Monday, April 20, 2009

CAA Transfers and Lunardi Gets It Right

The CAA has several players in the past couple of weeks transfer. First, JMU sophomore guard Ben Ratner realized the numbers game with the Dukes and decided best to transfer. Next, UNC Wilmington lost their two best freshman, as Kevon Moore and Jerel Stephenson have decided to transfer. This means this past season's stunningly bad Seahawks are now even worse. Coach Benny Moss' job is on the line this season. Seldom used Northeastern forward Erik Etherly transferred to Loyola Md. Finally, VCU's starting point guard, Joey Rodriguez, decided to transfer after coach Anthony Grant left to take the Alabama job. With the loss of Eric Maynor due to graduation and now a two year starter in Rodriguez, again I ask, is Larry Sanders soon to follow.

This past week, Joe Lunardi wrote two terrific articles on ESPN "Re-examining the At-Large Eye Test",and the followup, "Making the Case for Mid-Majors". In the first article, Lunardi discusses how the NCAA picks teams from the BCS conferences over non BCS teams that may be more deserving. Lunardi puts it "As in when 'doing everything you reasonably can' isn't enough to get into the NCAA tournament ahead of the big boys. Lunardi bases it on the following;

A few years back, a conscious and well-meaning distinction was made between the 34 "best" teams for at-large consideration and the 34 "most deserving." The former took precedence over the latter, whereas for me they had always been one and the same. I disagreed with the distinction at the time, and I am fundamentally opposed to it today.
Isn't it great that the NCAA, otherwise known in this column as No Clue At All, made that distinction?! If you read Lunardi's article, he uses various statistical categories to show that three teams, San Diego State, Wisconsin and Creighton warranted selection over Arizona, St Mary's and Penn State. Of course, Wisconsin did make it but Arizona made it over more worthy San Diego State or Creighton.

Lunardi also talks in the article about the NCAA selection committee using RPI more than they say they do.

The NCAA maintains that it only uses the RPI as an organizational tool, yet every team data sheet available to the committee is stuffed with RPI breakdowns. Teams are voted into the tournament because of things like top 50 wins (Arizona) and excluded because of an RPI subset like a sub-300 nonconference schedule (Penn State). That sounds like more than organization to me; it sounds like applied evidence.
If the NCAA is going to use pieces of the RPI for its selections, it might as well use the whole RPI set of criteria for its selections. Be consistent. Oh I forgot, this is the NCAA (more on that in a second).

I had a different take on who I thought was worthy for selection, as when I made my case for Creighton and St Mary's back in March, two teams that I thought that did 'everything they reasonably can" to make the tournament. But as a good friend of mine in college basketball has stated to me, each NCAA Tournament Selection Committee uses a different set of rules to justify their selections. In other words, no set criteria whatsoever. God forbid using a Moore Primer!

The second Lunardi article is even better. In that article, Lunardi comes right out and says the following in the beginning of the article.

What I object to is the at-large selection of a team (Arizona) to play for a national championship (twice, actually) with an 18-21 record in its own conference over the past two seasons. If you can't win at least half the time in your own league, what makes you worthy to compete for a championship against the best teams from every other league?
This is exactly what I noted in my article a month ago entitled "Just Some Post Selection Sunday Thoughts".

Message to the NCAA. Stop rewarding mediocrity. Stop giving .500 conference teams at large bids that go 2-9 on the road (with the two wins over the worst two teams in the PAC-10) because they won big home games and have a 25 year reputation..."
Finally, someone else gets that!

Lunardi goes on further to say the Jay Bilas idea of having "The best 64 teams in the tournament", thus getting rid of the automatic berths for low mid major conferences, would not work (more on that in a future posting). As Lunardi puts it, this would result in "a split on the order of the Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision", that would in large part result in the question of whether the remaining upper division schools could schedule 30 games on a season.

But the main point of Lunardi's article comes up in the next couple of paragraphs. Lunardi actually breaks down the NCAA tournament records of teams with losing conference records that make the NCAA Tournament (taking into account not only the regular season but their conference tournament records - mostly one and done) . He also compares it to the record of non-BCS conference teams.

Overall, these 46 teams -- despite an average seed of 8.9 -- have won less than 40 percent of their NCAA tournament games (.395 to be precise). In the past 10 years, the numbers are even worse (13 teams, .350 winning percentage), when, by seeding, the figure should be much closer to 50 percent. Dare I suggest that we can do better than have losing conference teams in the NCAA tournament field?

