Monday, March 17, 2008

How to Avoid the Dreaded NCAA Snub

The brackets are out, and for the umpteenth consecutive year, someone is complaining about being snubbed by the selection committee. While you can make arguments for why the likes of Arizona State or Virginia Tech, should be in the tournament, let’s face it, there are also compelling reasons why the so-called snubbed teams should not be in the NCAA’s. In their selections and snubs, the Selection Committee has left some pretty clear messages as to what it takes for a bubble team to make it to the dance and for a conference to maximize the number of teams it gets into the tournament.

I actually heard a few people say that there must be a dark cloud hanging over Herb Sendek’s head. He doesn’t have a dark cloud, just poor to unfortunate scheduling. When he was at State, Herb never blew anyone’s doors off with the Wolfpack’s non-conference schedule, and it appears that he has continued that tradition at Arizona State. The Sun Devils were hurt a bit by Illinois, Princeton, and LSU having bad seasons, but loading up with Cal Poly, Fl Gulf Coast, Idaho and St Francis isn’t exactly going to help your tournament aspirations unless you plan on winning 10-12 conference games. The selection committee made a very clear statement about scheduling when they took Arizona ahead of Arizona State despite the Sun Devils sweeping the season series. The bottom line, if you play in a power conference, a 82nd ranked RPI is not going to get you an at-large bid. Next time, try having a non-conference RPI a little better than 296.

Virginia Tech was painfully close to making it into the dance. A win against the Heels on Saturday would have probably put the Hokies into the field of 65, but their five losses to teams that are 100th or worse ultimately did them in. The Hokies became the first ACC team to finish 9-7 in the conference and win a game in the tournament and not be invited to the NCAA Tournament. This means that the selection committee is paying attention to who your conference wins are against. The Hokies nine regular season ACC wins came against Maryland, Virginia, Boston College, Florida State and Wake Forest. Notice a theme among the teams they beat? Not a single winning conference record among the group. Tech’s only win against the top 50 came in the tournament against Miami. The lesson here is that if you’re going to have a winning record in a power conference, win a couple against the power teams and don’t lose any games to teams outside of the top 100.

So, what does it take for a conference to maximize the number of teams it gets into the tournaments? For starters, Conference RPI does not mean as much as you would think. The top rated ACC only got 33.3% of its teams into the tournament, while the 5th rated Big East got 50% of its teams into the tournament. Each conference needs at least two teams that are so hapless, that marginal teams don’t have to worry about losing to them. Sure, the ACC regular reason was compelling, but think about it, the last place team (NC State) beat Miami, Va Tech, Wake and Florida State. Each of those teams could have definitely benefited from another win or two. Look at the Big East. USF Rutgers and St Johns did not pose much of a threat to any of the leagues mid-range teams although Rutgers did manage to beat Pitt and Villanova. I guess Pitt had to win the Big East tournament to make up for that loss Finally, conferences need to make sure that their teams need to schedule some tough opponents during the non-conference part of their schedules. Nowadays, it seems like coaches want to build a schedule that guarantees 20 wins. I’ve got news for you, 20 wins does not guarantee a trip to the NCAA tournament. Go ahead and play a few big games. I almost think a close loss, especially on the road does not hurt you as bad as playing a steady diet of the bottom 100.

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