make the same argument with Air Force or Utah State.

  5. BC Gets a 4 Seed, UNC Gets a 3 Seed -- Last year, I renamed the NCAA Selection Committee the "NCAA Tournament / Screw Boston College" Committee. The shoe still fits. I am not really upset that BC is seeded #4. I would not have had a problem with either Kansas or Florida (both conference champs) getting the higher seed. The fact that North Carolina received a better seed than BC is one of the most grotesque examples of popular team bias that I have ever seen. North Carolina and BC came into the ACC Tournament ranked 10 and 11, respectively, in the polls. North Carolina finished only one game ahead of BC in the ACC standings and both teams lost exactly seven games this year. Boston College beat North Carolina in the ACC semifinals yesterday and beat the Heels earlier in the season in Chapel Hill. For this reason, seeding North Carolina ahead of BC is indefensible. Not only was North Carolina given a better seed, they were placed in the Washington DC bracket and will be playing close to home. BC is getting shipped off to Salt Lake City for the first two rounds and will likely be playing what amounts to a road game in the second round (Nevada borders Utah). If BC advances, they be traveling to Minneapolis for the Sweet Sixteen. I am not sure why the Selection Committee believes that it is their job to prop up schools like North Carolina and Connecticut (last year) with seeding upgrades. It makes my blood boil. It appears that the top four factors in seeding are: (1) t-shirt and jersey sales, (2) media popularity of the head coach, (3) on court performance over the past ten years, (4) on court performance in the current year.

Here are some other examples of BC's treatment by the Selection Committee over the past ten years:

Some thoughts on the brackets:

I'll post more analysis and some statistics by Wednesday morning. Let the pools begin!

2005 NCAA Tournament Notes

March 28, 2005

What a weekend of college basketball. On a scale from 0 to 10, three of the Regional Final games should be scored somewhere in the 9.6 to 9.9 range with the Wisconsin-North Carolina game getting about a 9.0. In any other year, the Wisconsin-UNC game would top Monday's water cooler discussion. This year, it may not even be mentioned because the other three games (each decided in overtime) featured unique drama that may never be repeated.

In the West Virginia-Louisville classic, the Mountaineers made 18 of 24 three point shots attempted in regulation time. I am fairly confident that I will never see that again in the tournament or the regular season. The only thing more amazing than the 18 of 24 is the fact that West Virginia did not win the game. Despite having star Francisco Garcia on the bench with five fouls and Taquan Dean in and out of the lineup with cramps, the Cardinals found a way to win. I am also doubtful that I will ever see a team win an NCAA Tournament game after trailing by 15 points with under four minutes left as Illinois did against Arizona in Saturday's second game. It was a bit of a collapse by Arizona, but the clutch play of Illinois was even more striking. Topping it all off was the spectacular double OT Kentucky-Michigan State game on Sunday. The game-tying three pointer by Steve Sparks as time expired in regulation will end up being a little less memorable because Kentucky eventually lost the game. Still, the combination of the ball bouncing several times off the rim before falling in and the controversy regarding Sparks' toe and the three point line will be etched in my memory for years to come. What a great weekend. This is exactly why they call it March Madness and why people cannot wait for the brackets and the games every year.

There were two other great games in the Regional Semifinal round: Villanova-North Carolina and Oklahoma State-Arizona. There was plenty of controversy surrounding the travelling call at the end of the Villanova-Carolina game. Was it actually a travelling violation? Yes. Should it have been called in that situation? Probably not. Would it have been called if it had been North Carolina with the ball? No way. Arizona-Oklahoma State may have been the most tightly contested game of the tournament. Unlike some of the games this weekend and the incredible Wake Forest-West Virginia game, this game was close from the opening tip. That matchup felt like a Final Four game.

In some ways, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is off the hook for its terrible job of seeding. First of all, each of the Regional Final games were highly competitive. At the very least, the Committee allowed for some great matchups, though that was probably just chance. Justice was served when 2 seed UConn (they should have been a 4 or 5 seed) lost in the second round. Louisville took their 4 seed in stride (they should have been a 2 seed at worst) and won the region anyway. However, the Selection Committee looked foolish when 4 seed Louisville was favored against 1 seed Washington and roughly 80% of the country picked Louisville, not Washington, to advance to the Elite Eight. Boston College made history by getting a 4 seed despite losing only four games all season (three to tournament teams plus Notre Dame). Had they lost to Illinois in the Sweet Sixteen, they would have had plenty to complain about. The fact that they lost to a 12 seed (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) is evidence that the seeding didn't cost them a trip to the Sweet Sixteen (as it probably did in 2001).

