Monday, March 22, 2010

Sweet 16 - Upset City!

What's funny? Last year... I was writing how 14 of the top 16 teams made it through... this year? Only 8 of the top 16 teams made it through... including the fall of the heavy favorite, Kansas.

The thing that says the most about this year's tournament... my bracket at work has 10 sweet 16 teams... and that puts me in first place! For perspective, 10 teams is usually average looking back at past year's performances. Flipping coins will get you 8. 11 teams is usually really good, and anything above 11 is sensational... usually. This year? 11 makes you a genius!

Some notes:

Indiana University Transfers
Jamal Crawford - Xavier - Star player in the sweet 16!
Ben Allen - St. Mary's - Role player for St. Mary's... in the sweet 16!
Armon Bassett - Ohio University - Bassett had dominated the MAC Tourney, had shredded Georgetown, but Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl had the perfect plan to stop Bassett... double team him on the perimeter when he gets the ball. Bassett could not get free the entire game and I sadly waited the entire game for the Ohio coach too make an adjustment to get Bassett the ball off a screen (Rip Hamilton style) or run any kind of motion and passing to free up Bassett. Never happened. We were so close to all 3 Indiana transfers making it. It's too bad the IU coach messed up everything. An IU team with these 3 players could have certainly made the sweet 16 this year!

Big East Bubble Burst
In so many ways, it was like the dot-com stock bubble burst. The Big East had a sensational year last year, landing three #1 seeds and two #3 seeds, and four teams in the Elite 8. Before the season began, everyone knew it was going to be a transition year for the entire conference as most of the players from those teams either graduated or went to the NBA. Thus, the conference has very young teams... and most of the teams were maddingly inconsistent. I got sucked into the artificially high ranking of the Big East (2nd according to Sagarin before the tourney). The ranking was clearly due more to its depth (16-team league w/ 13 good teams this year). However, 6 Big East teams got "upset" and crashed out early, including shocking losses from Georgetown to Ohio U., Notre Dame to Old Dominion, Marquette getting stomped on by Washington, and Villanova getting smashed by St. Mary's.

Non-Power Conference Team Notes

Cornell - very interested to see them take on Kentucky. They are disciplined, shoot 44% from 3-point land (as a TEAM!), and have a 7-footer and a 6'8" PF. Cornell & Kentucky were 2 of the more dominant teams the first weekend and their game next week should be a trea.
St. Mary's - 7-footer Omar Samhan's dominance, as well as the beautiful high arcing 3-pointers of McConnell, were a beauty to watch in the 1st two rounds. Baylor, according to SI, has 4 big men that can go one-on-one with Samhan. So... we will see soon enough what Samhan can really do, because honestly neither Richmond or Villanova had competent or even comparable big men to battle Samhan.
Butler - After watching Butler's first two game, I don't believe they have the big men to continue their run. Big man Matt Howard got in foul trouble against Murray State and they barely survived. Against Syracuse??? Forget it.
Northern Iowa - not only did they beat Kansas... but they now get Michigan State who is missing their best player! Pencil them in for the elite 8!
Xavier - Jordan Crawford has been a joy to watch... but they have an insane matchup against a highly skilled tandem from Kansas State.


Mighty Mike said...

Not to point out you but I'm never sure why the A-10 isn't considered a power conference. They place more teams than a power conference almost every year. Yes it's only a basketball conference but if your going on basketball why is the A-10 considered mid-major

@Gutsy - not to say your incorrect that Xavier isn't considered it by the media but it is a weird dynamic...

Hitman said...

@Mikey: Two thoughts:

1. I looked at the tournament fields since 2005. This is actually the first year that the A-10 has placed more teams in the field than one of the six power conferences (three to the Pac-10's two). In 2009, the A-10 and SEC tied at three teams each. In 05-08, the A-10 did not place as many teams as any of the big six conferences.

2. "Mid-major" is the most misused term in the sport. Ever notice that any time any team from a non-BCS conference wins, all of a sudden that team is from a "mid-major" conference? Have you ever heard of a team coming from a "minor" conference? For years, the media - especially at ESPN and CBS, where most get their tourney coverage - has been arbitrarily using this term with no actual definition whatsoever.

I personally define a "mid-major" as a conference that routinely places multiple teams into the field - and, as a bonus, conferences whose teams are frequently ranked highly and/or win a tournament game or two. The obvious mid-majors are the A-10, C-USA, the WCC, the MWC, and perhaps the Missouri Valley (historically they're "mid-major", but the Valley has been eclipsed by these others in recent years). The Colonial? MAAC? OVC? Sun Belt? Horizon? Nope. Those are the "minors" - they almost never field two or more teams, and their teams' successes are more often one-year flashes than sustained winning.

@Gutsy: St Mary's looks like a decent team that found a good matchup against 'Nova and took advantage. UNI looks like a genuinely good team with the right ingredients to sustain their run. So SMU is going to fall to Baylor, but UNI could easily reach Indy - even if Sparty were healthy.

Mighty Mike said...

@Hitman - Hmm. I stand corrected. How did the A-10 compare though to C-USA or MWC or WCC? I feel like on average the A-10 place more than those others (in essence the A-10 is a half step up from the mid-majors and maybe a half step behind the power conferences)?

Fundamentally I think your right. Whether because it's easier to dichotomize or because they are misapplying football terminology to basketball the comparisons don't fit. If the issue is placing non-conference winners in the tournament there's a good deal of differentiation, far more than is represented.

MJ said...

All I can add here is that I'm rooting for Ohio State to play Cornell in the final.

Gutsy Goldberg said...

1) the mid-major designation is out of control. CBS uses it to denote anyone outside of the big-6. so, i'm just using the longer designation of "non-power."
2) the A-10... I'd agree more w/ Mighty on this one. they are just behind the power conferences historically. they've had some lean years... but they've also had all sorts of sweet 16 and elite 8 runs (e.g. Temple, Xavier, Rhode Island all come to mind... and Calipari's UMass teams w/ Marcus Camby).
3) I'm rooting for an Ohio State- Cornell final... but expecting a Syracuse-Kentucky final.

Hitman said...

Certainly, over the past 3 years, the A-10 has been the best of the "non-power" conferences. Historically, though, I'm not sure it's as clear - you could probably make a case for the A-10 and CUSA as the best of the mid-majors over the last 20 years, with the Valley as the best in perhaps the 80s and 90s.

As for the A-10 vs. the Big Six: it's more than half a step behind. Consider that no A-10 team has reached the Final 4 since UMass in 1996; no team in the title game since Dayton in 1967; and no champion since LaSalle in 1954. In contrast, since 2000, 36 of the 40 Final Four berths have gone to the Big Six. Only Memphis, Louisville, Marquette, and Geo. Mason have made it from outside those six conferences - and, of course, the Ville and Marquette have since joined the Big East.

I'm rooting for UNI vs. St. Mary's. Let the little man prevail!

Gutsy Goldberg said...

good point about C-USA and the final 4 appearances. A-10 is probably next best over the years... though it doesn't include any final 4 appearances.