Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, March 12, 2012 at 9:24 AM
First, we would like to offer the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee folks a word ...Bravo!
Okay, don't get us wrong, the good folks who put together this year's NCAA Tournament 68-team field surely got some things wrong - we'll get to them shortly in today's edition of Jim Sez - but overall this was a neat-and-clean job all things considered.
For starters, hats off to the committee folks for putting in 36 non-power conference teams into this field and only 32 power conference clubs as we had been calling for a 50-50 split and seems that the "little guys" received something of an IOU for past committee misdeeds.
Plus, it's encouraging to note that 11 of these 36 non-power conference teams were at-large selections - the largest single-year at-large field from the mid-majors since the early 2000s -- and while part of that was because many of the "name" conferences struggled (see the Pac-12, mainly) there were more quality teams and better overall depth to the non-power conference guys
The biggest round of applause for the committee is in regards to regional balance - when CBS traffic cop Greg Gumbel asked his analysts who the best region was based simply on the top four seeds the genial host received a host of different responses ... and check it out:
In the South the #1-thru-#4 seeds include (in order) Kentucky, Duke, Baylor and Indiana
In the East, it's Syracuse, Ohio State, Florida State and Wisconsin
In the Midwest, it's North Carolina, Kansas, Georgetown and Michigan
In the West, it's Michigan State, Missouri, Marquette and Louisville.
Folks, that is a tough call although we might tend to believe that the South is a touch tougher than everywhere else simply based on top four seeds and the fact Kentucky - despite Sunday's 71-64 SEC Championship Game loss to 8-point underdog Vanderbilt - is the superior #1 seed while Baylor's probably the best of the teams on the #3 seed line.
Just our opinion there, folks.
One other thing that the committee did right - and something they are always very good at, in fact - is making some whopper potential third-round (Saturday/Sunday games) as we could have the likes of Florida-Missouri, Michigan State-Memphis, Ohio State-Gonzaga and - of course - the already much-ballyhooed Kentucky vs. Connecticut showdown (and now we'll see if Iowa State "cooperates" here!).
As we mentioned in our Sunday Jim Sez, we also wanted the NCAA Tourney Committee folks to place the #1 and #2 seeds in their proper places and it was nearly 100 percent successful in that venture although we thought Kentucky would wind up in Nashville and instead got a little extra benefit by getting to play Round I and Round II games in Louisville. No big deal.
We'll get to a couple of complaints we would like to formally lodge but first this key reminder: Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers roars into the College Basketball post-season as we'll have NCAA Tournament, NIT and CBI and CIT winners too all through the month of March plus there's plenty of NBA Winners when you sign up today and be sure to check in with us either right here online or else at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the winning selections. Note that the special check-in times are anytime after 11 a.m. ET for all the weekday afternoon games and then after 1 p.m. ET for all the Monday-through-Friday night action. Also, the winning selections are available after 10 a.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday. Go ahead and sign up now for the NCAA Tournament and all the other post-season College Basketball Tournies!
Okay, so let's get to a couple of those "bones to pick":
The NCAA Tournament Committee surely was consistent in letting it be known that non-conference schedules were "king" this 2011-12 season but a pair of regular-season conference champs - that's Drexel (27-6 overall) in the Colonial Athletic Conference and Washington (21-10 overall) in the Pac-12 -- should have been handed at-large bids over the likes of California and BYU and those would be the only two changes that we would have recommended - no problem with Iona (25-7) getting an invite to one of these "first-round" games after winning the MAAC regular season.
Hey, Drexel won 19 games in a row at one point this year and lost the CAA Championship Game 59-56 to VCU in Richmond! Meanwhile, just the fact that Washington became the first-ever power conference team to win its regular-season crown and not get invited goes to show you - and we don't care how weak the Pac-12 was this season - that the committee blew it on this front.
And two other things ...
