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Monday, March 27, 2017

Seeding the Field

1. 2. 3. 4. 7. 8. 11.

These are the seeds that advanced to the second weekend of the tournament. More often than not, seeds held: Three 1s, two 2s, two 3s and three 4s made it through as intended, with just enough lower seeds to keep the madness mad. And while one can't use tournament success or failure to justify or dispute seeding, it's worth asking how they all got there.

I live in ACC country, where there was a good deal of either crowing or handwringing about UNC being a 1 seed and Duke being a 2. Duke took two of three from the Heels during the season, including in the ACC Tournament semifinals en route to Duke's tournament championship. The Tar Heels, who won the regular season championship, cruised into the 1 seed many had projected them in. That wasn't the only place where Duke found themselves on the foul side of seeding and placement: They fell in the second round to a (now Final Four bound) South Carolina squad who got the luxury of playing in their home state - albeit in Clemson's upstate - thanks to HB2.

Elsewhere in the bracket, Wichita State was criminally underseeded as a 10, and while Kentucky was able to squeak by en route to the Elite Eight, it certainly did the Wildcats no favors. To that point, it's not the underseeded team, but the team that has to play them that gets hosed. Number 1 overall seed Villanova, for example, got knocked off in the second round by a Wisconsin squad that would've been a likely 5 seed via KenPom and got reseeded by ESPN as a 1.

What, then, is the purpose of seeding? Much as I've asked with college football rankings: Do you get the seed you earn, or the seed your deserve? Teams, especially high performing mid-majors, get hamstrung by their ability to schedule tough, and subsequently become someone else's problem come tournament time. If the goal of the tournament is to give everyone the path of ease fitting of their efficacy, wouldn't we minimize upsets? Is a little mis-seeding a good thing?

If they want to get seeding right - or at least a version of right - there are quite a few stats that can be your guide. I shouted out KenPom earlier, and I think most would agree his metrics are part of the equation. We've always known seeding to be just as much art as science; there's always some massaging that needs to take place based on teams getting hot at the right time, or losing key players to injury or suspension. The good news is every indication is the NCAA wants to get it right, so here's hoping they move beyond "we've always done it this way" into "this is the best way to do it."

Friday, March 24, 2017

Bracket Creep

I'm not in the habit of biting the hand that feeds me. I'm just calling it like I see it.

My college football allegiance - my graduate alma mater, USF - has played in such prestigious postseason contests as the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Bowl, and the magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl. When I've entertained the "too many bowls?" question in the past, I've acknowledged that downsizing would directly affect my team's prospects.

In college hoops, my attention is more scattered. I have two alma maters and an employer, all of whom play college ball (and a flagship I occasionally keep half an eye on), and through them, I've learned about the expanding field of college basketball's postseason.

Let's set aside the NIT for a moment. At this point, it's a mainstay. It's the Outback Bowl - it sits outside the power structure, but it's got enough respect to make its own way as a viable postseason foray, except perhaps by those who had their sites set higher. But in the past few seasons, in addition to the NIT and WNIT, teams I follow have played in the College Basketball Invitational and the Women's (College) Basketball Invitational (where UNCG is now a finalist!).

But here's the kicker: UMBC's in the postseason as well, still playing and hosting a quarterfinal matchup this weekend. I first learned of this in a video on Facebook where our president was talking about postseason play. Being the impatient social media consumer I am, I immediately googled UMBC CBI. After all, I knew we weren't in the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, so what else is there? This is when I learned of the Tournament. The field is full of mid-majors who had seasons that they're probably proud of, but that clearly didn't qualify them for any of the other three tournaments. It's great to still be playing, and I know I started by saying that I don't like to bite the hand that feeds me...

...but their broadcast partner? Facebook Live.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Don't Slam the Gate City

You don't wanna go to war with the 'Boro.

Syracuse head men's basketball coach Jim Boeheim has made it clear he doesn't believe the ACC Tournament belongs in Greensboro, its often home and site of the conference headquarters. Boeheim, who grew accustomed to Big East conference tournaments in Madison Square Garden, had nothing kind to say back in 2011 as the Orange headed to the ACC and by extension, Greensboro; he doubled down on his disdain this past week, stating that there's "no value to playing in Greensboro. None." Greensboro's clapback hit all the news cycles in the sports world and beyond.

Not only the city of Greensboro, but ACC traditionalists jumped to Greensboro's defense, letting Jim know that if he wanted to stay out of Greensboro altogether, there are conferences for that, and they're not named the ACC.

