So Syracuse, a No. 10 seed that barely avoided a play-in game slot and a team much of the men’s college basketball commentariat didn’t believe belonged in the NCAA tournament, made the Final Four. This offers validation to the NCAA selection committee, right?
And three of the No. 1 seeds were bounced before the Final Four, leaving North Carolina as the lone team from the top line left in the field. This is an indictment of the committee’s work, correct?
Actually, the answer is a resounding “no” on both fronts, and any attempt this week to suggest otherwise (perhaps even on the broadcasts of Saturday’s semifinals) shows a distinct lack of understanding of the task the committee is charged with carrying out each season.
The NCAA basketball committee’s job isn’t one of a predictive nature. Instead, it is supposed to evaluate four months of data and attempt to create the fairest possible field based on that information.
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Clearly, this year’s committee valued a raw quantity of high-end victories, and like pretty much all of its predecessors added extra weight to quality road and neutral triumphs. Hence a Syracuse team with a mediocre 19-13 mark earned its way in largely because it won at Duke and beat Connecticut and Texas A&M during a neutral-court tournament Thanksgiving week.
Likewise, Oklahoma and Villanova landed on No. 2 lines based on the totality of their resumes on March 13 while Virginia and Oregon snagged the final two No. 1 seeds. Oregon swept the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. Virginia owned eight top-20 victories. A rational case could be made both were more accomplished than the Sooners and Wildcats, teams still standing in the semifinals.
The only fair assessments of the committee’s work are based on what is known on Selection Sunday. Syracuse’s accomplishments over the first 32 games meant something in that process, and made a difference in securing the Orange a place in the tournament. Its final four games do nothing to prove or disprove anything related to the construction of the bracket and the selection of the 68-team field.
Before this weekend’s Oklahoma-Villanova semifinal, when was the last time a Big East program met a Big 12 school in the Final Four?
No strangers to the final weekend
All four of the remaining coaches in the field have advanced to this stage of the tournament before. North Carolina’s Roy Williams is in his eighth Final Four, and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim is making his fifth trip. Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger and Villanova’s Jay Wright have one previous Final Four appearance.
It’s the second consecutive year each of the coaches in the semifinals was making a return trip after Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Kentucky’s John Calipari, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan led their respective teams to the Final Four. It’s the first time during the expanded tournament era (since 1985) that all four coaches had previous Final Four experience in back-to-back seasons.
This marks the 11th year the tournament has come to Houston for at least one game, and the fifth time in the past nine seasons. Oklahoma and Syracuse have no NCAA tournament history in Houston, though North Carolina and Villanova made postseason trips there decades ago.
Villanova was the runner-up to UCLA in the 1971 Final Four, an appearance the NCAA vacated. The Wildcats also won a second-round game at the Summit in 1983. Three years later, North Carolina advanced to the Midwest regional in Houston, where it fell to Louisville 94-79 in the semifinals.
Before this year, the last time there was a Big East-Big 12 matchup in the Final Four was 2003, when Syracuse (then of the Big East) handled Kansas 81-78 in the national title game for what wound up as Williams’ final game as the coach of the Jayhawks.