An Annual Tradition: Complaining about Bracket Selection

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The time has come at last. The brackets have been selected by the buffoons in their basement bunker in Indianapolis and as is tradition they have made some truly egregious picks. I’m not talking about some of the minor screw ups with seed numbers for smaller teams (Valpo could have been a 12 seed, UCI could have been a 14 seed… little stuff like that) or even bigger teams (Baylor scares me as a 3 seed and I would have been more comfortable with them as a 4 or even 5 seed), but rather talking about errors that frustrate the integrity of the process. So without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the worst looking decisions of this season’s edition.

Who Got Snubbed?

Let’s get the depressing part of the article out of the way first before we move on to the anger inducing portion. But first let’s buzz through the teams that played the lead role in their own demise.

The “Didn’t do enough… It’s your own fault” Division

First up on this list are the schools from major conferences that had everyone opportunity to secure major wins, but just didn’t come through. All these teams are Tournament caliber teams, but at the end of the day there just wasn’t enough on their resume to let them in.

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Texas A&M had great positioning to make the field, but an early exit from the SEC Tournament to a far inferior Auburn team (not to mention back to back losses to Florida and Alabama to close out the regular season) sank their battleship so to speak. No problems with Texas A&M being left out.

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Rhode Island would have been a FANTASTIC feel good story, and I was rooting for it as hard as anyone, but without any real signature wins on their resume, and with some ugly losses to the likes of Georgia Tech, UMass, and St. Joes we all knew they were likely out of it if they didn’t win the A-10. Still though, its a major disappointment after they had such a solid performance in an underrated basketball conference. Next year, however, they’re simply going to need to play a few more Big Conference teams in their non-conference slate if they hope to have enough of an insurance policy to make the Tournament. That early season win against Nebraska looked great at the time, but once Nebraska imploded over the course of the season, Rhode Island no longer had anything they could hang their hat on, and it cost them.

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Central Michigan had a stellar regular season. They were clearly the best performing team in a VERY good and VERY competitive MAC this year. They got all the way to their conference title game and even then barely fell short. They were never the most talented team in the MAC (Buffalo takes that crown and even Kent State and Akron may have had more talent across the board) but they played better than any of those guys all season long. At the end of the day, however, whereas teams like Buffalo went out of conference to play Kentucky, Wisconsin, and heck even Robert Morris who turned out to be a Tournament team, Central Michigan has nothing to boast of in their non-conference slate, and therefore anything short of a conference tourney win likely wouldn’t be enough.. and it wasn’t.

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Green Bay has come tantalizingly close to the Big Dance each of the past seasons without coming out on top in the Horizon. As such its especially sad to see them miss out again with this particular group of guys, but it’s awfully hard for an 8 loss Mid Major to secure an at large bid. Still, they went 2-4 against Tournament teams this year (and knocked off fellow bubble team and then #15 in the country Miami) and scheduled well in the non-conference (a home and home with Georgia State and a road trip to Wisconsin). In the end, however, the Horizon League beat up on one another too hard for more than 1 team to come out apparently and this time around Valparaiso came out on top.

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Richmond is a team that a lot of national people have discussed as a major snub, but I’m not as convinced. The major argument (and it is a good one) for why they should have been in boils down to how well they were playing right before the Tournament. 7-3 in their last 10 with a win over VCU. However, they really did nothing in the non-conference, and got pretty badly beaten up in the A-10 all year long, so to be completely honest I think they’re correctly placed in the NIT.

True Snubs: The “We did everything you asked us to do except win our Conference Tournament” Division

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Old Dominion is yet another sad case. They were the darling of the nation in the first half of the season after opening the season 13-1 with wins over LSU (Tournament team) Richmond (NIT team) VCU (tournament team and then ranked #14) Georgia State (Tournament team) and William and Mary and Mary (NIT Team). That is an incredibly impressive slate, and it seemed all but over that ODU would win Conference USA and punch their ticket to the big dance. However, they ended up losing 5 games in a very weak Conference-USA which apparently damaged their resume to the point that they needed to win the conference’s automatic bid to qualify. They did not, and they’re out. Personally I’m more mad about this one than any of the previous examples we’ve discussed. The Committee says they want tough non-conference slates for Mid Majors. Check. They say they want you to WIN those games. Check. They want you to dominate your conference. 13-5 was still good enough for 2nd place in C-USA, so I can’t see why they should be punished this hard for that. As far as I see it ODU did almost everything right, and STILL the Committee sat back and said “nah, don’t care.” Very frustrating.