If anyone has a complaint, it is Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were arguably a 1 seed. At the very least, they should have been one of the two highest ranked 2 seeds (ahead of UConn and Kentucky). Since Illinois was the clear #1 team in the tournament, they should have been placed in the same region as the eighth best team in the tournament (ie. the weakest 2 seed). This was clearly not Oklahoma State. This meant that OSU faced a much tougher Sweet Sixteen opponent (Arizona) than they should have. This imbalance is largely how Michigan State wound up in the Final Four. The Spartans are playing great basketball, but I find it hard to believe that they would have beaten Oklahoma State (or Arizona for that matter) in the Regional Finals. By placing UConn as the 2 seed in the East, Carolina's path was made easier. The Tar Heels didn't have to beat a team seeded higher than 5 to reach the Final Four and they will play 5th seeded Michigan State in the National Semifinals on Saturday. Part of the problem, of course, is that the Committee refuses to make alternate scenarios based on Selection Sunday conference tournament finals outcomes in the major conferences. This may explain how Oklahoma State was rated lower than Wake Forest and Kentucky. UConn, of course, is an entirely different story.

Last week, I compiled a list of the ten things that I DON'T like about the NCAA Tournament or college basketball in general. Here's one more: I cannot stand the fact that a team trailing late in a game can foul the weakest free throw shooter prior to the inbounds pass. Not only does this enable the team on defense to choose who they want at the free throw line, but they can do it without any time ticking off of the clock. At the very least, a foul prior to the inbounds pass (with under one minute left in the game) should be an automatic two shot foul (not a 1 and 1). At most, the inbounding team should get one free throw and the ball. The team that is ahead late in the game should have to make their free throws to win, but the trailing team should be required to chase down the ball to make the foul. Fouling before the ball is passed is simply too easy for the defense.

Last week I said the no 30 second timeout lasted less than two minutes. Make that four minutes in the Regional Finals. CBS is absolutely obnoxious.

I am little tired of hearing how great the Big Ten is doing in this year's tournament. Yes, they have been a pleasant surprise, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, Wisconsin's run to the Elite Eight was nothing to boast about. Before facing North Carolina on Sunday, the Badgers beat 11 seed and bubble team Northern Iowa (they couldn't even reach the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament), a 14 seed (Bucknell) and a 10 seed (North Carolina State). Michigan State, to their credit, defeated the 1 and 2 seeds in their region after taking advantage of Syracuse's first round departure. However, Duke and Kentucky were both heavily overrated this season. At this point, Duke and Kentucky could have Jackson Five as a starting lineup and still be in the preseason top five. Illinois wasn't tested until the Regional Finals. After beating a 16, 9 and a 12 seed in the first three rounds, the Illini were teetering on the brink of losing by 20 to Arizona in the Regional Final before their incredible resurrection (it was Easter weekend after all). I agree that the Pac Ten was underrated this season, but by nearly as much as the media has claimed over the past week.

I certainly won't shed any tears over the fact that Kentucky will not be participating in the Final Four this season, but I will miss seeing Ashley Judd in the crowd. Unlike most celeb "fans" Judd actually knows a little something about the game of basketball, shows up for regular season games and has even written a few guest columns on the Cats for the Lexington Herald-Leader. That reminds me, could someone from Illinois, Michigan State, Louisville or North Carolina please mail Jessica Alba a diploma and some Final Four tickets?

For the first time since 2000, the Final Four will not feature a 2 or a 3 seed. Louisville is the first 4 seed to reach the Final Four since 1999 (Ohio State). Though 2005 marked the 25th consecutive year that a 1 seed has reached the Final Four, it was also the sixth consecutive year that no more than two 1 seeds reached the National Semifinals. Louisville and Michigan State have their work cut out for them. Only once since 1988 has a team seeded higher than 3 won the National Championship (Arizona, a 4 seed in 1997).

