For the first time in memory, Digger Phelps had something both fair and correct when discussing the Big East. He said yesterday that that conference was overrated in basketball.
Not only is this true this year, it has been true for most years. The devil in this detail is the way "strength of schedule" plays into the rankings, and the way this affects "major" conference rankings and seeding. The Big Ten is almost as overrated. In the end, this is politics as usual in the NCAA. A way to ensure that big time programs get the upper hand, and how they have benefited from what is this year the most lopsided and unfair seeding in memory. Leading no doubt to wins for schools which would have lost if seeding in the NCAA Basketball Tournament had been more fair and appropriate.
The biggest problem is the treatment of actual records as wholly immaterial to seeding. This is why Virginia Commonwealth was seeded twelfth in the NCAAs, and had to play Wichita State in the so-called "second" round.
VCU is far from a twelfth seed. It has won 29 games. It has won seventeen of its last eighteen games. And it is a tournament veteran team.
However, in the marvelous way they have, the tournament's committee made every win and the winning streak meaningless. Instead, they plucked Connecticut, a miserable team doing little but losing whose coach has been maligned for years and kept them in the tournament as a nine seed.
Comparing the nine teams in the Big East with VCU, there is little doubt but that if the committee had Syracuse play VCU, Syracuse would have lost, even with help from the officials who admit one blown call and in reality had three or four in the second half, helping this barely surviving one seed stay the course after almost losing to UNC-Ashville until they meet someone worth playing.
As is often the case, another of the University of North Carolina's three teams in the tournament, the Tar Heels, was perhaps the worst treated team in the tournament. Just a quick look at their schedule sees that they will face Creighton in the next round, should they both win. Creighton is 28-5. They are first in field goal percentage, second in assists and seventh in scoring. And have almost won 30 games. Creighton could be the second best team in this Midwest Regional despite the presence of Kansas as the likely final eight opponent of one of these two teams. If it gets by eleventh seed NC State, the third University of North Carolina school in the tournament. No easy task given the way they are currently playing. And then, if all plays out as I think, they will get Florida State. Having run through two very tough ACC Conference foes yet another time, a dream of the NCAA tournament committee and a way to keep NC State from the Final Four, UNC plays for all the marbles against Missouri.
Finally, we come to the Big Ten and its perennial champion at getting the best seeding, Michigan State. Remember now, Michigan State has to beat Louisville or another nondescript team to reach the Final Eight. After that, Missouri should make it to the Final Four. The rest of the way, cakewalk for Michigan State.
So here we go for all the Final Four teams: Baylor, Florida State, Missouri and UNC. With UNC the National Champion and Missouri the runner-up. Unless referees, hot shooting teams and stupidity get in the way.