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Iona is another frustrating one for me because they legitimately could have made some noise and provided some excitement in the NCAA Tournament with their high octane offense. Instead they’re off the to NIT. Admittedly their non-conference wasn’t great as they lost to Arkansas and Wofford but they beat several good teams in Florida Gulf Coast, and Wake Forest. Morever, I feel like they should at least be given credit for scheduling teams like Arkansas out of a division in the MAAC where Power Conference teams are loath to schedule you. Moreover, Iona absolutely thrashed the MAAC going 17-3, and I have a hard time understanding what sets them apart from a Davidson or an Ole Miss.

Temple

Next on the list is every Power Conference team’s Tournament nightmare Temple. Year after year they somehow manage to beat superior teams with little to no offense but infuriatingly tight and gritty defense. This year was no different as Temple BLEW OUT 2 seeded Kansas by 23 (!!!!!!!!) points this season and finished a respectable 13-5 in the American. All in all Temple definitely deserved a Tournament, but we had to make way for some jank so no cigar… because reasons…

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And this one is really depressing. The Mountain West Conference has worked its way up to a point where it now sits just outside the Power Five in both major sports, football and basketball. And yet their teams still get no respect when it comes to selection time apparently. Just like ODU Colorado State was a Mid Major darling to open the season after they ripped off 14 straight wins including wins over in state rival from a Power Conference Colorado, NIT Teams in UTEP, Montana, and Charleston Southern and 3 wins over NCAA Tournament teams with New Mexico State, Boise State, and Georgia State. As far as I can tell that is exactly what the committee is asking programs to do. Moreover, they finished a respectable 13-5 in a good Mountain West (that had 5 Tourney caliber teams but only put 3 into the field). Not to mention the little nugget that with 27 wins Colorado State and our next snub were tied for the highest win total to EVER be snubbed from the NCAA Field in its entire history. The fact that some of the teams we’ll discuss in a second made the field when Colorado State didn’t is an absolute joke.

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Murray State, just like Colorado State finished with 27 wins. Again, 2nd most ever for a team snubbed from the NCAA Field. Sure they lost to a good Belmont team in their Tournament Finals, but what is perplexing to me is that the Committee never even CONSIDERED them as an at large. They gave lip service to Colorado State, Temple, and even RICHMOND, as among the “First Four Out” but Murray State has been completely left out of the conversation. I get it. Their non-conference slate was bad. But the OVC was solid this year with good teams in Tennessee Martin, Belmont, and Eastern Kentucky and Murray went SIXTEEN AND 0 in conference. I can’t help but feel that some sort of change needs to happen in this system. No matter what caliber your conference is, if you go undefeated in Conference that should count for an automatic bid just like winning your conference tournament does. It frustrates me that we don’t reward teams like Murray for FIVE MONTHS of EXCELLENT work where they did nothing but win (literally… they didn’t lose a game between November 30th and March 7th) but do reward teams like Hampton who, with all due respect, were bad all year long, got hot for 4 days, and now get to play in the NCAAs. Murray was great all year, and would have been incredibly exciting to watch with sophomore guard Cameron Payne if the Tournament Committee had been able to remove their heads from their posteriors long enough to realize it.

If a team like Murray with the season they’ve had doesn’t make the Tournament then something in the system needs to be changed. That fact will only be all the more painfully obvious once we take a look at the teams that made it INSTEAD of Murray, Colorado State, and Temple.

