Everybody has their quick analysis of the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket now that is has been released. Which region is the toughest? Who is in your Final Four? Who got snubbed? All of these are the normal, valid questions flying around on Selection Sunday. My first question is somewhat different.
I do like that parity has taken over the college basketball world. I love watching the mid-majors make deep runs into the NCAA Tournament and become the next “Cinderella Story.” But don’t tell me the Atlantic 10 Conference is equal to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Both leagues received 6 bids into the Big Dance. And the ACC had to beg, plead and pray for 2 of those bids coming down the stretch the last few weeks. Let’s take a deeper dive into why this notion the two of them are equal is ridiculous.
First, I think, for one year, we should throw out the ACC/BIG 10 Challenge and replace it with the ACC/A-10 Challenge. Let’s look at what the 2013-2014 version would have looked like. We’ll go by conference rankings. Here’s a taste of what that would give the television audience:
1.) Virginia vs. Saint Louis
2.) Syracuse vs. VCU
3.) Duke vs. George Washington
4.) North Carolina vs. St. Joe’s
5.) Pitt vs. UMass
6.) Clemson vs. Dayton
7.) NC State vs. Richmond
8.) Florida State vs. La Salle
So after looking over that line-up, what do you think the final outcome would look like? The ACC would end up, at worst, 6-2. When you look at head to head matchups this year, the conferences ended up 8-8. But that number is deceiving. Only 1 of those wins by the A-10 was against a top-tier ACC school when VCU beat Virginia. In contrast, the ACC’s 8th ranked team, Florida State, defeated VCU and UMass, 2 of the Top 5 teams in the A-10.
Second, how did these 2 conferences do against other power conferences? When you look at how the 2 conferences did against the conferences with 6 NCAA bids or more, the ACC’s record was 25-23. The A-10’s record was a dismal 11-20. And again, the A-10 played a lot of the lower tier teams in those conferences. The ACC has 4 teams ranked in the Top 25, including 2 in the Top 10. The A-10 has 2 teams in the Top 25.
Third, let’s look at recent NCAA Tournament history. The A-10 had a nice run via VCU in 2011 when they made the Final Four. That’s only the second time any team even made it to the Final Four from the A-10 since UMass in 1996. How has the ACC done in the NCAA Tournament recently? How about 6 National Champions and 12 Final Four participants since 2000?
In closing, again, I like the Cinderella Stories every year during March Madness. I liked seeing Shaka Smart and VCU in the Final Four. But when you look at the top four teams in each conference matched up head-to-head, the ACC would go 4-0. Do I think the ACC deserves more than 6 bids? Maybe not. Were the seedings fair? Maybe. But then you see that UNC is seeded 6th, just like UMass. Who would win that matchup? I would bet the ranked Tar Heels would be favored over the unranked Minutemen. All I’m saying is that a team like NC State shouldn’t have had to sweat it out more than a team like Dayton. Dayton’s signature win was against Gonzaga, who faded down the stretch this season and ended up an 8 seed. The Wolfpack’s signature win was this weekend against Syracuse, who was ranked #1 at one point after winning 25 games in a row and ended up with a 3 seed. Yet, NC State seems to indeed be the last team that made it in and they have to begin in the First Four.
The eye test. I’ve heard every expert basketball analyst this week use the words, “Do they pass the eye test?” Well, rating the A-10 equal to the ACC via the number of seeds awarded into the NCAA Tournament does NOT pass the eye test.