NATCHITOCHES, La. -- Tomorrow I'll drive the four hours back up to Little Rock, jump on a jetliner and return to the hub-and-spoke center of Hoops Nation, the city of Indianapolis. On Thursday at 1:30 p.m., I'll walk into the Hyatt Regency with 19 other journalists and engage in the third annual NCAA mock bracket selection.
After a few weeks of wondering what came next, I received my binder yesterday and I couldn't be more excited. The binder is chock full of policies and procedures, as well as a supplement full of the real actual directions the selection committee members will follow next month. They'll meet on Tuesday, March 10 (at the Westin, not the Hyatt Regency) and use Wednesday to get used to the computer system and study stats. Sequestered in the north wing of the 15th floor, guarded from other hotel guests by security, they'll think over the bracket and begin making their decisions. Anybody who calls their rooms will have to give a special password, and hotel staff cannot enter the area without NCAA chaperones.
Of course, we only get one day, not five. We have to get back on the road and cover basketball, so we're getting a 14-hour crash course in the system. As I've mentioned before, the whole thrust of this exercise is transparency, so I'll attempt to share as much of it as I can with you.
I've had little luck reaching my partner Wally Hall
, a columnist from Arkansas, but I'm sure we'll catch up before it starts. We'll be representing Lynn Hickey, the AD at Texas-San Antonio, and are responsible for knowing as much as possible about the MEAC, Southeastern, Badlands Conference and Sun Belt. Three out of four ain't bad from my perspective.
One page of the binder details "Materials Available for use in the Selection Process." The list consists of the following: team information sheet, conference monitoring reports, "nitty gritty reports", coaches' regional advisory reports, injury reports, conference tournament data, conference scheduling structure, RPI rankings, wire-service polls, various independent computer-ranking systems, head-to-head and common opponents and other information as shared by the committee members. There's another section called "Materials Not Influential": performance by a team or a conference in a previous NCAA tournament, lobbying by/of committee members, and conference RPI. I'm looking forward to seeing how closely these guidelines are adhered to.
The binder also contains a sample of the infamous team sheet, which I'll show you tomorrow. It breaks down a team's record by RPI range, then further by home, away, neutral and conference. Below is a foursquare grid of game scores by RPI range: 1-50, 51-100, 101-200 and 201+. Games within the last 12 contests are repeated below, for quick reference. The impression I'm gathering is that a team's RPI may not be important in the selection process... but those of opponents are.
There's also a tantalizing preview of the kinds of problems we'll be solving. Supplement No. 7 details the "results" of 2009 conference tournaments up to March 11, and it looks like we'll be asked to make some hard decisions. Here are a few samples:
- In the Big South, UNC Asheville beat VMI in the conference title game held on Saturday, Mar. 7.
- Creighton beat Illinois State in the MVC on Mar. 8, and the semifinalists were Wichita State and Drake. UNI was eliminated in the quarters. Bizarro Valley... from the future!!
- Fairfield upset Siena in the MAAC final on Mar. 9, and College of Charleston beat Davidson in the SoCon championship the same night.
- Butler beat Cleveland State in the Horizon League on Mar, 10. After all those Monday upsets and resulting tough in/out decisions, that's kind of a relief.
- Also on Mar. 10, IUPUI took out Oral Roberts in the Badlands Conference final. North Dakota State was eliminated in the quarters, prematurely ending Bison Fever.
- Other autobid winners: Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), Robert Morris (NEC), Gonzaga (WCC), Old Dominion (CAA), Morehead State (OVC), Belmont (A-Sun).
- UPDATE: Because you asked, this is the way the CAA played out. Old Dominion beat VCU in the title game, the semifinal losers were Northeastern and George Mason, while UNCW and Hofstra went out in the quarters. Yeah, soundsaboutright.
I can't wait, can you?Conference Calls
SWAC: What are these Southern University cheerleaders doing, hanging out in the stands and texting their friends while an exciting SWAC regular-season game is going on behind them? Aren't they being negligent, not rah-rahing on the homestanding Jaguars like they should? They might be if they hadn't been kicked off the sidelines by the game officials. It's not something we've ever seen, but lead official George Washington began sparring with the cheerleaders right at tip-off, telling them not to stand too close to the endline. The kids enjoyed a territory war with the refs for the next 90 minutes, some "dipping their toes" in the court every so often. Finally, halfway through the second half, Washington called security over and had them removed from the area. Southern, without its spirit, gave up a late run and fell to Jackson State 67-55. JSU (9-2) has won five straight and is now a game behind Alabama State (10-1), which defeated tourney champs Mississippi Valley State on ESPNU last night by 13.
