Coach Kevin Ollie celebrates Connecticut's national title. (April 10, 2014)
**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.