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Tag:Matt Norlander
Posted on: February 20, 2012 8:41 am

Wakeup Call: We've now reached prove-it time

JayVaughn Pinkston, in one play, reenacts Villanova's season. (US PRESSWIRE)
By Matt Norlander

Not surprising that kids aren't sleeping as much these days as they used to. // Ah, that's a shame. // This is one of the best inter-sport tributes I've ever seen. // Cheetah and dog: best buds. // If Ron Paul intrigues you, the profile you've been waiting to be written now exists ...

Parrish perfectly captured what Murray State is right now and what they'll likely remember this year to be decades down the road.

★ Hilarious. After Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani were thrown out of the game Saturday, N.C. State will honor their 1989 ACC title team this week.

★ You might've forgotten it, but Notre Dame had no business coming back and beating Villanova Saturday.

★ Which program got the 20 wins for the first time in its Division I history Sunday?

★ Another first impression on mock selection from Monday podcast guest John Gasaway.

★ More mock stuff. This entry from Eric Crawford is really good, and it takes me to task!

★ A bunch of geeks decided to mimic the mock process and make their own bracket. They claim it's superior. Mmmhmmmm.

★ Ryan Fagan's take on Wichita State is accurate. Shockers have second-weekend potential, clearly.

Stem cell treatment leads to Manhattan player getting back on the court. Interesting.

★ Very nice profile on Pitt's Tray Woodall, who's experiencing something of a lost season.

★ Will this get the Georgetown-Maryland basketball rivalry renewed and on its feet again?

★ Confirming what was suspected: Steve Lavin can't envision how he'll return to coaching before next season.

★ Mike Tomlin acting like a prick at the Kentucky game over the weekend.

► These kind of dunks are more common at the next level. A rare Auburn highlight!

♬ After he had a pretty regrettable two-day stint of being in charge of the Wakeup Call, I've kicked Borzello to the curb and am returning the daily music recommendations to something much less seizure-inducing We're nearing prove-it time in hoops, and where do we see this proving done? On the television. So much symmetry here. Television's "Marquee Moon" was one of the best albums of the 1970s.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 19, 2012 4:58 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2012 5:20 pm

Bracketing: the best part of the mock process

Bracketing and seeding took up about 20 percent of the process. The other 80 was spent on selecting teams and eating food supplied to us by the NCAA. In other words: 60 percent of it was spent on eating, which we believe also accurately replicates the real experience. (NCAA)

On Saturday, I wrote about the RPI and why it’s still, unfortunately, fully baked into the process of selecting and seeding teams into the NCAA tournament. Today, I address the importance and time paid to the three principles of the bracket: selection, seeding and bracketing.

By Matt Norlander

If you’re as adoringly and heavily invested in the NCAA tournament buildup and fruition as I, you no doubt would’ve had the same sort of fun all of us media folk lucky enough to get an invite to the NCAA mock selection process had. I’ve my issues with some of what goes on, but it’s undeniably a college basketball lover’s dream come true to dive right in, full force, and playfully argue with two dozen people about Davidson, Duke and Denver. That it was our "job" formally go through the process with other passionate people was never lost on me. Getting to do this after years and years of scribbling brackets and bubble teams on paper and punching results into Word documents for our own pleasure in the privacy of our homes and offices was a unique privilege.

Greg Anthony taking up a case on behalf of Tennessee is 15 minutes of my life I’ll never get back, but at least he was the first to show us why the committee is often quick to bring up teams that might not seem remotely worthy of discussion — and why that discussion is worthwhile and important to the process.

Now, here’s what I was most surprised about: the short amount of time we paid to seeding and bracketing. We didn’t begin the seeding process in earnest until 11 a.m. Friday morning — about 80 percent of the way into the process. The seeding and bracket is by far the most fun. It’s also the most critical. Chronologically, it goes: selecting, then seeding, then bracketing. The proper order, of course. But if time spent directly correlates to importance of each factor, then that's also clearly the hierarchy of importance for the committee.

There is a difference between the latter two phases. Seeding is the actual listing of teams 1 through 68. You do that, naturally, to have an order so each team gets preference of region and bracket over the ones listed below it. Bracketing is ticking off each team in order and placing them into regions in accordance with respect to geography and travel, as well as abiding by a few set-in-stone rules (i.e. BYU cannot play on a Sunday) and trying to respect other guidelines based on precedence (when possible avoid rematches in early rounds from games earlier this season or in the past few tournaments).

