J.R. and Henry: It’s tourney time
We’re sick of hearing about Houston Nutt, his alter ego as an offensive coordinator, and the rumors that Gus Malzahn has spoken on the record to CBS Sportsline.com national college football writer Dennis Dodd. This is an old and tired story and Razorback football is worse for having experienced all of it. But Nutt’s here to stay, at least for one more season. So let’s be done with it for now and talk about something more exciting: It’s tournament time, baby!
That’s right, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the filet of the college sports world, sets to tip off in less than two weeks. Yes, the Arkansas Razorback basketball team has underachieved this season, but rather than give up on them entirely, or take a midget swipe at their best player as Wally Hall did Friday morning in his column, we want to talk about the big picture. How will the field of 65 shake out this year?
It’s exciting to watch the conference tournaments unfold. Which team will play the Cinderella; which team will play the spoiler? Several conference tournaments have already begun and beginning next Thursday, every power conference tourney will tip-off. This is one the best times of the year.
So, in homage to the NCAA Tournament, we decided that we’d stage a mock selection. We, along with one of our fellow sidekicks (let’s call him “G Baby”) got together over a couple of pizzas and many more cold beers and played the role of the NCAA selection committee. While they have 5 or 6 days to make their determinations, we had a little under 5 hours. That said, we sat down with the selection committee procedures and many teams hoping and dreaming of the dance.
G Baby served as the selection committee chair. The first thing we did was announce the conference tournament winners which would give us 31 automatic bids. Here’s how the conference winners shook out:
Illinois (Big Ten), Florida (SEC), USC (Pac-10), North Carolina (ACC), Louisville (Big East), Texas (Big 12), Old Dominion (Colonial), Akron (MAC), Nevada (WAC), Memphis (CUSA), Creighton (MVC), Santa Clara (WCC), Xavier (A-10), Butler (Horizon), UNLV (Mountain West), Vermont (America East), Winthrop (Big South), Niagara (MAAC), Sacred Heart (NEC), Texas A&M-CC (Southland), ULM (Sun Belt), Weber State (Big Sky), Penn (Ivy), Delaware State (MEAC), Holy Cross (Patriot), Jackson State (SWAC), Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Long Beach State (Big West), Oral Roberts (MCC), Austin Peay (OVC), Winthrop (Southern).
Once all of the automatic bids were in, G Baby directed us to pull out our Top 34 list. Prior to arriving at the selection show, we each ranked the top 34 teams in college basketball (in no particular order), giving no consideration to conference or likelihood of a team gaining its conference automatic bid.
Here was one of the lists:
Ohio State, North Carolina, UCLA, Kansas, Wisconsin, Florida, Texas A&M, Memphis, Georgetown, Texas, Duke, Virginia, Nevada, Southern Illinois, Washington State, Pitt, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt, Oregon, Marquette, Notre Dame, Maryland, Syracuse, Air Force, USC, Indiana, Arizona, UNLV, Villanova, Kentucky, Boston College, Illinois, Tennessee
Our next step was to then, after striking all of the automatic bid winners off each of our lists, compare them. If a team appeared on all three lists, it was granted an automatic bid into the tournament.
After a quick go-round, the following teams appeared on all three lists and were granted admission into the tournament:
Ohio State, UCLA, Kansas, Wisconsin, Texas A&M, Georgetown, Duke, Virginia, Pitt, Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt, Oregon, Marquette, Maryland, Syracuse, Arizona, Kentucky, Boston College, Tennessee, Illinois and Villanova.
We now had 21 of the 34 eligible at-large spots filled. The pizza arrived and we took a break. We’d been at this a little over 40 minutes and with 13 at-large spots still in play, every team had a chance.
After we came back together, G Baby had us dump every possible team that we think should be considered for an at-large spot into a pot, as well as every team that won or tied for a regular season conference title, but did not win the tournament. After discussion, we settled on a list of 46 teams that were at least worth a look by the committee.