Final Four Participants since 1985 (National Champion in boldface)

Year Seeds Teams
1985 1, 1 ,2, 8 St. John's, Georgetown, Memphis, Villanova
1986 1, 1, 2, 11 Duke, Kansas, Louisville, LSU
1987 1, 1, 2, 6 UNLV, Indiana, Syracuse, Providence
1988 1, 1, 2, 6 Arizona, Oklahoma, Duke, Kansas
1989 1, 2, 3, 3 Illinois, Duke, Seton Hall, Michigan
1990 1, 3, 4, 4 UNLV, Duke, Georgia Tech, Arkansas
1991 1, 1, 2, 3 UNLV, North Carolina, Duke, Kansas
1992 1, 2, 4, 6 Duke, Indiana, Cincinnati, Michigan
1993 1, 1, 1, 2 North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan, Kansas
1994 1, 2, 2, 3 Arkansas, Arizona, Duke, Florida
1995 1, 2, 2, 4 UCLA, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma St
1996 1, 1, 4, 5 Kentucky, Massachusetts, Syracuse, Mississippi St
1997 1, 1, 1, 4 Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Arizona
1998 1, 2, 3, 3 North Carolina, Kentucky, Stanford, Utah
1999 1, 1, 1, 4 Connecticut, Duke, Michigan St, Ohio St
2000 1, 5, 8, 8 Michigan St, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin
2001 1, 1, 2, 3 Arizona, Duke, Maryland, Michigan St
2002 1, 1, 2, 5 Kansas, Maryland, Oklahoma, Indiana
2003 1, 2, 3, 3 Texas, Kansas, Marquette, Syracuse
2004 1, 2, 2, 3 Duke, Connecticut, Oklahoma St, Georgia Tech

March 21, 2005

Congratulations to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Panthers. They played a great game on Saturday against Boston College. I don't think Milwaukee is a better team than BC, but they were certainly the better team on Saturday. They mixed torrid three point shooting with good dribble penetration and had an unbelievable day at the free throw line (95% before an inconsequential miss at the end). I would love to see Bruce Pearl's gutsy team in the Final Four, but that will be almost impossible given the fact that they are in the toughest region in recent memory (Illinois, Oklahoma State and Arizona remain in that region).

For BC, it was a better ending. It was the third time in five years that the Eagles were in position to advance to the Sweet Sixteen with a minute left only to see things unravel. The Eagles were one of the five best teams in the country for 25 games, but they are clearly not one of the sixteen best now. They lost their "mojo" in a home game against Pitt on the final Monday of the regular season and never regained it. Every good team (except perhaps Illinois) goes through a three or four game slump at some point during the season. BC chose to do it at the most inopportune time. But, Al Skinner's program is on the rise (115 wins in five years). They return four starters next year and the fifth is soon-to-be Sophomore Sean Williams, who could be a dominant force in the ACC on both sides of the ball. Steve Hailey will return as the backup point guard. If the Eagles can find a couple more role players to step up and replace the departing Jermaine Watson and Nate Doornekamp, there is no reason why they shouldn't be even better next season.

As a graduate, I am very excited about Boston College joining the ACC. Clearly, the ACC is a better academic fit for Boston College even if the geography doesn't make a lot of sense. Watching the incredible ACC basketball games this season, I couldn't help but be excited about being a part of it. The challenge for Al Skinner and the players will be to adapt to the ACC style of play (less physical, faster pace). At one point, the prospect of leaving the Big East after 25 years was bittersweet, but the classless and infantile behavior of some of the people at the remaining Big East schools (particularly the University of Connecticut) eliminated any positive feelings I once had for the Big East Conference. I think in time the positive memories will return. For now, I can't get beyond the lawsuits, the double-standard (Miami and Virginia Tech were not criticized for leaving), the hypocrisy (most of these schools would have jumped ship had they been invited and they had no problem looting Conference USA), the unprofessional behavior of Commissioner Mike "I treat Notre Dame better than the schools in my conference" Tranghese, the officiating vendetta (for football in '03 and basketball in the second half of this season), the whining from Rutgers (despite the fact that their pathetic football program helped drive Miami out), the travel fiasco in Syracuse during the 2003 football season and of course the unrelenting blather from the stunningly arrogant Jim Calhoun.

Let me first say that I am a big fan of's Sports Guy, Bill Simmons. I've often provided links to his articles on the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics and will continue to do so. His ramblings are very amusing (though I could do without the 500 words a month on Beverly Hills 90210 and The OC). His animated cartoons are hysterical. However, I could not let the week pass without commenting on The Sport Guy's March Madness Diary, which included a few snippy comments about Boston College. Bill Simmons, in case you didn't know, is a graduate of Holy Cross. Simmons and Dan Shaughnessy have become the poster children for "Holy Cross Grad Boston College Envy." Here's a sample.

Simmons: "It's time for my favorite NCAA tradition ... that's right, rooting against BC!"

I have no problem with this. The students and grads at every Boston area school root against BC. Having teams to root against is part of the fun of being a sports fan.

