Sports, Thrill of Victory

If we could play the NCAA Tournament again…

Florida's Scottie Wilbekin has led the Gators to a potential No. 1 seed.

As much as I love the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, there’s one thing about it that I hate, and that’s the way that it skews the polls that come out the day after the tournament. I can understand how writers would vote the team that won the national championship No. 1, but the rest of the polls don’t make a lot of sense to me. For instance, Kentucky, which lost 11 games including two to a Florida team that won both the Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament, should not be ranked ahead of the Gators who went 36-3 and also made the Final Four.

Florida's Scottie Wilbekin has led the Gators to a potential No. 1 seed.

Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin and the Gators had the nation’s best season overall.

The problem is pretty simple: we tend to define teams by where their seasons ended. If you make the Sweet 16, no matter how mediocre the rest of your season may have been, you just about always make the Top 25. What that does is knock down teams that had great regular seasons but flubbed the NCAAs and really de-values the regular season, which I think is the wrong approach.

So here’s an idea: How about pretending that we’re playing the NCAA Tournament over again, and ranking the teams according to their whole body of work including both the tournament and the regular season? That’s what I did, and here’s how I’d pick the field, adding the teams getting automatic bids and seeding everyone accordingly. (Incidentally, Xavier, at No. 47, would be the last at-large team.)

