NCAA results support SEC coaches' protests
Posted April 2
With Kentucky favored by two points over Wisconsin and Florida by seven over Connecticut, we could have an all-Southeastern Conference NCAA basketball title game on Monday in the Dallas area.
Man bites dog?
The once powerful ACC doesn’t have a team at the Final Four again, but the usually mediocre ACC footballers won the Bowl Championship Series title when Florida State stopped Auburn to snap the SEC streak of seven titles in January.
Go figure, but it’s undeniable that the upper tier of SEC basketball teams has improved even though it’s usually a two-team race between the Gators and Wildcats.
SEC coaches howled in protest when only three league members got bids this season. The results support their protest.
Tennessee, the third league pick, defeated Iowa (Big Ten) in the First Four, then No. 6 Midwest seed Massachusetts in the second round and then Mercer before losing by two points to second-seeded Michigan.
Kentucky, seeded eighth in the Midwest, has ousted Kansas State, top-seed Wichita State, fourth-seeded Louisville and Michigan.
Florida, the overall top seeded team in the tourney, has won its four games by an average margin of 12 points. Meanwhile, the ACC’s six teams all failed to reach the Sweet 16. The best of the Atlantic-10’s six hopefuls panned out to be Dayton, which lost by 10 to the Gators in the East final.
The seven Big 12 teams flamed out fairly fast. The Pac-12, with six starters, failed to reach the Final Four when West favorite Arizona was stopped by Wisconsin.
Two SEC teams that might have been unduly snubbed were Arkansas and Georgia (12-6 in league play), but eight of the league’s teams won at least 19 games overall.
Missouri (23-12, 9-9) had non-league wins over UCLA and N.C. State and lost seven games by less than five points or in overtime.
In retrospect, the Selection Committee’s decisions have been and always will be open for debate but nothing sorts through the rhetoric better and quicker than what develops in the tournament itself.
This season, the scoreboard shouts that the SEC got undervalued in a big way.
League foes last met in ‘88
Conference rivals have reached the championship game only three times since the NCAA tourney began in 1939.
The Big Ten did it first with undefeated Indiana routing Michigan in 1976 at Philadelphia. Nine years later, it was the Big East with Villanova winning by two over Georgetown in Lexington, Ky.
Most recently, it was the now-defunct Big Eight with Kansas edging Oklahoma in 1988 at Kansas City. The ACC, however, has had its chances.
Duke and UNC both reached in opposite directions in 1991 at Indianapolis, but the Tar Heels lost to Kansas, which then fell to Duke for the Blue Devils and Mike Krzyzewski’s first title.
UNC and Virginia were at the 1981 Final Four in Philadelphia, but had to play in the semifinals. Carolina won with ease but then lost to Indiana in the title game.
In 1990 at Denver, Duke lost to UNLV in the title game after the Rebels beat Georgia Tech in the semifinals. In 2003 at San Antonio, Connecticut beat Duke in the semifinals and the Yellow Jackets in the final.
And in 2001 at Minneapolis, Duke and Maryland played in the semifinals with Duke rallying from a 22-point deficit to win the fourth meeting of the season between the two. The Devils then easily stopped Arizona for the championship.
If Florida and Kentucky can pull it off, even the SEC fan base – and recruits – would to take notice. Of course, the Alabama spring football game still probably will draw twice as many fans.