Monday, March 12, 2007

NCAA Tournament - First Impressions


The Bruins ought to send the committee some flowers and chocolate. They lost their number one seed, but got the next best (maybe better) thing with a 2 seed in the West. They'll play in Sacramento, then (God willing) San Jose on their way to another final four. As thousands of others have probably mentioned at this point, this is the Ben Howland invitational bracket, as the Bruins will match up with Howland's alma mater, Weber State, in the first round, then face a potential regional semi-final against Pitt. Too bad NAU couldn't find its way into this year's field.


The other side of the bracket is the Bruce Weber invitational. Illinois, if it can get past Virginia Tech (it's the most obvious 12-5 upset on the board in my opinion), faces a potential second round matchup with Weber's old school, Southern Illinois. Get past them, and former Illinois coach Bill Self looms on the horizon. That is, of course, assuming that Self can get past the first and second rounds, a tall order given his recent tournament performances.


Speaking of Illinois, there has been a lot of howling about Illinois not deserving its place in the field, despite a superior tournament resume compared to #9 seed Purdue, who finished with a worse record, with a worse strength of schedule, and finished 15 spots behind Illinois in the final RPI. Their lone argument over Illinois was win head to head at Mackey Arena.

But here's a little thought experiment. Over the last 20 years or so (give or take), the argument that mid-majors are treated unfairly at the expense of the power conferences has grown. This year, you're likely to hear that Drexel should have been in the field over Arkansas or Illinois, despite finishing fourth in their conference. Already there are howls that UNLV and Nevada were unfairly seeded. How could the country's #10 team be a 7 seed?

Let's assume this argument has merit. Wouldn't the likely result be a slew of very good, yet underrated, mid major teams playing in the NIT? And wouldn't they be playing against a bunch of overrated and mediocre power conference teams in the NIT? And if we accept those premises, then would you expect the mid-majors to be relatively successful in the NIT? I'm not talking about dominant, I'm talking about holding their own.

You know how many mid-major teams have won the NIT in the last 20 years? 1. Uno. Note that I'm considering Conference USA to be something other than a mid-major, as Memphis won the championship before all of the good teams left for the Big East. Now, this is somewhat tempered by the fact that most early round games are played at the home courts of power conference teams. On the flip side, how much home court advantage is there in the loser tournament at power conference schools?

So Drexel, go out and show you're the best of the losers, and maybe in the future you and your mid-major brethren will start to get some respect.

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