Simmons: "Jermaine Watson pulls off a three-point play to put BC up by seven. Out of anyone in this tournament who jumped out of a second-story plate glass window to escape armed assailants last weekend, he's playing the best."

I found this comment very amusing.

Simmons: "Looks like BC is going to beat Penn by 20. On the bright side for Penn grads, they can take out their anger on the BC grads working under them."

Okay, this would be an excellent comeback from a Penn grad. Coming from a Holy Cross grad, it is utterly ridiculous. This is the equivalent of a Clippers fan making fun the Lakers for losing to the Spurs. Simmons clearly has a bone to pick with BC. To borrow a Sports Guy phrase, I wish I could bet on things like "Bill Simmons was once rejected for admission to Boston College." Think about it, would a maniacal sports fan like Bill Simmons go to a school with no Division 1-A football and a basketball program that hasn't won a tournament game since they used peach baskets for hoops if he could have gone to BC?

Simmons: "By the way, Raftery just mentioned that the Ohio coach learned his craft as a longtime assistant of BC coach Al Skinner. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?"

Tearing apart Al Skinner is nothing new for Simmons. He's often referred to Skinner as a poor coach. I might say that this opinion is moronic, but that would be an insult to morons. Al Skinner has won 115 games in the past five years (an average of 23 per year) without a recruiting class that even ranks in the top 50. BC has been eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in three of the past five years. With UConn's priority seeding, I'm sure they would have been in the Sweet Sixteen and maybe beyond a couple of times. Skinner reached the NCAA Tournament four times while at Rhode Island. Who knows, maybe Simmons received a rejection letter from URI as well.

Simmons: "Three great things about the Charlotte/NC State game: It's taking place in Worcester (where I spent four years in college); there's a "Holy Cross" logo on the court; and the great Gus Johnson is announcing."

The greatest accomplishment for Holy Cross is having its logo printed on the court for an NCAA Tournament game. Doesn't that say it all? For the record, I have nothing against Holy Cross. It is a fine school. I wouldn't be writing this if Simmons could keep his envy to himself.

Has anyone ever seen Gonzaga's Adam Morrison and Randall "Pink" Floyd from Dazed and Confused in the same place at the same time?

I watched a little of the Congressional Steroid Hearings last week during basketball timeouts. I was happy that the Congressmen put the players, the commish and the player's union on the spot. They accurately pointed out how ludicrous it is that baseball players have a five strikes policy and that the fine for a first offense ($10,000) is, for the average baseball player, the equivalent of a $25 fine for an average American. At the same time, I found it a bit hypocritcal for the members of the U.S. Congress to be lecturing about the special treatment of baseball players. Does anyone get more special treatment than politicians?

During the Big East Tournament, West Virginia fans were chanting "ACC" late in their game with BC. They repeated the same chant in the NCAA Tournament (WV played in the same venue as BC). Is this supposed to be an insult? Is the best they can come up with? Would Yankee fans chant "2004" to Red Sox fans? Would Laker fans chant "Shaq" when the Miami Heat are in town? I wonder if West Virginia held a statewide contest and the "ACC" chant was the winning entry.

One of the great things about the NCAA Tournament is that no one rushes the court after games. A good court rush is fine once in a great while (maybe if you beat Duke for the first time in 20 years) but this year it seemed like the students were rushing the court after every home win. The Villanova fans rushed the court after beating Pittsburgh. Clemson fans rushed the court after beating Virginia Tech. What does it say about your program if the student body rushes the court after beating Virginia Tech in basketball?

I was wondering: if there existed just one Women's NIT pool for the entire country, would more than 20 people enter? Attendance for the first two rounds of the women's NCAA tourney is putrid. I can't imagine what it's like for the Women's NIT. In the box score next to "Attendance" do they just list everyone's name?

In case you are wagering, the over/under on the UConn basketball program going on probation is 2006.

I love college basketball and March Madness, but I do have some criticisms. Here are Ten things I hate about the NCAA Tournament or College Basketball (in no particular order).

  1. Billy Packer -- I think it is time for Packer to be inducted into the "Duke Suck-up" Hall of Fame. CBS should not allow him to do color commentary for Duke. It is absolutely painful to listen to him during Duke telecasts.

  2. Timeouts Called While Players are Sprawling Out of Bounds -- It is insanity that a team can call a timeout while the player with the ball is in midair three feet out of bounds. Both Gonzaga and Boston College saw their tournament hopes officially die on a play like this. Both were down one possession in the final minute when the opponent was granted a TO while falling out of bounds. Instead of having the ball, Gonzaga and BC were forced to begin fouling and their seasons were over. A player should at least have two feet in bounds in order for a timeout to be called.