The “Who has Naked Pictures of the Tournament Committee?” Division

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Good Lord?!?!?! How is this even possible?!?!!? UCLA is in the Tournament?!?! The Pac-12 has been the worst basketball conference of the Big 5 for several years now. Arizona is good, but after that it becomes uniformly crap throughout (with rare exceptions). And UCLA is no exception to this rule. They have beaten ONE ranked team all year long, (#15 Utah) and even that was at home which makes it less impressive. Especially when you consider the fact that they lost to Utah by THIRTY TWO POINTS when they played them in their building… In fact… 8 times this season UCLA has lost by double digits, and many of those weren’t even that close. These were brutal beatdowns. AND anytime they played anyone outside of the atrocious Pac-12 or any good team they got murdered.

November 27 vs. UNC – 22 point loss

December 13 vs. Gonzaga – 13 point loss

December 20 vs. Kentucky – 39 point loss (and they only scored 7 points in the first half!!!! SEVEN!!!!!!)

January 4 vs. Utah – 32 point loss

January 24 vs. Oregon – 18 point loss

This team is terrible. I have a hard time understanding why wins over Washington, Washington State, and USC (none of whom are in the NCAA Tournament or even the NIT mind you) and a 6 points loss to Arizona counts as “getting hot” and “playing better lately” to justify a tournament bid for the Bruins. This is clearly an example of favoritism on the part of the Committee, choosing to put a once great power program into the field to generate story-lines and ratings for TV (a theme we will unfortunately see again in this article).

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Ugh. The Indiana Hoosiers. While the Pac-12 is down and has been recognized as being down for some time, the Big 10 this season is still clinging to the remnants of its reputation from the last couple seasons as College Basketball’s premier league. Which it is not. Don’t get me wrong. Wisconsin may very well be the second best team in the country. However, the dropoff after them is staggering. There is no scenario where the Big 10 deserved to put 7 teams into the field, and the primary reason for that is the fact that IU should be in the NIT.

Unlike most Mid-Major teams which are lucky if they even get ONE crack at a power conference team on the road in a hostile environment, Indiana, like all Power Conference teams, gets multiple cracks at top tier teams to pad their resume throughout the year. And what did Indiana do with these opportunities? Well, in large part they squandered them. Indiana are 4-12 this season against Tournament Teams. So forgive me for asking, but why does a 25% win percentage against Tournament teams (which included a loss to 13 seed Eastern Washington IN BLOOMINGTON mind you) earn you a ‘secured’ place in the field (because lest we forget, Indiana weren’t even part of the “last 4 in” … the committee had them as a LOCK to make the field). Are you really trying to tell me that Murray State, Colorado State, or Temple couldn’t win 1 game out of 4 meetings with the likes of a rebuilding Michigan State, a one man band in Ohio State, Iowa (does anyone remember one impressive thing Iowa has done all year besides getting blown out by Texas and Syracuse in back to back games?) or Purdue (your typical “try hard team” they play well and work hard, and deserve to be in the field, but they’re not actually good). Give me a break. The fact that we threw out those bubble teams for the likes of UCLA and Indiana is a joke. Again… you have a blue blood program from the past making the field on a reputation which is 30 years from being fresh… cool… keep working those TV Ratings guys.

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Texas is a tough one for me to write about. If you look at their roster on paper, and even if you watch these guys on the court, they are, by all accounts, a Tournament team. The amount of length, athleticism, and general basketball ability on this team is absolutely staggering. This team should have been a top 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The only problem is their performance. They were absolutely abysmal this year once they got into Big 12 play. Now, the Big 12 was the best conference in college basketball this year so that might help explain some of this, but TEXAS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE REASON THE BIG 12 WAS SUPPOSED TO BE SO GOOD.

They were solid in the non-conference with an 11-2 record. Moreover, 1 of those losses was to #1 Kentucky (excusable) but the other was to Stanford… from the horrendous Pac-12… not good. And once they hit Big 12 play everything fell apart. Texas with 8-10(!!!!!!!) in the Big 12 to finish with a 19-12 regular season record… NOT a tournament team. Moreover, they didn’t help themselves in teh Big 12 Tournament, going 1-1 by beating Texas Tech in the opening round and then immediately losing to eventual Champion Iowa State. In fact, Texas went 4-12 against NCAA Tournament teams, and one of those wins was against #15 seed NDSU… They, just like Indiana, were given a myriad of opportunities to build an impressive resume and failed nearly every time. But hey… at least the Tournament Committee was consistent… just like an unequivocally positive regular season resume didn’t matter for Murray State… an unequivocally bad one didn’t matter for Texas… they just pick the teams they want regardless of what happened in the regular season.

