Janesville62.4°

NCAA bracket powered by force of disrespect

Print Print
Blair Kerkhoff
March 23, 2011
— If one idea can serve as a theme for the NCAA Tournament as it begins a second week, it belongs to Virginia Commonwealth guard Joey Rodriguez.

“The chip’s still there,” Rodriguez said before the Rams defeated Purdue to reach the Sweet 16. “It’s always there for us.”


It will follow the Rams to San Antonio, site of the Southwest Region semifinals.


The notion of disrespect is a motivator powerful enough to ruin many brackets, not to mention the reputation of some of college basketball’s power broker conferences.


This is why the regional semifinals on Thursday and Friday will be represented not by a small circle of the TV-friendly leagues but by nine different conferences.


When the NCAA tournament started with the First Four a week ago, the Big East roared with 11 teams, the Big 12 griped about having only five.


Now? The weekend Big East bracket carnage could not have been greater. A mere two pushed through, and both them—third-seeded Connecticut and 11th-seeded Marquette—defeated other Big East teams for their second victories.


The Big 12 also fell hard, losing four of its five entrants.


Once again, the NCAA tournament proves that a neutral setting, with neutral officials, is the ultimate equalizer, and the difference between the champion of the Big East (Pittsburgh) and Horizon (Butler) is much smaller than their exposure leads us to believe.


Ah, the exposure. The Big East was college basketball’s best conference this season. It had the nonleague results to prove it.


But it had much more than results. Location in the largest media markets make the Big East the most hyped of all conferences. A day of action didn’t pass this season without studio reminders of the league’s superiority, and most bought in.


Among those who did not were players from teams like Morehead State, George Mason and Gonzaga, who took down Louisville, Villanova and St. John’s in the second round.


All are from conferences that get little to no national exposure. When their players channel surf, the Big East comes in waves.


If nothing else, lesser lights have a scouting advantage. Who didn’t know the strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of Pittsburgh or Louisville?


With one of five remaining, the Big 12 fared only slightly better on a percentage than the Big East’s two of 11, emerged as the other power-conference disappointment.


Texas A&M dropped its opener to Florida State and Texas its third-round game to Arizona as better-seeded team. Missouri played poorly against Cincinnati in the opener.


The Big 12’s four-year streak of sending at least two to the Sweet 16 comes to an end, but the league’s consolation is Kansas’ path to the Final Four has been cleared with only double-digit seeds remaining in the Southwest Region.


Don’t go there with Jayhawks coach Bill Self. He comes armed with history. Kansas’ path to the 2008 national title also was said to be cleared when the Jayhawks confronted 12th-seeded Villanova in the Sweet 16 and 10th-seeded Davidson, led by Seth Curry, in the regional final.


“They had the best player in the tournament that year, and they were one basket away from beating us,” Self said. “I don’t put any stock in that.”


The Southwest is the only region that doesn’t have three of its top four seeds remaining. But what it has is a bracket full of teams that nobody thought would be there, and in March that can become a powerful force.


“You can beat anybody, that’s college basketball,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “The biggest key is when you get to this time of the year that you’re playing your best basketball.”


Sixteen teams are, and their conference affiliation doesn’t matter.



Print Print