Saturday, March 15, 2008

Top seeds down early, often

I'm sitting here in the press box at Hawkins Field, waiting through a rain delay before the start of Vandy-South Carolina. Scheduled first pitch is at 4:15 p.m. as they've just taken the tarp off the field. It should be a good one; Vandy walked off with a 4-3 win last night when Ryan Flaherty knocked a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 13th.

While I'm waiting this out, I thought I'd comment on the massive amount of upsets occurring in conference tournaments these past two weeks. Take a look at some of these numbers:

In four conferences, the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds have BOTH lost in the quarterfinals, sending 6, 7, and 10 seeds to the semis. The Big East (Marquette or Pitt), C-USA (Tulsa), Big Ten (Minnesota or Illinois), and SoCon (Elon) each sent or will send a middle-of-the-pack team to the conference final.

The following top seeds lost the semifinals in mid-major tourneys and won't make the Big Dance:

Big West- UCSB (RPI 87) to No. 5 UC Irvine (RPI 149)
Northeast- Robert Morris (RPI 134) to No. 4 Mt. St. Mary's (RPI 159)
Southland- Stephen F. Austin (RPI 64) to No. 5 Northwestern St. (RPI 187)
SWAC- Alabama State (RPI 206) to No. 4 Jackson St. (RPI 266)
WAC- Utah State (RPI 70) to No. 4 Boise State (RPI 93)

Xavier, South Alabama, and VCU also suffered this same fate, but all have a shot at at-large bids.

What does this all mean? In a year where the bubble is notoriously diluted, the bottom half of the field is diluted even more. Stephen F. Austin, who beat Oklahoma in December, won't have the chance to pull an upset as a 12 or 13 seed. Instead, we'll see Northwestern St. or No. 7 Texas-Arlington crapping out on the 16 line. Mt. St. Mary's won't even make it out of the play-in game, whereas RMU (25-6 regular season) might have pulled out another classic 2-15 or 3-14 upset.

I'm actually in favor of conference tournaments in larger conferences. When teams like Virginia Tech and Texas A&M can play their way into the field with a couple of wins, everyone's happy. Even though some of the tournament "locks" like Louisville, Notre Dame, and Vanderbilt have less to play for, leading to more of these upsets, it's still fascinating basketball to watch.

But why do these smaller conferences insist on playing the same tourneys when only one team can advance? Wouldn't the Southland Conference rather put SFA through as the regular-season champ to give them a chance at more revenue from an NCAA win? At the very least, reduce the tourney field to four teams to send a reasonably good team to the Dance. In other words, make the regular season mean something. Don't reduce the Lumberjacks' chances to a three-game crapshoot in March at a neutral site.

We'll see what happens when the bracket comes out, but don't bet on many of the 12 and 13 seeds pulling out these upsets. They won't be as good as in years past.

1 comment:

Aram Hanessian said...

Hard, a few things. First of all, comparing pitt and marquette w/tulsa minnesota and illinois is a little bit of a joke, those are both top 20 teams when fully healthy. Also what you suggest at the end goes completely against everything college basketball is about. Everybody gets a chance (except the ivy's and some absolutely horrible teams) is why we all love march and conf tourneys are really an extension of the real tournament.