Monday Morning Update: March 13, 2017

It’s tourney time, baby

Editor’s note: We’ve done a one sport Update before, during the MLB trade deadline and the Super Bowl. We’re running it back once again to sort through Selection Sunday and the rest of the college basketball landscape. It’s the most wonderful time of the year….

  1. The champs are still on top

V, for Villa-nova…

We’ll start this special Update at the top of the Bracket, where last year’s defending champs, the Villanova Wildcats, are the #1 overall seed in the tournament.

And it makes sense. The Wildcats have performed admirably during that aforementioned title defense, finishing first in the most competitive Big East since the realignment, and winning the tourney at Madison Garden last week to boot. The Wildcats have impressed early and often this season, racking up wins on the road against Purdue as they year opened, and at home against Notre Dame and Virginia. Jay Wright’s team is also as hot as any around, losing just one game since the calendar turned to February, a home loss to Big East rival Butler late last month.

Along with perhaps the best resume in college basketball, the Wildcats also have, for my money, perhaps the best player in college basketball. While he wasn’t named AP Player of the Year, Josh Hart did take home the trophy as the Most Outstanding Player in the Big East tournament.

With perhaps the top record and player in the game, fighting to win a second title, Villanova is a deserving #1 overall seed. But the funny thing about that…

  1. The looming devil

The Selection Committee giveth, and the Selection Committee taketh away. While Villanova may have started CBS (very well produced and speedy) selection show with a celebration, you have to wonder if seeing the Duke Blue Devils as the #2 seed in the tournament took a bit of the shine of the apple for the Wildcats (along with seeing Florida at #4, Virginia at #5, or Wisconsin at #8. Seems like the #1 overall seed was a bit of a booby prize.)

While Villanova certainly isn’t focusing on Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard or the rest of Coach K’s Duke squad, they are looming up ahead. Duke presents as one of the more dangerous and volatile teams in this year’s bracket. It’s team that has posted wild up and down swings over the course of the season, is prone to emotional outbursts and/or breakdowns, played a large chunk of the season without its legendary coach, and, by that coach’s own admission, are still finding themselves as a cohesive unit.

They’re also the most talented team in the tournament.

There was talk they had even earned a #1 seed after their semifinal victory over North Carolina and subsequent ACC Title, but they’ll likely settle for a #2. That said, this Blue Devils team could have a chip on its shoulder, looking to prove itself after a conference championship and an up-and-down season that saw them embarrassed on more than one occasion.

And despite all the hype about a potential top seed, Duke wasn’t even the top #2 seed in the tournament. That seeding can teach us a lesson about the current NCAA tournament selection committee…

  1. When it comes to being #1, the regular season matters most

The dedicated students of the never-ending quest of bBracketology should glean some insight into the makeup of the current Selection Committee and what it values (and they seemingly already have—many of the best known “bracketologists scored big this weekend.) If there was any question about which held more weight, a robust regular season resume, or the hardware of the tournament victory, we got some clarity this weekend.

Even as Duke battled back from a lengthy deficit to top their rival North Carolina and went on to win the conference title over a talented Notre Dame Fighting Irish team, they couldn’t climb over the Tar Heels when it came to seeding, as UNC earned a #1 seed of their own. The committee showed to fans and observers en masse that it ranked North Carolina’s regular season, which was unquestionably stronger and more consistent than Duke’s, above the conference week exploits of Krzyzewski’s bunch.

Kansas too had a strong regular season, and although Iowa State walked away with the Big 12 tournament trophy, it didn’t hurt the Jayhawks status as a #1. Sure, Iowa state wasn’t anyone’s idea of a top seed, there are plenty of other teams that may have hoped a tournament loss hurt Kansas’ chances. Not so, said the Selection Committee.

Want another reason to have faith in the regular season when trying to predict a bracket…?

  1. Gonzaga gets its due

The Selection Committee showed again that it valued the regular season, as it took the one great reason to trust Gonzaga, and made the Bulldogs a #1 seed.

That one good reason is their regular season, and the one game that Gonzaga lost all season. Gonzaga had the fewest losses of any program in the country, and the most wins, positing themselves at the top of the winning percentage rankings. They were rewarded with a position at the top of the West region.

There were plenty of reasons to doubt the Bulldogs. While they may have racked up wins and avoided losses, they weren’t able to maintain that fabled perfect records that other mid-majors have before, getting their finish scuffed with a loss, at home no less, to BYU. About that mid-major status—the Bulldogs, despite being a name that most college basketball fans will remember, play in the West Coast Conference, playing a large chunk of their games against mostly anonymous programs. The team’s most impressive win came against either Arizona at home in December, when the Wildcats were ranked #15 in the country, or on the road in February when they beat St. Mary’s when the team was ranked #20.

Barring a first-round loss, the Bulldogs will likely face their toughest test of this season in the second round of the tournament, where they’re set to face off against every journalist’s favorite Northwestern University or Vanderbilt, or in the third round, when they could be matched up with Notre Dame.

But despite all this, the Selection Committee valued the team’s impressive record season of wins and losses. And college basketball fans should be thrilled—we’ve talked about it before, but it’s been a year of blue bloods. Outside of Gonzaga, the top 12 teams in the tournament are all proud members of big conferences—the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, PAC-12, SEC, all have teams with top three seeds, and outside of Gonzaga, that’s all who can claim that.

