Monday, March 23, 2009

March Madness, Monday Update

Well the first weekend of the Madness that is March has come and gone, and what a first weekend it was. As I said last week, there really is nothing to compare these first few days of the NCAA basketball tournament to, with 32 games on Thursday/Friday and then another 16 over the weekend. There is just important, interesting, emotional basketball being played all over the country basically all day long, and as an avid sports fan, I have to say it's pretty effin' awesome.

So what did we learn over the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament so far? First and foremost, we learned I think that the Big East really is That Good. This shouldn't be a big surprise to anyone, but right here a week ago I complained that the Selection Committee took a supposedly unbiased look at all the power conferences, and came up with 7 entrants from the Big East, 7 from the ACC, 7 from the Big Ten and 6 more from the Pac-10, with the latter two conferences having indisputably down years and each lacking any serious threat at the top of the national rankings. Although the ACC lacked any real depth, at least they had stalwarts Duke and UNC, plus Wake and Clemson, to go along with the three crappy teams they somehow got in to the Big Dance here in 2009.

But the Big East really flexed its muscle this weekend, you have to admit that, going 6-1 in the first round of the tournament, and 5-1 in the second, as only West Virginia lost its opener and Marquette fell in a tough battle on Sunday by four points to Missouri. For the first time in history, the Sweet 16 contains five teams from one conference, with #1 seeds Louisville, UConn and Pitt joining #3 seeds Villanova and Syracuse in comprising nearly a third of the remaining 16 teams in the field. I think I recall four Sweet 16 teams from the Big East or the ACC before, but five I know has never happened before, so in that sense we are looking at conference domination of historical proportions here. Meanwhile, the ACC and its 7 teams ended up 5-5 over the weekend as compared to the Big East's 11-2, with only Duke and Carolina remaining the Sweet 16. The Big 10 went 5-6 in the first two rounds, sending just Michigan State and Purdue, its top two teams, to the Sweet 16, and the Pac-10, ironically enough, has only Arizona, who indisputably did not even belong in the tournament, remaining as its lone representative heading to Round 3 this coming weekend after that conference ended the first two rounds at a 5-6 clip as well.

So here's your total breakdown of the big conferences so far through two rounds in the 2009 NCAA tournament:

Big East: 11-2 (5 teams in Sweet 16)
Big 12: 9-2 (3 teams in Sweet 16)
ACC: 5-5 (2 teams in Sweet 16)
Big Ten: 5-6 (2 teams in Sweet 16)
Pac-10: 5-7 (1 team in Sweet 16)
SEC: 1-3 (0 teams in Sweet 16)

The remaining three Sweet 16 teams are #4 Gonzaga out of the West Coast, who played probably the game of the tournament so far in beating Western Kentucky on a last-second (literally) layup in the Round of 32, #4 seeded Xavier out of the Atlantic 10, and of course #2 seed Memphis from Conference USA who looked solid through two games so far this past weekend.

Some random thoughts on the tournament so far:

1. UConn looked as good as anybody in the field in blowing out its first two opponents in the tournament, although one can't be thrilled with coach Calhoun being forced to miss a game due to unspecified "illness" for the second time this season. The point guard was back on the court for their second game this weekend, and looked quite good overall I would say, after getting some early jitters out in his first appearance on the court in nearly two weeks.

2. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that, since Arizona lasted through two rounds, they obviously "deserved" to be the field of 65. They didn't, and their success is not really relevant to the point. The Wildcats beat up on a Utah team that played uncharacteristically sloppy ball on Thursday, and then they had the fortune of facing #13 seed Cleveland State in the second round after they upset overrated ACC heavy Wake Forest in the first round, the highest seed to fall overall in the event. I'm not taking anything away from Arizona who has obviously earned their right to be in the Sweet 16 at this point after being outright gifted a berth in the Big Dance, but so they beat Utah and Cleveland State. That could easily be St. Mary's, or Providence, in that spot, and both of those teams surely deserved the chance moreso than Arizona. So I don't care how well the Wildcats have played so far. Based just on logic, there is not an actual relation between the play of one team and their right to be there in the first place. Someone else should have been given that chance, and could certainly have had the same success as Zona but from a much more deserving team.

