Play-in games add to the madness

Posted: March 14, 2011

This season, there are four play-in games for the NCAA tournament in Dayton, then the usual 32 first-round games, since those first-round games are now called second-round games. Confused yet? Since we'll be at 32 by Thursday, here are 32 questions, and all the answers you need to know during March Madness.

1. Why four play-in games?

The answer to all such questions is always the same, $$$$$. The power conferences don't want to lose lucrative spots to the little guys as new conferences pop up, so here is the compromise. Two of the play-in games in Dayton will be for the lowest ranked teams in the tournament, featuring a lot of schools with hyphens. The winners will enter the field as No. 16 seeds.

The other two games in Dayton will be for the last four at-large teams selected into the field. Those lucky four are USC, Virginia Commonwealth, Alabama-Birmingham and Clemson. Three of them would have been out if the format had followed past years, since three at-large spots were added this year. We're guessing that Clemson would have been in, the other three out. It also appears that Richmond had to win the Atlantic Ten tournament to secure a bid, since they are a 12 seed.

2. One obvious drawback of adding more teams?

Now, it's really hard to care about the teams left out. If you're in the NIT, you belong in the NIT. Was Colorado really going to get to the second weekend?

3. What about 'Nova's seed?

Despite their five straight losses to end the season, the Wildcats earned their way in through a side door, not a back door, with their wins over UCLA, Temple, Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, and West Virginia.

4. Any chance they recover some confidence?

If the Wildcats can forget that they played the last minute of the Big East tournament like a bad CYO B team, they'll prove their mental toughness. They also can go in with a chip on their shoulder, tired of hearing from everybody how they played like a bad CYO B team.

5. Last year, we downplayed the Big East, predicting no teams would make it to the Elite Eight. What about this year?

Kemba Walker is the best player in the country (sorry Jimmer, sorry Sullinger), while Notre Dame, Louisville, and Syracuse are all 40-minute tough and Pittsburgh still is the best of them. We'll make no such predictions this season. Look at it this way, according to their seeding nine Big East teams are favored to make it to the second round. Say seven of them do it. I'd like a couple of those seven to win a couple more games and get to the regional final. Law of averages. Is any Big East team good enough to win the national title? Not sure about that. The law of averages doesn't get you a title.

6. Kemba over Jimmer?

Sounds like a new cartoon series. We'd pay to see UConn play BYU to settle it. (It can't happen before the national championship game.) Right now, there's no doubt Kemba will be a better pro. However, the Jimmer Fredette show is the best show in college hoops right now.

7. UConn just won five games in five days. Will the Huskies have anything left in the tank?

The smart answer is to be wary. I'd rather be Pitt right now, fully rested and hungry. However, winning the Big East isn't a bad way to go into the tournament. West Virginia did it last year and reached the Final Four. In 2009, Louisville got to the Elite Eight. Pittsburgh, a No. 4 seed in 2008 after winning in the Big East, was out in the second round. Georgetown made it to the Final Four in 2007. Syracuse lost in the first round in 2006 as a No. 5 seed. The bottom line isn't very exciting: Big East tournament winners tend to play to their seed. If they scored upsets to win the Big East, it doesn't mean they'll pull off more upsets in the NCAAs.

8. The best teams, the Final Four teams typically have future lottery picks, right?

Yes, Butler was a Cinderella last year getting to the NCAA title game. But Butler had Gordon Hayward, who went No. 9 in last year's draft. You want to win NCAA games, have the best players.

9. Who has the best players?

Ohio State has Jared Sullinger. Kansas has Marcus and Markieff Morris. UConn has Kemba. Kentucky and North Carolina are loaded with future lottery picks.

10. What about other guys?

Last year, Jim Clibanoff from Clibhoops.net told us about both Hayward and Fredette. Who are his under-the-radar guys with pro potential this season?

Keith Benson, Oakland, senior, post; Gilbert Brown, Pittsburgh, senior, guard; Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt, junior, post; Kenneth Faried, Morehead State, senior, forward; Justin Harper, Richmond, senior, forward; Kahwi Leonard, San Diego State, sophomore, forward; Nikola Vucevic, Southern Cal, junior, post; Brad Wanamaker, Pittsburgh, senior, guard. Leonard is a likely lottery pick, Clibanoff said.

