2023 March Madness - failure is an option.
by: The Cold Hard Truth
Another year and another fine showing for the Big 12 and Big 10 conferences. Or was it? Teams from the these two conferences spent the last half of the season playing each other, and regardless of who won, the needle hardly moved in the Net Rankings or the Kenpom or in any other rating system you can think of. If you look at the strength of schedule numbers on the Kenpom, you'll see the entire Big 12 has lofty numbers from top to bottom, and it is true that on certain days, those teams played great. How can we explain the bizarre 25 point victory by the cellar dweller Oklahoma Sooners had against top ranked Alabama? However, even more confusing to me is how Iowa State lost 8 of 10 games including a 17 point loss to Missouri and is still a 6 seed with a Net Ranking of 20? We watched Oklahoma State, supposedly the last team out, go 18-15 and still be in the conversation. Congratulations to OSU on their recent 5 point victory over Youngstown State in the NIT. Yet Vandy has a stretch where they went 10-1, beat Tennessee, Auburn, and Kentucky twice and is on the outside looking in. They were 5th in the SEC, yet teams that finished 3 games behind them in conference are in this tournament. At the beginning of the year, we saw the Cyclones beat North Carolina and Villanova on back to back nights and from that point on, there was no stopping the Big 12 computer numbers. Those wins don't look as good now as they did then. Yes, Kansas, Texas, Kansas State, Baylor, TCU and Iowa State are good, but how many of these teams are great? I feel like there might be 2 or 3 out of the 6. The Big 10 - I wouldn't be surprised if Purdue is the only team that makes the Elite 8.
I have to mention this bizarre stat. For years, we have seen teams win games because of rebounding. Kelvin Sampson has made a living at teaching his teams to rebound, including his current Houston team, and they win games. However, let's take a look at Missouri this year. They are 24-9 with 6 Quad 1 wins. Yet, they have been outrebounded in all but 3 games, and those three teams were Southeast Missouri, Lindenwood, and Southern Indiana. They failed to outrebound a single SEC team this year but finished 4th in conference. You can't blame experts of favoring 10 seed Utah State, but it could be a fun first round game.
There are a lot of intriguing teams. I don't know much about UConn and Marquette, but their numbers suggest they are good enough to make a run. I don't think Kentucky is a legitimate 6 seed, but they have played better recently than during the first half of the season. I heard a stat the other day that when Duke is completely healthy and has all its players, they were 18-1 this season with an overtime loss. Are they a team that can make a run? Finally, the Selection Committee should be ashamed of their #7 seeding of Texas A&M. No,I'm not an Aggie or a fan, but they went 15-3 in conference and were legitimately the second best team in their conference. They are a dangerous team, and I think the potential second round matchup with Texas could be an incredible game. The winner of that game could be around a long time.
We have another collection of terrific mid-major teams. Oral Roberts, Florida Atlantic and Charleston are all 30 game winners. Are the Iona players ready to make a run for their coach Rick Patino who is rumored to be leaving after this season? We always hope these teams can make a deep run, but I'm not sure most of us have the skill to actually pick the team who will do it. I know I can't do that, and each year seems to be more difficult than the last. However,at least qualitatively, I can say that teams like Loyola of Chicago, Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), George Mason, Saint Peters, or any of the other Cinderellas from the past had a goto guy that could score and athleticism. Add in a little heart and you have a story.
So that's the scoop. I won't bash the Pac-12 this year just in case Arizona and UCLA are actually good. I do worry that teams like Houston, the Bruins, and the Volunteers might have some injuries they can't overcome, but they all have deep talent. Sometimes that's enough.
It is going to be a great tournament, but just like any other year, the computers and the humans are both wrong. Best of luck to all our CBCC competitors sorting out the facts from the fiction. March Madness has arrived!