College Hoops

Washington Husky Huddle for Sunday March 18th 2012 (Part One)

(Jason McCleary of contributed to this post)

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott weighed in Friday in ESPN regarding the state of the leagues much maligned Men’s Basketball teams.

“I’m not concerned long-term. If we have five seasons like this one I’ll feel differently. But I honestly feel like this is a blip. I keep hearing that we have strong recruits. I know we have great coaches. Next season is a game-changer in terms of exposure. I’m not really concerned about it.”

This is well put. I won’t go into greater detail. We’ll have the entire off-season coming up soon enough to do that, but I’ll take it one step further. The Pac-12 had a rough year, but there is a quality there, where things should have been better than they ended up when it came to NCAA at-large bids. How so? How about the Dawgs in and probably Oregon too? The NCAA committee uses a flawed process to chose at-large bids. The national media talked about how bad the league was and if the committee were a jury, there would have been a clear case for a mistrial because the jury was far too influenced by that and numbers games like “RPI” and “strength of schedule”.

As I mentioned last week, time will show in my opinion that too many future NBA greats and great coaches were at the party for this type of result. Yes, they muffed, mishandled and muddled their way through, as if they were tempting fate,
but you can’t tell me that the Huskies and the Ducks don’t pass the eye test. Both UW and UO finished the season strong in conference, against these same teams that blew it in November and December, but had the ingredients to put together the goods in conference play. Colorado, who lost 80-63 to Baylor on Saturday after beating UNLV 68-64 on Thursday, was not the only one.

Cal was a team that did not have what they needed in the dance in a play-in game on Wednesday where they lost to South Florida badly 65-54, but this Bear team also deserved what they got. My problem is that the Dawgs and Ducks, were for the most part consistent in producing quality play on the court. The Pac-12 could not get out from under the weight of the RPI ratings that are defined by non-conference play. As I also mentioned last column, that is just the way it is, but it doesn’t make it right. There is a need to put more emphasis on what a team actually looks like in March and the NCAA committee is just not capable.

They are a bunch of suits, athletic directors, executives, etc. They are not good judges of basketball talent. If you want the best competition in the March tournament, you should pick the teams that are the best in March. Supposedly, the last stages of the season are taken into a account, but if that were the case, why are UW and Oregon not in? Both teams are playing well right now and on Sunday we will see if the Dawgs and Ducks will face each other in Seattle WA for a game which will decide who goes to NYC to the NIT Final Four. The Ducks face Iowa on Sunday in Eugene after demolishing an LSU team that gave Kentucky a scare in the SEC Tourney 96-76 on Tuesday.

I know it’s not much, with the last league team in the Buffs out in their 2nd game, but this NIT is starting to look like a scenario that actually could serve as some form of Pac-12 retribution, at least something for the Dawgs to point to as
reasoning that they should have had a shot at it. Stanford is also in the running after a 76-65 win over Cleveland State on Tuesday. It would be great to see two Pac-12 squads in NYC, like there was last year when WSU and Colorado played in Madison Square Garden. The Cougs even beat San Francisco 89-75, while Oregon State beat Western Illinois 80-59 on Tuesday in the CBI. Perhaps a Pac-12 team could win the CBI as has been the case the last two years, with Oregon winning last year and OSU the year before.

The Cardinal will face Illinois State on Monday, with the winner needing one win to get to Madison Square Garden. It is not great bragging rights, with no team in the Big Dance and a few others doing well in the NIT and CBI, but the Pac-12 has a chance to at least show that (like clockwork), there was more quality than the “experts” thought once again. It seems to happen every year that the Pac-12 is under valued on Selection Sunday, but out performs those decisions in the post season. This year isn’t the best one in regards to the NCAA tourney, but it might have been if UW and/or Oregon were allowed to compete. The league also consistently proves it’s worth on NBA draft night and even more so when those picks and others not chosen perform better than those same “experts” predicted.