So good on Gonzaga for earning respect among the big boys of the NCAA, because not every mid-major was so lucky…

  1. Wichita State can’t get no respect


I guess the Selection Committee saved all it’s mid-major goodwill for the Bulldogs. They certainly didn’t seem to reserve any for the Shockers of Wichita state, as everyone’s favorite mascot was saddled with an #10 seed and a matchup against #7 Dayton.

It’s one of those curious cases in the NCAA where a team with a far superior record is stuck with the lower seed. Wichita’s 30-4 record outclasses Dayton’s 27-6 at first glance. But despite those 30 wins (which matches Gonzaga) Wichita fell repeatedly when it did line up against big competition, falling in two straight games at home to Louisville and Michigan State, and after losses to Oklahoma State and Illinois State,  the Shockers were demoted to double-digit territory, with a tough matchup against top A10 squad Dayton.

So if one mid-major (Gonzaga) seemingly wasn’t punished for a weaker conference while another (Wichita) was, what have we learned? If you don’t have many games against formidable foes, you need to be all but perfect. After all, there must be some reason all those other teams play in big conferences…

  1. The Big East cashes in

Want to see the potential pluses (other than the big money) of playing in a big name conference? Take a look at the Big East.

The conference has a lucky seven representatives in this year’s tournament, although (I say unfairly) the Friars of Providence college will have to win their way into the field of 64 against USC on Wednesday night. All the spots were well earned, as even Providence finished the regular season third in the conference.

And the conference could get even stronger, as scary as that may sound. A pair of traditional powers in St. John’s and Georgetown finished the year under .500, but put on a great show in the first round of the Big East tournament, complete with some of the fireworks the conference used to be known for.

Sure, there’s a good chance that as St. Johns and Georgetown stride forward, newly competitive teams like Seton Hall could fall back. But the Big East is back, and this year has proven it without a doubt.

  1. The warm embrace of home

One of the toughest parts of the NCAA tournament Is the fact that it’s played in a neutral site, meaning that teams can’t rely un a raucous gym full of Cameron Crazies to keep the opponents from hearing themselves think.

Unless, of course, you’re a Florida school. The University of Florida, Florida State and Florida Gulf Coast will all get a chance to play their games in their home state (though at least FSU and FGC will be on equal footing in their first round matchup.) It’s an especially weird fact considering none of these teams own particularly high seeds, yet will get to enjoy a home crowd in the first and second rounds.

It isn’t just the Sunshine State schools however. The University of South Carolina will play its first round game just an 100 miles from campus. Kansas could be playing its second weekend of NCAA basketball just 40 or so miles from campus. Maybe it’s just me, but #1 seed, #4 seed or #12 seed, I don’t think teams should be getting home games in the NCAA tournament. Maybe it’s a logistical impossibility, but it seems disastrous and a monumental advantage to these teams.

If no one is playing at home, then there really shouldn’t be any teams afforded that luxury.

  1. It ain’t easy being green Orange

Rough week to be an Orange fan. First, the vaulted coach bitch, moans and complains about the fact that the tournament isn’t always played in a big city, like it was this year (at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center). But at least we didn’t have to worry that this was Boehim just trying to give his squad an advantage by playing in their “home” of NYC (though I think St. Johns likely has something to say about that designation.)

Then again, that was because Syracuse was unceremoniously bounced from the ACC tournament in the first round, making the whole thing sound a bit more like  a strange kind of sour grapes.

Not a great look for Boehim’s bunch, to say the least, and it only got worse from there, as Syracuse didn’t hear it’s named called during the CBS Selection Show. Instead, they will be hosting the first round of the NIT at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, and against a team from North Carolina, the state Boeheim roundly infuriated with his comments.

And maybe that’s for the best, even for Orange fans. After all, the Carrier Dome was about the only place they could find wins, as Syracuse picked up just three wins outside of Orange country this season.

  1. Can Michigan’s wild ride continue?

Syracuse may have had a rough week, but I’m not sure it was quite as bad as Michigan’s ay have seen a few days ago.

So playing on the road is never easy, even if its at a so-called “neutral site.” Playing away from the warms confines of home means leaving campus, your bed, your normal game day routine and even the hoops you’re probably most comfortable shooting on. It means that you need to wake up early, and deal with the ordeal that is traveling a long distance, including fighting to make flights, traffic and all the like.

That ordeal usually doesn’t include plane trouble. For the Michigan Wolverines, however, it did.

Despite all that, the Maize and Blue kept their eyes on the prize this weekend at the Big 10 championship, and did in basketball what it couldn’t do in football, taking the conference title back to Ann Arbor, hopefully on a much less eventful flight.

Their prize for their conquest? A #7 seed, and a matchup against #10 Oklahoma State in the Midwest regional. Usually, my allegiances require that I root against the Wolverines, but between the reign of Harbaugh and a fun postseason run from this year’s basketball team, I’m finding myself humming “hail to the victors” a whole lot more often.

Thanks for reading, enjoy the best week of the year, everyone! Stay tuned to all week for more tourney coverage, and follow @MurraySportTalk on Twitter for more from yours truly.





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