Bonus Anger

My complaints aren’t restricted to teams that did or did not make the field, however, as I have a couple major complaints that I want to touch on really quickly in regards to seeding.

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Georgetown deserves to be in the field. That isn’t up for debate. However, the Committee, for some reason, gave them a FOUR seed… This would mean the Committee thinks they are somewhere between the 13th and 16th best team in the country in spite of the fact that they have never been ranked higher than 21 all season and have consistently LOST their ranking the week after they earned it all season long.

Georgetown’s situation becomes even MORE curious when you compare their 4 seed to Big East Conference-mate Butler’s 6 seed. Now, Butler, I feel, is properly seeded. However, I also feel that Butler and Georgetown at parity… ergo Georgetown should be a 6 seed. Butler and Georgetown both flirted with low rankings in the top 25 all season long, never handing on to their rankings for too long, but Butler actually topped off at a 15 ranking (too high) and more consistently was at 18 or 19 (probably accurate). Moreover, Butler actually finished 1 slot ahead of Georgetown in the Big East standings, so how, exactly, did Georgetown get a 4 seed and Butler a 6? Georgetown swept Butler in the regular season, and went a grand total of 1 game further in the Big East Tournament (where they both were upset by the same team, Xavier) so I could see Georgetown getting seeded ahead of Butler at perhaps a 5 seed, but the difference between a 4 seed and a 6 seed is far too great for whatever disparity may be present here.

Georgetown is definitely one of the 50 best teams in the country, but definitely not one of the best 20, let alone a pencil in for Sweet 16. This is yet another example of the committee unfairly rewarding programs for achievements from multiple decades ago. They think (probably correctly) that Georgetown drives ratings so let’s give them a 4 seed no matter how undeserved it is. Whatever. They’re probably going to lose in the first round to an Eastern Washington team that is playing like garbage anyway so who cares right? Well… here’s the problem… if Georgetown gets a 4 seed that they most assuredly DO NOT deserve… it means they took it from someone else…

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Georgetown probably should have been a 5 seed, but they got a 4. So who’s 4 seed did they steal? The Univeristy of Northern Iowa Panthers. UNI picked up only 2 losses in their non-conference schedule before obliterating the Missouri Valley Conference and ending the year at a staggering 30-3. There were a grand total of SIX total teams to win 30 games this year in NCAA College Basketball. Kentucky (34-0, #1 seed), Wisconsin (31-3, #1 seed), Arizona (31-3, #2 seed), Gonzaga (32-2, #2 seed), Villanova (32-2, #1 seed), and UNI (30-3, 5 seed). Notice anything funny lookin’ about that list? Like… ohhhh… I don’t know… maybe the fact that EVERYONE on that list is a top 2 seed except for UNI who is a FIVE?!?! seed?!?!?!

Now, I understand that going through the Missouri Valley isn’t as difficult as going through the Big 27, The SEC, or even the horrendous Pac-12 and Meh Big East, but the comparison to the West Coast Conference is where it all falls apart. There were 2 good teams and 1 great team in the WCC this year. Gonzaga was great, and BYU and St. Mary’s were both good. The MVC, on the other hand, had 2 great teams in UNI and Wichita State, and UNI came out on top. I’m not saying that UNI deserves a 2 seed, because they don’t. And I’m not saying Gonzaga DOESN’T deserve their 2 seed (they do… and had to work hard for over a decade to earn enough national respect to secure high seeds like this out of a mid major conference) but I have a very hard time believing the disparity is as large as 3 seed spots (aka 12 ranking spots).