Ivy League: Still catching up on the weekend action, but we did want to recognize Princeton's convincing 20-point home win over Cornell as a momentum changer. The Tigers slowed the pace down to a slow crawl and forced the Big Red into all manner of bad shots, snapping Cornell's nine-game win streak and jumping out in front of the Ancient Eight. Princeton swept its NY-NJ weekend with another defensive shutdown the next night (63-35 over Columbia) and are now at 4-0. Cornell (3-1) took out its frustrations on poor Penn (1-3) at the Palestra on Saturday, pounding the Quakers on the boards and winning by 15.
Patriot League: The epic battle described here is playing itself out all over again at the top of the PL, with the Americans and the Holly Crosses tied at 7-1. Both are on four-game win streaks and on a collision course for a Feb. 21 meeting down in D.C. The Eagles are destroying opponents on the boards, outrebounding nine of their last ten opponents including this plus-18 against Army last week. The purple-clads from Worcester have been adept in velcroing the ball to their hands, as evidenced by four consecutive turnover deficits, and the defense has been rock-solid as well. In a Pennsylvania sweep of Lehigh and Lafayette, Holy Cross allowed 32 and 35 percent shooting.
Bizarro Valley: On Sunday, league-leading Northern Iowa almost doubled Creighton on the boards (45-26), killed at the line (30-for-32), and got a 23-and-12 double-double from Adam Koch. But they were playing catchup all night, because they shot just 29 percent. The Bluejays escaped Cedar Falls with a 77-71 win and climbed to within two games of UNI's top spot in the standings. Elsewhere, last-place Indiana State (3-10) was just putting the finishing touches on a sweep of Illinois State, a team that entered the regular season undefeated (the Sycamores' other win is over 11-2 UNI). Just another day in the BV.
Hello, Bally Tuesday
Mid-major basketball is all about the road, about riding in a bus for 20 hours just to play a two-hour game. So in that spirit, we asked you to nominate the most boring strip of asphalt in Hoops Nation. The four finalists were put to a vote over the weekend, and hundreds of you made your choice. But there can be only one America's Most Boring Interstateâ„¢, and it is...
Despite some angry opposition of Sunflower State residents, it's Interstate 70 in Kansas and Colorado. The stretch between Denver and Salina beat out I-39 in Illinois by just three votes. Trae, you entered the winning nomination, so you have earned a new orange friend. Send your mailing address through The Formâ„¢, use the same e-mail address you used last week so we know it's you, allow 3-4 weeks for delivery, standard text message rates apply. Thank you again for your words of road-scholarly wisdom.
This week's contest is a lot simpler. We need a nickname for triple-MMBOW Lester Hudson, and we need it before March. He's inspired pilgrimages, was in the same building as OVC legend Fly Williams last week, but we're still calling him "Lester Hudson." Hoops Nation, we need to do something about this.
Use The Formâ„¢ to enter your nickname, and support it with either poetry or prose. If you need Photoshop to get this done, send it to bally at midmajority dot com. As we've been doing these last few weeks, we'll close nominations on Friday, post four or five great entries over the weekend, and announce the people's choice a week from today. Make 'em good!
U'useless Stat of the Day
A player we really like, despite only having seen a few hundred blurry frames of him over Slingbox, is Paul George of Fresno State. (You might know him from this ridiculous dunk over two Sacramento State Hornets from earlier this year.) Along with Nevada's Luke Babbitt, he's proof positive that the WAC's downturn is only temporary, and that plenty of strong talent is coming up. Last night, he scored a career high 29 in a win over Boise State, earning the sixth-double-double of his young career.
Few freshmen in the nation have had as much of an impact on their teams' scoring than young master George. He has scored 22.94 percent of his team's points for a 2-7 squad that's lost in the nether sections of the WAC race. That's the sixth-highest percentage in the country this season, behind Babbitt (No. 4, 23.75 percent) and another promising California player, Loyola Marymount guard Jarred DuBois (No. 5, 23.62 percent).
If you've been following along this season, you probably know who No. 1 is. Seth Curry of Liberty, brother of you-know-who, is not only tied for 24th in scoring nationally, he's deposited 27.06 percent of the Flames' points this year. Even if Stephen decides to take his game to the next level this summer, we here in the mid-majority will still have years of hot hot Curry to enjoy.