In the next couple days, if not throughout the entire fortnight of the NCAA Tournament, you’re going to read and hear a lot about how weak this year’s college basketball field is — but don’t you believe it.
It’s much worse than that.
That’s not to say there aren’t some very capable, qualified teams at the top of each region, with a great number of them capable of making a Final Four run — because there are. The top four seeds — Ohio State, Kansas, Duke and Pittsburgh — are certainly deserving of their positions, and those spots are meaningful, since the last four national champions have all been No. 1 seeds, and 16 of the 26 champions crowned since 1985 have begun their marches to glory as the favorites in their respective tournament regions.
It’s the bottom half of each region, however, that will be most compelling to watch, but not in a good way. The No. 9 through 16 seeds will be must-see TV in the same way that Kirstie Alley is on “Dancing With the Stars.”
In other words, if a northwest-bound train carrying a 14-loss SEC team leaves Knoxville at 7:45, and a southeast-bound train on the very same track leaves Ann Arbor at 8:15 carrying a 13-loss Big Ten team ... well, you get the picture. You can’t look away.
The 2011 NCAA field features teams with more losses than any other since the tournament expanded to 64 teams. Even discounting automatic qualifiers with below-average records, which conference tournaments have wrought, the at-large bids granted by the selection committee are just dripping with mediocrity.
Ready for some of the ugliest numbers this side of Kirstie’s “Dancing” weigh-in?
Of the 37 at-large qualifiers announced on Sunday, 13 of them have 11 or more losses on their records.
Of those 13 teams, seven of them have actually suffered defeat 13 times or more. For perspective, consider that there have never been more than THREE schools with that many losses in a single tournament in the 64-team era.
Even worse: There are five teams that have qualified for the championship tournament, aka the “playoffs,” with 14 or more losses on their résumés, including Marquette, Michigan State, Penn State, Tennessee and USC.
And again, to provide perspective: There have been just six teams with that many losses who have made the field in the past 26 NCAA tournaments ... combined.
Sadly enough, it didn’t have to be this way. There were better teams that could have, and should have, been rewarded with bids that would have made for much better matchups.
Harvard, for example, was a far more deserving team at 26-6, with a 12-2 mark in the Ivy League and an RPI — a ranking system the committee uses to judge teams on with the lower the number the better — of 35 than, say, VCU, which finished 23-11, didn’t win their conference regular season or tourney title, with an RPI of 51.
Guaranteed, the Rams had to pull their warmups back out of the equipment closets Sunday, where they had neatly packed them away for the offseason following their loss to Old Dominion in the Colonial Tournament last week.
And what about St. Mary’s? At 23-8 with a 47 RPI, how does it miss the tournament while USC strolls into one of the “First Four” matchups at 19-14 with an RPI of 68?
No, this tournament won’t be pretty, but I’ll say this for it: It’s not the BCS.
So it’s got that going for it.
Which is nice.
Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@
Odds to win 2011 NCAA basketball championship:
|San Diego State||12-1|
*According to World Features Syndicate
Conferences with the most NCAA Tournament bids:
11 Big East
7 Big Ten
5 Big 12, Southeastern
4 Pac-10, Atlantic Coast
3 Mountain West, Atlantic 10, Colonial Athletic