Tate: Of this and that
“Wolves don’t fret about the opinions of sheep.” — Shockers coach Gregg Marshall
Wichita State’s trail to a repeat Final Four is treacherous, and the doubters are legion. To hear the experts (and the oddsmakers), the unbeaten Shockers received a low blow with an anticipated route taking them through surging Kentucky and Louisville squads and the Duke-Michigan survivor ... just to regain their April hotel room in Arlington, Texas.
But before wading deeper, let’s agree this isn’t earth-shaking. It wasn’t a conspiracy and, besides, there are more important issues of the day.
For example, politicians will be celebrating successful campaigns tonight even though a tiny fraction of the populace was sufficiently grounded to cast a halfway educated vote. We have the greatest system of government ever conceived and yet indifference has grown to a point where most of us would fail a simple test on the issues, much less the Constitution. And we wouldn’t recognize the candidates if we smacked into them on the street.
How much back-slapping is appropriate when you win something provided by those who wear blindfolds into the booths?
OK, that’s off my chest. Let’s embark on a real hot-button diversion, one that will consume more work-force time than voting: The Bracket.
Let’s begin with the realization that Michigan State is 9-2 to win it all (behind only Virginia at 4-1), even though the now-healthy Spartans were placed behind 12 other NCAA teams.
The explanation is simple. The committee, in its infinite wisdom, has long since eliminated emphasis on “last 10 games” in favor of “body of work.” This gives equal consideration to games played in November and December, at which point many of these current teams are virtually unrecognizable.
Oddsmakers and ESPN experts base their evaluations on recent eyeballing and February-March accomplishments. It’s folly to group November results with those last week, and common sense says more consideration should be given to where teams stand today.
And before you bring up the RPI, remember that this computerized formula has multiple flaws including (1) scores of games don’t matter, which is OK with Villanova and (2) a win against a 99th-ranked team is a “Top 100 victory” and given too much value compared to a win against No. 101.
Louisville sank to an NCAA fourth seed because the Cardinals had no quality wins through early January. But you couldn’t watch the Cardinals steamroll to a 12-1 finish without suspecting they might repeat their 2013 championship (did they really beat Rutgers 92-31?). TV’s talking heads love Louisville and with good reason, not the least of which is Rick Pitino.
On the uptake
While getting issues off my chest, here’s another that has gnawed since the UI’s 64-63 loss to Michigan on Friday in the Big Ten shootout.
How, pray tell, could any reasonable person watch 31 games this season, grasping the strengths and shortcomings of John Groce’s 19-14 squad, and walk away Friday with anything other than pride for an extraordinary underdog effort. To pick apart the final 30 seconds, and demonstrate supposed expertise (or lack of it) by inferring Groce misfired on basically 50-50 decisions related to timeouts and defensive schemes, is to denigrate an inspired overachievement.
And then I’m taken aside and, with a finger planted squarely in my face, scolded that there is little so pathetic as know-it-alls who base their own self-worth on unpredictable college outcomes featuring athletes who have diverse interests, one of which may be finding a better place to play before next season. We’ll see another 400-plus transfers within months, and they’re not in search of a better education.
Maybe that’s why coaches have become millionaires. Look at what they have to put up with.
— The prize at the end of the NIT’s red carpet is New York’s Madison Square Garden, and that is the reward making it worthwhile. Queried whether he’d give his freshmen more playing time Wednesday, Groce replied strongly that postseason games will be approached like all others, and he’ll play those individuals who give Illinois the best chance of winning.
— With Illinois winning five of its last seven road games (and losing six of seven at home), it seemed like the home court wasn’t as dominant as in the past. And yet, if 328 of 347 NCAA quintets had winning records at home, it was appropriate for the NCAA selection committee to weigh that in downgrading those who decline to travel.
— Illinois is seeded in the second NIT foursome (Boston U. is in the seventh grouping), and the Illini played a much stronger schedule, yet the game is a listed as “pick ’em.” Go figure.
— Boston U. averaged just 942 home fans this season but drew 2,633 for Wednesday’s Patriot League final with American. The Terriers list no center, feature 6-foot and 5-10 guards, and took 39 percent of their shots from three-point distance this season. But they made just 1 of 17 in losing 55-36 to American, this after draining 17 of 39 while scoring 91 each against Lafayette and Army in the two previous games.
— Clemson could be waiting at home if the Illini advance Wednesday, the Tigers finishing 5-5 with 10 single-digit thrillers, four of which went overtime. The Tigers lost to NCAA third seed Duke 63-62 Friday. They play to their competition.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.