Let’s give the NCAA Tournament committee some positive feedback. That group had a rough Selection Sunday.
At least they got the top four seeds right. And that wasn’t as easy as it might have looked. In the past two weeks, Ohio State and Kansas were the only teams that played with the obvious confidence of No. 1 seeds. They secured things by winning their conference tournaments.
Pittsburgh and Duke were wobbly but made it into the other two spots. In large part, that’s because other candidates, such as North Carolina, BYU, Notre Dame and Purdue, didn’t take advantage of their opportunities.
That’s about it for the positives.
Other than some unbalanced brackets, the committee had done its job reasonably well in recent seasons. Not so in 2011. When the post-selection debate focuses on the teams that were snubbed, that’s a pretty clear indication the committee didn’t do its job (kinda like those officials in the St. John’s-Rutgers game last week).
Once the games begin, most of us will move past the snubs, but at places such as Virginia Tech, Colorado, Harvard and Alabama, the hurt will linger all summer. It won’t feel better until everyone gets back on the court next October, and then the mission will be renewed. If you haven’t noticed, there is an obsession with making the NCAA Tournament. When you are kept out for unknown reasons, frustration turns to anger.
Virginia Tech and Colorado have the biggest gripes. And since this has become an annual thing for Tech, coach Seth Greenberg really couldn’t contain himself. Instead of going national on TV, Greenberg met with his local beat writers in his office. He voiced his concern that someone on the selection committee has an “agenda” when it comes to Virginia Tech.
That’s likely nonsense. But you cannot blame Greenberg for feeling that way. He has been told he needs to strengthen his non-conference schedule, so he did so. His Hokies beat Duke near the end of the season, but all that wasn’t enough.
“I totally wonder if someone in that room has an agenda,” Greenberg said. “The explanation was so inconsistent with the result that it was almost mind-boggling.
“I guess they even brought up our non-conference schedule. Kansas State, Purdue, Oklahoma State, UNLV, Penn State, St. Bonaventure that was supposed to be big and Mississippi State that was projected to win the SEC. I’d say that’s a pretty significant slate and challenge. So they must not have looked at it very closely. But I guess they did. I feel for these kids. Doesn’t take away from what we accomplished this year ... but it’s extremely disheartening. You would hate to thing that politics would be involved, but it makes you wonder.”
It would be one thing if Gene Smith, Ohio State’s athletic director and NCAA Tournament committee chairman, offered any direct and specific explanations when asked about particular schools. But that never happens. It is chair tradition to answer questions without really answering them. They hide behind the “15 indicators” used to judge a team and then say, “That’s the way the vote turned out.”
Schools that have been left out should be provided with specific feedback and data, reasons that they missed the field. Without that, how can coaches and programs use this as a learning process?
The message sent to Colorado and Alabama was that their improvement over the course of the season didn’t matter. Both the Buffaloes and the Tide were much more successful in conference play than non-conference play. There was a time when one of the committee’s “indicators” was performance in the past 10-12 games. They say that isn’t used any more. I’m not sure it should have been dropped completely.
I watched all or part of probably 10 Colorado games on TV this season. The Buffaloes are NCAA worthy. So is Alabama, champion of the SEC West. Did you see Tommy Amaker’s face as Harvard walked off the floor after losing to Princeton in that playoff game Saturday? He probably knew right then that the NCAA committee wouldn’t take two Ivy League teams.
On the other hand, UAB evidently was rewarded for winning the Conference USA regular-season title. The Blazers got a First Four game against Clemson Tuesday at Dayton. (Don’t even get me started on Clemson’s resume.)
The winner in all this? The NIT. Alabama, Virginia Tech, Colorado and Boston College received No. 1 seeds in the NIT.
“I just feel like the way we’re playing right now, we’re one of the top 68 teams in the country,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “I know that. But we’re not in the tournament. We have to deal with it and move on. We have to make a statement in the NIT.”
Welcome to Move On Monday, the day after Selection Sunday.