Those teams were: Washington State, Notre Dame, Air Force, Indiana, UMass, E. Tenn. State, Northern Arizona, Virginia Commonwealth, Wright State, Marist, Toledo, BYU, Central Connecticut State, Bucknell, Kent State, Ole Miss, Davidson, Northwestern State, South Alabama, Arkansas State, Mississippi Valley State, Gonzaga, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Alabama, Bradley, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Michigan, Mississippi State, Missouri, Missouri State, Hofstra, Providence, Purdue, San Diego State, Stanford, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Drexel, DePaul and Arkansas.
This list comprised our “Big Board.” A team not on this list was eliminated from all consideration for the rest of the selection. G Baby, after settling into another beer, directed us to rank our Top 8 from this list. This took a while because we poured over statistics, head-to-head match-ups; who’d they play, who’d they beat considerations and the dreaded RPI.
One of the Top 8 ballots looked like this: 1) Washington State; 2) Indiana; 3) Air Force; 4) Michigan State; 5) Stanford; 6) Florida State; 7) Notre Dame; 8) BYU.
Employing the same rules for our “Top 34” ballots, a team that appeared on all three lists was granted automatic admission into the tournament. After a quick go-round, Washington State, Michigan State, Stanford and BYU all got in.
We were up to 25 at-large teams. We carried over every team that had appeared on at least one ballot and then, but in order to weed through some of the not-ever-gonna-make-it teams, we picked 18 additional teams that should remain on the Big Board to fill the final 9 spots. This was gut-check time for many teams.
The teams were picked in this order: Notre Dame, Air Force, Indiana, Florida State, Drexel, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Alabama, DePaul, Georgia, Purdue, Michigan, Mississippi State, Missouri State, Gonzaga, Virginia Commonwealth, Georgia Tech, Bradley, Hofstra, Davidson, South Alabama, Clemson, New Mexico State, West Virginia, Ole Miss and UMass.
This list of teams now comprised our “Revised Big Board.” Bye-bye to the remainder of the teams considered up to that point, including Arkansas and Arkansas State.
After a few more slices of pizza and another delicious cold one, we were then told to rank the Top 12 teams from the Revised Big Board in order of preference. Each team would receive a point total equivalent to their rank (Rank 1 = 1 point). The four teams who appeared on all three ballots with the lowest point totals would make the Dance.
Back to the numbers. We were beginning to understand why the committee spent so much time on this crap. After about 30 minutes, we had our ballots complete. One ballot looked this way: 1) Notre Dame; 2) Indiana; 3) Air Force; 4) Michigan; 5) Texas Tech; 6) Purdue; 7) Drexel; 8) Oklahoma State; 9) West Virginia; 10) Georgia; 11) New Mexico State; 12) Virginia Commonwealth.
After voting, Notre Dame (7 points), Indiana (10 points), Air Force (14 points) and Oklahoma State (17 points) were admitted into the Big Dance.
We looked back at our ballots and determined that three additional teams had received votes from all the committee members. As a result, Michigan, Purdue and Texas Tech all got into the Dance as well.
Now it was down to the final two teams. We each picked 4 teams that we thought was worthy of one of the spots. One list included: 1) Drexel; 2) West Virginia; 3) Georgia; 4) New Mexico State.
But at this point there was no more voting. We had to come to a consensus about the final three teams. After jockeying, yelling, throwing out wild stats and cursing the RPI, we determined our Final 8. Three of these 8 teams were getting into the tournament. The other 5 were headed to the NIT. They were (in no order): Missouri State, Drexel, Virginia Commonwealth, Kansas State, Alabama, Georgia Tech, Gonzaga and Florida State.
Georgia Tech was the first team for the committee to get behind. It helped that they were whipping North Carolina on television, but even without that, the Yellow Jackets were 7-8 against potential NCAA tournament teams and had quality wins over Memphis, Georgia, Duke, Clemson and Florida State. Georgia Tech was in.
We eliminated Florida State primarily because of a 6-9 ACC record. They were also swept by Clemson and we knocked the Tigers out a few rounds ago. While the Seminoles had some marquee wins (Virginia Tech, Duke) they’ve lost 5 of their last 6 and again, they had a losing record in the ACC.
We also eliminated Missouri State because well, they suck. They’ve been trading off a Wisconsin win for many months now. It’s an impressive win, but it wasn’t enough to convince us that the third place team in the lackluster MVC deserved to be in the tournament.