11. Picking the chalk works?

No, it does not. In an NCAA pool we're familiar with, there were 219 entries last year and only eight picked eventual winner Duke to win. One person picked eventual runner-up Butler. Only two people had Butler to reach the Final Four. (One had both Duke and Butler in the Final Four.) Nobody had more than two teams in the Final Four. Of the 219 entries in this pool, 126 had picked Kansas to win, and 191 incorrectly picked Kansas to win the Midwest region. In other words, the odds of winning the pool even if Kansas had made it were less than 1 percent.

12. Last season, we touted the following tournament teams as national leaders in field goal-percentage defense.

Florida State was No. 1, Kansas No. 2, Baylor No. 5, Temple is No. 6, Georgia Tech No. 7, Kentucky No. 8, Wake Forest No. 9.

How did they do? Florida State was a No. 9 seed and lost to No. 8 Gonzaga, so the stat was no help. Kansas was a No. 1 seed that lost in the second round to No. 9 Northern Iowa. Baylor did reach the Elite Eight as a No. 3 seed. Temple was a No. 5 seed that lost to No. 12 Cornell in the first round. Georgia Tech pulled off one upset as a No. 10 seed, beating No. 7 Oklahoma State before losing to No. 2 Ohio State. Kentucky was the top seed in the East Regional but lost to No. 2 West Virginia in the regional final. As a No. 9 seed, Wake Forest beat No. 8 Texas before losing to Kentucky. Bottom line: field goal-percentage defense doesn't tell you about how teams play defense in a particular matchup.

13. What about free-throw percentage?

Coincidently or not, those teams played generally well. The top foul-shooting teams in this year's tournament: Wisconsin was No. 1, Bucknell No. 3. Nobody else in the top 10 made the tournament.

14. Making free throws is great, especially if you have the lead, but who are the top scorers?

Jimmer is tops. Fredette led the nation with 28.5 a game. Kemba Walker is next best at 23.5 a game. Northern Colorado's Devon Beitzel is the third best scorer at 21.4 ppg., while Duke's Nolan Smith, another future pro, is the fourth best at 21.3 ppg. Cal-Santa Barbara's Orlando Johnson is at 21.1 ppg.

15. You want more scorers?

Others averaging at least 20 a game are JaJuan Johnson of Purdue, Tu Holloway of Xavier, Noah Dahlman of Wofford and Talor Battle of Penn State.

16. What's the biggest seeding surprise?

Kentucky is a No. 4 seed after beating Florida in the SEC final, while Florida is a No. 2 seed? Yes, Florida finished three games ahead of Kentucky in the league, but also lost two of three this season to UK, including by 16 points on Sunday. The selection committee must not have had time to process that. Kentucky has won eight of nine and hasn't lost a game by more than two points since Jan. 8. Florida seems like a "somebody has to be a 2 seed" kind of 2 seed.

17. Who are the lower seeds who can win right away?

With all the warranted attention on BYU and San Diego State from the Mountain West, WAC champion Utah State lost just three games, all on the road, and lost by only six at BYU. Old Dominion, facing Butler, is used to winning and capable of getting to the second weekend. In November, Old Dominion beat Clemson and A-10 regular-season champ Xavier on back-to-back days in a tournament in the Virgin Islands.

18. Another downside to format change?

A couple of teams that once would have been No. 15 seeds now fall to 16. In other words, under the old format, BU would have been a No. 15 seed, playing a No. 2 seed, and at least 2 seeds have gone down in upsets. Top seeds don't go down.

19. What about Temple?

The Owls need to win an NCAA game to put a stamp on the whole Lavoy Allen era, right?

Can't argue with that. Last season, Temple had bad luck in catching a bad matchup in the first round in Cornell. The first 10 minutes Penn State will be huge or the rim will start getting small on the Owls. In their last 19 games, the Nittany Lions haven't scored more than 66 points, so it won't be a shootout. It should, in fact, be as competitive as the seeds predict.

20. Locals to look for?

The best of them are mostly on two teams - Marcus and Markieff Morris from Prep Charter are the top performers for top-seeded Kansas. Rick Jackson and Scoop Jardine from Neumann-Goretti lead Syracuse. And Brad Wanamaker, Roman Catholic, is another tough Philadelphia product at Pittsburgh.