Florida really got a gift with a No. 2 in the Southeast. The Gators were clobbered 70-54 in the SEC championship game by Kentucky. Florida won the SEC East but still lost to Kentucky twice. The Wildcats got a No. 4 seed. That makes no sense.
Just a few weeks ago, Texas was being called the best team in college basketball. Then the Longhorns struggled a bit offensively and lost three of four (including one to Colorado). Then they lost to Kansas in the Big 12 tournament championship game and suddenly they are a No. 4 seed. That’s quite a tumble. Texas will play more like a No. 2 or No. 3.
Call this a weak tournament if you wish, but when you have Kentucky, Texas, Louisville and Wisconsin as the No. 4 seeds … well, that’s not too shabby.
All the snub talk Sunday took some pressure off the Big East Conference. It was no surprise the league landed 11 teams in the field but the anticipated criticism was reduced a bit by the other distractions.
Sir Charles Barkley was about the only analyst leveling shots at the Big East. That wasn’t a surprise either, but this time his soap box was the CBS set. Joined by his TNT/TBS/NBA buddy Kenny Smith, Barkley launched his CBS invasion by continuing his complaint that one conference shouldn’t have 11 teams. (This merger will be good viewing, but I’m not sure about the commentary.)
And while everyone else was praising Kemba Walker and UConn for winning five straight games to capture the Big East tournament, Barkley was saying something about a 9-9 team not deserving the opportunity to play five games. Never did quite understand that point.
One problem the Big East has created for itself is third-round (formerly known as second-round before expansion) matchups against conference foes. But something had to give. Possible third-round games include: Marquette vs. Syracuse and Cincinnati vs. Connecticut.
“That’s a double-edge sword,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun told The Hartford Courant. “They know you; you know them. It does take away a little bit of preparation or adjustments.”
Smith said the committee didn’t struggle too much with that wrinkle.
“They have a conference scheduling format where they don’t play each other twice, some schools that only play once,” Smith said of the Big East. “When we did that bracketing, knew that we’d have rematches, we tried to match up the one plays and not the two plays. That created a slight challenge, along with all the other regular season matchups of other teams we were bracketing.
“It was a little bit more challenging than normal, but it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated it would be. It worked out very well. Actually, that question speaks to why a particular team is not always in its true seed. As you well know, teams can be moved one line. We try to avoid that when possible because we want to stay true to the integrity of the seeding process. But when you are in those scenarios, inevitably teams get moved.”
Georgetown guard Chris Wright has been cleared to play in the NCAA Tournament. A healthy Wright makes the Hoyas a different and better team. Wright broke his hand late in the season, and the Hoyas averaged 53 points in three games without him. The Hoyas are the No. 6 seed in the Southwest and will open against the winner of the USC vs. VCU game in the First Four. It will be interesting to see how limited Wright will be and whether he is wearing a cast.
St. John’s will be without senior forward D.J. Kennedy, who suffered a torn ACL in the loss to Syracuse in the Big East tournament. Coach Steve Lavin said Kennedy will travel with the team and assist with coaching duties. The problem for the coaches will be splitting up his minutes and finding production to make up for Kennedy, who was the top rebounder and third-leading scorer for the Red Storm.
Duke guard Nolan Smith seemed to bounce back quite well from the toe injury that sidelined him temporarily during the semifinals of the ACC tournament. The big mystery continues to surround freshman guard Kyrie Irving, who told reporters Sunday that it is possible he could return to action in the NCAA Tournament. Coach Mike Krzyzewski downplayed that possibility but Irving raised eyebrows working out before ACC games Friday and Saturday. If he is cleared medically, you can bet Coach K will use him.
Florida State is still waiting on clearance for forward Chris Singleton, who has missed six games with a foot injury. He dressed and went through warm-ups in the ACC Tournament. Coach Leonard Hamilton said he never considered playing Singleton. The Seminoles are the No. 10 seed in the Southwest and play Texas A&M in the second round. They desperately need Singleton.
West. No. 1 Duke should still reach the Final Four. But this region is loaded with No. 2 San Diego State, No. 3 UConn, No. 4 Texas, and No. 5 Arizona. I like Duke over Texas and San Diego State over UConn in the Elite Eight. San Diego State will have a home crowd in Anaheim for the final, but Duke will prevail.
