Sunday, March 15, 2009

Selection Sunday reflections

By Rick Morris

After digesting all of the drama of Championship Week, I joined the rest of the country in scratching down the brackets at 6 PM EDT tonight (never mind the fact that they're available almost immediately on the Internet -- like this printable one -- for those of us who grew up jotting down the brackets starting back in the '80s, it's a part of the fabric of our lives). At that time, I was joined on a conference call by FDH Lounge Dignitary/FDH college hoops analyst Nate Noy. Here are our thoughts, region by region.


^ Ohio State got screwed by getting bounced down to an 8 seed. Although the court in Dayton is marginally closer to their campus, they still face a potentially ugly fate at the hands of Louisville in the second round -- if they get by Siena, which isn't a layup.

^ Nate had the entire tournament plotted out ahead of time and when Arizona got dropped in as the 12 seed here, he was flabbergasted and called it a travesty. He immediately knew that Auburn, who he thought would be in, was out.

^ Another Ohio team that got the shaft was Cleveland State, which deserved better than a 13 seed and a no-chance game against Wake Forest. Also, if Louisville was really the top seed out of all the #1s (deservedly so, BTW, for winning the toughest league in the history of college hoops in the regular season and the conference tourney), then how the heck do they get Wake as the #4 in their region? Don't tell me Wake is slotted below Xavier!

^ West Virginia looks to be a team that could make a long run from a lower seed. 6 seeds in the Elite Eight don't happen every year, but Coach Hug will have his squad ready to go against whoever they would face on the way, including Kansas, Sparty and BC.


^ The top of this bracket didn't have a ton of surprises, but Nate really thought that Purdue deserved a bit better than their 5 seed -- and he saw that the committee did them no favors by delivering a potential second-round matchup with another underseed in Washington.

^ Memphis was the victim of one of the committee's biggest screwjobs as they should have been one of the 1 seeds, as we noted immediately on Twitter. Their path to the Elite Eight isn't especially traumatic, though.

^ Utah State is a very dangerous 11 seed lurking in Boise next weekend -- not too far from home.


^ Nate's conspiracy theory going into the unveiling was that the selection committee would gin up a UConn/Duke regional final to take place in Boston. That didn't happen, but Duke was in this region like he thought they would be. Both Nate and I see, at this time, a Pitt-Duke regional final, but we disagree on the outcome. I don't think the Blue Devils can stand up to Pittsburgh's physicality.

^ A hot Florida State team is a dangerous order for a Wisconsin squad that almost had its bubble popped. Actually, when the Badgers got slotted as a 12, I joked to Nate that TVs were being flipped to other channels all across Michigan and Minnesota. Imagine our surprise when the Wolverines and Gophers ended up with even higher seeds than the Badgers! That really doesn't seem right.

^ For all its protestations of innocence, the committee always throws in a few "storyline-oriented" matchups. The Texas-Minnesota tilt will no doubt be used as a platform for CBS announcers to talk at length about the resumes of the head coaches.

^ Technically, Villanova is not considered a home team in the tournament even though their first-round game will be contested in their home city of Philly. News flash to the tournament: if you're sleeping in your own bed during this regional, it's a home freaking game!

^ The committee punished UCLA for a disappointing season with a 6 seed -- and a first-round matchup against Virginia Commonwealth, who has proven that they are no March speedbump.


^ If you go by my rule of thumb that any time you can make a strong case for an upset that you should write it in on your bracket, you should take Butler to win the 8-9 tilt with LSU.

^ The last tournament teams can be completely predictable, if you follow everything as closely as Nate, who was shouting, "Akron! Akron! Akron!" when it came time for the 13 seed against Gonzaga to be announced. Like their Northeastern Ohio counterpart, the Zips got a certain one-and-done from the committee. Unlike the Vikings, their fate is fairly justifiable.

^ Michigan is thrilled about receiving their first tourney bid since 1998. Will they be so happy after running into the battle-tested buzzsaw of Clemson? Doubtful.

^ The claims of their front-running fanbase aside, Syracuse really didn't deserve to get the 3 seed over Gonzaga in this region. There could well be orange-colored tears running in the second round, though, with a difficult matchup potentially looming in #6 Arizona State.


^ Nate and I agree that St. Mary's has a legitimate beef, especially with Arizona, Michigan and Minnesota all worming invites. 26 and freaking 6 and they're in the NIT? C'mon now. I also feel that San Diego State, with their 23-9 mark and 37 RPI, got disrespected by the committee. All in all, only four mid-major teams received at-large invites this year, as lower-tier Big Ten and Pac Ten squads were able to take what they really did not deserve.

^ In a season that proved how rampant parity really is right now, extending through an upset-filled Championship Week, I had embraced the conventional wisdom going into March Madness about how the tournament itself would be full of upsets and how absolutely vital the concept of examining matchups would be to forecasting each game regardless of respective overall skill levels. I still believe that -- which is why I'm struggling with my first instinct when looking at a potential Final Four. In the end, if these are my final picks (which will be posted here on the site this week for your benefit), I won't be happy about going with so much chalk. In the Midwest, I like #1 Louisville in the final over #6 West Virginia (the exception to my apparent chalk fetish). In the West, I like #2 Memphis over #1 UConn. In the East, I like #1 Pitt over #2 Duke and in the South, I like #1 North Carolina over #2 Oklahoma. That gives me three #1s and a #2, a very disquieting thought in this of all years. In the national semifinals, I like Louisville over Memphis and North Carolina over Pitt and Louisville over North Carolina in the national championship. As I say, though, those may not be my final predictions once I get a chance to move beyond initial impressions.

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