21. Everybody knows about those guys. Who else?

You want locals, start with Boston University, if you have time. No surprise at a school coached by former 'Nova assistant Pat Chambers, himself a former Philadelphia Textile point guard, with St. Joseph's graduate Brian Daly, former Villanova walk-on Ross Condon, and former Temple staffer Dwayne Killings on the staff.

Among BU's players, La Salle transfer Darryl Partin was the second leading scorer. Freshman D.J. Irving, an Archbishop Carroll graduate, led the Terriers in assists. St. Joe's Prep graduate Matt Griffin, a transfer from Rider, usually was the first guard off the BU bench. Dom Morris from Friends' Central started 16 games, while two more freshmen from Friends' Central, Travis Robinson and Henery Gaskins, are on BU's bench, along with Chris Kurz from Penn Charter and Mike Terry from North Catholic.

22. Other locals?

In addition to all the Temple and Villanova locals, Chester High graduate Nasir Robinson starts at Pitt with Wanamaker. . . . Bucknell has productive freshman Cameron Ayers from Germantown Academy and top defender Bryan Cohen from Abington Friends. . . . Penn State freshman Andrew Jones, another Abington Friends product, starts for the Nittany Lions. . . . West Virginia has former Pennsbury star Dalton Pepper coming off its bench. . . . Syracuse also has top reserve Dion Waiters from Philly. He is Jardine's cousin and a Life Center Academy graduate. . . . Chris Burke from Willingboro comes off the St. Peter's bench. . . . Roman Catholic graduate Koron Reed is a Hampton reserve.

23. Which local has been on TV all week in the highlights?

Princeton guard Douglas Davis denied Harvard with his game-winner. He's a local. Davis finished high school at the Hun School (N.J.) after playing with the Morris twins at Prep Charter.

24. Back to B.U.

Do the Terriers have any good precedent on their side? Indeed they do. Matt Griffin doesn't have to look outside his own house to find it. Five years ago, his older brother John was on the Bucknell team that upset the Jayhawks.

25. Even if you hate Duke, name the Duke player who is difficult to hate?

Find something, anything, not to like about Blue Devils guard Nolan Smith, the son of the late former Sixers player Derek Smith. You can't do it, with either his game or his personality. If Kyrie Irving hadn't gotten hurt, the Blue Devils would be big favorites to repeat. You still can't count them out.

26. What are the odds that having the national player of the year wouldn't be the biggest story of March at BYU?

Prohibitive, except it's BYU. Losing an important starter for failing to meet Mormon guidelines will really put the focus on the Cougars. Of course, Jimmer looks kind of oblivious to pressure. BYU-St. John's would be a terrific third-round matchup out of Denver. The Jimmer Show could be a ratings bonanza if the Cougars get to the second weekend.

27. Temple isn't the only local going to Tucson?

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, a Chester High graduate, takes the Badgers there, taking on Belmont in one of those bracket-upset specials.

28. Heard Thursday at the Big East tournament?

"Higgins and Burr can still work, but not together." The New York columnist was talking about referees Tim Higgins and Jim Burr, who combined for that complete epic officiating fiasco at the end of the St. John's-Rutgers game.

29. Speaking of St. John's, when did Steve Lavin become such a good X's and O's coach?

When he was smart enough to hire Mike Dunlap as an assistant. Many coaches will tell you Dunlap is pretty close to a basketball genius.

30. What guys would still be seniors in college if they had stayed four years?

This class is just amazing, the best to leave high school in years. . . . Start with Derrick Rose, a favorite for NBA MVP. Add NBA leading rebounder Kevin Love and dunk champion/future Olympian Blake Griffin. More? Eric Gordon, O.J. Mayo, Evan Turner, Michael Beasley, Jonny Flynn.

31. Who wins the Southeast?

None of the top seven seeds won their conference tournament, so this one is wide open, especially if you're not picking Pittsburgh in your pool until the Panthers actually get to a Final Four.

32. Who will win?

Kansas has a far better draw in the Southwest than Ohio State, which might have to get past Kentucky and then North Carolina in the East. So we'll pick Kansas as the favorite, but take John Calipari's future pros in our pool.


Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com

 

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