Even more frustrating is the fact that historically 5 seeds are the most likely ‘high seeds’ to be upset by a double digit seed in the first round of the Tournament. So this isn’t just an issue of “ohhh its ok its not like the different between a 4 seed (which UNI deserved, but which the committee egregiously decided to give to an undeserving Georgetown instead) and a 5 seed (which UNI got) is that big” because it is. Now, UNI lucked out with Wyoming as their opening opponent, but I can’t help but look at these 2 seedings and be furious with the cavalier and irrational manner in which the Committee goes about organizing this thing.

These mix ups aren’t the end of the world. At the end of the day we still get to see great basketball, and most of the time the snubbed / undeserving / mis-seeded teams aren’t going to be winning any titles anyway. However, its really frustrating that this Tournament which is constantly billed as a great equalizer in sports, where Cinderellas are championed and “everyone gets their fair shot to enter,” is such a fraud. The Committee repeatedly rewards undeserving teams from major conferences with basketball pedigree and history instead of rewarding the teams who rightfully deserve it in a given season. But o’well… at least we can revel in Georgetown losing, right?

If there weren’t mis-seedings, there wouldn’t be upsets I guess.

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Madness Previews: The Big 12 – Best Conference in College Basketball

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March is a time of basketball related rejoicing. The NCAA Tournament starts midway through the month, but in the early weeks we get a flurry of fantastic college basketball with the various conference tournaments which will help decide the field for the Big Dance. I’m going to take a look at each conference, try (almost certainly unsuccessfully) to pick the winner, and determine whether anyone from that conference can make some noise, come Tourney Time. So with that, onward and upwards amigos! 

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The Big 12. Known primarily as the home to a veritable cornucopia of Texas Schools and football powerhouses. This is the conference that popularized the spread offense in College Football and is, year in and year out, one of the countries best football conference. This year, however, they also just happen to be the nations best College Basketball Conference bar none. They’ve been very good for a long time now with Kansas being a constant contender in the Bill Self Era, and with Texas’s Rick Barnes and Baylor’s Scott Drew being dominant forces on the college basketball recruiting scene, but this year the conference on a whole has taken things to another level. They’re certainly not as deep as a conference like the ACC, but the nearly every team in the Big 12 this year is a tournament caliber team, so let’s take a look.

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The bottom of the league isn’t great, but its a heck of a lot better than a lot of the Power 5, including the ACC. Texas Tech has been rebuilding for an eternity, and sooner rather than later Tubby Smith is going to have them back in gear, and winning, but they’re still a few years away. TCU had a horrendously soft non-conference schedule in all truth, but hey… this still managed to open the season 13-0 with wins over 3 teams from Power Conferences, one of whom (Ole Miss) has a very good chance at making the NCAA Tournament this year, so they’re not nearly as awful as say a Wake Forest in the ACC, USC in the Pac 12, or Penn State in the Big 10. They’re solid, if not NCAA Tournament quality, and if you threw them in the SWAC or the Sun Belt, we’d probably talking about them as potential Tournament team. Kansas State has had a ton of success in the past, and are definitely rebuilding now under new head coach Bruce Weber, but that didn’t stop them from grabbing 5 wins against Tournament teams this year (2 against Oklaoma, 1 against each of Kansas, Baylor, and Iowa State). So even the bad teams in the Big 12 look pretty impressive at times. But now let’s take a look at the teams that will probably be playing in March. By my estimation (and bracketing wizard Joe Lunardi’s as well) the Big 12 should fairly comfortably put 7 teams into the NCAA Tournament… either the most or tied for the most of any conference in college basketball. So without further ado let’s meet them.

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Okie State has taken quite a bit of a step back since losing All American Point Guard Marcus Smart to the NBA over the summer. However, while I for once thought they’d be out of NCAA Tournament contention all year, they’ve shocked me by putting up solid numbers all season long and forcing their way into the NCAA conversation. A big reason for this is the addition of troubled transfer PG Anthony Hickey from LSU. Kentucky native Hickey was a great player for LSU but troubles off the court made him too much to handled and the school finally decided to part ways with him after last season in hopes that he could get his life together elsewhere. Elsewhere turned out to be Oklahoma State where Travis Ford has experience rehabilitating troubled Point Guards, specifically with Smart last season so its no surprise to see him land on his feet there.

