Potential ticket-punching games, my Cinderella team and more (cont.)
The idea of a men's team having a perfect season seems a dim memory from the past -- Knight at Indiana before "the fall" or Wooden at UCLA. The tendency today for many top-caliber men's players seems to be that it's better to be a star in a good program than to be a well-regarded role-player in a great program. So what makes the UConn women's program so dominant? Is there something to the notion that Geno recruits players of a certain character and temperament, not just skills? Is there something substantive to the notion that women are better team players than men?
This is an excellent question to raise, though I would disagree with Joe's explanation of this discrepancy. I have often said that I do not believe a men's team will ever go undefeated again. Things have changed dramatically since Indiana last did it in 1976. There are a lot more quality players who can play for non-elite programs. The wave of underclassman defections to the NBA accelerated in the mid-90's and now prevents programs from retaining their dominance. The reduction of scholarships from 15 to 13 has made it harder for the big boys to hoard talent. Most of all, the media attention on the sport has increased exponentially since '76, which brings much more scrutiny to a team trying to make it through the season with a perfect record.
If we turn our sights to the women's game, we see that in many ways it resembles the men's game in 1976. Women's teams are still able to award 15 scholarships. They do not have to deal with defections to the pros on nearly the same scale. And while there are more good female players than ever, and there is more media attention on the women's game than ever, it is still a far cry (one hopes) from where it will be 10 or 20 years from now. This is not to take anything away from what Geno Auriemma and his magnificent players are doing, but I think it is unfair to assert that he is a far superior coach to anyone working in the men's game, or that his players have more sterling character than the guys who are playing for Kansas and Kentucky.
It will be interesting to watch how the women's game evolves over the next decade, but my sense is that it will move more towards parity. Someday we may look back on Auriemma's 2009 and 2010 UConn Huskies and wonder whether anyone will be able to repeat their perfection.
Cal not making the tourney? Looks like they will have 21-23 wins playing one of the hardest schedules in the country. The games they lost at the beginning of the year were played without their best all-around player, Theo Robertson. With him in the lineup, it is reasonable to believe Cal would have defeated Ohio State and New Mexico. I'm not saying Cal is a juggernaut out of an incredibly weak Pac-10, but not making the tourney? C'mon, man.
Don't shoot the messenger, Adam. The Bears further undermined their cause after this e-mail was written by losing at Oregon State. While I agree the committee should take Robertson's injury into account, it is quite the leap to assume they would have beaten Ohio State and New Mexico if he were healthy in those games.
The reality is, Cal has been hurt by the Pac-10's overall weakness. Normally a team can improve its RPI by winning games inside the conference, but that has not been the case this year for the Golden Bears. Now they will have to go into Selection Sunday without a single victory over a team ranked in the RPI top 50. Keep in mind that there will be several bubble teams who will NOT make the tournament who will have two or three wins against the top 50.
Here's another way to look at it. The final at-large teams are usually seeded 12th. In many mock brackets, including Jerry Palm's CollegeRPI.com, Cal is projected to be in the tournament as the Pac-10's automatic qualifier, yet the Bears are seeded 13th. That should tell you a lot about where they stand.
The one point Adam raises that will really help Cal is their strength of schedule. They are ranked first in the country in nonconference SOS and 10th overall. If they win their last three games, they will end the regular season with a 13-5 record in the league. If they win twice more in the Pac-10 tourney and then lose in the final, they will have a fighting chance to make the field. But I still say they'll be on the outside looking in.
The BracketBusters games should involve bubble teams from all conferences. Here are some matchups I would like to have seen this year:
- Florida vs. Dayton
Butler and Northern Iowa have already locked up at-large bids, so they should not have to play in BracketBusters. Bubble teams should have to play in it instead.
Let's set aside for the moment my belief that Northern Iowa has not quite locked up an at-large bid. (The Panthers' loss to last-place Evansville Tuesday night has to hurt.) And let's also set aside the fact that nobody has to play in the BracketBusters. The games are set up by ESPN, and teams can decline the invite if they wish. Jeremy is still on to something here, and it's similar to a proposal I have been floating for several years now.
My idea is that the teams from BCS conferences who earned the last few at-large bids should play true road games the following season against the top mid-major schools who were left out. Or, if you want to drop the artificial categories, you could have the last few at-larges play the first teams left out regardless of conference affiliation. Let's see how well Butler would do if it had to travel to Berkeley to face Cal. ESPN could call it BubbleBusters or something like that.
I'd like to think coaches from the Big Six leagues would be eager to participate, because the public is savvy enough to understand that if, say, Virginia Tech were to lose at St. Mary's next year, that would not be a bad loss. Alas, I'm sure this idea will never come to pass, because the Virginia Techs of the world don't need the exposure -- or the headaches -- that games like these can bring. But hey, a guy can dream, can't he?