Archive for March 18, 2013

March Madness: 2013 Edition

Posted: March 18, 2013 in Basketball, College

The conference championships are over and the field is set. The tournament is not filled with as many automatics as in the past and there are a number of teams that could pull upsets. The numbers ones are fallible and the number twos have been beaten by teams that did not make the tournament, but that is the best thing about the competitive field.

Starting with the snubs, each of the teams that missed out were only a win or two away from making the field. Maryland had two big wins over Duke and a home win against NC State, but fell three times to UNC and had a very weak non-conference schedule. A win over Kentucky at the beginning of the season and an extra road win in conference would have been better. Virginia had a slightly better placement in the conference and a win over Duke, but their RPI and SOS were also too high. Tennessee may have had the closest argument but failed to get a strong enough record in a weak SEC. Alabama and Kentucky both missed key opportunities in their conference in both the top-50 representatives and early in the conference tournament. Southern Miss is just not in a great conference and lost to Memphis three times, missing a chance to at least take advantage of a power within the conference.

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Now onto the tournament…

314_largeMidwest: Anchoring this region is Louisville, the #1 team of the tournament. With a possible late matchup against Duke, there is a lot of talent in this group. The bulk of the teams in this region seem to be more from the Mid-Majors. Creighton can always be a dangerous team but Memphis is the team to watch out for. The easy prediction would be to say that Louisville can make it out of this region with little challenge. Duke will have to get past both of the Mid-Major powers but will likely not meet up in the region final. There are a number of teams that are vulnerable in this region for beating each other up before meeting with the top 2. Saint Louis and Michigan State are likely upsets early but could make a move if they get a little momentum. Look for Louisville to make the most of their last season in the Big East with more than a conference championship.

233_largeWest: Originally thought to be the outright #1 team, Gonzaga still made it to the big dance with a big position. As the only Mid-Major to get a spot in the top 3 of any region, their road is going to be tough, with possible match-ups with Pitt and Wisconsin before likely meeting Ohio State. Kansas State could be the buster of this region, though Wisconsin/Ole Miss will not be an easy out before meeting the Zags. Notre Dame and Arizona could also be dangerous if they get hot quickly. The top teams in this conference do not have much to worry about as the bottom half are easy outs overall. The strongest team to possibly pull an upset would be Ole Miss, but Gonzaga will likely match up with the Buckeyes or Wildcats as their biggest match-ups.

271_largeEast: Originally sitting at the #1 spot at the start of the season, Indiana is poised to make quite the run. Losing out in their conference semifinal, Zeller and company will be looking for redemption and will have to get passed a couple of teams that really show up come tournament time. Marquette, UNLV and Syracuse are not going to make things easy for Indiana or Miami. In particular, the Orange will look to avenge their conference championship loss with a strong run in the tournament. Probably surprised that they were skipped over for a #1 spot, Miami will be looking to make a statement with a fairly veteran lineup that has been very dangerous. NC State and Butler will also be looking to push against this group, but Indiana will probably rise to the occasion. It may be tempting to pick an upset with Montana and Davidson for their previous success but these are not the same teams.

287_largeSouth: Poised to be the toughest of the regions to get through, Kansas is likely to be in for a real test. After they get passed WKU, they will likely face UNC and have trouble with the 4-guard/shooter lineup. Michigan and VCU will likely make a push as well and face a tough Jayhawk team after a few days rest. On the other half of the region, Georgetown, Florida and UCLA are poised to avoid the early round upsets and meet up with either the Jayhawks, Tar Heels, Rams or Wolverines in the regional final. This is the most exciting region with possible match-ups including UNC-Villanova, Kansas-UNC, Georgetown-Florida, Michigan-VCU and VCU-anyone, if they can get some momentum.

Likely bracket busters include Creighton over Duke (#7 v. #2), New Mexico State over Saint Louis (#13 v. #4), Oregon over Oklahoma State (#12 v. #5), UNC over Kansas (#8 v. #1), Colorado over Illinois (#10 v. #7) and Ole Miss over Wisconsin (#12 v. #5).