  3. Thirty Second Timeouts -- Thirty second timeouts would be fine except for the fact that all of them last for at least two minutes. A thirty second timeout should not be an excuse to show the Spring Break Shark Attack commercial for the 900th time. And while we're on the subject ...

  4. Commercials for Shows that No Self-Respecting College Hoops Fan Would Watch -- For example, Oh, I don't know ... SPRING BREAK SHARK ATTACK!

  5. Free Throws After TV Timeouts (Instead of Before) -- In the past, the TV timeout would come at four minute intervals following a stoppage in play (a non-shooting foul, ball out of bounds, etc) except in cases where a player was headed to the free throw line. Prior to this year, a player would get his free throws before the TV timeout. Now the free throws come after the TV timeout, probably because the networks were tired of guys missing their final free throw attempt and thus temporarily postponing the commercial break. This change is terrible for fans and I'd guess even worse for the player who has to wait four minutes before taking his shots at the foul line. It certainly appears that the NCAA is pandering to the networks at the expense of the players and the flow of the game.

  6. The Three Point Line -- Actually, I love the three-pointer. It is the second greatest invention in the history of college basketball (the shot clock being the greatest invention - don't get me started on the "four corners" offense). But, the line needs to be moved back another foot or two from the basket. Too many one-dimensional teams are winning simply by heaving up 20 to 25 three pointers per game. The three-point shot is great, but it's just a little too easy from 19'9".

  7. 1 vs 16 Games -- Number 16 seeds are now 0-84 against 1 seeds. We've seen in the past (and last week) that the 13 and 14 seeds have been very competitive. They have won nearly 20% of the time and have given the higher seeds a good game more often than not. The 15 seeds are 4-80 against the 2s but at least they have a chance to win. The 16 seeds have virtually no chance to win and they normally lose by 20-30 points. This means that the first round is essentially a bye for the 1 seeds, which wouldn't be as much of a problem if the 1 seeds were earned, rather than bestowed by some biased committee. I would love to see the tournament expand to 68 teams with four play-in games. This would increase the competitiveness not only of the 1 vs 16 game, but all of the first round games featuring the top four seeds. The bubble teams would become 13 seeds, the current 13 and 14 seeds would become 14 and 15 seeds and the current 15 and 16 seeds would be playing each other for the right to challenge the 1 seed in the first round. This would mean more upsets and more good games. It would also give four additional bubble teams a chance to play in the tournament. I don't think it would have been the end of the world to have Notre Dame, Maryland and St. Joe's added to this year's field.

  8. Players With Ponytails -- This is men's basketball, not tennis, figure skating or the Antonio Banderas Lookalike World Series.

  9. The Seed Justification Crowd -- The fact that Kansas was upset in the first round does not justify the fact that they were given a lower seed than UConn. If Louisville had lost in the second round, it would not have allowed the Committee to justify the fact that they were given a 4 seed. BC's loss to Milwaukee-Wisconsin does not mean that they should not have been given a 3 seed or better. Anything can happen on any given day in the tournament. Some teams have come very close to losing in the first or second round and won the championship later on. For all we know, Kansas may have won it all had they survived Bucknell. Seeding should be based on what a team has accomplished during the season, not on the hunches of the Selection Committee. I love both college and professional sports but this is one area where pro sports comes out ahead. If the Patriots finish 12-4 and the Jets finish 11-5 this year, I don't have to worry about the Jets getting a better seed in the NFL Playoffs.

  10. The NCAA Selection Committee -- Normally, I have a problem with the way the Committee handles the bubble teams. This year, my issue was the awful job in seeding. I had my say on this subject in the March 16th Notes if you are interested.

March 16, 2005

We are now on the eve of not only March Madness (sorry, Oakland, I don't count the game on Tuesday) but also St. Patrick's Day. Wow. Two great events in one day, especially if you are a huge college basketball fan, Irish or a beer distributor. After three days of staring at brackets, I am more than ready for the games to begin. The basketball pools are taking their toll on me. Since Sunday, I've had the compulsive desire to seed everything. At lunch, #1 seed Pepsi had no trouble with #16 Mr. Pibb but the #12 turkey sandwich upset the #5 seed, steak and cheese. Anyway, here are some notes. They are brief because I have been spending most of my time with the aforementioned brackets.

