Sunday, March 13, 2011

UConn Wins Improbable Big East Tournament Title

#19 UConn 69, #14 Louisville 66
No team in the history of Division I basketball had ever won games on five consecutive games. And even if they'd had full recovery between games this still would have been a very improbable title. Using Pomeroy's numbers, Basketball Prospectus calculated a 2% chance for a Big East title for UConn. When you throw in the fact that Louisville's press should be the worst thing possible for tired teams (the way Notre Dame wore out down the stretch in the Big East semis), this was just a crazy run. But while the media is going to start hyping up Kemba Walker as a National Player of the Year and starts talking about UConn as a potential Final Four team, I'm going to tell you to not buy the hype.

First of all, improbable runs in conference tournaments happen more often than you think. If anything, the Syracuse run in 2006 was more improbable. Syracuse was also a 9 seed that year, back when the Big East tournament only had four rounds. And Syracuse was worse that year than UConn is this year. Syracuse went 7-9 that year and was rated by the computers as around the 50th best team in the country coming in, while UConn was in the 20-25 range. Since UConn's first round opponent was a gimme this year (DePaul), the Syracuse run was more amazing. Syracuse jumped from the bubble all the way up to a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament that year... where they lost in the opening round to the 12 seed, Texas A&M.

UConn is either going to be a 2 or 3 seed when the brackets come out tomorrow, and they're going to be over-seeded and are unlikely to make the Sweet 16. Why is it that teams that go on a run like this tend to fail in the Tournament? The talking heads on tv will talk about fatigue, but how much fatigue can there by when you have 5 days off, after you just won games on 4 or 5 straight days? No, the reasons that teams like this year's UConn squad underachieve in the Tournament are twofold. First, the Selection Committee always weighs conference tournament performance far more than other games, so teams that win big conference tournaments tend to be over-seeded. This will be true of UConn, a team that probably deserves a 4 seed on resume alone, if you're not over-weighting the Big East tournament run. Second, there's a massive mental letdown. We see when teams get huge program-defining wins they almost always follow that up with a poor performance, and it's doubled or tripled for something like what UConn did this week. Too many parties, too many interviews, too much ego. They're due to return to reality. UConn is due to return to reality.

To get to Louisville briefly: this loss costs them a 2 seed. They're going to be a 3 or 4 seed. And I'll tell you what, we sure have a ton of Big East teams in contention for 3 and 4 seeds right now. I feel like I could fill all 8 spots on those two lines with Big East teams if I got a little creative.

Washington 77, #15 Arizona 75
This was the best game I saw all week. Both of these teams are really good, and both were playing at their best. And it was taken to another level with Gus Johnson who, despite calling two games less than 24 hours earlier at the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis, made it out to Los Angeles to call this game. And Gus was at DEFCON 2 for this one. Down by four with under 40 seconds to go in regulation, Washington hit three consecutive three-pointers to send the game into overtime. And then in overtime it came down a ridiculous fade-away jumper by Isaiah Thomas for the win. If you didn't see it, think the Kemba Walker shot to beat Pitt but with four times the difficulty level. Isaiah Thomas also had another all-around spectacular game, finishing with 28 points on 10-for-16 shooting, 7 assists and 5 rebounds. To put in perspective what Thomas did in this tournament, I think he was as dominant in the Pac-10 tournament as Kemba Walker was in the Big East tournament. Obviously it's a lower level of competition, but it was still very impressive.

Washington was going to be in the NCAA Tournament even if they lost this game, but this win will help their seed. They're likely looking at a 10 or 11 seed. As for Arizona, they could have earned as high as a 4 seed with the win here. With the loss they will get a 5 or 6 seed. I'm going to say right now that if the right draw is in place I will have no qualms picking either of these teams to go further than their seed expectation. Both teams are underrated. It's not their fault that so much of the rest of their conference stinks. I felt the same way last year about the Pac-10, and both Pac-10 teams overachieved in that Tournament, too.

#6 San Diego State 72, #8 BYU 54
I was shocked that the Vegas line on this game was only SDSU -2. Needless to say I went heavy on SDSU. BYU is playing with a five man rotation right now, with only one real post player. What chance did they have winning after playing the past two days without any real use of their bench, against one of the five best front courts in the nation? BYU's bench was again useless. They produced a combined 2 points, 3 rebounds and 0 assists. Jimmer Fredette had 30 points on 10-for-25 shooting, which doesn't seem great for him, but if you watched the game you knew that he was spectacular. SDSU was rotating their best defenders on him, never leaving him open at all even away from the ball, and doubling or tripling anytime he tried to attack. It was a great performance by him to achieve what he did. But without any help, what hope did BYU have?

I do think that BYU will be a little better off in the NCAA Tournament. Having only two games per week will help keep them rested. They're likely looking at a 4 seed right now, though they could get a 3. And with either seed I can still see myself picking them to the Sweet 16. Of course, if they get a 4 seed and get put up against Belmont, I could see myself taking Belmont.

San Diego State finishes 30-2, including 13-2 against the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is up to third. They could end up with a 3 seed, but most likely they're going to be a 2 seed. To be fair, I think they're a little overrated. If they end up bracketed against a 3 seed like Purdue or Syracuse, I will pick those teams over SDSU in a potential Sweet 16 match-up.


Tom said...

Incredible game. You could make the argument that two of the top five or so games of the year were Arizona/Washington. I think it's fitting that both teams will have something to show for (Arizona the regular season, UW the P-10 tourney) as I still believe they're the two best teams in the league. I prefer the regular season title because I think it shows who was best over the long haul as opposed to a 3-4 game tournament, but it's not like I wasn't hoping for a different outcome. Great game on both sides. Depending on the draw both teams have a chance to make it to the second weekend.

Unknown said...

I agree. One of the best games of the year- Washington vs. Arizona are usually very entertaining games. And I agree that both teams will likely surprise some people in the tournament.

That being said, there's no way that UW is a 10-11 seed. They are a 6 seed at best, 8 seed at worst. Almost all bracket projections had them at 9 or 10 before they beat Arizona.

Anonymous said...

Looking back, how off was this guy on UConn? LMAO, you couldn't have been more wrong if you tried. Yeah good call on not buying that whole UConn/Kemba Walker hype. They sure didn't do much!

Jeff said...

The reason why we watch sports is because unlikely things happen. You really think that if they played the NCAA Tournament over again that UConn would still win and VCU would still make the Final Four?

UConn had the most unlikely NCAA title since NC State in 1983. And that's why it was so fun.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. Plenty of people weren't buying UConn after the BET. I guess as a fan it didn't seem as unlikely to us, since we knew UConn was capable of playing that well(Maui for ex).

And no UConn probably wouldn't have won it all and VCU wouldn't have made the FF if the tourney was repeated. They were both hot at the right time.