Southeast. Top-seeded Pittsburgh gets to Houston by beating Butler, Belmont and surprising UCLA, the No. 7 seed. I have UCLA beating No. 10 Michigan State, No. 2 Florida and No. 3 BYU. No. 13 Belmont is the Cinderella team of the tournament. The Bruins are going to stun No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 12 Utah State, a winner over No. 5 Kansas State.
BEST SECOND-ROUND GAMES (formerly first-round games)
East: No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 11 Marquette
West: No. 7 Temple vs. No. 10 Penn State
Southwest: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Morehead State
Southesast: No. 8 Butler vs. No. 9 Old Dominion
UPSET SPECIAL (5 vs. 12, of course)
Utah State over Kansas State
THIRD-ROUND GAMES WE WANT TO SEE
East: No. 7 Washington vs. No. 2 North Carolina
West: No. 5 Arizona vs. No. 4 Texas
Southwest: No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 2 Notre Dame
Southeast: No. 3 BYU vs. No. 6 Gonzaga
FINAL FOUR PREDICTIONS
Duke over Syracuse; Kansas over Pittsburgh
1,702 Combined wins for UConn's Jim Calhoun and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim. They broke their own record for most total wins between opposing coaches as the Huskies won, 76-71 in OT, in a Big East semifinal game on Saturday.
1982 National Championship
Long before his “Air” Jordan days as the face of Nike and the NBA, M.J. was a skinny freshman from Wilmington, N.C., who Dean Smith trusted enough to have on the floor at the end of the national championship matchup with Georgetown. When Jimmy Black skip-passed the ball over the top of the Hoyas’ 2-3 zone defense, Jordan was ready to catch-and-shoot from the wing — knocking down a 17-footer to give the Tar Heels a 63–62 lead with 16 seconds to play. Georgetown’s Fred Brown threw the ball away to UNC’s James Worthy on the ensuing possession, making Jordan’s basket “The Shot” and giving Coach Smith his first NCAA title.
9. Richard Hamilton, Connecticut
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1998 East Regional Semifinal
“Rip” Hamilton did just that, stealing victory from the jaws of defeat in a panicked final possession by both sets of Huskies. With UConn trailing Washington, 74–73, Khalid El-Amin dribbled the clock down to 10 seconds before driving and dishing to Jake Voskuhl in the paint. The big fella’s shot danced around the rim before one shot — by Hamilton — and two tips ultimately landed in Hamilton’s hands (again) with less than two seconds to play. Falling to the ground, “Rip” put the ball in the air and ended the chaos with a game-winning shot as time expired. Jim Calhoun’s same core group took that never-say-die attitude to a national title the following season.
8. Keith Smart, Indiana
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1987 National Championship
Following Derrick Coleman’s short-armed missed free throw with 28 seconds to play, Bob Knight’s Hoosiers dribbled out the clock until Keith Smart made a jump pass to senior co-captain Daryl Thomas with 10 seconds remaining. With a fundamental give-and-go for the ages, Thomas took one bounce facing the basket, turned back to Smart and pitched an underhanded assist for the win. Smart’s baseline pull-up with five ticks left gave IU a 74–73 lead. A stunned Syracuse club — coached by Jim Boeheim and including Coleman, Rony Seikley and Sherman Douglas — failed to call time out until one second left. By then, the dye was cast red, not orange.
7. U.S. Reed, Arkansas
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1981 Second Round
The U of L’s Derek Smith corralled an errant Poncho Wright desperation heave — in a crowd of Hogs — to put back what in all likelihood should have been a game-winning fade-away in the lane with five seconds on the clock. But an Arkansas timeout later, U.S. Reed patiently dribbled up the court with no apparent concern for time or score, only to throw up a leaning floater from just beyond halfcourt as time expired — sinking the shot, ending the Cardinals’ premature celebration and giving the Razorbacks a seemingly impossible win.