The “Experts” are not that expert, rather they live so far away that they don’t have a very good grip on what is going on in Pac-12 country. That said, this season the conference did literally everything in it’s powers to maintain that curtain of mystique. The game is played by rules and over time the games rules have changed to make improvements. The way that the teams are chosen in March needs to change again as well. There needs to be people on that committee that can articulate to the rest why teams like UW and Oregon have much more talent and at this point are much more ready to perform at a high level than others.

How can you leave the Pac-12 regular season title winner and the Duck team that finished one game behind them out, because of stumbles to teams in the non-conference season. Of those eight OOC stumbles, 7-8 were against NCAA Tournament teams, the eighth being UW’s OT loss at Nevada who won their league, lost in the conference tourney and are also still in the NIT. Yes, UW and Oregon should have won some of those eight games, but if you are picking the best teams for at-large bids, shouldn’t you actually do that. I won’t go team to team to make comparisons, but both of those teams would beat a large number of squads that received at-large bids and it’s not even close.

The NCAA will argue that the perception of the league didn’t play a part, but RPI does. I think that both do and it needs to change. Somebody in those meetings needs to be able to understand the concept that a team with as much talent as UW and with a combination of talent and experience (but who were cobbled together a lot from players who haven’t played on the same team long) as Oregon are just better attractions and better on the court. So I guess the NCAA tourney’s loss is the NIT’s gain, is all that can be said at this point. John McGrath of on Monday took the opposing view to mine, making the case that the Dawgs got what they deserved and did a decent job of airing that point, but I just don’t agree. Romar admitted to the media on Thursday that the situation was the fault of the way the teams performed, but that it was more of a blip, as Scott had termed it and that the league will be back strong in his opinion.

“I hate to be redundant, but we made our bed as a conference and we’re going to continue to hear those criticisms until next season comes around and we do something about it, which I think we will. Every now and again, that’s going to happen.”

The snub was no surprise to many, but in my opinion it was not only undeserved, but stupid basketball evaluation. This is the same type of evaluation that makes people think that a kid from a small town who can score 30 points per game is going to be better in college than a much faster, stronger and longer kid from a much tougher league that is just an old fashioned mismatch. Freshman guard Tony Wroten, sophomore guards Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox and junior guard Abdul Gaddy (who missed the “real” part of last year, just turned 20 and is more like a sophomore) are young and were drastically inconsistent before Pac-12 play, but they were able to win the league race. They are all very likely NBA players to one degree or another.

If they had not pulled it together to be able to achieve what they did this year, I’d say fine McGrath you are correct. They did not however. They became a formidable team, one good enough to beat teams with a number of future NBA players of their own. Maybe not as many, but plenty and that is another reason why UW were unfairly snubbed by the NCAA committee. A blog post from on Monday elaborated on this point well. UW was one of many teams with talent and potential in the Pac-12, despite the leagues down cycle and bad luck (attrition, defectors, etc.) and the coaches and more importantly the players won that league.

Last Sunday after the field was released, Yahoo listed UW 2nd on it’s “list of biggest NCAA tournament snubs”, pointing out that Cal, who finished behind them in the conference race got an at-large bid, but they didn’t. Cal should have been
in, but so should have UW and Oregon, who finished alongside the Bears at 13-5. Cal was a good team, that met UW on a night when Wilcox was out and UW shot horribly from three, an area that C.J. is usually the last line of defense for UW. Pac-12 Player of the Year Jorge Gutierrez did a great job of keeping the ball away from Ross, the other capable three point threat, and Cal’s fantastic coach Mike Montgomery put together a game plan that worked well enough to beat UW at home. That’s a good argument, if UW finished tied with Cal, but they didn’t.

Coach Lorenzo Romar won the conference coach of the year because he took this young group of talented but inconsistent kids and won more games than anyone else, including 6-3 on the road. Winning on the road is never easy and nearly impossible with young players and that is exactly what Romar did. Anyone with a pair of glasses, the vision of Mr. Magoo and any kind of basketball knowledge, could see that UW both had the talent (including a seven foot junior defensive/rebounding specialist Aziz N’Diaye and a senior team leader in post Darnell Gant) and the coaching to bring more than their share of “power” to the big dance. Romar agreed with me, but pointed out to the media on Sunday that even with the way the rules are, UW just seemed to blow games at the worst time.