How we seeded: we’d vote four teams in at a time. A consensus of four teams would be tallied, and then we’d rank them, one to four. We do this piecemeal because you want to rank/seed teams with other teams of their ilk, as to avoid situations where the final 1-68 seed tally has glaring glitches throughout. It's Pavlovian in its repetition; you feel like you have to vote for a team 10 teams before it's formally in the bracket. That's intentional.

Once we had our overall ranking, we stepped back, looked at what we had and began to tweak. Some teams were too low, others too high. One team ranked 47 was behind another at 43 — or something like that — yet it was clear certain teams should leapfrog others. Voting was had for every proposed alteration to the seed list. Eight of the 10 members on the committee need to support a proposed change in order for it to happen. With our group, about half of the proposed changes went through successfully.

Greg Anthony was great -- except for that one time he lobbied for Tennessee. (NCAA)

Eventually, we went on to the bracketing, which was dictated by the executive vice president of all the NCAA championships, Greg Shaheen. He has the process memorized to an incredible degree; he could do this in his sleep, without question. We had to choose which teams go where, all the while keeping the regions as balanced as possible and avoiding all conflict of rules and guidelines. North Carolina staying in Kentucky's region, for travel purposes, instead of pairing UK and Duke was the most hotly debated bracket placement. Getting teams to certain cities, just listing them off and picking the closest locations was awesome. The program the NCAA uses has safeguards against breaking stipulations, and filling up the four yellow-and-white grids was a culmination.

This was, by far, the most enjoyable part of the weekend. It took less than 90 minutes.

Why so short? That’s my question. Because over the years, my objections to the bracket — which are seldom on the level of intensity and outrage as Jay Bilas or Dick Vitale — almost never, ever have to do with inclusion into the field. It’s normally seed-related. Almost every year we get squads seeded onto lines that seem completely off-base. (New Mexico as a three in 2010 serves as a recent miscalculation.)

I now can understand why this happens, though. The committee convenes on the Wednesday before Selection Sunday. It spends most of Thursday, Friday and Saturday poring over resumes and debating inclusion into the field. If possible, the committee does not go to bed Saturday night until the field of 68 has been completed. There are seed listings and subsequential seed scrubbings that take place from Thursday through Sunday, but you can check right here, the actual bracketing process does not begin until less than 90 minutes before the world gets to see it.

The seed list also slowly builds. First the no-brainer teams are put into the field, with the auto qualifiers from small conferences stapled to the bottom portion of the seed list. (Note: we spent no time on low-major AQs, and given the seeding inconsistencies with 14s, 15s and 16s, I wonder how much time is truly spent on these teams in five days. I'd guess it's less than 30 minutes, which is a minor but legitimate issue.)

If there was one thing we truly duplicated in our mock session, it was the bracketing procedure. It was a thrill, but it was also flawed because it was so rushed. This came on the heels of going through the seeding process at relative breakneck pace. You can scope our bracket here. That alignment was picked as if the season ended Wednesday night, so keep that in mind. Still: flaws abound. Regions are lacking in balance, but that’s primarily because schools, coaches, ADs would rather have less travel and more fans than be matched up in a tougher region. Seeding does not lead to uneven brackets -- bracketing does, and it's inevitable, particularly because we have so few good teams west of the Rockies.

The Selection Committee has more time than we did to seed-scrub and go back again and again to look and make sure the final 1-68 list is in an agreed-upon order. I can't help but think the committee goes through the same mental jungle gym we did, though. So much energy and research and effort goes into just picking the teams, that by the time the seeding comes — the final seeding, that is — there's a bit of a wear-and-tear effect. You've been scrutinizing over and over, and it's hard not to wear on the brain. Largely, seeding isn't an issue, but when we get inconsistencies, I think the lack of time given to that amounts to perceived mistakes in the process.

So when the field is released three weeks from today and you see a four seed that's really more like a six, or a team in the 8/9 game that feels like an 11, know there are reasons for that. Bracketing could play a part, but if it does, it's purely from a logistical, not a matchup or television, mindset. It could be they've been put there because of geography or conference conflicts that absolutely mandated it. If not though, then it's very possible an oversight came in the seeding process. Seeding and selection are two very different processes that should should carry equal weight. As of now, it seems getting 68 in takes priority over absolute accurate placement of those 68 once they're pushed through.
Posted on: February 18, 2012 11:19 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2012 11:41 pm

OSU probably cost itself a one seed with loss

Trey Burke takes it to the rim against Aaron Craft, something he did often Saturday night. (US PRESSWIRE)
By Matt Norlander

The good news for Ohio State is, the NCAA tournament isn't played on the road. The bad: they're not likely to be a one seed when they enter the Big Bracket.