(Photo Credit: KT King, The Oklahoman)

(Photo Credit: KT King, The Oklahoman)

 

Also, its not like the cupboard was left bare after Smart left. Phil Forte III was already good last season and finally took the final step up to full stud status this season. But Le’Bryan Nash is the real star of this team. He’s a borderline NBA lottery pick, and guaranteed first rounder this off-season, and is one of the best players in a stacked Big 12. The Cowboys might not have as much depth as some other Big 12 teams, but with those 3 at the helm there’s no way they should miss the NCAA Tournament this year. I doubt they’ll make it very far once they get there, but I know nobody would be happy to see Okie State as their first round opponent.

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Next come the preseason top 10 Texas Longhorns. The Longhorns are a complicated story this year as they’ve been absolutely eaten up in conference play. I’m not certain what’s wrong with this team, but they are FAR better than a 19-12 overall, 8-10 Big 12 record indicates. The length and athleticism on this roster with Myles Turner, Jonathan Holmes, Cameron Ridley, and even Connor Lammert should be absolutely overwhelming teams, and WAS at times in the non-conference, but something just went wrong in conference play. Admittedly, part of that was probably just the fact that the Big 12 is so good, but either way if they miss the Tournament it may very well cost Rick Barnes his job, which would be a shame, but heck… maybe coaching is the problem. I’m skeptical that’s really it, because even though Rick Barnes isn’t a Coach of the Year caliber guy, he’s certainly near the top of the game, and an elite recruiter.

Just look at that wingspan! Myles Turner is a freak, and I desperately want to see him play in the NCAA Tournament (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Just look at that wingspan! Myles Turner is a freak, and I desperately want to see him play in the NCAA Tournament (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

 

Either way its baffling that this team could miss the Tournament. I hope they make it, and if they get there they could easily make a deep run when they get to match up with some less athletic and less talented non-Big 12 teams for once, but they might need a deep run in the Big 12 Tourney to punch their ticket. This further complicates matters in that of all the teams in the Big 12 there is probably only 1 that they have a naturally bad matchup against… Iowa State. Texas just can’t really stop Georges Niang, and its been a real problem for them this season. So… who does Texas get matched up with in the second round of the Big 12 Tournament? … Iowa State… I hope they can make the NCAA Tournament, and have high hopes for them if they get there, but they’re skating on thin ice right now.

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West Virginia is a team that I have to admit I don’t really understand. I get the fact that Bob Huggins has been a great coach for the entirety of his basketball coaching career, regardless of whatever struggles he may have off the basketball court. And I get that Juwan Staten and Devin Williams are a great 1-2 punch that countless teams across the country would be incredibly jealous of. But I have no idea how Huggins has this team performing at such a high level this season. They completely took me by surprise this season, but at 23-8 they’re definitely a competitive team. I haven’t been able to convince myself to buy into them yet, but they definitely deserve to be in the Tournament, and can probably even make some noise once they get there.I don’t know that I expect them to win the Big 12 Tourney or anything, but clearly Huggins has put together yet another solid winning team for the Mountaineers.

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Baylor, however, is a team that baffles me even more than West Virginia. With WVU I simply don’t know enough about the team outside of Coach Huggins to understand what makes them tick, but with Baylor for some reason I haven’t bought into them all year even though I know full well that they are constantly stacked with talent thanks to the spectacular recruiting they do. I know full well that Rico Gathers and Kenny Chery are the real deal, and superb leaders to build a team around. I know full well that Baylor has been a top notch program for several years now, but perhaps because they have underachieved so often with far superior teams I’m just waiting for them to slip up. They’ve done just that multiple times this season following up big wins with equally big losses, but in the end I think I need to get over my prejudices and buy into this team. I reeeeally like Chery has a gritty, tough, hard nosed gaurd, and Rico Gathers is an athletic freak who rebounds better than practically anyone in the country. This team isn’t as deep as Baylor teams of the past, but they have leaders with Tournament experience, and talent to run with anyone. I’m not sure how far they’ll get but I certainly expect them to be an exciting team once the NCAA Tournament starts.

