Monday, March 16, 2009

Heartbreak in Happy Valley

Purdue finished off its run with a 65-61 win over Ohio State in a 64 possession game. The Boilers appear to have perfected the art of winning without making shots. Purdue shot just 34% in this game, but took 13 more shots than Ohio State because of their careful ballhandling and their superior offensive rebounding. E'Twaun Moore led the Boilers with 17 points on 15 shots, while Evan Turner contributed 22 points and 10 rebounds. Box score.

So congrats to Matt Painter's team for notching the school's first-ever Big Ten Tournament title. I know that in many respects Purdue has been somewhat disappointing this season, but perhaps this is an indication that they're ready to be the team that everyone was expecting all along.

Ohio State also deserves some credit for playing so well in the conference tournament. Their superior shooting will make them dangerous in the Dance, especially if they can keep the turnovers under control.

In other news, the Big Ten got seven teams in the NCAA Tournament:

  • #2 Michigan State vs. #15 Robert Morris
  • #8 Ohio State vs. #9 Siena
  • #5 Purdue vs. #12 Northern Iowa
  • #5 Florida State vs. #12 Wisconsin
  • #7 Texas vs. #10 Minnesota
  • #5 Illinois vs. #12 Western Kentucky
  • #7 Clemson vs. #10 Michigan
Obviously, the Selection Committee has a very difficult job, and they probably hear more criticisms than compliments, no matter how well they do. With that said, there are a few things we can take away from all of this, and I think this has been true in past seasons as well:

1. Signature Non-Conference Wins Are More Important Than Signature Conference Wins, Except When They Happen In The Conference Tournament

I don't know where this phenomenon comes from, but it definitely exists. I think that's the only way to explain why Minnesota and Michigan are comfortable #10 seeds while Penn State is headed to the NIT. The Wolverines had wins against Duke (at home) and UCLA (on a neutral floor). They went 2-3 in the regular season over Michigan State, Illinois, and Purdue (and lost to the Illini again in the conference tournament). Minnesota went 1-3 against those 3 (and lost to the Spartans again in the conference tournament). Penn State went 4-2 against those 3 (and lost to Boilermakers in the tournament). And if you're keeping score, that means that Penn State had to play each of those teams twice (they also played Wisconsin twice), which Michigan nor Minnesota had to do.

But at least Minnesota and Michigan went .500 in the conference season. Maryland couldn't pull that off, going 7-9 in the ACC. The Terrapins also have a really horrible loss against Morgan State (at home) on their resume. And while Georgetown might be a better team than they've shown in Big East play, that 25 point spanking isn't looking so great now either. But Maryland does have a non-conference win over Michigan State and they beat Wake Forest to advance to the semifinals of the ACC Tournament (where they lost to Duke).

The Committee regards the conference season as just regular Ws and Ls. The games don't seem to matter too much outside of their effect on the bottom line of a team's record.

2. After A Certain Point, Quality Wins Don't Matter Anymore

Tom Izzo is well-known as an aggressive scheduler. Every year, the Spartans have a challenging non-conference slate. This year was no different, and Michigan State prospered, with more wins against the top 50 RPI teams than anyone else. By a healthy margin as well (I believe Kansas, Oklahoma, and Illinois were all tied for 2nd).

Frankly, when it comes to picking the highest seeds, the Committee looks for 4 teams from power conferences with the best records. If there aren't a clear 4, then they look to other teams like Memphis or Gonzaga. Had Louisville lost the Big East Tournament finale, that would have left them with 6 losses, and yes, I think the Committee might have gone searching elsewhere for that #1 bid.

3. In The Physical Universe That We Occupy, It Is Impossible For An ACC Team To Be Seeded Lower Than #10

I looked over the last 10 years and got sick of looking. But I think that's evidence enough - there is a floor for ACC teams that make the Tournament, and it's a #10 seed. That's why Maryland is where it's at. Had the Terps traded that "0" for a "1," the universe would have folded onto itself and we'd all be nothing right now.

Now, it's true that sub-10 seeds aren't exactly common for power conferences (in that same span, the Big Ten has had exactly two), but I think it was clear to all that Maryland was definitely one of the last teams in (sub-.500 conference record, 13 losses, mid 50s RPI), yet they end up with a #10 seed. That it would have killed us all seems like the simplest explanation.

Of course, all of this adds up for heartbreak for Penn State. Ed DeChellis' team was done in by Cleveland State, Temple, and Mississippi State. Overall, the Nittany Lions were likely punished for their strength of schedule. There's an argument here that playing the likes of N.J.I.T. isn't that much different than playing Northern Arizona - they're both easy wins - but I won't pick that up now. Instead, I'll just express my heartfelt condolences to Nittany Lion fans, as Talor Battle will have to wait at least another year to hold his coming out party.


Peter H said...


One thing I'd point out about Penn State; they not only played a bunch of out-of-conference cupcakes, they also lost to two mid-majors: URI & Temple. If Penn State wins those two games, they probably get in the tournament, the lack of high-quality OOC wins notwithstanding.

In regards to the importance of conference records, I suspect that a big part of it is the selection committee not having a very high regard for the Big Ten, and thus discounting Penn State's 10-8 conference record and the wins over Illinois, Purdue, & MSU. That, and the the high regard for the ACC, also may explain why Maryland got in over Penn State and got a higher seed than Wisconsin despite the 7-9 conference record.

By the way, Florida State did get a #12 seed in 1998. They got in that year with a 6-10 conference record and a 17-13 record overall, so you can say they're the exception that proves the rule :)

Jeff said...

Michigan played Wisconsin twice and lost both times (they missed Indiana at home and MSU on the road). Maryland also had a home win against Michigan.

Like you said, Penn State got done in by USC, Mississippi St, Cleveland St, and Temple taking away spots.