OSU fell to 22-5 Saturday night -- all five of those scratches coming in road games -- when Columbus-bred superstar Michigan freshman Trey Burke cataylzed a 56-51 Buckeyes knock-off in Ann Arbor thanks to a couple of ridiculously tough floating layups in the final minute. Michigan's ascendance and Burke's superb year is another story for another time, perhaps even a post for tomorrow. What a nice home win for them tonight, one that should cement Michigan, at worst, as a five seed.

Ohio State's stumble is the bigger story, though. There's plenty of flux around college basketball's soft bubble right now. Teams like Southern Miss, Illinois, Connecticut, Mississippi State and North Carolina State are giving away games like flowers at a funeral. It's bad over there, but uncertainty abounds elsewhere, too.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ohio State's gotten wobbly on the one line. It's behind Michigan State now, clearly, and Kansas, UNC and Duke (in that order) are starting to cluster with the Buckeyes. Where they fall in the S-curve is a discussion we're better off waiting for until the end of Sunday's games, but in no way does OSU look like or deserve a one seed as of tonight. Additionally, OSU's 10-4 record and head-to-head loss against the Spartans (rematch coming on March 4 season finale -- in East Lansing) means Tom Izzo's team can take command of the conference if it can win at 17-9 Purdue on Sunday.

Ohio State never had the lead against Michigan, so it goes without saying -- yet here I am, saying it -- that the Buckeyes lacked a dominant look Saturday night. It's something that's been evident with this team ever since I wrote this. Many writers are quick to link back to work that makes them look good. Me? I'm an idiot, as many a commenter on this site has attested to. That link there is the latest example, as a reminder. Though I will follow that up by saying I hedged my bet in the post by stating OSU had to have wins over MSU and Michigan to remain in UK's class. Obviously, the test was failed and Kentucky looks leaps better than Thad Matta's team as of now.

The Buckeyes are still an extremely good team (still the best statistical defense against a decent schedule), but recent results and patterns of play suggest they aren't a great one. It's going to take a table run in the regular season and, minimally, a Big Ten title game appearance against someone who isn't Michigan State in order for OSU to earn the right to the one seed back.

It's clear this team lacks the depth, weapons and foul discipline it had a year ago. Only now is it catching up to them nationally.
Posted on: February 18, 2012 5:41 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2012 12:39 am

Night Court: Bubbles, upsets & BracketBusters

By Jeff Borzello and Matt Norlander

We broke down every bubble game as the day went on, over at the Poppin' Bubbles page. For all the analysis and ramifications of the bubble's winners and losers, check it there. We'll recap all the non-bubble things here. 

Game of the Night: Everyone knew that Long Beach State vs. Creighton would be filled with plenty of offense and two teams that really wanted to prove themselves on national television. It certainly didn't disappoint -- what a game. LBSU was in control for most of the game, leading by as many as 10 points in the second half. However, Doug McDermott and Creighton kept coming and kept coming. A missed layup by Casper Ware and a turnover allowed Creighton to get the last shot. Antoine Young took advantage, and -- well, I'll let the video above tell the rest of the story. 

Game of the Night, Vol. 2:
Dayton. Xavier. City rivals. Both desperate for a bubble win. The game lived up to the drama, with the two teams going back and forth for 40 minutes -- and then an extra five after Dayton's Kevin Dillard made a layup with 1.2 seconds left to tie the game. Tu Holloway controlled the overtime, reverting to the clutch form he showed during Xavier's 8-0 start to the season. If he continues to play like that, might the Musketeers regain their magic? 

Game of the Day: 
Kansas State, perhaps you’ll no longer be underrated. That was the case at the mock selection meetings this week in Indianapolis. The Wildcats were placed into the 8/9 game, and now they’re certainly on the seven line at worst after beating Baylor 57-56 in Waco.

New Mexico, best of the West?: New Mexico, I’ve praised you in recent Power Pyramids, and now I’m fully in love with what the Lobos are capable of. They didn't mess around against UNLV, winning at home 65-45 and taking full control of the Mountain West chase. I've seen a lot of people mention the fact they liked New Mexico at the start of the season. I actually didn't. I came around on them soon, but didn't think they'd be this good. UNLV's a really nice team; the Lobos made them look like Air Force this afternoon at The Pit. 