But the story didn't end there. A selection committee with a sense of humor and/or a flair for the dramatic decided to pit Syracuse against UNC Greensboro in the NIT. The seeding may or may not have warranted this, but it wouldn't be the first time the NCAA tweaked a matchup to get a better storyline in a lesser-followed tournament - see also: UD vs. DelState in the FCS playoffs a decade ago. The Spartans, it should be noted, will be headed to play in the postseason in a city about half Greensboro's size, but I've heard no grousing about it yet. Quite the contrary: UNCG is excited for the opportunity and has a city and state behind it.

There's something beautiful when a city and its namesake university are synergistic and the citizens truly see the school and its teams as an extension of themselves. UNCG's conferencemate UT Chattanooga's pep band has Rep Yo City on the books. Systemmate UNC Charlotte goes simply by Charlotte athletically, wrapping their arms around the largest metro in the Carolinas. And in a statement that works on multiple levels, Georgia Tech is proud to "Put On" for its city, playing Atlanta product Young Jeezy's hit. Still, here in Greensboro, UNCG isn't the only Division I team in town, and in a state where basketball allegiances are forged before birth, the Spartans haven't fully linked arm in arm with Greensboro just yet. But now, UNCG marches into the Carrier Dome to defend the city's honor. A victory seems improbable - UNCG has just two wins all time over ACC foes (thanks, Techs) but this Spartan program that fell just short of the conference tournament championship may just reverse the fortune of General Greene and the Spartans at Thermopylae and leave the Dome with a victory. If they can, it may be the shiningest moment the NIT has ever produced.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

In Like a Lion

The Madness has begun.

Some use March Madness as shorthand for the NCAA Tournament, but it's already upon us. From teams jockeying for position at the end of the regular season, to conference tournaments where nearly every team in America still has a shot to play their way in to the Big Dance, college hoops hits its fever pitch well before brackets are ever out.

By the time March hits, I'm well into a binge of my own. As I note just about every year, as much as I love college basketball, it doesn't get the lion's share of my attention until after college football wraps up. At that point, it's on: My audio focus turns to college basketball podcasts, I start stalking conference standings, and I try to catch up on the storylines I've missed on the likes of ESPN and CBS Sports

When I first tuned back in, one of the big stories was whether or not the RPI would continue to play a role in selection and seeding of the brackets. Long considered an imperfect system, most pundits will first look to metrics like those of Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin, but RPI is still the gold standard when the selection committee steps into the room. Still, it seems there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and some of the advanced stats will find their way into the process in the future. 

As storylines progressed, I was surprised this week to hear so much focus on smaller conference tournaments and whether regular season champions losing in the conference tourney doesn't allow them to put their best foot forward. As an alumnus of one one-bid league and an employee in another, while I can empathize with the clubhouse leaders who ultimately lose their chance to dance to a bad night in a conference tournament, I can't for a second ignore the excitement that comes with the possibility of playing one's way in. For every dejected and displaced Monmouth, there's an elated Iona - team, band, spirit groups, and fan base - whose team earned the shiningest of moments they're likely to see.

Put another way, as Jon Rothstein often reminds us: This is March.

Monday, March 6, 2017


I hope I've never given you, dear reader, any illusion as to my impartiality. I'd like to think I wear most of my allegiances on my sleeve, and tonight I remind you that I work at UNCG, who will compete for the Southern Conference crown and NCAA Tournament bid tonight.

Let's Go G.

2017 SoCon Tournament Twitrospective

If you've been around a bit, you know that I'll sometime gather the tweets from a live event into a twitrospective that encapsulates it all. This Saturday I spent the day up in Asheville for the Southern Conference men's basketball tournament. Here's what all went down.

Sabado Gigante

There's a sports occurrence that may be my favorite in all of sports. I realize that I've always loved it, but only recently began to recognize it as its own distinct and glorious entity.

I'm calling it Fat Day.

In single-site conference basketball tournaments, there's always at least one round where the day's action is a double doubleheader. Two games are played in a morning/afternoon session, and after a recess and typically the clearing of the arena, action returns for an evening session. The same scenario plays out at NCAA Tournament first/second round sites.

What does that mean for the attendee? About eight net hours gets you four games, eight teams, eight fan bases, and eight pep bands, with barely the need to leave your seat. The break between sessions is typically timed for dinner, so you can poke around in the tournament city a little and grab some local fare, and then it's back in place for the evening. There's little in sports that gives you that much variety, and there's little that's as satisfying.

I spent Fat Day of the Southern Conference tournament - Saturday's quarterfinals - in Asheville, catching not just my employer but severn other teams, bands, and fanbases. The break took me to Wicked Weed brewery and exploring Asheville a bit on foot before returning for the evening session. I've often done the same during the ACC tournaments here in Greensboro, and did the same in Asheville back in 2012. Now that I've recognized it as its own paradigm, I'm planning future conference tournament travel around getting the most bang for my buck by catching Fat Day.
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