Tuesday, March 20, 2012

NCAA Tournament 2012 – First Weekend Thoughts & Analysis

The Sweet 16 is set, and we have some surprises lurking to repeat what VCU & Butler achieved last season – reaching the Final Four – and we also obviously have the usual suspects hoping to reach the pinnacle of college basketball in 2 weeks. 
First analysis let’s look at the four teams we projected incorrectly, and how they have done in the NIT thus far.  No question success in the NIT does not mean they would have enjoyed even one win in the big dance, but nevertheless a comparison between the teams I thought should have been dancing vs. the teams that did dance (but I was against their inclusion) can add some value.
  • Washington: has advanced to the QFs following a 1st round win over UT Arlington & a smashing of Northwestern in the 2nd round.  Will face Oregon, a Pac 12 rival and another team that was close to dancing up until the last week of the regular season.  So far, so good.
  • Arizona: lost to Bucknell at home in the 1st round – the Bison are a solid team, and the fact Arizona HC Sean Miller basically came out and said they were not as motivated as perhaps they should have been after not receiving a bid on Sunday didn’t help matters.  Tough to draw any conclusion from that loss in all honesty.
  • Drexel: in my mind there was no question they deserved to receive a bid, with the season they had, and the fact VCU (from their conference) made the Final Four last year and George Mason (also from their conference) did the same a few years earlier.  The Dragons pounded CUSA entrant UCF in the 1st round, then slipped by upstart Northern Iowa in the 2nd round – both games at home keep in mind.  Next up, hosting UMass, another team that was close to the bubble late in the year.  That should be a solid game to hold you over till the big dance re-tips on Thursday.
  • Miami (FL): the Hurricanes took care of Horizon League regular season champ Valparaiso rather easily in the 1st round, but lost to Big Ten entrant Minnesota in the 2nd round in South Beach.  Based on that result it is hard to make a case for their inclusion, though their resume was very similar (I think stronger) to NC State’s, who reached the Sweet 16 – at the end of the day Miami losing twice to NC State in their only two meetings probably sealed their fate.
Second analysis let’s look at the four teams that did receive bids that I did not have in my final projection, and how they performed in the dance:
  • Southern Mississippi: as mentioned in the last edition I didn’t think the media was giving them enough attention for stealing a bid from other worthy teams, and my thoughts held up on Thursday when the Golden Eagles were beat pretty soundly by Kansas State – the final score was closer than the actual game was due to a second half run, and the fact K-State missed a lot of open shots that day.
  • Colorado State: yikes, backing up our thoughts the Rams went out and only mustered 41 points in 17pt blowout loss to fellow mid-major Murray State.  In my opinion there is no question after that performance the Rams did not deserve a bid.
  • Iona: give the Gaels credit for building a 20+ pt lead vs. BYU in one of the play-in games; but then give ‘em grief for blowing it, going into the record books as the biggest blown lead in an NCAA Tournament game.  Hard to reach a solid conclusion on their inclusion with the way this game went down, but I say they showed they belonged by building said lead – they just lacked experience to put the game away.
  • UConn: I kept laughing at all media pundits who continued to say Kentucky did not want to see UConn in the Rd of 32 – sure they did.  The Huskies had no business receiving an invite this season, and especially should not have been on the 8/9 line.  They went out and supported my thoughts by being absolutely hammered by Iowa State, down by 22 points in the first half.  UConn did not show anything all season to deserve stealing a bid from solid squads, and the committee got burned here trusting RPI #’s too much instead of looking at team’s numbers in their entirety.
My #1 to #68 rankings in last edition: The Sweet 16 is comprised of 10 of my top 16 teams, and 13 of the top 24 – keeping in mind two (Murray State and Kansas State) lost to teams rated higher than them.  The three “outliers” of sorts were all ranked around the same: #45 NC State, #46 Xavier & #49 Ohio.
Region strength – adjusted for results of play-in games / currently remaining in Sweet 16
East: 557 / 49                                                                                                          
West: 471 / 55
Midwest: 550 / 101
South: 554 / 85
Heading into the tournament the West region I viewed as the toughest, while the other three were very close to each other.  At the end of the first round in the West all the higher seeds advanced, besides the big upset where Norfolk State beat Missouri.  What’s more, only three of the eight games were close – STL/MEM, NMEX/LBST, MIZZ/NORF – so it appears my analysis was off there, or teams chose a bad day to play a bad game. 
As we head into the Sweet 16 we have three double digit seeds remaining, two of which reside in the Midwest (Ohio #13 & NC State #11) – the other is #10 Xavier in the South.  North Carolina and Kansas appear to have the easiest track into the Elite 8, but keep an eye on the injury to PG Kendall Marshall of UNC – more to come on that below.  The West has 4 heavyweights still alive battling to reach the Elite 8 and ultimately the Final Four, with a ton of star power on the sidelines as well featuring Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino, Billy Donovan & up and coming Buzz Williams.  Pitino and Williams are battling it out for best dressed coach in that region for sure, keep an eye on the suits come this weekend!

