Monday, March 11, 2013

Quick Thoughts From the Past Weekend

It was a crazy weekend of college basketball. Well it has been all season, but it got magnified this past weekend. Here's a recap of some of the things that happened.

1) WCC- Loyola Marymount, who had one win in conference all season takes down Santa Clara Friday night in the WCC Quarterfinal, their third win of the conference tournament. Then on Saturday, they lead Gonzaga for most of the first half in their semifinal before losing to the Zags.  Meanwhile, #3 BYU loses Friday night to #6 San Diego, ending any faint hopes the Cougars had at an large.  Then San Diego nearly pulls off another upset Saturday night on Saint Mary's.  Matthew Dellavedova saves the Gaels in overtime and likely locks up an at large bid for SMC.

2) NEC Saturday - The Northeast Conference has one of the best mid major conference tournament setups. All the tournament games are played on the highest seeds home court. In a small conference like the NEC, that makes sense. You get your best crowds on the home court and rewards the teams for the regular season play.

That being said, guess what happened in the NEC semis? Both home teams, Robert Morris and Wagner lost. Not only did they lose, but they got hammered. So your final is #5 Mount St Mary's against #3 LIU. For the third season in a row, the NEC championship runs through Brooklyn.

3) CAA Weekend - For the first time in seemingly ever, the CAA Tournament was played on a true "neutral" site. Well, that's because VCU left the CAA for the A-10. Anyway, Saturday featured three games that were all decided by six points or less, all decided in the last minute. Mason survived a late Drexel rally to win 60-54. Then #2 seed Delaware had to hold off #7 Hofstra 62-57. The Pride had a lead for a good part of that game. Finally JMU barely beat W&M in the last semi.

But all that pales in comparison to yesterday. A year removed from being down to VCU 32-4 in the CAA semifinal before rallying to only lose by ten, George Mason decided to channel the Rams and jump out to a 31-7 lead on Northeastern. Unfortunately for the Patriots, the Huskies went on a 26-2 run to tie the game at 33. Much to their credit, Mason came back and held the lead till very late in the game until Northeastern pulled off the comeback, winning in the last couple of seconds on a Jonathan Lee layup.

Then of course in the finale, what's a CAA Tournament game without controversial officiating. Apparently in the last twelve seconds, Delaware was not affected not by one but two questionable calls. One call had Jarvis Threatt called for being out of bounds. Replays clearly show he was not out of bounds. Then with a couple of seconds left, Jamelle Hagins is called for a foul on what many thought was a jump ball. Devon Moore's two free throws capped a late James Madison rally and the Dukes are in the CAA final for the first time since 1999.  At least we'll finally see a different CAA team make the tournament besides George Mason, VCU and Old Dominion since UNCW won the championship in 2006.

4) OVC Final - With many Power Six conference teams anxiously watching from their TVs or online, Belmont, a team that many thought could get an at large berth if they didn't win their conference tournament had to rally against perennial OVC champion Murray State to force overtime. With the game tied in extra regulation, Racers star player Isaiah Canaan actually dribbles off his foot to cause a backcourt violation. Then Kerron Johnson, a few minutes removed from gashing his chin and playing with w large bandage on his face, calmly hits a short jumper to send the Bruins dancing for the third season in a row.

5) MAAC Weekend - So you're a high seed in the MAAC Tournament? This past weekend wasn't kind to you. In the Quarterfinals on Saturday, #2 seed Rider and #3 seed Loyola lost their games. On Sunday #1 seed Niagara lost to #4 Iona. It was a microcosm of the MAAC season where it seemed six or seven teams could win the conference. Well, if you have #3 LIU hosting #5 Mount St Mary's in the NEC, why not have #4 Iona playing #6 Manhattan in the MAAC.

Even the women's MAAC tournament had an upset where #3 Fairfield went down in flames to #6 Siena. But at least the top two seeds, Marist and Iona are in the final. Both won their two games in the MAAC tournament by double digits.  Their championship will be played today at noon on ESPNU and on Watch ESPN online.

6) Sun Belt - Well, Middle Tennessee State had to go out and lose in the conference semifinal last night to Florida International.  In the possible irony of ironies, FIU may make the tournament in the first season after they suffered through Isiah Thomas as their head coach for several seasons.  Meanwhile, the Blue Raiders, who dominated the Sun Belt with a 19-1 regular season record, have to hope their 28-5 record will be good enough for an at large. Not sure about that.

7) America East - Another #1 seed fell as Stony Brook lost to #4 seed Albany, the host for the first two rounds of the America East Tournament.  The Seawolves rallied from a ten point second half deficit to tie the game at 59 on two Dave Coley free throws.  But Mike Black nailed a layup with less than three seconds left to win the game for the Great Danes.  It was the fourth season in a row that Stony Brook was either the #1 seed or played in the America East Tournament Final and failed to get the automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament.  More on this in a little bit.

8) Power Six Conference Games - Maryland had a chance to help themselves and hurt Virginia last night. But the Terps blew a late game lead on the road and the Cavaliers won in overtime.  Maryland is likely done and Virginia actually gets a first round bye in the ACC tournament with the win. That's because North Carolina State pulled a clunker by losing at Florida State on Saturday.