The final four is really tough to predict this year, though it is the top half of each region that could fluctuate and all of the #1s and #2s are vulnerable to a tough slate of teams. The finals will probably be Indiana versus Louisville with the Hoosiers claiming their final place atop the college basketball landscape.

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As I have tried to predict and project in the past, most of my recommendations seem to be counter to what is currently happening with the athletics landscape. Rather than be more mindful of the effects by ever-expanding conferences, conference commissioners and their committees seem to be more focused on expanding media networks over supporting a landscape that has more organization and even consideration for a balanced and fair system.

Don’t we want a college football playoff that is fair and balanced and provides opportunities to a number of teams? What about the type of organization (rather than division) that squashes concerns for fair representation, reduced stress on programs financially, reduce pressure on program traveling and maintaining of exciting match-ups and possibilities?

To try to explore this, I have attempted to take the current system and make the pieces fit together by breaking up a specific conference or two and merging the remaining players together. This is actually what currently feels like is happening to the Big East (and possibility relatively soon to the ACC). The problem here is that the conferences feel like they are too overwhelming still and it is not an even distribution of talent or regional area. While it would be nice to consider this from a basketball standpoint as well, I think it is more meaningful to recognize that the market is driven by football and benefited by basketball.

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With this in mind, I will give a reorganization another shot…but, this time, start from scratch.

I first thought about regions. If you break down the country by time zones, the distribution is incredibly imbalanced (34-EST, 25-CST, 8-MDT, 15-PST). Still, this is a great starting point.

For consideration, I have decided to take only the “power” conferences, independents and MWC based on performance and recognition level. If you add up those teams, the final number is 82. An even split to allow for a playoff system would leave each “conference” with 20.5 teams. To get the final numbers to an even level (96 universities), an additional 14 schools would be invited to the final conferences. Also understanding that the team locations are a little imbalanced east versus west, the regions would be adjusted to take this imbalance into account.

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So what would the final conference arrangement look like?

West: Considering that this is the area with the smallest population, this is also the area that may be questionable in terms of expanded talent. Still, some great matchups would still be more than possible. Anchored by the Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington schools, it would resemble the current Pac-12 and MWC.

Air Force, Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, BYU, California, Colorado, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Oregon State, San Diego State, San Jose State, Stanford, UCLA, UNLV, USC, Utah, Utah State, Washington, Washington State, Wyoming

South: Taking pieces of the Pac-12 and the Big 10, the south will mostly be anchored by a combination of the Texas and Arizona schools. Pulling in a little of the SEC, the conference would have a slight challenge with expanse from east to west but would be somewhat managed by a divisional setup.

Alabama, Arkansas, Arkansas State, Auburn, Baylor, Houston, Kansas, Kansas State, Louisiana Tech, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, New Mexico, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, SMU, Southern Mississipi, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Christian, Texas Tech, Tulsa

East: If there is any conference that is typically talked above all others in football, it is the SEC. That is the group that would anchor this conference. Added to the mix would be the core pieces of the ACC, with schools like Miami, Florida State and Clemson to add to the competitiveness.

Clemson, Duke, East Carolina, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Middle Tennessee State, Navy, NC State, South Carolina, South Florida, Tennessee, UCF, UNC, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, West Virginia

North: Though not as successful in the past in championship games, a re-imagined combination of the Big East, ACC and B1G would make for quite the competitive conference. This is the area that has the greatest concentration of schools, so this would also be the conference that would include the most states in the smallest overall area.

Army, Ball State, Boston College, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Kent State, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Wisconsin

There would be a number of snubs from this list of schools, including Bowling Green, Memphis and Louisiana-Lafayette, the remaining schools have not been able to consistently compete against the stronger programs in Division I-A and cannot argue that they would deserve a spot over most of these other schools. They could make up the remaining conferences/divisions in Division I-A or a new conversation could come up about combining the remaining I-A schools with the I-AA schools.

This is obviously only the start of this format discussion. The next step would be to break down the conferences into divisions and sub-divisions, which would compete for the 8 spots in the playoff system. Look back for the next review of this possible new system.

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