Daily Sports: Final Thoughts Before The Bracket Hits The Board

There’s not a lot of drama in the four remaining conference tournament championship games. I suspect Ole Miss has already played their way in as they square off with Florida in the SEC. No one doubts that Wisconsin-Ohio State in the Big Ten, St. Louis-Virginia Commonwealth—already underway in the Atlantic 10, and North Carolina-Miami in the ACC, are all bound for the NCAA Tournament. Therefore today’s daily sports focus will be TheSportsNotebook weighing in with some final thoughts on the teams that will make the NCAA Tournament and how the high seeds might end up.

My most notable bubble prediction is rolling the dice that Minnesota will end up missing. I’ve read and seen the projections by the learned men of bracketology that assure us the Gophers are safe. And I get the logic—Minnesota’s entire body of work is justifiable, they rank strong in areas like strength of schedule and RPI, and all of that can be used to argue favorably for not only an NCAA bid, but decent seeding –say in the 7 thru 10 range.

But there’s always one surprise on Selection Sunday, and I’m going to roll the dice that it will be Minnesota’s exclusion. Then I’ll take it one step further, get on my soapbox and argue that any system that has the Gophers in the Dance is a system that needs changing. My reasons are twofold…

*How can you argue for Minnesota over and above Iowa? The Hawkeyes were a game better than the Gophs in conference play (9-9 to 8-10) and Iowa knocked off NCAA-bound Iowa State in non-conference play. The Hawks made the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, while Minnesota was bounced in the first round. There’s a thing called over-analysis and all these computer rankings that say Minnesota is in, while Iowa is out fall into that category.

*I also can’t go along with the notion that both teams should make it. That would add up to eight teams in the Big Ten. There will be those who say that’s justified, given the conference’s strength this year. But this is where if I have to tilt against a windmill and argue for at least some meaning to the regular season. If eight of twelve teams qualify for the NCAA Tournament, what exactly has been the point of everything that’s taken place between mid-November and today?

Frankly, I don’t even like having more than half a league in the NCAAs. That’s more than generous. Illinois is the sixth team out of the Big Ten and they went through an extended stretch of poor play at the beginning of league play. Is it really being unreasonable to suggest that if you aren’t better than Illinois you shouldn’t play for the national championship? If it were up to me, neither Iowa or Minnesota would make it, but at the very least, Iowa does deserve the 7-spot.

That’s my soapbox speech. Elsewhere, my bracket has teams like Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama in, while Kentucky ended up just missing. This is the first time all year I’ve had the Wildcats out, but that loss to Vanderbilt was too much to bear. If it comes down the Vols or the Tide, I’d go Alabama based on their head-to-head win in tournament play on Friday. I’ve also got Boise State out—another case where the Mountain West already has half of its league in the field.

The #1 seeds seem pretty predictable right now—Indiana, Gonzaga, Duke and Louisville. The one X-factor is Duke. I’m assuming the committee will evaluate them based on their play with Ryan Kelly in the lineup, where they only lost once. If that’s not the case, the committee could turn to Kansas or Miami, pending what the Hurricanes do in today’s ACC final. Georgetown would also be a worthy pick. I’d put Louisville as the #1 overall seed. Although given that these seedings don’t’ settle homecourt advantage, it’s more fun exercise than anything that really matters.

It’s my belief that the Committee makes this whole process more complicated than it needs to be. If it were up to me, I’d look first and foremost at conference play, and I would give league tournaments a heightened importance, while minimizing the impact of non-league games. The latter would be primarily used to assess overall conference strength, and if there were really dramatic differences between teams, it could potentially override the conference standings.

My rationale is this—while there’s a certain purity to treating every game the same, that’s not what’s best for the sport. Most fans get into college basketball during conference play and those are the games that matter most. The league tournaments are when college hoops really starts to get center stage in the sports world. Why not hype and emphasize those parts of the season that are most important? Why not simply things by saying things like “The Big Ten is getting six teams. Let’s take the top six in the standings.” Quit making this out to be rocket science.

Now I’m really done with my soapbox. Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone. I’ve got to go find a good corned beef sandwich somewhere.