Non-Sports Sports Appointment TV, 11 Alive, and a case for a Power Seven
One of the biggest signs that the thirst for sports in this country is huge is that the announcement of the bracket for the NCAA basketball tournament is appointment television. Like the NBA draft, and virtually all NFL off season activities, people are going to be parked in front of their TV this evening at 6pm EDT, waiting to see who will be seeded where, what bubble teams made it in, and who got left out (more on that in a minute) There will be no actual game play, yet it will likely draw better ratings than any other actual athletic event going on, including the NHL and NBA. Not for the actual games: the unveiling of the tournament.
The 11 seed is the one you want. Some teams may be amped to get the 8 or 9; but those are toxic. If you win that game you will in all likelihood play the 1 seed in the second round and, while that is a winnable game, you’re playing one of the 4 best teams in the country.
By contrast a lot of teams in the 11 have made the Final Four. UCLA did it last year. VCU with head coach Shaka Smart (what a GREAT name!) did it. George Mason with coach Jim Laranñaga did it in 2006; and LSU did it in 1986. And Davidson, with Stephon Curry and no one else damn near knocked off eventual champion Kansas in 2008.
What makes the 11 good: Your first game is against the 6, which is often a toss up. Often, it’s a third or fourth place team from the Power Six or a Mid-Major seeded maybe a bit high. That’s a winnable game. The next game would be against the winner of the 3 vs 14; and there’s a possibility the 14 will be waiting for you there (it seems to happen every year) Get past that, and you’ll play either the 2, 7, 10 or 15, and in many cases the 2 will get knocked out in the second round, or even the first. Again, as the 11, you’ve got momentum, that’s a winnable game. Only in the regional final would you play the 1 seed, and in many cases the 1 may be gone as well. It’s not easy street but it’s a good spot to be. When you play your brackets, look at the 11 seeds because odds are good one will make a run.
It’s also interesting to note that since the bracket expanded to 68 that two First Four teams — VCU and UCLA — have made the Final Four. Part of this may be because the extra game acts as a tuneup, they learn what they’re good at, where they need improvement. This helps as they move along. Last year, as a First Four, UCLA got in by beating BYU in the first round, then beating Abiline Christian (a 14 that snuck in beating Texas) and then proving themselves by beating the top two seeds: Alabama relatively easily, and then Michigan in a thriller. And they damn near made the title game but for Jamaal Suggs’s buzzer beater followed by his jumping on the scorers table. Could UCLA have defeated Baylor? Of course; but we will never know.
My usual axiom about doing your dirty work applies here. This goes for teams in the Power Six (hold that thought) and Mid-Majors. If you are in the Power Six you have a better look at it but you can’t be losing games to teams like Vanderbilt or Mississippi State. Similarly, the Mid-Majors have a lesser margin of error, so you need to have a good regular season AND do well in your tournament. 27–4 will probably get you in; 25–7 and a loss in the first round of your tournament probably will not. For better or worse the selection committee’s bias is toward the Power Six, so the mid-majors have to work that much harder to get in. Who knows, maybe like VCU they’ll get the magic 11 seed, after which anything goes.
I think it is time to recognize the West Coast Conference as a Major conference. Just because of Gonzaga, it’s been a mid-major. What we’re seeing now are kids who want to go to WCC schools BECAUSE the conference is so strong. They see it as competitive, and, if you beat Gonzaga and you go far in the conference tournament, you’re getting in. This year, the WCC will send three teams to March Madness: the Zags, Saint Mary’s, and San Francisco (the Dons, who haven’t had this strong a season in decades) San Francisco is a perfect example of how this conference is getting stronger: you have to be if you want to compete against a national powerhouse like Gonzaga, and it’s better to go to a growing program in the WCC than it might be to go to a program in another conference that doesn’t have a team like a Gonzaga, or a Power Six also-ran, like Boston College.
Plus there are other teams that I would consider sleeping giants. Loyola Marymount hasn’t been to the tournament since 1990 in the aftermath of Hank Gathers death during a game; they’re based out of LA and have a lot to offer. Similar, Pepperdine probably has the most beautiful, breathtaking campus in America, and they’ve tried to leverage it to build the basketball program (including hiring the late Paul Westphal as coach) but it hasn’t worked. BYU was a good get for the conference but they will be moving on to the Big XII; and it looks like a school like San Francisco may step up. Or someone else. As the conference gets better; these will become destination programs, and that’s what makes a conference a major. Maybe it’s early, but I’m ready to call the WCC a major conference.
Anyway that’s it. Enjoy the extra daylight tonight and through November and enjoy the Selection Show. And, whatever else.