3. This marks the second straight year where lots of chalk has made it through to the Round of 16. In fact, this is the first time in at least 30-some years that all four of the #1 seeds, #2 seeds and #3 seeds have advanced to the Sweet 16. If you add up the seeds of all the Sweet 16 teams, that total number is 49, which is the lowest total seeding for a Sweet 16 in history. We've got seeds 1 through 4 in the East, and again 1 through 4 in the South, while the Midwest four Sweet 16 teams include seeds 1, 2, 3 and Arizona at #12, and the East features #1, #2, #3 and #5 in Purdue, who outlasted a ferocious rally from Pac-10 best Washington to hold on to nab the final spot in that region.

4. My bracket is smack in the middle of the pack in the pools I have entered it, as my penchant for picking at least some upsets this year has cost me given the chalk-walk described above, but at least my focus on the Big East and the strong ACC teams helped me to nab 12 out of 16 Sweet 16 teams. But in a year of this much chalk, 12 of 16 isn't even close to cutting it, and in the end has me lounging just below the midpoint in most of my pools. In fact, my bigger issue is that I've already lost two of my Elite 8 teams, as West Virginia's first-round defeat and Arizona State's loss on Sunday leave me with only 6 candidates left to make some noise in the Big Dance, although all of my Final Four teams still remain alive and are playing fairly well.

5. As far as the #1 seeds, I thought UConn looked the best as I mentioned above, although I read this weekend that of the three teams in history that averaged a wider margin of victory through their first two March Madness games than UConn did last week, one of them lost in the Elite 8, and the other two failed to win their Sweet 16 game. But UConn overall looked great. Louisville looked a bit shaky at times, going down 12 early to Siena and actually being behind by four points with less than 10 to play, but then they put on the exact type of run that the #1 team in the country is used to doing and ended up winning that game by a comfortable margin. Overall they've done roughly what I expected them to and have not seen anything too concerning. Pitt, however, has concerned me a little, having trouble with both East Tennessee State and Oklahoma State before winning both games, but I continue to pick them as probably the first #1 seed to fall. Carolina in the South absolutely crushed Radford in Round 1, but then allowed LSU to claw their way back into the second half of their game on Sunday, ceding a four-point lead before putting on one of their famous runs to seal the victory.

In all, it was a great 48 games over four days, and I look forward the next 12 games this weekend and then the Final Four in lovely Detroit in a couple of weeks. Oh, and F Syracuse!

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Blogger Mondogarage said...

It's not hard to go 6-1 in the first round when three of your teams are playing #16 seeds.

The Big 12 had six teams in the first round, not five. And the Big 12 went 6-0 in the first round, generally playing seeds much higher than #16.

When your first round is against so many #14 and #16 seeds, I don't think anyone can truly legitimately claim having five teams survive as indisputable proof of the power of your conference (though tanking like the ACC did can serve as evidence of the opposite).

Given that the Big East teams still in have generally played the lowest seeds available in each round, the proof is yet to come. I think anything LESS than three Big East teams in the Final Four will actually indicate that perhaps the conference was given a bit too much credit in the seedings.

Oh yeah, maybe you should note that Gonzaga is not in the Mountain West Conference, but rather in the West Coast Conference, and would have a significantly harder time winning so many conference games if they were actually in the MWC.

The Big East is overrated generally, when it comes to the Eastern Sports and Propaganda Network. That's the only way they can even justify a BCS football slot. So it stands to reason that this still carries over to basketball, where they have some extremely strong programs (Louisville, Pittsburgh, UConn), but are not head and shoulders above everyone else.

12:28 AM  
Blogger BWoP said...

Let's Go Orange!

3:32 AM  
Blogger Mondogarage said...

In further anecdotal evidence to support the actual east coast (particularly Big East) bias, it's worth noting that it's the midwestern and non-BCS teams where Hoy can't seem to remember what conference they come from. I suspect he's be pretty indignant if someone confused UConn with a team from the Patriot League, or someone couldn't remember Syracuse was in the Big East.

Just sayin'.

Enjoy your week.

4:18 AM  
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1:25 PM  

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