Kansas could have done a lot of other bubble teams a favor by beating Baylor on the road Saturday.  But the Bears managed to keep themselves alive upsetting #4 Kansas easily 81-58.  The Bears finish 9-9 in conference and with a couple of wins in the Big 12 Tournament, could make things even more interesting come Selection Sunday.

Meanwhile in the SEC, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ole Miss complicated the bubble even further by all winning.  The Wildcats, who supposedly didn't have a good win all season, well they fixed that by beating #9 Florida at home. With the win, Kentucky gets the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament.  The Volunteers held on at home to defeat Missouri 64-62.  And Ole Miss locked up the number three seed in the SEC tournament by winning at LSU 81-68.  It was the Rebels twenty third win of the season.

In the Big Ten, Illinois and Minnesota complicated their matters as far as NCAA Tournament at large bids by both finishing 8-10 in conference.  Meanwhile, Iowa put themselves back into bubble talk by beating Nebraska and finishing 9-9 in conference, good enough for the six seed in the Big Ten Tournament.  The Hawkeyes have twenty wins on the season now.

Finally, I want to discuss how some mid major conferences, the Sun Belt and more specifically, the America East run their conference tournaments.   First, read this terrific quick post by Sports Illustrated's Andy Glockner.  He's dead on with his assessments on how these conferences are not sending their best teams to the tournament.  

In the case of the Sun Belt, you have a 19-1 Middle Tennesee State team whose reward for their impressive regular season was playing a neutral site in Hot Spring Arkansas.  The question is was it worth it to have the conference play the tournament at a neutral site?  The Sun Belt doesn't have a TV agreement with ESPN so their semifinal games weren't even on Watch ESPN.   Also can anyone tell me the attendance for last night's semifinals?  At most, it would be 6200, because that's the capacity size for the Summit Arena, which hosts the Sun Belt tournament.

If the Sun Belt's reasoning for hosting a tournament is having a large crowd, there are several campus sites like Arkansas State (the #2 seed, who also lost last night to #6 Western Kentucky) that have at least a 5,000 seat capacity.  Heck, Middle Tennessee's Murphy Athletic Center can seat over 11,000.  So why not do what the NEC or the Patriot do and have tournament games on home site.  Or reward the #1 seed like the Horizon does and host several rounds or the semifinal round on the #1 seed's site.

It's even worse in the case of the America East.  Since 1996, one conference member has hosted the America East Tournament.  From 1996 to 2001, while Delaware was in the America East, it was the Bob Carpenter Center.  Since then it's been Boston (Matthews Arena - Northeastern and Walter Brown Arena and Agganis Arena, Boston University), Binghamton Athletics Center, Chase Arena, West Hartford and SEFCU Arena in Albany (twice now).

When Hofstra was the #1 seed in the America East in 2000 and 2001, my friend Tieff and I joked each year "We have to survive Delaware (meaning the tourney games in Delaware)".  Fortunately, we didn't have to play the Blue Hens during those rounds those two years (they were the #2 seed and the Flying Dutchmen/Pride played them at home in the championship game).

DefiantlyDutch, who disagrees with me, notes that six times over the seventeen years, the host team has defeated a higher seed in the tournament. So that's one time every three years, which is not a lot, but more than you think.   That also doesn't count the numerous times a higher seed has lost in the first two rounds to a non host member lower seed.  Top seeded teams face a hostile environment because all the fans except your own are rooting against you, including the home team if they are still in the tournament.   And I know the BOB was sold out the last two seasons Hofstra was in the America East Tournament.

And that was the fate of Stony Brook last night.  The #1 seed played the #4 seed on their home court.  And Albany is a pretty good team.  Ask Washington how good the Great Danes are.

The fact is that SEFCU Arena seats 5,000 fans.  So for two days, you had maybe 5000 fans each day. So instead of having 10,000 fans in a league member's site, why not have seven games at highest home team's site.  Wouldn't you end up having more fans see the games overall?  Yes Patrick Gymnasium (Vermont) and Pritchard Gym (Stony Brook) are small gyms.  But even with them and SEFCU and Chase Arena, I guarantee overall more fans see those seven games on home teams' sites than two days in Albany.

Also for these conferences to really show how good they are on a national scene, don't you want to try to have your best teams represent you?  Middle Tennessee State and Stony Brook are good enough to win first round games in the NCAA Tournament.  Kid you not.  But now we won't find that out in Stony Brook's case and won't likely find out in Middle Tennessee's case.

The NEC, the Patriot, the Atlantic Sun, the Horizon and the Ivy, where there is no conference tournament, do things the right way.  They place a high regard on the regular season.  As Glockner notes, that allowed Cornell to get to the Sweet 16 in 2010.  What about Butler's success in the NCAA Tournament?  How about Lehigh vs. Duke last season?  Even Belmont when they were in the A-Sun when they almost knocked off Duke.  They all came from conferences, Ivy, Horizon, Atlantic Sun and Patriot that made the regular season count.  Thus you had the best conference teams representing and in a lot of cases WINNING in the NCAA Tournament.

It's time mid major conferences like the Sun Belt, the Southern and especially America East to start regarding
the regular season more. Heck even the CAA should consider it once their agreement with Baltimore ends.  Otherwise they are only hurting themselves as far as potential national reputation.  And simply put, it's not rewarding a team's regular season accomplishments.

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