We would always prefer the to-flight non-power conference guys (and this year that means Murray State and Wichita State) would not be paired up in Round I with fellow non-power conference squads but that's exactly what the committee did as #6 Murray State will play #11 Colorado State in a Thursday tilt in Louisville while #5 Wichita State will play #12 VCU in a Thursday game in Portland. As long as you are putting Murray State on the #6 seed line (maybe a peg too low) than why not have the Racers play #11 Colorado while we would have been happy seeing Wichita State play someone like Texas dropped down to a #12 seed. Got it?
Finally, our last little beef with the NCAA Tournament Committee is that while the #1-thru-#4 seeds in each region is relatively strong and quite balanced, the middle is bit sort - note that Temple is a #5 seed, San Diego State is a #6 seed and so is U NLV. We would have not raised an eyebrow or two had all of the above been moved onto or closer to the #8 vs. #9 games.
Picky, picky. We know!
Okay, so how about a collective look at this year's 68-team NCAA Tournament field?
Well, we don't want to hear from anyone's mouths that anyone is "unbeatable" because as all hoop fans discovered these past few days the mighty teams make loud thuds when they hit the floor as Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina, Kansas and Duke all lost in their respective conference mini-tournies and nobody should be shocked if one or two of these teams fell by the end of the first weekend of NCAA Tournament play.
Be assured that there will be a team - or teams - that seemingly come out of nowhere and get on a roll as did Butler the past two years here in the "Big Dance" and ditto for VCU last spring and the magic formulas are pretty simple: Shoot the three-ball well, defend said trifecta and make your foul shots. Don't know if it's us but it seems there are many "name" teams that are true hit-or-miss sides at the free-throw line and there are many teams that can go ice cold from three-land.
Did you realize that in this past Sunday's four conference championship games the losing sides shot the following from beyond the arc?
Kentucky connected on just 6-of-28 triples in its aforementioned loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Championship Game
North Carolina drilled just 5-of-20 trifectas in its 85-82 loss to 6-point pup Florida State in the ACC Championship Game
Xavier shot a wobbly 2-of-13 from beyond the three-point arc in its 67-56 loss to 3 ½-point underdog St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic-10 Tournament Championship Game
- And Ohio State shot 4-of-17 from trey-land in its 68-64 loss to 2-point dog Michigan State in the Big 10 Championship Game.
Word to all NCAA Tournament: You better take 'em - and make 'em - when it comes to 3's these next three weeks or you'll be heading home early.
If you happen to be looking for that lower-seeded (let's say #8 seeds and lower), diamond-in-the-rough type team to fill out your office bracket pool sheet than may we offer up the following:
#8 Iowa State (22-10) - Sure, everyone's already looking forward to that aforementioned Kentucky-UConn game that could take place this Saturday but the I-State Cyclones could be major trouble-makers in this tourney as keep in mind the 'Clones went 12-6 in a decent Big 12 and Chris Allen (72 triples this year) could be a potent long-range bomber. Imagine Round I and Round II winners over Connecticut and Kentucky, respectively. Wow, maybe even ESPN's Dick Vitale would than take notice!
#11 N.C. State (22-12) - The Wolfpack may have been among the "last four in" based on at-large seedings but who's hotter than Mark Gottfried's bunch that won a pair of ACC Tournament games and got the short end of the straw from an official's non-call in a semifinal round loss to archrival North Carolina. The Pack plays San Diego State in Columbus this Friday and the winner there gets the Georgetown-Belmomt winner ... what, you can't see N.C. State getting into the Sweet 16?
Finally, a couple of quick-hitter notes as we zoom in on the tournament that begins with Tuesday's "first-round" games in Dayton between Western Kentucky vs. Mississippi Valley State and Iona vs. BYU:
Keep in mind some of the big-name teams that lost last year in their first game of the NCAA Tournament - a list that includes the likes of Missouri, Vanderbilt, Louisville, Georgetown and Michigan State - hmmm!
And remember that excess travel could be a big factor here too:
San Diego State's playing in the Eastern time zone against N.C. State (at Columbus), Davidson's making the long trip out West to Portland for a game with Big East Tourney champ Louisville and Gonzaga's swinging West-to-East with a tilt against West Virginia in Pittsburgh.
NOTE: Check with us for Thursday/Friday NCAA Tournament Game Previews plus News/Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez.