Should Virginia Tech have been in or out? That was the debate that dominated much of the first part of ESPN's Bracketology show last night. The Hokies went 10-6 in what graded out as the nation's best conference in the final RPI. Frankly, I'm not sure how that happened--I wasn't all that impressed with the ACC this year, but I'll also say that I'm inclined to give a heavy benefit of the doubt to a good power rating system like that, which factors in all games, including ones the human mind may forget or overlook, and also eliminates our own personal biases (i.e., as a Big Ten fan living in ACC country in Baltimore, I'm still reveling in finally winning the Big Ten-ACC Challenge in December). But at any rate, the Hokies posted a good record in a good league, yet were overlooked in favor of teams (Wake Forest and Georiga Tech) who finished behind them in the
standings and lost head-to-head, but played superior non-conference schedules. Is this right?
As far as I'm concerned the answer is no. Virginia Tech was royally robbed. I think the Committee makes the job of selection far more complicated than it has to be. Conference play is the single best determining factor there is. You're playing mostly the same competition. You're going head-to-head. From a standpoint of fairness, who wins more games is about as good a decider as there is. From a standpoint of marketing the sport, giving more emphasis to the games the fans care about the most can only help. I'd just take December and minimize its impact on selection. Use it for a broad picture of who the best leagues are and to determine how many bids a conference should get. Let teams work their way into shape whatever way they want, be it with cupcakes to build confidence or tough marquee games for television and toughness. Then get to conference play
and let the players settle it on the floor, rather than coming up with massively complex formulas that are almost depressing when one considers the raw amount of human brainpower poured into figuring out who should be the 33rd and 34th at-large bids into the field.
One phrase I kept hearing in the run-up to the selection was the "eye test", a term Digger Phelps completely abused. It was used most often with Illinois, who had a poor power rating and a mediocre record at 19-14, but Digger insisted they passed the eye test. It seems to boil down to a vague definition of team that looks good enough to be in the NCAAs when you watch them live. How about another test? Do they actually win basketball games consistently? To me, Missisippi State passed the eye test too. They have a great shotblocker in Jarvis Varnado, an excellent point guard in Dee Bost and showed against Kentucky what they could do against good teams. They also managed to go in the
tank countless times when they could've played their way in. As did Illinois. The eye test is a nice way of saying you can't come up with a good reason for a team to be in, but they've played a couple halfway impressive games. The consistent winning test works better for me.
I also had to disagree with two coaches I like. I respect Bruce Weber a lot. He gets a lot of heat in the Chicago area for not recruiting well enough (read: he's not throwing the rulebook out the window) and his teams are well-coached. But he said the field should be expanded to 96 teams, so that more young men could experience this special event. But expansion is the surest way to ruin that. The minute everyone is special, no one is. The field is watered down enough. On a matter more grave for me, I did disagree with something Coach Knight said as well, a fact that has me in deep consultation of conscience. The General said more formercoaches should be on the committee,
because they better understood what it took to be a good basketball team. I'm certainly not against coaches being part of the process, but this is a more eloquent version of the eye test. Do I really need to know how to design a 1-3-1 trap or how to diagram a play in the motion offense to figure out that if you win 10 games in the ACC you should be in? This is just not a complicated thing, but we insist on making it so. How about a compromise? Let's make former coaches a part of any decision to fire a coach, since they're the ones who are most likely to appreciate what men like Weber have accomplished, even if ADs and alums don't.
Let's wrap it up with a look at some potential rematches of notable tournament games in the recent past. It starts with Duke-Villanova, the top two seeds in the South. The Wildcats handed the Devils their own version of the Boston Massacre last year with a 77-54 beatdown in the Garden. In the Midwest bracket there's a
possible 2-3 battle between Ohio State and Georgetown, who played in the 2007 Final Four. Digging a little further back, a potential Sweet 16 game between Maryland-Kansas gives the Jayhawks a chance to avenge a 2002 beating in the Final Four. And your useless tidbit of information is that Kansas State is aiming to reach the regionals in Salt Lake City. The Wildcats have been that far in the tournament twice in my lifetime and one of them (1981) saw them play in Salt Lake. They lost to eventual national runner-up North Carolina.
Tomorrow will be bracket previews of the East & South. And don't forget to visit www.thebaseballnotebook.com for spring training previews.