College basketball season is over, but some of us are loath to let go. So before gazing ahead to next season and diving into summer recruiting, some numbers and observations from yet another compelling NCAA tournament.
**Rather than marvel at an improbable national championship game between Kentucky and Connecticut, many media elected to blister the tournament selection committee for the teams’ respective seeds, a No. 8 for the Wildcats, No. 7 for the Huskies.
To hear these folks tell it, anyone who can spell “ball screen” could tell that Kentucky and UConn merited top-four seeds and that the panel was guilty of gross malfeasance.
Revisionist history, anyone?
Could the teams have been seeded a line higher? Sure. When I projected the field on the eve of Selection Sunday, I had both as 7s. Syracuse.com’s Patrick Stevens, who parses numbers far more than I, had UConn as a 6 and Kentucky a 7.
And we were hardly alone. In the final Associated Press poll, taken on Selection Sunday, the consensus of 65 voting media had the Wildcats 28th and Huskies 19th. Entering the conference tournaments, none of the nine voters in ESPN’s power poll — none! — voted Kentucky among the top 25. And that group included Andy Katz, Dana O’Neil and former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, all of whom know the game.
The Wildcats were 24-10 entering the NCAA tournament. They were 4-6 against the top 50 on the Rating Percentage Index. The Huskies were 26-8, 7-5.
Kansas State, the 9 seed Kentucky defeated to open the tournament, was 7-8 against the top 50. Saint Joseph’s, the 10 seed that extended UConn to overtime, was 6-5 versus the top 50.
Yes, I understand how talented John Calipari’s freshmen are and how they played then-No. 1 Florida tough in the Southeastern Conference tournament final. But the fact is a 10-loss regular season that included a what-the-heck defeat at South Carolina did not merit a lofty seed.
And let’s not kid ourselves. Folks carped about Kentucky’s and UConn’s seeds because they are basketball bluebloods. Give George Washington and Wichita State the same credentials and seeds, and not a disparaging word is heard.
By the way, the championship-game seed total of 15 is a record, shattering the previous mark of 11, set in 2011 when third-seeded UConn defeated eighth-seeded Butler.
**Final Four disappointment for Kentucky and Florida notwithstanding, the SEC’s 12-3 tournament record ranks among the best ever.
For the second consecutive year, only three of the league’s 14 teams made the field, a discouraging trend that conference officials freely acknowledge. But Kentucky (5-1), Florida (4-1) and Tennessee (3-1) provided some solace.
By winning percentage, the best tournament I could unearth for a multi-bid league was the SEC’s 14-3 in 1996, when Kentucky won the title and Mississippi State reached the Final Four.
The Big East set the standard for most tournament wins in 1985, when its six teams in the field went 18-5, with champion Villanova, Georgetown and St. John’s making the Final Four.
**For two decades running, the ACC ruled the tournament, its teams posting by far the highest winning percentages — 105-48 (.686) in the 1990s and 87-46 (.654) in the 2000s.
Halfway through the 2010s, the league lags.
After a 6-6 tournament and a fourth consecutive year without a Final Four squad, the ACC is 35-24 (.593) this decade in the NCAAs. That trails the SEC’s 39-18 (.684) and Big Ten’s 51-29 (.638).
That said, the ACC has sent more teams to the field than the SEC in four of the last five years. Moreover, the ACC has won five national championships (Duke 2001, Maryland ’02, North Carolina ’05 and ’07, and Duke ’10) since the Big Ten’s most recent title — Michigan State in 2000.
**UConn broke the mold of national champions in the KenPom era. Since numbers genius Ken Pomeroy began compiling per-possession statistics in 2003, every champ was among the top 20 in offensive and defensive efficiency.
Until the Huskies. They finished the season 39th in offensive efficiency, 10th in defensive. The only Final Four team that was top-20 in both was Florida, 18th offensive and second defensive.
Others that fit the mold: Arizona (20th and first), Louisville (15th and fourth), Wichita State (eighth and 12th) and Tennessee (17th and 19th). Virginia was 21st and fifth.
**The comparisons started as soon as Shabazz Napier’s 25 points led Connecticut past Villanova and into the Sweet 16. Napier was pulling a “Kemba,” as in Kemba Walker, the guard who willed the Huskies to the 2011 national championship.
Sure enough, Napier did just that, earning Most Outstanding Player awards at the East Regional and Final Four as UConn won its fourth title in 16 years. In so doing, Napier joined Walker, Memphis’ Derrick Rose and Indiana State’s Larry Bird as the only players to have at least 125 points, 25 rebounds and 25 assists in a single NCAA tournament — that stat courtesy of ESPN.
Napier totaled 127 points, 33 rebounds and 25 assists in six games.
**UConn joins North Carolina, North Carolina State, Michigan State, Louisville and Kentucky as programs to win national championships with successive head coaches.
The UConn succession was Jim Calhoun to Kevin Ollie. North Carolina: Frank McGuire to Dean Smith; N.C. State: Norm Sloan to Jim Valvano; Michigan State: Jud Heathcote to Tom Izzo; Louisville: Denny Crum to Rick Pitino; Kentucky: Adolph Rupp to Joe B. Hall, and Pitino to Tubby Smith.
Moral of the story: Sometimes it’s OK to follow a legend.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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