And we eliminated Alabama for two reasons: 1) they’re 2-4 vs. the RPI Top 50; and 2) they’re 4-6 in their last 10, including a loss to Auburn, who swept the Tide this season. The SEC West was shut out completely.
We next considered Gonzaga. Gonzaga, now playing without Josh Heytvelt, hadn’t beaten anyone of note in a long time. With Heyvelt, they beat UNC, Texas and Washington. But Heyvelt was a big part of those wins and without him, Gonzaga was not the same team. The ‘Zags were out.
Kansas State, on the other hand, was 9-6 in the Big 12. Their lone marquee win was over Texas, but they were 6-4 in their last ten, despite a loss to Oklahoma State on Wednesday. There was some power conference bias emerging here, but with a 9-6 record in the Big 12, shouldn’t Kansas State get in? The answer was no. They didn’t play too many teams worth a damn and other than Texas, didn’t beat anyone worth a damn either. The Wildcats were done.
That left us with Drexel and Virginia Commonwealth as the final two teams competing for the last spot in the dance. On paper, Drexel’s the better team. They beat Syracuse and Villanova and won a whopping 12 games on road/neutral courts. But VCU was better than Drexel in conference play – 3 games better - and VCU beat Drexel on Drexel’s home court. We gave the edge to VCU.
Our field of 65 was complete.
After a short break, we sat down and seeded the teams. A bracket is attached below, but for your own information, UCLA was our number 1 overall seed. Our last four in were Purdue, Texas Tech, Georgia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth. Our last four out were Drexel, Gonzaga Missouri State and Alabama. Our next four out were Kansas State, Florida State, West Virginia and Georgia.
Enjoy the tournament. It’s March Madness, baby!
16) Sacred Heart (NEC)/Jackson St. (SWAC) vs. 1) UCLA (Pac-10)
9) Air Force (MWC) vs. 8) Indiana (Big 10)
12) Texas Tech (Big XII) vs. 5) Louisville (Big East)
13) Santa Clara (WCC) vs. 4) Tennessee (SEC)
14) Long Beach State (Big West) vs. 3) Georgetown (Big East)
11) Xavier (A-10) vs. 6) Oregon (Pac-10)
10) Georgia Tech (ACC) vs. 7) Kentucky (SEC)
15) Weber State (Big Sky) vs. 2) Texas A&M (Big XII)
16) Delaware State (MEAC) vs. 1) Ohio State (Big 10)
9) Notre Dame (Big East) vs. 8) UNLV (MWC)
12) Winthrop (Big South) vs. 5) Nevada (WAC)
13) Akron (MAC) vs. 4) Virginia (ACC)
14) Vermont (America East) vs. 3) Memphis (CUSA)
11) Creighton (MVC) vs. 6) Boston College (ACC)
10) Michigan (Big 10) vs. 7) Arizona (Pac 10)
15) Oral Roberts (MCC) vs. 2) Pittsburgh (Big East)
16) Texas A&M-CC (Southland) vs. 1) Kansas (Big XII)
9) Syracuse (Big East) vs. 8) Illinois (Big 10)
12) Old Dominion (Colonial) vs. 5) Maryland (ACC)
13) Appalachian State (Southern) vs. 4) Washington State (Pac 10)
14) Penn (Ivy) vs. 3) Virginia Tech (ACC)
11) Purdue (Big 10) vs. 6) USC (Pac 10)
10) Villanova (Big East) vs. 7) Butler (Horizon)
15) Austin Peay (OVC) vs. 2) Florida (SEC)
16) Niagara (MAAC) vs. 1) Wisconsin (Big 10)
9) Stanford (Pac-10) vs. 8) BYU (MWC)
12) Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial) vs. 5) Duke (ACC)
13) Louisiana-Monroe (Sun Belt) vs. 4) Texas (Big XII)
14) Holy Cross (Patriot) vs. 3) Southern Illinois (MWC)
11) Oklahoma State (Big XII) vs. 6) Vanderbilt (SEC)
10) Michigan State (Big 10) vs. 7) Marquette (Big East)
15) Belmont (Atlantic Sun) vs. 2) North Carolina (ACC)