Michigan, darkhorse Big Ten contender?: With Michigan beating Ohio State at home on Saturday night, the Wolverines could be a potential sleeper in the Big Ten title race. They are only a half-game back of Michigan State in the standings, and are now tied with Ohio State for second place. They also don't play any of the contenders the rest of the way. 

Murray State shows out: Saint Mary's has now lost three of its last four, but Murray State dominated the Gaels from the opening tip and showed that it's still a threat to win at least a game or two in the NCAA tournament. The Racers played tremendous defense all night, and got timely baskets from Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole. 

Rough day for Conference-USAUTEP gets its first road win of the season. Where does it come? FedEx Forum. Memphis sticks a hot dagger right into its foot with a 60-58 loss to the .500 Miners. Conference USA can be a two-bid league, but only if Memphis takes the auto bid and Southern Miss keeps winning until the semis or finals of the conference championship game. No time for duds for Josh Pastner’s team, especially at home against middling foes. That wasn't the only problem for the league. Southern Miss went into Houston and dropped one to the Cougars. Now there's very little separation at the top of the standings -- and that could limit the number of bids from the league.

No soup for you, personally: Perry Jones III. Had four points, four rebounds and fouled out. I’ve recently talked to a few former players who think PJ3 is the real deal. He isn’t showing it, and I’ve never actually seen it. This isn’t just Scott Drew, either (plenty want to criticize his coaching of this talented team). Jones lacks semblance of urgency, anger and pride on the floor. He seems likely to be a big factor in costing Baylor a game in March.

Saturday all-stars

  1. Wichita State is the truth and Joe Ragland is among the best “mid-major” players in the country. The guard who’s shorter than half the guys in your social circle is one of the most efficient shooters in the nation. He put up 30 and seven rebounds in a 91-74 road win against a more-than-decent Davidson team. Shockers were a four seed in the mock selection process. They can easily get that if they win the Valley tournament.
  2. Drew Gordon had 27 points and 20 rebounds, officially. (One UNLV beat writer is shooting down that 20-boards stat). For as much as I’ve been pushing UNM this season, I’ve said they won’t go next level until Gordon plays to his talent. He did that today. UNLV was playing in mud and Gordon did what he wanted. Can be a difference-maker in the tournament, certainly.
  3. Nate Wolters led South Dakota State to a BracketBusters beatdown on Buffalo, taking out the Bulls 86-65. Wolters had 22 points, eight assists and six rebounds. #NatersGonnaNate
  4. Jae Crowder with 29 points and 12 rebounds for Marquette in its 79-64 road win at UConn. It’s always been Crowder, not Darius Johnson-Odom, who’s been the most critical piece for the Golden Eagles the past two years.
  5. Keiton Page dropped 40 points in Oklahoma State's win over Texas.
  6. St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson went for 32 points and 13 boards, continuing his dominance outside the nation's watchful eye.
  7. South Dakota's Louie Krogman lost, but 37 points and six assists? Not too bad.