Non-BCS at-large candidates, by comparison, win an even 40 percent of the time -- this despite being seeded to lose (a 10.9 seed average, two spots worse than their BCS counterparts) and less favorable geographic placement. We also have seen a Final Four team from this group -- George Mason, 2006 -- as well as four others in the Elite Eight.

Well, lo and behold, statistics that prove my point. Teams that are considered mid major or non power conference teams DO BETTER than mediocre BCS teams in the Big Dance. In fact, Lunardi states that in the 25 years since the 64/65 team format, 46 teams (FORTY SIX!) with losing conference records have made the NCAA Tournament. Of those 46, only six made the Sweet 16 and only one, NC State in 1986, made the Elite Eight. In other words, they are usually one and done.

But here's a scarier statistic. In light of mid majors doing phenomenally well in the NCAA Tournament in recent years, look what's happened

This all is such a big deal because, in spite of what you might have heard, the power conferences are a bit of a "closed system" with respect to scheduling. Membership in the BCS leagues has not changed in the past three years. Yet the number of games played by BCS schools against their closest competitors -- the Atlantic 10, Conference USA, MVC, Mid-American, Mountain West and WAC -- continues to decline. It has dropped more than 7 percent, in fact, in just the past two years. Worse, the non-BCS schools get home games against their BCS rivals less than a quarter of the time and neutral court matchups only slightly more often.
Think about it. In light of all the facts stating how non BCS schools fare as at large teams, if you are a big conference school, how do you make sure that you improve your chances of making the NCAA tournament? Schedule less games against the non BCS schools. I remember vividly Dick Vitale, of all people, making this case on the ESPN NCAA Post Selection Show and Jay Bilas shooting him down. Well guess what Jay, Dick is right and Lunardi just proved it.

So how do you solve this problem of the NCAA Selection Committee selecting mediocre BCS teams that go nowhere anyhow (Arizona folks was a fluke this season, lets face it)? Look at what Lunardi's solution would be.

Here's something the BCS folks should understand: You have to be tournament-eligible (just like being bowl-eligible in college football). I've written it a thousand times. Show me at least a .500 conference record -- and I'll even give you the chance to reach it (or blow it) in your conference tournament -- and I'll show you an at-large bid. If not, too bad.

The public, I think, understands this intuitively. The NCAA tournament should be for winners, and there is 25 years' worth of data supporting the notion. If that doesn't work for NC State or Alabama or Iowa State or Providence, no one is holding a gun to their heads to stay in power conferences (and I highly doubt we'll see a sudden exodus).

Now does that sound familiar? Look what I wrote a month ago, in the same article I mentioned above, right after the NCAA Selection Show.
If the NCAA had the kahones to do it, there would be an easy way to solve the at large bid process. This is something I am pretty sure I have noted before too. To be considered for an at large berth, you must have an above .500 conference record during the regular season.

Of course, below .500 conference teams can make the tournament by winning the conference tournament, but this way it makes teams EARN their way into the dance and doesn't reward mediocrity.

If you had this policy in place, the following teams wouldn't even had been under consideration; Maryland, Arizona, Minnesota and Michigan. There are a lot of angry Penn State fans tonight who would have been probably appeased had this rule been in effect. Chances are Penn State, 10-8 in the Big Ten would be in the dance as a result.
Lunardi says you have to be at least .500. To me, that's mediocrity. So I take it a step further. You have to be ABOVE .500. Unlike my case, in Lunardi's case, Maryland, Arizona and Minnesota would not have made it. Michigan would have. But that's ok, I would settle for Lunardi's criteria. Based on his criteria, you would have on average, two more teams from non BCS conferences that actually earned their way into the dance.

But the fact is, that will never happen. The No Clue At All won't allow that to happen. God forbid we have set criteria. But as Lunardi says isn't the idea "that every team in the field actually achieve something"? Or as I put it "As a result you will have an even better tournament. Isn't that the idea?! "

Yeah that's the idea. As Lunardi says, "There's still a place for a 7-9 team, by the way. It's called the NIT. " Yup, and don't worry guys, CM Newton will take care of you there.

Ladies and Gentleman, there's a new Mid Majors Champion. His name...Joe Lunardi. Maybe, just maybe more important voices like Lunardi's will pop up and maybe, just maybe, that .500 conference criteria might finally get put in place.

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