2009 NCAA Basketball Tournament: Selection Sunday Winners and Losers
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The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee announced its 65-team field on Sunday night. While a number of no-brainer decisions were made (e.g. Louisville as a No. 1 Seed), there were a number of controversial calls.
With the seeds determined and match-ups made, it’s time to review who won and lost the most on Selection Sunday.
WINNER - ACC / BIG EAST
There’s not much to point out here except for the media/experts complete obsession with both of these conferences. I agree that these are the two best conferences in NCAA Basketball, and they were rewarded accordingly, each receiving a Tournament-Best seven bids. The most astonishing feat by either conference is not how many bids they received, but what seeds their teams were given. Here is a team from each conference that was given major leniency:
North Carolina (ACC) - Entering the postseason, UNC was the consensus No. 1 team in basketball. UNC’s postseason, however, was nothing short of miserable. The Tarheels squeaked by an NIT-caliber Virginia Tech team then fell to Florida State in the ACC semi-finals. Their punishment for this? A No. 1 seed and two straight games in Greensboro, NC.
Pittsburgh (Big East) - Pitt finished the regular season with wins over No. 13 Marquette and No. 11 UConn, vaulting them to the consensus No. 2 team in America. They responded by going one-and-done in the Big East tournament (losing by 14 points at home to West Virginia). Pitt then sat and watched other teams play basketball. The NCAA Tournament’s decision? Leave them right where they were: the No. 2 overall seed. This gives Pitt a No. 1 seed and two games within 500 miles of home.
LOSER - SEC
Nothing quite says “We think you’re terrible!” like giving a conference two at-large bids, reluctantly giving conference tourney champ Mississippi State a 13-seed (yes, that is behind the mighty Northern Iowa Panthers), and giving your regular season champions an eight-seed. The Selection Committee proverbially flipped the SEC the bird this year, failing to reward a season mired in mediocrity.
No one doubts that the SEC had a down year, but consider this: 1) the Atlantic-10 received as many bids to the NCAA Tournament as the SEC, 2) the Mountain West Conference received two bids, both of which are equal to or higher any SEC bid, and 3) The SEC’s automatic-bid (Mississippi State) was ranked equal to or lower than the following powerhouse conference auto-bids: Missouri Valley Conference, Colonial Athletic Association, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Horizon League, Sun Belt Conference, and Big Sky Conference… yikes.
This was a down year in the SEC, and the Selection Committee responded how they saw fit.
WINNER - DUKE
Sure they lost twice to the arch-rival UNC Tarheels, but Duke was the only ACC team from North Carolina who finished the season on a winning note. Duke won their conference tourney, a feat which few other top-10 teams can claim, and can now use that momentum to make a push for the Final Four. Yes, they had a case for a No. 1 seed, but give Duke the option of a No. 1 seed in the West or a No. 2 seed in the East, they would probably take the latter. Why? Because their ticket to the Sweet Sixteen can be punched by winning two games in Greensboro, NC. Not too shabby…
LOSER - MEMPHIS
In the most recent rankings, Memphis was ranked No. 4 by the AP. Here are the teams Memphis sat behind: No.1 UNC, No. 2 Pitt, and No. 3 UConn. In conference tournament play, Memphis sat back and watched all three teams ahead of them implode. UNC was knocked out in the ACC semi-final, Pitt went out in their first conference tournament game, and UConn lost in a marathon game to Syracuse. Meanwhile, Memphis breezed through the C-USA tournament, winning their third straight C-USA Championship and extending their NCAA-Best win streak to 25 games.
Let’s break down Memphis’ mindset before the NCAA Tourney field was released: First, the only teams ahead of Memphis all lost in their conference tournaments, meaning that if Memphis goes anywhere it should be up. Worse-case scenario Memphis could remain at #4 and accept one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, the NCAA Selection Committee caters to No. 1 seeds, and if Memphis earns the No. 1 seed in the South bracket, they can play Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games at home in Memphis, TN.
The stars virtually aligned for Memphis to take the No. 1 seed in the South bracket. Instead, Memphis was given a No. 2 seed in the West. Who received the No. 1 seeds ahead of Memphis? You guessed it. North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and UConn were all given No. 1 seeds.
The fourth No. 1 seed went not to Memphis, but to the team that was ranked behind Memphis in last week’s rankings— Louisville.
This is not to say that Memphis can’t win in this tournament. It’s just to say that everything seemed to come together for them during Championship Week then fall apart on Selection Sunday.
WINNER - ESPN
The Ever-Self-Promoting-Network actually lived up to their own billing on Selection Sunday. At 5:00pm CST I was tuned into CBS to watch Greg Gumbel (yuck) and the CBS All-Stars announce the tournament seeds. Approximately three-and-a-half seconds after Greg Gumbel announced the last team, my television flipped to ESPN. In several regards, ESPN might not be great, but it’s certainly better than CBS.
On Selection Sunday, however, I was pleasantly surprised. Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis provided excellent opinions on each team, and the Bilas-Vitale bout was one for the ages. Dicky V finally conceded, saying that it’s pointless to argue because it’s not going to change (translation: if I keep arguing everyone might find out that I’m wrong). Not to mention that Bob Knight, despite being a crazy person, adds excellent perspectives on anything regarding college basketball.
ESPN’s football analysts are still god-awful. I will never forgive a network that puts Keyshawn Johnson and Cris Carter behind the same desk. Their college basketball crew, however, was thoroughly entertaining on Selection Sunday. Now if I could only find a way to keep Digger Phelps away for more than one night…
LOSER - MID-MAJOR CONFERENCES
Only four teams from mid-major conferences received at-large bids to the 2009 NCAA Basketball Tournament. This number has steadily decreased over the last three years, dropping from eight in 2006 to only four this year.
Many people attribute this drop-off to surprise conference tournament victories (e.g. Mississippi State, USC, etc.) since these unpredictable auto-bids deny several bubble teams a tourney invite. This year, however, the lack of mid-major teams might not have been due to a limited number of bids.
Here is a list of teams that one web site projected to fight for the last few NCAA Tournament bids: Arizona, Creighton, Minnesota, San Diego State, St. Marys, and Wisconsin. Of that list, only Arizona, Minnesota, and Wisconsin play in power-conferences, while Creighton, San Diego State, and St. Mary’s play in mid-majors.
Despite the three mid-majors having noticeably better records, the NCAA opted to include Arizona, Minnesota, and Wisconsin as three of the last teams into the tournament. This raises the question of whether or not the NCAA Tournament has turned pro-power conference.
Of the 34 at-large bids up for grabs on Selection Sunday, 30 went to power-conference teams. Regardless of whether or not this trend might continue, mid-majors took a hit Selection Sunday.
That’s just a quick list of who I think both won and lost on Selection Sunday. Feel free to comment on who you think I wrongfully included, rightfully excluded, or anything else you feel like talking about.
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