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After last season’s first round loss to North Dakota State, I’ve scrutinized Oklahoma pretty hard all season long. In fact I’ve been borderline unfair to them I think. They starting 5 a rock solid, and led by Buddy Hield who will be the best player on the floor in most matchups the Sooners find themselves in. Moreover, whereas last year’s Sooners were an offensive powerhouse that had a propensity to play soft on defense (which cost them in the Tournament) this team is, by all accounts, one of the ten best defenses in the country. Moreover, because they have that offensive legacy from last year and a starting five where absolutely everyone can score and have the offense run through them if need be there’s not much danger of a San Diego State scenario here where an elite defensive team is bounced because they simply can’t score. Oklahoma is good. They have all the pieces you need to make a deep run in the Tournament (I’m thinking maybe Elite 8?), but they still seem ripe for upsets. They were swept this season by Kansas State, lost to Washington and Creighton (a baaaaad Creighton team) in the non-conference and have just punted away so many opportunities all season long that I’m incredibly scared to pick them in the Tournament. The talent is there. The play is there. But we’ll have to wait until the NCAA Tournament to see if the whole picture is there for Lon Kruger’s bunch.

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I LOVE Iowa State. Everything about them. Fred Hoiberg is an elite coach. One of the best in college basketball. He plays a progressive, professional style of game that is incredibly fun to watch. He stocks his roster with exciting stud guys, frontlined this year by the absolute beast that is Georges Niang. His teams play hard and play together. They’re balanced offensively and defensively, and do all the gritty things you expect from a top tier team. However, there seems to be something off with this team. Last year’s team was better than this year’s edition in nearly every way, and yet the were upset by eventual champions UConn in the Sweet 16, so if that team couldn’t make a Final Four, I’m not sure I can believe this one will. Moreover, they lost a lot of talent off last year’s roster, and have dropped several games that should have been wins this year (Maryland? South Carolina? How did you lose to these guys?). In the end, then, there is a TON to love about the Cyclones. In fact, I’m even picking them to win the Big 12 Tournament. However, they seem to have an Achilles Heel in them somewhere that makes me terrified that they will once again underachieve come Tournament time. Hopefully I’m wrong and they make it to the Elite 8 or beyond this year, but only time will tell.

Kansas

Hands down the class of this league is KU. Year after year… for the last 11 seasons in fact, Kansas has either won outright or won a share of the Big 12 title. They’re a basketball power going back to college basketballs earliest days, and the Bill Self Era has been no different. Well… its a little different in that Bill Self has brought Kansas into the era of Freshman phenoms with resounding authority. This year that means Kelly Oubre who, even though his numbers don’t show it (Bill Self can get top freshmen recruits but he is absolutely terrible for their careers once he has them… but for some reason they keep picking Kansas… but thats another story) is a real stud. Add in Perry Ellis, Frank Mason and Wayne Seldon and you have the core of yet another good Kansas team. I’m not certain that they’re great, and injuries to Perry Ellis / suspensions for Cliff Alexander and Brannen Greene could very well derail their Final Four aspirations this year, I still think this is easily an Elite 8 team. It might not be a great Kansas team, but these guys are still really really good.

The Big 12 may not have the same kind of elite contenders at the top of their league like the ACC has with Duke and Virginia (both of whom should make the Final Four and could win a title), but the Big 12’s depth and overall ability blow absolutely everyone else out of the water this year. If a team like Texas had performed to the best of their abilities I think a lot more people would be floored by what the Big 12 has done, but even so… this is easily the best conference in college basketball this season. I’m not sure how deep their teams will go. In fact I halfway expect them to get 7 teams into the Tournament, but possibly end up with only 1 team in the Elite 8. However I hope people don’t try to judge the Big 12 exclusively by how they perform in the postseason, because they have absolutely owned college basketball this year, and I hope people realize that.