A blue-ribbon selection committee will observe time-honored practices today in announcing 37 at-large teams for the NCAA basketball tournament.
They do their best. They deserve credit. But their criteria is faulty.
First of all, each conference is allowed to advance one team based on recent success. Like, winning the conference tournament. That’s fine. They won their way in.
The other 37 are judged, at least in the computer-input portion, in a subjective manner with far too much emphasis on what they did before Christmas.
My premise is that performances in November have little in common with outcomes in March. If conference champs are automatically included based on what they’re doing in March, then the other 37 should be tabbed in the same general manner.
Vegas oddsmakers could do a better job. They know who’d be favored TODAY on a neutral court, which is the right criteria ... not by who won games vs. Top 50 teams several months ago. Teams change. They really do. Kentucky was in the Top 5 initially. Now the Wildcats are on the bubble. North Carolina State, UNLV and Baylor were very high early, as well as Cincinnati and Florida State. Not any more. N.C. State had seven ACC losses. UNLV started 11-1 and finished three games behind New Mexico. Cincinnati went 12-0 and then 10-11. Baylor has lost 9 of 13, and Florida State finished 18-15.
Injuries happen. Some players develop, others skid. Teams jell or splinter. To repeat, teams change, and their showing in February and March should carry the most weight. This isn’t baseball where you add up the wins and losses to see who’s in the playoffs. Today’s decisions are subjective, and recent outcomes should carry far greater importance.
Not many years ago, the committee was advised to emphasize the results of the last 10 games. It was part of the official criteria.
Xavier’s Mike Bobinski — one of those considered when Mike Thomas took the Illini AD job — spoke from his position as committee chairman when he said: “We took it (10-game emphasis) off because ... what had happened is folks in the media and elsewhere were really fixating on that as an overly weighted determinant and sort of misled people for how we view that. Again, it’s a very individual thing. Is how you finish important? Of course it is.”
Bobinski points out that schedules are unbalanced, and the schedule in those last games makes a big difference.
We turn now to Iowa. It doesn’t look like the Hawkeyes will make the NCAA field, and their unhappy supporters have a point for two reasons:
(1) With a young team (one senior), Iowa finished 7-3 and ahead of Illinois and Minnesota in the Big Ten standings. Of 10 losses since Dec. 1, six were heartrending as, in four of them, they led in the final seconds. Computers don’t take into account the closeness of two overtime losses, three by three points and two by four. School officials were wise to keep coach Fran McCaffery away from kitchen utensils and tall buildings, especially after those late officiating calls in Friday’s 59-56 loss to Michigan State.
Winning is extremely important, but the committee should take into consideration closeness. In comparing Iowa with Illinois, John Groce’s athletes won every game they reasonably could have, based on the way the games progressed. They pulled four out of the fire with buzzer-beaters, and didn’t blow a late lead a single time.
(2) Iowa beat Illinois by eight and, in the second meeting, hammered Minnesota by 21. If they played on a neutral court tomorrow, oddsmakers would favor Iowa against both.
My point is not that Illinois should be slighted by the committee. Today’s assignment was well earned. The Feb. 7 upset of Indiana ignited a 7-4 finish. My point is simply that the last 10 or 12 games should carry heavy weight and, while Illini wins against Gonzaga, Butler, USC, Georgia Tech and Auburn are good for the resume, they don’t tell much about how the team is playing in March. And it’s March that counts.
Notes from Chicago
— Thomas has asked the Big Ten not to schedule the Illini-Washington football game at 11 a.m. at Soldier Field on Sept. 14. Nor does the Illini AD favor 11 o’clock games at home (TV rules) because “our attendance is dependent, in part, on people coming a distance ... although I understand when you’re winning, people come up with fewer excuses.”
— The BTN is partially owned by Fox, so don’t underestimate the ability to sell cable networks in the populous New York-New Jersey and D.C. areas when Rutgers and Maryland come aboard. Let’s hear it for bundling.
— Watch carefully the ACC suit against Maryland seeking the full $50 million buyout. If it is reduced, it’ll be open season by the Big Ten and SEC for other conference members like North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia Tech. Geography is no longer important, even if it has replaced balance of power in the Big Ten’s new divisional realignment (to be announced this summer).
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.