Location is everything in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for the 2006 selection committee, location was nothing.
All that information was in their hands, and apparently no one made sure chairman Craig Littlepage and his nine blind mice had the most important resource of all: an atlas.
|A slam-dunk trip to nearby Greensboro doesn't happen for UNC (and BC isn't any better off). (AP)|
North Carolina: As a No. 3 seed, the Tar Heels earned the right not to be the visiting team in an early round game. But as it turns out, North Carolina earned bupkis. The Tar Heels were sent to Dayton, a manageable flight from North Carolina, so it's not so bad on the surface. Unfortunately, the selection committee didn't look beneath the surface. If the tournament unfolds as expected, UNC would meet Michigan State in the second round in Dayton. Any idea how far Michigan State is from Dayton? Less than four hours, and not by plane. By car. Get mad, UNC. I got your back on this one.
Memphis: Another clear-cut loser. The Tigers got a No. 1 seed, which was a big win. They got shipped to the farthest possible region, in Oakland, but that's OK. Someone had to go to Oakland, and Memphis was the fourth of the four No. 1 seeds. Fine. But if the Tigers reach the region final, they'll face UCLA. Any idea how many Memphis fans are based in Northern California? Me neither, but I promise you this: There are a lot more Bruins fans there. Good for UCLA, but not so good for Memphis -- and as the higher seed, Memphis should have been afforded that consideration. Oh, and as an added bonus: Memphis' potential second-round game is with No. 8 seed Arkansas in Dallas, a hotbed for Arkansas alums.
Boston College: Same song, different verse. Boston College is the No. 4 seed in the Minneapolis region, and as a reward, the Eagles got shipped to the pod in ... Salt Lake City? OK, that's not so bad. Until you consider their first-round game is against No. 13 seed Pacific. Not sure where Pacific is, but with a name like "Pacific," I can guess it's a lot closer to Utah than Boston College's campus is. And then in the second round Boston College could play No. 5 seed Nevada. In summation, Boston College's first two games figure to be against teams based a lot closer to Salt Lake City. This isn't rocket science, Littlepage.
Illinois: OK, maybe it is. Because check out what happened to Illinois. The Illini are the No. 4 seed in Washington D.C., but their first stop is in San Diego. And way out West, they'll potentially face two lesser seeds from the West: No. 13 seed Air Force in the first round, and then No. 5 seed Washington in the second round. Nice.
Since we're being grumpy, let's look at other ways the selection committee screwed up. And let's start with Cincinnati. The Bearcats might not have deserved an at-large bid -- they were close, close, close -- but surely they deserved an at-large bid ahead of the final two teams chosen by the selection committee: Air Force and Utah State. Hofstra might have had an argument. Air Force and Utah State? Sorry, don't see it.
By choosing Utah State and Air Force over the Bearcats -- meaning two bids for the WAC and the Mountain West, and not a ninth bid for the Big East -- the committee proved it lacks an East Coast bias. Wonderful. But it also proved it lacks the sense to tell an unquestionably good team with a decent record against a great schedule (Cincinnati) from a pair of questionable teams with better records against bad schedules (Utah State and Air Force).
Speaking of teams getting mistreated -- we were speaking of that, remember -- how about Hofstra? The Colonial Athletic Association got the multiple bids it sought, but the selection committee chose the wrong CAA team to join conference tournament champion NC-Wilmington. Hofstra (24-6) has a slightly better record than George Mason (23-7), a similar RPI, and wins in both head-to-head matchups. And for dessert, there's this nugget: George Mason will play its first-round game, as a No. 11 seed against Michigan State in Dayton, without starting guard Tony Skinn. The school suspended him for one game after he was ejected in the CAA Tournament for striking an opponent in the groin.
Struck in the groin? North Carolina knows how that feels.
If you're looking for a conspiracy theory, try this one: George Mason coach Jim Larranaga worked with Littlepage on Terry Holland's staff at Virginia. Want more? Fine. This selection committee includes Tom O'Connor. Who's Tom O'Connor? He's the athletic director at George Mason. Looks bad, people. Looks really bad.
But enough of the anger.
The 2006 NCAA Tournament will have some of the same cool storylines it has every year. These storylines are timeless. The jerseys change, but the stories are the same. Which is fine. These stories are fun.
Conspiracy theory: Memphis and its controversial lightning rod of a coach, John Calipari, got the toughest draw of the No. 1 seeds. With reason, of course, considering the Tigers were the fourth of the four top seeds. But this, this was too much. Not only does Memphis face the geographically difficult schedule mentioned above, but its region is littered with spoilers like Arkansas, Pittsburgh-or-Kansas, Gonzaga and UCLA. Region of death? We found it.
Potential matchups: That silly selection committee did it again. Every year, the committee chairman says fascinating matchups are an unintended consequence of putting together the teams. Every year I believe that -- no, really. There's simply too much incestuousness in college basketball to avoid those kinds of fascinating matchups between the elite programs. This season, the fascinating matchups include the following:
- Memphis could face Arkansas in the second round of the Oakland Region, a juicy matchup considering Arkansas thinks Memphis blew the whistle on recruiting irregularities involving high school senior Thaddeus Young. The NCAA got involved, found nothing, and Young chose Georgia Tech anyway. Still. Love this game.
- How about a rare meeting between active Hall of Fame coaches in the regional semifinals, with No. 1 seed Duke and No. 5 Syracuse pitting Mike Krzyzewski vs. Jim Boeheim in Atlanta?
- The obligatory transfer-meets-former school could happen in the Sweet 16 featuring LSU expatriate Regis Koundjia, now at George Washington. Then again, that game won't happen. George Washington isn't getting past Duke in the second round. Never mind.
- The obligatory coach-meets-alma mater matchup could happen in the Sweet 16 of Oakland if Indiana's Mike Davis runs into Alabama.
- Two premium targets of Missouri's coach search, John Beilein of West Virginia and Chris Lowery of Southern Illinois, play in the first round of the Atlanta Region. And then two of the biggest dominoes of this offseason, Beilein and Iowa's Steve Alford, could meet in the second round. Next year they should stage a rematch: Missouri vs. Indiana.
Mind over matter: Finally, let's get intellectual for a second. Like Memphis in 2005, the numbers are clear: South Carolina is not a 2006 NCAA Tournament team. The Gamecocks are 18-15 overall, their SEC record including the tournament is 8-11, their postseason resumé is weak and their RPI is a middling No. 61. And yet if you paid attention to South Carolina this week in the SEC Tournament -- the Gamecocks beat Tennessee and Kentucky, and played Florida to a dead heat for 39 minutes, 45 seconds on Sunday -- you know beyond a doubt that the Gamecocks would be a fine NCAA Tournament team. But the RPI says it's not to be, so it's not to be. This is why the RPI should be poked with a porcupine.