Other action worth your attention

  1. San Diego State lost its second in a row, stumbling on the road at Air Force. Xavier Thames' 3-pointer hit the front rim at the buzzer, and now the Aztecs are out of the Mountain West title hunt.
  2. It was almost pretty bad, and certainly a seed line sacrifice for Louisville in Chicago this afternoon. The Cardinals needed overtime — and were sort of luck to get there — to take out DePaul, 90-82. my attention, which isn’t the case with 90 percent of tilts involving ACC teams this year.  
  3. I think one of the two most important wins of the day came in Seattle. Washington earned a season sweep of Arizona, definitively putting UW over U of A when it comes to whether or not either deserves an at-large. (And as of now, I’d say neither.) However, the 79-70 win for the Puppies was one of the best for Lorenzo Romar, as he had 25 come from Terrence Ross and 22 come from Tony Wroten, Jr. Washington can be fun to watch—but they’ve been like this for years, now. Fun, inconsistent. Loves to run, stumbles over itself.
  4. Tennessee’s not that good, but boy was that a big win for Alabama to just stop the bleeding and beat the Vols in Tuscaloosa.
  5. Mercer lost its share of the Atlantic Sun title, Bucknell lost its second straight game in the Patriot, and Harvard grabbed control of the Ivy League. Mississippi Valley State also improved to 14-0 in the SWAC, while Middle Tennessee continued to cruise.
  6. Texas-Arlington ended its 16-game winning streak with a loss at Damian Lillard and Weber State.
  7. What a comeback by Notre Dame. Down by 20 points, the Fighting Irish stormed back against Villanova and won in overtime. Pat Connaughton had 21 points, and Jack Cooley continued his surprising dominance with 18 points and 13 boards.
  8. Iona simply outran Nevada in the second half. The Gaels forced the Wolf Pack to play too fast and made them turn the ball over left and right.
  9. Gonzaga lost to San Francisco for the third consecutive season, as Rashad Green hit a runner with less than three seconds left. Saint Mary's still has control of the WCC standings.
  10. Georgetown beat Providence. Goodman has his reaction to the game.
Delightful (and not-so delightful) thoughts
  • If you think we missed any of the bubble talk, just go to Poppin' Bubbles. Everything is over there.
  • If you want UConn thoughts, we touched on that earlier today.
  • Iowa State is going to coast through the backdoor into the tournament, FYI. The Cylcones won 80-69 over Oklahoma today. The resume keeps getting more cushion. Mildly concerning was Royce White only scoring four points. A lot of variance in his game.
  • Drexel starting to feel like a CAA team on a huge come, but the 69-49 win at Cleveland State was also about the Vikings having the floor fall through their season yet again.
  • Tiny thought. One seeds don’t lose in conference on the road against bad teams. Missouri 71, Texas A&M 62. Kansas kept pace, by steamrolling Texas Tech on the road.
Oh, and the video below is maybe the best buzzer-beater of the day: Pacific's Trevin Harris knocking down a 3 to beat Idaho State. (h/t @bigskybball

Posted on: February 18, 2012 3:06 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2012 10:19 pm

Karl Hess ejects Tom Gugliotta

UPDATE, 10:18 p.m.: ACC supervisor of officials, John Clougherty, released a statement:
"Under Rule 10, when circumstances warrant, an official has the authority to request home game management to eject fans when the behavior, in the officials' judgement, is extreme or excessive. It's unfortunate in this instance that ACC protocol of communicating directly with the home game management was not followed, and instead, a building security officer was solicited. We will re-communicate this policy with all officials to ensure proper protocol is followed."

By Jeff Goodman

It's time for Karl Hess to go. 

The veteran referee tossed former N.C. State stars Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani with about six minutes left in the 76-62 loss to Florida State on Saturday afternoon. 

"There were seven or eight different calls we were contesting," Corchiani told "We were yelling, but we didn't even yell a profanity or even threaten him." 

Hess, who has already worked 74 games this season, declined to comment when approached after the game by an Associated Press reporter. Corchiani said he was with his wife and 11-year-old daughter while Gugliotta and his 14-year-old daughter were sitting next to them in the front row. 

"We're not denying we were all over him, but I've been doing that every game I've been at since I retired," said Corchiani, who said he attends just about every N.C. State game. "That's homecourt advantage. But again, we never used profanity or crossed the line. We were just on him about some of the calls he made." 

Corchiani said that Hess had to game stopped earlier and tried to have another fan ejected. Then after the 6-foot-10 Gugliotta stood out and yelled something at Hess from just a handful of feet away, Hess went to a police officer and had both former N.C. State stars escorted out of the building.  

"It was wild," Corchiani said. 


I'm not one to complain about bad calls.

I am one to post hilarious videos of puffy-chested officials throwing out local legends at basketball games. That's what Karl Hess did Saturday afternoon when he gave beloved N.C. State alums Tom Gugliotta (Googs!) and Chris Corchiani the hook.

NFL senior blogger Will Brinson -- an absolutely insufferable Wolfpack alum and homer -- was ready and waiting for this. A hat tip to him for promptly getting us the video. As for Hess, unless what Googs and Corchiani were saying was highly offensive, this is pretty bad. Just another zebra with an ego trip and a penchant for the spotlight. It's getting old, nearly as old as him.

UPDATE: Corchiani tweeted that he didn't use profanity, and even the Florida State assistant AD admitted he didn't believe the two should've been thrown out.