I think the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee needs to rename itself the "NCAA Tournament / Screw Boston College" Committee. BC finished 24-4, won the regular season Big East title and was in the top ten for most of January and February. The Eagles' four losses came against three NCAA Tournament teams and Notre Dame, one of the last teams left out. The Eagles were not only "rewarded" with a #4 seed but they were the lowest of the #4 seeds because they were placed in the same bracket with #1 Illinois. If BC survives the first two rounds, they will almost certainly play the Illini in Chicago. This is not the first time that the Selection Committee has treated BC unfairly. In 2003, BC won their Big East division (there were two divisions then) with a 10-6 record, won 7 of their last 10 games, were 9-4 on the road and had a respectable RPI of 49. They were left out of the tournament in favor of Alabama (7-9 in the SEC, 1-8 on the road, 4-6 in their last 10 games) and NC State (3-7 on the road, 5-5 in their last 10 and LOST TO BC AT HOME!!). In 2001, BC cruised to the Big East regular season and conference tournament championship while finishing 26-4. They were given a 3 seed that year and lost to red-hot USC in the second round. During the past five years, there have been 26 teams in the major conferences (ACC, Big East, Big XII, Big Ten, SEC and Pac Ten) that have finished the season with between 3 and 5 losses overall. A total of 22 of those 26 were rewarded with either a #1 or a #2 seed. The other four were: BC in 2001 (4 losses/3 seed), Pitt in 2002 (5 losses/3 seed), Pitt in 2004 (4 losses/3 seed) and of course BC in 2005 (4 losses/4 seed).

On the opposite side of the coin is UConn, a team that somehow managed to get a #2 seed despite having seven losses overall and getting tattooed by Syracuse in the Big East semis (it was not nearly as close as the score indicates). BC won the Big East regular season title and Syracuse won the tournament, yet both were given #4 seeds while UConn was given a #2. It doesn't take a scholar of college basketball to know that either money or favors had to have changed hands to make that happen. Selection Committee Chairman Bob Bowlsby summed it up when he said on national television that UConn was the #2 seed because they wanted to give the Big East Regular Season Champion at least a #2 seed. The only problem is that UConn wasn't the champion (BC and UConn both finished 13-3 but BC was the #1 seed in the league tournament because they beat UConn on the road in their only meeting). I guess the Committee was using the "who sells more jerseys" tiebreaker that they are so fond of. Even if one considers BC and UConn co-champions, why wouldn't Bowlsby's rule apply to BC? The other part of this equation is that UConn was set up with first and second round games in Worcester, Mass, just a short bus ride from their campus. It's almost as if Jim Calhoun set up the brackets himself.

If BC's seeding was ridiculous, I can't even come up with a word to describe Louisville's #4 seed. The Cardinals finished 27-4, won the regular season and conference tournament and are ranked 4th in the nation. Louisville fans had every right to think that they had an outside chance for a #1 seed. From fourth in the country to fourth in the Albuquerque bracket. It couldn't make less sense.

Best Name: I'm really happy that George Washington made it into the NCAA Tournament because I love hearing the name Pops Mensah-Bonsu. There's something about a 21-year-old guy named "Pops" that makes me laugh.

That reminds me of another bracket rule. Don't pick teams whose star players have hyphenated names.

Best Chance for a First Round Upset by a Team Seeded Higher than 12: Utah State over Arizona. The Aggies shoot the ball very well (they lead tournament teams in Points Per Shot) and play solid defense (they allow 57.7 points per game). They have won eight of their last ten games and beat Utah earlier this season. They played #2 seed Kansas very tough (64-61) two years ago. Arizona is not a great defensive team and that makes them susceptible to the upset.

First #1 Seed to Lose: Washington. I think Washington will lose in the second round if they have to face Pittsburgh. If not, they could face Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen. If that happens, the 4 seed may actually be favored to beat the 1 seed. I can't imagine that has ever happened.

Fatigue Factor: West Virginia, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, NC State, Florida, Arizona, Wisconsin, Iowa, Texas Tech and Louisville all played three or more games last week in their conference tournaments. That could take it's toll in the second round, especially for the teams that aren't as deep on the bench. Duke, Washington, Kentucky, Oklahoma State and Illinois also played three times last week, but as #1 and #2 seeds, their second round matchups will not be quite as formidable.

Good luck with your brackets and Happy St. Patrick's Day.

NCAA Tournament Links
NCAA Trends Part I
NCAA Trends Part II
ESPN College Hoops
CBSSportsline College Hoops