Winners and Losers from the First Week of the NCAAs

published March 22, 2010

After four days and forty-eight games, what do we know that we didn’t know before?

Ivy isn’t stodgy any more: For those whose only image of Ivy League basketball is Princeton’s patient back-door-cutting offense, Cornell’s dynamic game and genuine talent may come as a surprise.  The Big Red became the first Ivy to make the round of 16 since Penn’s Final Four team in 1979.  They’re no fluke; they were the better team against both Temple (ranked eighth in the holy RPI listings) and Wisconsin (who beat all three Big Ten Sweet 16 teams in the regular season).  Cornell’s 78 points against the Owls and 87 against the Badgers were the second-most points those teams gave up all season.

Rock Chalk, Shut Up: Kansas fans were up in arms over the toughest 2-3-4 seeds being placed in their bracket despite KU’s status as number one overall.  Jason Whitlock saw a TV-based pro-Duke conspiracy in the brackets, even though the Midwest 2-3-4 seeds’ RPIs were much worse than those in Duke’s path in the South.  The complaints were rendered moot when Ali Farokhmanesh drilled the stupid shot heard ‘round the prairie, completing Northern Iowa’s epic upset of the Jayhawks.  (Seriously, a three-pointer when you’re up one with 37 seconds to go and thirty left on the shot clock?  That was the ultimate coach’s “No, Ali! No, Ali! No – Good shot!”)  Expect a rash of babies in Northern Iowa to be named Farokhmanesh… or maybe not.

Most Improved Award Goes To: Australia.  Three Aussies start for St. Mary’s, rapidly rising as a team no one should want to play.  Center Omar Samhan, one of just two Californians to start a game for the Gaels this season, was 13-for-16 from the floor, had 32 points, seven rebounds and two blocks against Villanova.  Down the stretch, they kept the ball in the hands of Aussie Matthew Dellavedova, an 85 percent foul shooter who made four in a row in the last minute.

The Power of One: Twenty conferences put one team into the tournament field; only one, Butler, was seeded in the top eight of its bracket.  The teams, expected to win one game, won nine, putting three teams into the regionals (Northern Iowa, Cornell, and Butler).

Eight is Too Many; Five is Enough: So maybe the Big East isn’t the greatest conference in the history of basketball.  Going by the seedings, the eight Big East teams were expected to win twelve games; they won six.  They fell in the first round to teams from the Mid-American, the Colonial, and the Pac-10 (twice), and in the second to teams from the Atlantic Ten and West Coast Athletic.  Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t be a tragedy if the power conferences got fewer berths and the others got a couple more?

Biggest Mystery: Why no split screens, CBS?  Do you have a deal with the NCAA to drive traffic to their March Madness On Demand site?  There have been numerous examples through the first two rounds, including the last minute of Pitt-Xavier and Michigan State-Maryland winding down simultaneously on Sunday.  There’s less overlap in the regionals, but please – don’t make us uni-task again.

How They Stand So Far: Who’s winning the conference battle?  And is the Big East really doing so badly if it has two teams still alive?

One way to look at the standings is to take a simple won-lost look at the conferences.  The records for all conferences with more than one team in the tournament:

Won Lost Pct.

Big Ten                                     7            2           .778

Pac-10                                       3            1          .750

West Coast AC                      3            1            .750

SEC                                             4            2          .667

Big 12                                        6            5            .545

Big East                                     6            6            .500

ACC                                            5            5            .500

Atlantic 10                               2            2          .500

Mountain West                      2            4            .333

Conference USA                  0             2           .000

WAC                                          0             2           .000

A better way is to compare each conference’s results to its expected wins, assuming that the higher seed (lower seed number) is expected to win each game.  Here are the results, taking a percentage by dividing wins by expected wins:

Wins Exp. W W/Exp. W

Pac-10                                       3               1         3.000

West Coast AC                      3               1         3.000

Horizon                                    2               1         2.000

ACC                                            5               5         1.000

Big Ten                                     7               7         1.000

SEC                                             4               5           .800

Big 12                                        6               8           .750

Atlantic 10                              2              3           .667

Mountain West                      2               4           .500

Big East                                     6              12         .500

(No wins were expected from Conference USA or WAC)

Is it Cinderella’s Year?: Let’s not get too excited yet.  The regional finals could easily see two 1-2 matchups, a 1-3, and a 2-5 featuring the likely #1 NBA draft pick.  A Final Four of Duke, Kentucky, Syracuse, and Ohio State would serve to remind us why the first week of the NCAAs is so much more fun than the second.


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