Quick bullet points:
  1. How about the pair of comebacks on Tuesday?  Not only did Western Kentucky start the tourney off in exciting fashion with their nice comeback over Mississippi Valley State, BYU then upstaged them in thrilling fashion taking down Iona later that evening.  Hey, I am not for these play-in games, but if they all go down like those two, keep them coming!
  2. Wednesday was an embarrassment for the Pac 12.  Wow, not only does that BCS conference only get a pair of bids, but one of the two go down in absolute flames getting dominated by mid-tier Big East team South Florida – yikes, what was once a strong basketball conference has repeatedly been extremely weak the last five or so years, and honestly the West Coast Conference may be the power conference on the left coast currently.
  3. Thursday was a day of domination as of the 16 games played only one was decided by 3pts or less, only two were decided by 4pts or less, and only 8 of the 16 were decided by single digits!  Sure, some of the games were more exciting and closer than the final score indicated, but it wasn’t the most exciting first day of the tourney – that is for sure.  Late afternoon was the first decent game when UNC Asheville gave Syracuse all they could handle – the Orange were certainly on the favorable side of a few calls, but did play well down the stretch to close out UNCA by 7 (how many of you took Syracuse -11.5 in the second half, which was a half point loser – I did!).  Long Beach State vs. New Mexico was an exciting game – one I wish didn’t happen in the first round as I felt both those teams were good enough to play in the Rd of 32 – the injury to The Beach’s Larry Anderson was too much to overcome as NM took control late and advanced with a 7pt win.  VCU/Wichita State was another matchup I felt did neither team justice as both should have played someone else for the right to march on to the Rd of 32 – but it happened and it was a great game with VCU going up big early, the Shockers fighting back later, but just didn’t have enough in the tank as VCU advanced.  The Big East was the victim of a pair of beatdowns that evening (UConn and WVU), while the night closed with a barn burner between Colorado and UNLV that the Buffs held on to win.  BTW, how exciting is Buffs G Carlon Brown – wow, a highlight reel waiting to happen.  It was a joy to watch this kid play in the Pac 12 Tourney, and the NCAA Tourney – hope he finds a spot on an NBA roster somewhere!
  4. Friday was the more memorable of the two Rd of 64 nights as for the first time in tourney history we saw three double digit seeds win on the same day, including a pair of 15 seeds.  No 15 had won in 11 years – but this night Lehigh took down mighty Duke, while Norfolk State shocked the Missouri Tigers.  Then later that evening Ohio took down Michigan in an exciting 13 over 4 game.  Talk about bracket-busters!  I thought that took place in February?  In other action, USF played well in the second half following a disaster of a first half (scoring only 15 points) vs. Temple – Temple continues to struggle in the big dance following John Cheney’s departure. 
  5. Saturday was all about the second half of games:
    1. Syracuse was up 1 on Kansas State at the half and went on to win by 16
    2. Ohio State was up 2 on Gonzaga at the half and went on to win by 7
    3. Marquette was down 3 to Murray State at the half but went on to win by 9
    4. Wisconsin was up 1 on Vanderbilt at the half and went on to win by 3
    5. Indiana was down 1 to VCU at the half but went on to win by 2
    6. Baylor was up 2 on Colorado at the half and went on to win by 17
    7. Louisville was up 1 on New Mexico at the half and went on to win by 3
  6. Sunday we saw the dreams of double digit seeds Lehigh, Norfolk State and Purdue evaporated; but double digit seeds Xavier, NC State and Ohio all advanced to the Sweet 16.
  7. One thing that needs to be addressed by the NCAA is these late game situations and the clock – numerous times over those 4 days we saw EXTENDED delays in the final seconds of games where the referees were attempting to accurately update the clock.  In a few games we saw this occur multiple times – basically giving teams that are attempting to come back and score late and big edge on setting up plays for the final seconds – not even discussing the fact sometimes these teams have no timeouts remaining, but the clock issues give them a freebie.  The NCAA needs to step in and first off solidify a few rules – such as how long does it take for a team to grab a rebound off a missed free throw, and call a timeout – it should be a standard time allotted to that activity, such as 0.2 seconds.  Two, if you notice and listen to the announcers, sometimes the referees leave an extra tenth or two on the clock for “human reaction time”, and other times they do not.  Here is my suggestion – the game clock is official, we already have it down to the tenth of a second – time can only be looked at in the last 5 seconds of a game, and there is a strict 30 second limit as to how long the referees can look at a monitor before making a decision.  Constantly we see replays that answer the question – how many times have you seen a replay of a 3pt attempt where the refs are looking if the guy’s foot was on the line – you knew the answer after one replay, yet it takes them a dozen replays and 2-3 minutes to answer the question.  Look I know getting it “right” is the most important – but these guys are paid to make split second decisions all game long as far as fouls go – it is not ridiculous to think they can make a decision on any of these other items within 30 seconds.  Lastly, both teams must remain in the center of the court while the review is going on – neither team is allowed to converse with their coach unless either team calls a timeout.
  8. It was very nice to see Purdue F Robbie Hummel play so well, especially vs. Kansas on Sunday to close out his career.  This kid proved to be a fighter, coming back from 2 ACL tears to play at the high level he had reached before those injuries.  I am sure he was extremely disappointed the way the Boilers blew that lead late, but here’s to Robbie, you went out playing well and with class.  Wish you the best in your future endeavors.
  9. How about the injury to UNC PG Kendall Marshall?  Ouch.  What guts this kid has, he was all set to continue playing as he sat on the bench as Roy Williams was talking to his team – it wasn’t until a trainer came over, and asked him about that wrist that he left the game – and wow, did you see that swelling?  Talk about a tough kid, the true leader of the Tar Heels.  His injury is going to be tough to overcome – perhaps that was the one piece they could not lose to go all the way, as Hubert Davis and Jay Bilas mentioned.  It is going to be an uphill battle for UNC minus Marshall – because even with their gritty leader I think they still didn’t have enough – but it will be interesting to watch unfold as that region seems pretty wide open – and we could see a double digit seed Cinderella reach the Final Four.

Looking forward to the games this weekend, will post another blog early next week.


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