1. Florida (36-3): The Gators’ three losses all came to Final Four teams (UConn twice, Wisconsin once.)
2. Wisconsin (30-8): No team in the country had a better slate of wins than the Badgers…
3. Arizona (33-5): … unless it’s the Wildcats, who might have won it all had Brandon Ashley stayed healthy.
4. Connecticut (32-8): The Huskies don’t rate this high just because they won the NCAAs — they’re here because that run gave them a tremendous résumé of overall wins.
5. Wichita St. (35-1): It would have been great to see how the Shockers had fared if they’d gone deeper in the tournament, but Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison had other ideas.
6. Louisville (31-6): The Cardinals might even have a case for a 1-seed if you played this thing again — after all, they beat UConn three times by a combined 53 points.
7. Virginia (30-7): The Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament champs had the misfortune of drawing Michigan State in the Sweet 16.
8. Kentucky (29-11): As with UConn, it wasn’t the fact that UK made it to the last game, it was who it beat to get there that rocketed them up my rankings.
9. Michigan (28-9): Coach John Beilein did an incredible job after losing all those players from last year, plus the loss of All-American Mitch McGary early this season.
10. Michigan St. (29-9): We all thought the Spartans looked like a team of destiny after they got healthy again, but that speaks to how well UConn was playing.
11. Kansas (25-10): The injury to Joel Embiid really hurt, and the Jayhawks played a killer schedule, but it’s still a bit hard to stomach this being a double-digit loss team.
12. Iowa St. (28-8): Cycloes beat 13 teams that made the NCAA Tournament field.
13. San Diego St. (31-5): Coach Steve Fisher has turned a nothing program into a perennial top-20 team.
14. Villanova (29-5): The computers loved Villanova all season, but the actual wins on the résumé (only one over a single-digit NCAA seed) weren’t all that strong.
15. Duke (26-9): Perhaps it was the death of Coach K’s brother in mid-season that threw things off, but something just wasn’t right with Duke all season. I’ll guarantee they’ll end next year higher than this.
16. UCLA (28-9): Bruins made it into the Sweet 16 thanks to a nice draw. That Pac-12 Tournament title was impressive, but it was out of context with what the Bruins did the rest of the season.
17. Syracuse (28-6): Perhaps no team in the tournament had a worst last month than Syracuse — remember when the Orange were ranked No. 1?
18. Cincinnati (27-7): The Bearcats lost in the tournament’s first round to Harvard, but those American Athletic Conference wins look a lot stronger thanks to what Connecticut did.
19. Baylor (26-12): Up-and-down Bears beat 12 teams that made the NCAA Tournament.
20. Ohio St. (25-10): I guess we now know why the Buckeyes don’t schedule Dayton, which brought what seemed like a nine-year career from point guard Aaron Craft to an end.
21. Creighton (27-8): The Blue Jays‘ lack of defense caught up to them in the NCAAs, and things got really ugly when Creighton went until an unforeseen shooting slump, too.
22. North Carolina (24-10): After that February hot streak, the Tar Heels ran cold in March, losing three of their final four games.
23. Oklahoma (23-10): Did anyone realize that the Sooners went 12-6 in the Big 12 this year?
24. Dayton (26-11): Outside of Connecticut and Kentucky, nobody in the tournament bettered itself more than Dayton.
25. Stanford (23-13): The Cardinal was another of the tournament’s surprises — not many had them in the Sweet 16.
26. Texas (24-11): After being on the hot seat for an underachieving 2012-13, coach Rick Barnes definitely overachieved with this bunch.
27. VCU (26-9): One of the more shocking teams of the tournament was seeing VCU gag up that game to Stephen F. Austin, fouling a 3-point shooter when that was the only thing that could keep the game from going to overtime.
28. New Mexico (27-7): The Lobos were a lot of people’s sleeper pick in the NCAA Tournament, but once again, it was another disappointing showing.
29. Oregon (24-10): Four of the Ducks’ five wins over NCAA Tournament teams came in the season’s last 3 1/2 weeks.
30. St. Louis (27-7): The Billikens were 25-2 at one point in the season, but at least they got an NCAA Tournament win over N.C. State.
31. Oklahoma St. (21-13): Cowboys were another hard team to figure, as seven of OSU’s losses came to NCAA Tournament teams came by six or less.
32. Pitt (26-10): The Panthers didn’t win a lot of big games, but Ken Pomeroy rated them in the top 30 in both offensive and defensive efficiency at season’s end.
33. Memphis (24-10): Five years into his career at Memphis, coach Josh Pastner still hasn’t made it to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.
34. SMU (27-10): If anybody thought the Mustangs didn’t deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament, think again — those two wins over UConn look even better, and four wins in the NIT didn’t hurt.
35. Kansas St. (20-13): Erratic Wildcats ended the season on a four-game losing streak.
36. Tennessee (24-13): Not to put a damper on what the Vols did, but the three wins in the NCAA Tournament didn’t help them as much here since they were over Iowa, UMass and Mercer.
37. Gonzaga (29-7): It’s still hard to know what to make of the Bulldogs when their only win over a team in my Top 50 came against Oklahoma State.
38. Iowa (20-13): Stats guru Ken Pomeroy defines “luck” as to whether close games go your way or not, and according to him, only four of the nation’s 351 teams had worst luck than the Hawkeyes.
39. Arizona St. (21-12): The Sun Devils ended the year on a four-game skid.
40. George Washington (24-9): Colonels finished a full game ahead of Dayton in the Atlantic 10 standings in a third-place tie with St. Joe’s.
41. St. Joe’s (24-10): These teams might as way be 40a and 40b…
42. Harvard (27-5): After another upset, this one of Cincinnati, the Crimson are now the consummate nightmare 12-seed.
43. Massachusetts (24-9): The sixth-seeded Minutemen were the most over-seeded team in the NCAA field, as Tennessee proved.
44. Nebraska (19-13): The Huskers were one of the most over-achieving teams in the tournament this year. NU’s not a basketball school, but Tim Miles had the school’s new arena sold out much of the year.
45. Minnesota (25-13): The NIT winners should have been in the NCAAs to begin with.
46. Colorado (23-13): Speaking of luck, Pomeroy had the Buffaloes as the third-luckiest team in America, statistically-speaking. Of course, the Buffs weren’t so lucky when their best player, Spencer Dinwiddie, went down in January with an injury.
47. Xavier (21-13): The Musketeers were a borderline pick for the tournament anyway, and losing by 15 to N.C. State doesn’t make XU more attractive on the other side.
48. Providence (23-12): Coach Ed Cooley lost 125 pounds, and gained his first NCAA Tournament.
48. North Dakota St. (26-7)
49. Stephen F. Austin (32-3)
50. Manhattan (25-8)
51. New Mexico St. (26-10)
52. Tulsa (21-13)
53. Mercer (27-9)
54. North Carolina Central (28-6)
55. Delaware (25-10)
56. Louisiana-Lafayette (23-12)
57. Western Michigan (23-10)
58. Eastern Kentucky (24-10)
59. American (20-13)
60. Milwaukee (21-14)
61. Weber St. (19-12)
62. Wofford (20-13)
63. Albany (19-15)
64. Cal-Poly (14-20)
65. Mt. St. Mary’s (16-17)
66. Coastal Carolina (21-13)
67. Texas Southern (19-15)