“We are definitely one of the best 68 teams in country, but our numbers didn’t bare that to the selection committee. We had 10 losses and any one of those losses turns into a win and we are in.”

That’s fine Lorenzo, but what about the magnificent win at Arizona where the Dawgs took the ‘Cats best punches and were the last men standing? What about those other five Pac-12 road wins? Yes the league was down, but that is hard to do with such a young team. Based on winning all but the Cal game at home and those six road games in Pac-12 play, UW proved to me that they were more than the best team in a down year. They were scary, for such a young team, when they stepped up and played to their ability. Romar got them to do that more often than any other team and for that there is no reason that they shouldn’t have been selected by the committee.

But that committee was so far off that they weren’t even considering UW in the final six, if Xavier had beaten St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic-10 final. According to NCAA interim vice president Greg Shaheen, as reported by ESPN last Sunday, “Six teams — Drexel, Miami (Fla.), Oral Roberts, Seton Hall, Mississippi State and Nevada — would have been put up for a vote if Xavier had won the game”. Additionally, “Washington’s lack of top 50 wins and the Pac-12 tournament loss to Oregon State hurt the Huskies’ chances at admission” according to Shaheen. Yes, the loss to OSU in the Pac-12 tourney was a blunder, but they beat the Beavers
twice during the regular season, including on the road. Doesn’t that count for more?

I guess UW just tempted fate by performing in a way that any qualified analyst of basketball can see is superior, but daring those that are not (the NCAA committee and the numbers geeks that have created the RPI phenomenon) to see it otherwise. What is more to the point is that these fools were probably not paying attention to much else than the Pac-12 tourney, as when most basketball people are watching conference play, they are addressing other issues. These folks are not hoops experts. Because of the business nature of the game, my guess is that the decision has been made to put them in charge of the decision making. It’s almost as bad as putting Mr. Magoo in a referee’s uniform, which if there wasn’t a cartoon done on that subject in the 1960’s, there should have been.

Perhaps that is weirdly another of the accomplishments of this year’s UW team. On Sunday Art Thiel of talked about how the Dawgs had “Made history the wrong way”. The loss to the Beavers did them in, but it really shouldn’t
have. The system is broken. Eamonn Brennan of ESPN said that “reason won out, tradition lost, and that’s a good thing all around”, while explaining UW’s dance card snub. That reasoning was explained by Brennan as “non-conference performance matters, that conference record is a nonstarter, that teams are evaluated individually on standardized criteria”.

The problem is that the team that plays in the NCAA tournament is the team that plays in February-March, much more than the one who plays in November-December. Yes, they stuck with the rules, but the rules are wrong. I think that UW suffered a let down when they clinched the out right title and underestimated the amount of focus that it took to beat teams like the Beavs on the road in Pac-12 play. That said, OOC play and the conference tourney should not define a team, without taking into account league play, which for most of the teams nationally defines what they are more than anything.

When you talk about a team from 10-20 years ago, what are they judged by? It is either, they finished so and so in their conference or they did so and so in the NCAA tournament (if given that chance). That is because winning a league is more
valuable of an achievement than whether they stumble or get hot in the conference tourney. If not, why have league play? One way to fix this problem without retooling the NCAA committee, would be to make the current 8-game play-in format into a huge 64 team event with a 96 team tournament. On Tuesday Husky Haul discussed that idea, which I have favored. I say get rid of the weak conference tourney winners or weak conference representatives before the tourney kicks to 64 teams. So what if in the first week many will have to play three games. Keep the conference tourneys, as they provide a chance for teams that are down in the standings but capable at the end of the year when it counts. We are living in the present, aren’t we?


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