6. Tate George, Connecticut
5 of 12
1990 East Regional Semifinal
Trailing Clemson 70–69 with one second to go at the Meadowlands, UConn’s Scott Burrell — a first-round pick of MLB’s Seattle Mariners in 1989 and, ultimately, a first-round pick of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets in 1993 — threw a full-court pass that even Grant Hill can’t relate to. The right-handed pitcher threw a strike over Tigers 7-footer Elden Campbell, hitting Tate George — who caught the ball in traffic with his back to the basket, turned — to the bench and then baseline — and let it fly for one of the greatest game-winning shots in NCAA Tournament history.
5. Tyus Edney, UCLA
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1995 Second Round
With the No. 1 team in the country, UCLA, trailing 74–73 against No. 8 seed Missouri, diminutive 5'10" point guard Tyus Edney went coast-to-coast with 4.8 seconds to play for the game-winning layup — going off the glass and through the net as the buzzer sounded in Boise, Idaho. Following Edney’s do-or-die drive, the Bruins, led by M.O.P. Ed O’Bannon, went on to win UCLA’s 11th national championship — the first (and only) since John Wooden’s run of 10 national titles ended in 1975.
4. Bryce Drew, Valparaiso
7 of 12
1998 First Round
Coach Homer Drew’s No. 13 seed Valparaiso trailed 69–67 with 2.5 seconds remaining against No. 4 seed Ole Miss. Against all odds, Jamie Sykes threw an on-target three-quarter-court pass to Bill Jenkins, who jumped to catch the ball before turning in mid-air and dishing to Bryce Drew. The coach’s son and Crusaders’ superstar caught the pass with 1.9 seconds left, launched a leaning 3-pointer from three-and-a-half feet behind the arc and dove to the floor to celebrate a thrilling 70–69 upset win — and one of the greatest Cinderella shots in Big Dance history.
3. Mario Chalmers, Kansas
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2008 National Championship
Twenty years after Danny Manning and the Miracles’ 1988 national championship, Kansas’ Mario Chalmers hit a miraculous 3-pointer to send the national title game against Memphis into overtime. Bill Self’s Jayhawks were given a sliver of daylight after the Tigers’ future No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick Derrick Rose missed one of two free throws with 10.8 seconds to play. Needing a 3-pointer to tie, KU’s Sherron Collins pushed the ball up the floor and stumbled while passing to Chalmers — whose one-dribble, top-of-the-key three tied the game at 63–63 with 2.1 seconds left in regulation. Kansas outlasted Memphis in overtime, winning 75–68 to cut down the nets on a championship comeback for the ages.
2. Lorenzo Charles, NC State
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1983 National Championship
Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler had no answer for coach Jim Valvano’s NC State underdogs, who hung around and hung around until it was all over for the Cougars and their two future Hall of Fame stars. With the game knotted at 52–52, the Wolfpack’s Dereck Whittenburg launched a desperation heave from between half court and the top of the key with four seconds to play. An airball has never looked so good, as Lorenzo Charles turned the miss into an alley-oop dunk and gave the “Cardiac Pack” a 54–52 national title win — handing NC State its sixth consecutive come-from-behind victory and causing Jimmy V to run wild at the Pit in Albuquerque.
1. Christian Laettner, Duke
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1992 East Regional Finals
With 2.1 seconds on the clock, the son of a former Dallas Cowboy — sophomore Grant Hill (Calvin’s kid) — threw a touchdown pass roughly 80 feet to Christian Laettner. Kentucky coach Rick Pitino’s “Unforgettables,” along with Jamal Mashburn, went 5-on-4 rather than guarding Hill’s full court inbounds pass from the far baseline. The strategic move was a poor one, as Hill tossed a perfect pass to Laettner, who caught the ball cleanly, faked right, turned left and released a fade-away game-winner from the free-throw line with 0.3 left on the clock. The ball swished as time expired, stunning UK fans (and Duke’s Thomas Hill, whose memorable postgame expression summed up what we all felt). Thanks to Laettner’s late-game heroics, Coach K’s club advanced to the Final Four and went on to win its second straight national title.
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The best big shots of the Big Dance, from Michael Jordan to Christian Laettner.