Posted on: February 18, 2012 1:30 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2012 1:52 pm

RPI still hovers over, cloaks selection process

The room where it all went down Thursday and Friday. We were secluded in secrecy, soft drinks and statistics. (NCAA)

By Matt Norlander

No matter how emphatically and repeatedly the NCAA Selection Committee insists the RPI isn’t a major factor in picking and seeding 68 teams into the greatest sporting event the universe has ever known, that’s simply not the case. The RPI, as flawed a tool as any mainstream collective ranking metric we have in college basketball, still stenches up the process like burnt popcorn.

(If you’re still not sure why the RPI is built like a Popsicle-stick castle, I’ll promptly point you in the direction of this and this and this. Get to learnin'.)

I had the luxury and pleasure of attending the NCAA mock selection meetings in Indianapolis Thursday and Friday, at the Conrad Hilton. My hope was to file a couple of quick blog updates/entries during the process. That’s nearly impossible. We started at 1 p.m. on Thursday, worked until about 11, then were at it again at 8 a.m. Friday morning and went until 2:30, and then it was off to the airport. It was a beautiful, dream-come-true of a grind. So here I am, frothing to share with you the events of the past 48 hours. On Sunday, I'll have a piece on seeding and bracketing, my loves and laments.

By the way, here's the field of 68 we concluded on, as if the season ended Wednesday night. I'll have more on this in tomorrow's piece. The irrational responses -- some of them tongue-in-cheek -- on Twitter made the entire process worthwhile. If only Jay Bilas had backlashed at us, then it truly would have been a Selection Sunday simulation.

Off camera, NCAA director of media relations David Worlock spellbinds us with his humor and deflection of the issues. (NCAA)

Now, let’s return to the RPI. Here’s my thing. I don’t have an issue with it being in the tool belt. It’s probably always going to be something that factors in, and I’m just going to have to live with that like I live with the cowlicks that command my hairstyle. The RPI generally organizes teams in a reasonable way when it comes to clustered arrangement of the best-to-worst tiers of teams. That said, why can’t the RPI get treated like every other rankings system: equally? Right now, it’s not. Right now, as it's been for the past 30 years, despite semi-annual adjustments to the bare-bones formula (that's what makes it bad and manipulable),  the Ratings Percentage Index remains the favorite flavor to savor for picking the "best" teams into the field.

The NCAA allows (but from what I interpreted, does not heartily endorse) any Selection Committee member to use Sagarin, KenPom, LRMC, Massey or any type of ratings system (including — WHAT — the Coaches’ Poll? It’s true, unfortunately). Those systems are not brought up on the big screen, unless by request, which never happened at our mock.

I'm guessing its seldom a Pomeroy team page will get clicked to the projector screen this year, too, especially since it's now subscription-based, and that $20 annual fee might be a touch too much.  

The RPI is the peanut butter that keeps the primary data smudged together for the Selection Committee. It still permeates the process. And the NCAA still wants to deny that. The NCAA likes to say bringing up a team’s specific RPI ranking doesn’t often come up when debating two teams’ inclusion or seeding. While that’s true, from the outset, the organization, presentation and general data on a team is dressed up in an RPI shirt with an RPI hat and a cute pair of RPI gloves.

On a few occasions, NCAA tournament Poobah Greg Shaheen (who, along with 2012 Selection Committee chair Jeff Hathaway, was awesome) would say, “OK, how many times did you find yourself talking about RPI in the past 10 minutes?” or something to that effect. No one responded with:




"A halfway decent amount!"

But that's not the point, because, as if you're being hypnotized into a train of reason and deduction, the RPI is placed right in front of the committee members’ faces from the start of the process, and I sincerely doubt they deviate from the materials and data given to them by the NCAA and its computer sorting/ranking/bracketing/filterin
g system (which is a slick, impressive computer program). This year, the NCAA has made public for the first time its Nitty Gritty (yes, that’s a capital N and G) sheets. These sheets rank teams by RPI. Immediately, you’re sorting teams in accordance with a flawed system.  Within the Nitty Gritty you’ll see nine of the 16 columned categories are RPI-dictated.

It doesn’t stop there. On team sheets and in side-by-side comparisons, the only metric numbers available are RPI. It's very easy to use the data baked into the NCAA's team sheets and use that in addition to eye test discussion to draw conclusions. In such a scenario, which is one that occurred over and over and over at the mock, you're being unfair and myopic to the process. And more than inclusion to the field, you're jeopardizing fair and realistic seeding -- something, again, I'll get to in Sunday's post.

