AT THE ACC TOURNAMENT DAY TWO—I really didn’t expect much from the basketball here in Greensboro yesterday and I pretty much got what I expected.
None of the four games is going to be sent to the Hall of Fame anytime soon although the winners certainly breathed a sigh of relief. For Virginia, getting a win—any win—was a big deal. The same was true of Miami, although the story of that game was Wake Forest absolutely failing to show up. Georgia Tech-North Carolina was like sitting in a dentist’s chair for two hours since neither team had a point guard who could get his team into an offense. And Clemson-North Carolina State was a typical 9:30 (or in this case 9:45) game in this tournament. Both teams looked tired from the start and the building was more than half empty by halftime. Given that the score was 25-21 you couldn’t really blame people for leaving.
What was most interesting about yesterday—as it is often is—was watching other tournament results come in from around the country. Three of the four Big East double-bye teams lost and the only one that did win, West Virginia, needed an off-balance three at the buzzer to beat Cincinnati. In truth though, none of those upsets really meant anything: Syracuse will still be a No. 1 seed even though it lost to Georgetown. Villanova might drop to a No. 3 because it finished poorly and Pittsburgh might drop one line on the seeding chart. The three winners—Georgetown, Marquette and Notre Dame—were all in the tournament already so their victories simply give them the chance to improve their seeding.
The games that mattered were those involving teams trying to play their way into Sunday’s bracket. Everyone had decided that Washington-Arizona State in the Pac-10 Tournament was going to be an elimination game: winner goes, loser heads for the NIT. Except that Arizona State never made it past Stanford last night and they are OUT. I know they are OUT because I heard Joe Lunardi say it after the game.
I happen to like Joe Lunardi, I’ve known him for a long time. And I give him credit—sort of like Mel Kiper—for making money by doing something my friend Bill Brill has done for about 40 years, usually aided by about four or five beers and little else.
In fact, another of my long time friends, Keith Drum—who once was sports editor of The Durham Herald-Sun but now scouts for the Sacramento Kings—has an idea for the expanded tournament.
“Since ESPN is going to offer the NCAA billions for the tournament rights, they should throw in an extra billion and say, ‘in return for this last billion, we want you to do away with the basketball committee and just put Joe Lunardi in charge,’” Drummer said to me yesterday when we were joking about the minute-to-minute, ‘who’s in and who’s out,’ list.
“Lunardi can start doing hourly updates on January 1. The NCAA will save lots of money not having to fly the committee around and put them up in expensive hotels and it will be good for the teams too: When Joe says a game is a MUST win for them, they’ll KNOW it’s a must win, no ifs ands or buts.”
Personally I think it’s a great idea. Joe can be totally honest about his picks. “I left Villanova out because I work at St. Joseph’s and even if they’re 24-6, the heck with them. They can play in the CBI.”
Jay Wright’s a good guy. He’ll get over it.
Right now the big issue for Joe—and for the overpaid and overpampered selection committee—is how to find 34 teams worthy of an at-large bid. Seriously, there aren’t 34 teams out there, which makes the notion of trying to dig up 65 teams next year even more ridiculous.
Here’s some of the math we did yesterday: The Big East is getting seven at-large bids. (Remember with each of these conferences you add one to get their total because of the automatic bid: Big East gets eight total, seven at-large). The two teams that had a chance to play their way in—Seton Hall and South Florida—bombed out. They’re gone. The ACC is going to get six—yes, Georgia Tech gets in even if it loses to Maryland because there just aren’t any alternatives out there. The Big Ten gets four—again, Illinois may not be worthy but it doesn’t matter. They’re going to get in. The Big 12, which may be the most underrated league in the country, also gets six—even though it feels as if Texas hasn’t beaten anyone since New Year’s. The SEC is going to get three—Florida probably clinched its spot Thursday—and the Pac-10 will get one unless Stanford or UCLA wins the tournament in which case it will get two.
So, the big six conferences have locked down 27 spots—fewer than usual. Obviously there are teams from those leagues that could play their way in over the weekend. But for now let’s stick with 27.
The Atlantic-10 will get at least two at-larges and The Mountain West will also get at least two. The WCC will get one—Gonzaga. Conference USA might get one but having UAB and Memphis lose last night didn’t help. Add all that up and you have 33 teams (at most) with teams like Wichita State, William & Mary and either San Diego State or UNLV hoping for a miracle. The better the favorites do the next few days, the better the chances that one of those teams might sneak in.
That said, none of those schools or the other bubble teams trying to play their way in right now—teams like Minnesota or Tulsa or Mississippi—will have much to complain about if they don’t get in.
Of course if this was a 96-team field all those teams would be in easily and we’d be wondering if Miami’s win over Wake Forest vaulted it over North Carolina for one of the final spots. That’s certainly something to look forward to, isn’t it?
One last note for today: As I watched the Clemson-NC State game with almost no one in the arena, I thought of something Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey said earlier this week. I asked him to compare The ACC Tournament (in which he coached eight times as a Duke assistant) and The Big East Tournament.
Here’s what he said: “At the ACC Tournament you see all the fans from the schools sitting together, wearing their team colors, for the most part very polite, rarely raucous. There are always a lot of ladies in the crowd.
“At The Big East Tournament it’s guy’s night out. People sit with their buddies, regardless of school, they have a few beers and they get into it as the night goes on.
“A few years ago Anthony Solomon, one of my assistants, had his family there. We were playing the late game against U-Conn. His kids were little, maybe six and four. Late in the game we made a big run to get back into the game. There were a couple of guys in U-Conn shirts sitting in front of the Solomon’s. One of them turned around, pointed at the kids and said, “You know don’t you that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.”
On that note, it’s time to go watch some more basketball.