NCAA tournament: More Day 2 observations
It wasn’t much of a basketball season for Mike Slive in his role as commissioner of the Southeastern Conference.
His league had a down year, highlighted by its two powerhouse programs, Kentucky and Florida, both missing the tournament. The league was lucky to get three schools into the tournament.
Mike Slive as head of the NCAA selection committee is another story.
The committee’s job is to select the 34 at-large bids and then seed the field. After the first round it’s clear they did a pretty good job. In a sense, the committee’s goal is a tournament with no upsets. Their bracket is in favor of all chalk.
This year’s tournament produced 10 “upsets.”
• 13 seed Cleveland State over 4 seed Wake Forest
• 12 seed Wisconsin over 5 seed Florida State
• 12 seed Western Kentucky over 5 seed Illinois
• 12 seed Arizona over 5 seed Utah
• 11 seed Dayton over 6 seed West Virginia
• 10 seed Maryland over 7 seed Cal
• 10 seed Southern California over 7 seed Boston College
• 10 seed Michigan over 7 seed Clemson
• 9 seed Texas A&M over 8 seed BYU
• 9 seed Siena over 8 Ohio State
To call a 9 seed over an 8 seed an upset is a disservice to the word. That’s basically a wash of a pick, although Siena (total enrollment 3,700) defeating Ohio State (total enrollment 53,000) is an upset no matter what the seeds say.
That said, declaring Maryland, which won this tournament six years ago, USC or Wisconsin a Cinderella is absurd. Even Dayton and West Virginia are more similar than people realize. It’s a major operation at UD.
Three true Cinderella-type teams earned upsets: Cleveland State, Siena and Western Kentucky. Not bad by the committee’s standards.
Slive’s crew even got to watch their most controversial at-large selection, Arizona, win a game decidedly over Utah. That doesn’t prove the Wildcats were a better selection than St. Mary’s or Creighton since those teams may have won by more. It does, however, show the committee wasn’t all wrong in believing in Arizona.
The committee wasn’t wrong about much, it turns out. The first round was one for the favorites. Until late Friday night, that meant some fairly dull finishes.
It should mean a very competitive second round and beyond.
• The debate on which conference is best, often a fruitless argument, centered on the Big East and the ACC this season.
Turns out the Big 12 is 6-0 in the NCAA tournament thus far. The Big East, at 6-1 , isn’t far behind but the vaunted ACC went 3-4 , one game worse the 4-3 Big Ten which was maligned all season for not just its overall strength but its esthetics.
The Pac 10 is 5-1 and moving smartly forward. The A-10 is 2-1, the SEC is 1-2.
• The NCAA sold out its water bottles to Vitamin Water, which means this amateur tournament now has less space available for sponsorship than Tony Stewart’s car.
• Not sure who watches CBS College Sports, but Friday in their studio show they had former coach Steve Lappas and current Drexel coach Bruiser Flint sitting side by side. Lappas once replaced Flint at UMass, so this was sort of akin to having Mike Davis and Bob Knight discuss the brackets together.
• One year after my inspired prediction of USC getting itself together and Tim Floyd coaching the Trojans to a deep NCAA run fell apart on the opening night we get USC 72, Boston College 55.
Where were you guys?
• Much of the talk involving Cleveland State defeating Wake Forest will center on the Vikings’ last big tourney splash courtesy of coach Kevin Mackey, who later was fired due to substance abuse and scandal.
Consider the current coach, Gary Waters, though. He built Kent State into a powerful mid-major program earlier this decade, even getting current NFL star Antonio Gates to play power forward for him. A native of Detroit, Waters desperately wanted the then-open Michigan job but couldn’t score an interview. It went to the politically connected Tommy Amaker.
Waters instead jumped at the Rutgers position, did a good job but got fired anyway. In New Jersey they miss him because that program has bottomed out and he not only took CSU back to the NCAAs but dominated a Wake team that was once ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Waters ought to make a lot of Big Ten coaches nervous. Someone smart is going to hire him. Until then, Cleveland State is back.