Why not rank teams with a median of four, five or six respected, mainstream rankings systems, such as the ones listed above? The reason the NCAA doesn't is because some of the systems account for future results, and they don't want any predictive measures entering into the process. I say: the RPI is only one net, and so you've got many holes. The more nets you throw on top of it, the more reasonable general conclusion you can come to, and so fewer and fewer holes are possible in the rankings system. Keep the Nitty Gritty, but tweak:

  • An average ranking tally from RPI, Sagarain, LRMC, KenPom, Massey, and maybe even the brand-new BPI. This will be your master ranking.
  • A neutral-court record. It's glaringly absent from the Nitty Gritty, yet it's part what the NCAA tournament is all about: winning games on neutral courts. 
  • Get rid of conference record. Those are on team sheets and are not paramount to the grand overview the Nitty Gritty aspires to be.
  • Instead of "Record against RPI 1-25, 1-50" etc., give a record against the conglomerate. More inclusion from all systems eliminates the RPI's influence over the Nitty Gritty and general impression committee members glean when absorbing all this information.

I’ve been talking in geek speak for a few grafs here, so let me stop for a second and emphasize that I are pretty much everyone else relied heavily on instinct and eye tests, too. That’s a large part of the discussion. Recalling when a team won or lost and what those circumstances came down to. Debating a team’s merit based on its body of work, its best wins and worst losses: all of those things were a backdrop to the shirts vs. skins question.

Beyond all else, right now, who do you take on a neutral court in a shirts against skins game. Go with your hunch if data is too overwhelming and inconclusive.

Another scenario/question the NCAA said gets brought up frequently during the real selection process: Which team would you rather face in the tournament if it started tomorrow? Whatever team looks more appealing, the other one should be the pick. I liked this. Pragmatism helps, and it's good to glance away from the computer screens and go eye to eye with others when breaking down the bracket.

During the process, my partner, Rush the Court founder and EIC Randy McClure (that's him in the indie-rock glasses in the photo above) found ourselves constantly discussing a team’s merit, but also referencing Pom, Sag, LRMC and the NCAA-organized team sheets. We compared rankings and looked for outliers in the process. It was meticulous. We were frequently the last ones to submit our votes for teams as we whittled down the field (this became fodder for Shaheen to tease us), and the reason was we wanted to be thorough.

From that, here’s my conclusion: I don’t think NCAA Selection Committee members are using all available, valuable tools when picking and seeding teams. I think it’s too much information; there’s too much discussion, and the ease of the NCAA team sheets and the debates that come with it are too easy to cling to/subconsciously rely on. You have to open separate web browsers and constantly click band and forth between rankings systems. Why do that when you’ve got basic — and flawed — data in front of you that’s brought up simply by asking, “Can we get a side-by-side of Cincinnati and Middle Tennessee State?”

The process is tedious, because it needs to be, but it's still not completely all-inclusive. We'll know the NCAA truly respects other rankings systems and isn't subjective to the RPI before all else when it takes the initiative to include other credible, established rankings systems into its team sheets, computer program and debates. 

I happily admit, though, for me, whenever it's too close to call, I'll always go back to shirts vs. skins. Who you got?

Posted on: February 15, 2012 10:50 pm

From 20 Ls to 20 Ws, Indiana's made the big turn

Crean got his first 20-win season in five years tonight. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Matt Norlander

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — There are checkmarks to this season (which now seems like, no matter what happens come March, will be one of the most rewarding Tom Crean will ever have) and the most significant one so far came Wednesday night.

The first checkmark, the one no one talks about, was getting out of November with an undefeated record. That was certainly a surprise lost amid the college and pro football and other early-season storylines in college basketball. Then came the Christian Watford 3 to beat Kentucky (still the only loss UK has this season), a dynamite explosion of a shot that’s already considered among the biggest shots in the history of Indiana University basketball. After that, the New Year’s Eve 74-70 home win over Big Ten favorite Ohio State.

Wednesday night brought Crean a 71-66 win over Northwestern, and thus a 20-win season, his first at Indiana in four years. There was  a fuss, a real big fuss, made about the three 20-loss seasons that came before this unprecedented lopsided one in the opposite direction for Crean and his Crimson crew. It came against the perfect opponent, too. Northwestern had caused Crean’s hair to act as a stress doll in years past. His clubs were 1-6 against the Wildcats prior to Wednesday night. Those younger, greener Hoosiers couldn’t defend NU, couldn’t outsmart Bill Carmody’s crew and weren’t good enough to muscle their way past them.

Not Wednesday night. Crean was thrilled with the W not just because it was a win, but because, so many times in a two-hour span, his defense came up with a play to stymie Northwestern’s deceitful attack. And yet the Wildcats were still successful for a large portion of the night. Stopping the slicing backdoor cuts at a 50-percent rate instead of a 65-percent rate is a huge difference against Northwestern. Crean’s team prepared and had enough talent, stamina and discipline to get one of those proud, finally-we-DID-this games, the celebrations and accomplishments that carry more weight in the locker room than with the fan base.

You might think, Oh, it’s just Northwestern. But think about the 1-6 record and the 20-loss seasons and the calls for Crean’s job two years into this tenure. Wins over Kentucky and Ohio State are enthralling and can fly a man home, but it’s because they are expected. Sticking to task and finally — fin-a-lly — winning the way you want to against a team that’s a nightmare of a matchup: just as rewarding.

The Hoosiers came up with answers, but they also came out of the tunnel with Cody Zeller, a component blatantly missing prior to this season. The Indiana freshman who’s playing like one of the five best in the nation had 23 points and seven boards on 9-of-11 shooting in — well isn’t that nice — 30 minutes of play. (There was foul trouble for Zeller, but Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford each contributed 12.)

“It’s the spirit of the defense,” Crean said. "That spirit of the defense and how our attitude has changed."

This team reminds him of his 2005-06 Marquette squad. Crean wears the NCAA tournament watch from that season. It's a simple ticker with a leather strap and gold trim. Without looking closely, you'd never know it was anything special But it's been Crean's reminder this year that he once had a similar team do so much when, initially, little was anticipated. That '05-'06 group was picked to finish 12th in the Big East. Ultimate result? A 10-6 year in the league, a 20-11 record and a seven seed in the tournament. It fell in the first round to Alabama.

This team’s more talented than that group but it’s exceeding expectations just the same.

“[Getting to 20 wins] is not an exclamation point … but it is a bench mark,” he said.

Though it was already going, Indiana essentially locked up a tournament bid Wednesday night. It’s on course to earn a bid that gives it geographic favoritism (reward to the top five seeds in each region) when the bracket is released in less than a month.

It’s a talented group that’s gotten punched in the Big Ten and regressed, somewhat, at some times, to the team it was expected to be this season. More often than not, it’s played beyond that, though. Crean’s coaching himself to a memorable season no matter the outcome.

“We keep getting better. I keep telling people that,” he said.

Many didn’t or still don’t believe that. But the evidence is mountain and Indiana’s now too talented, too experience and too promising to dip back down to those first three years. But no one wants to talk about those 20-losses seasons now.

Crean wouldn’t mind having the conversation. Tangible culmination took place at Assembly Hall Wednesday night. Indiana's made it's big turn toward sustained national relevance and likely continued success. Whatever happens from now through the end of March is more for the scrapbook in an unforgettable year for this program and its grinder of a coach.

Posted on: February 15, 2012 9:10 am

Podcast: Illini, SEC letdowns and mock meetings

Illinois has some serious work to do. If they don't make the tourney, is Bruce Weber out? (Getty Images)

By Matt Norlander

Goodman, Parrish and I got up at the crack of dawn and did this podcast for you. It's not just that we love you that much -- Parrish and Goodman are also that infatuated with their voices that they couldn't go one week without an appearance.

I'm posting this from the Westchester County Airport -- my flight to Indianapolis leaves in a few minutes -- so I don't have time to post the usual earmarks/audio timetable to let you know what we discuss when.

Quickly, some of what is on today's slate:
  • Bruce Weber's job, Shaka Smart and the Illini.
  • The SEC is approaching letdown status.
  • Thomas Robinson vs. Anthony Davis
  • The best non-BCS teams. We don't take Wichita State or UNLV.
  • Goodman and Parrish mocking me for attending the NCAA mock selection meetings, which I'll be at Thursday and Friday. (I'll be at Northwestern-Indian tonight.)

Again, I thank you for taking the time to listen to the podcast--whenever you can. I ask that you, if you like what we're doing here, encourage like-minded hoopheads to subscribe in Tunes as well. Guests like Wally, Jay Bilas, Seth Davis, they're the guys who make me sound better and make the podcast worthwhile. The other guys? Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman, they really make it entertaining, and of course you can count on our trio show each Wednesday. The RSS feed is another way to keep the podcasts coming to you ASAP. We've got a Zune download link as well.

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