Saturday, December 3, 2022

Indiana, Maryland wrestle in Big Ten to spark debate over inclusion of .500 team in NCAA field

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In March 1991, I was on the field at Madison Square Garden when the Villanova Wildcats lost by just two points in the Big East Tournament semi-finals to future champion Seton Hall, falling to 16-14 in the regular season. So it didn’t feel so much like an extraordinary moment as it was a very entertaining basketball game.

And yet, three decades later, these Wildcats carry a significant distinction in the long history of March Madness. They became the first team ever to be selected at the NCAA tournament with a record of just two games above the .500 mark. A decade later, after losing to LSU in a one-point game at the SEC tournament, Georgia also finished 16-14 in the regular season and was also selected to the NCAA as a large number contestant.

These Wildcats and Bulldogs are the only ones, however. There have been 1,215 at-large selections since the tournament grew to 64 teams in 1985, but no one else has made it like an at-large selection with such an unappealing record.

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Are we ready, then, in a college basketball season where everything else has been hit by the pandemic, for a .500 team to install on NCAA rack? Maybe a game over? It’s been an unprecedented college basketball season, so will the selection committee be interested in breaking most or all of the precedents that have governed their picks over the past four decades?

“I don’t want to see a huge change in this thought process,” college basketball analyst Mike O’Donnell, who calls games for ESPN and CBS Sports, told Sporting News. “If you’re .500 on the season, or if you’re under, for me you shouldn’t have to be part of the conversation. Because winning matters in the end. “

Teams have been allowed to play 27 games in 2020-2021 and encouraged to play at least four outside of their conferences. It was not universally easy to achieve due to the COVID-19 issues. Saint-Bonaventure only got two of those games. Colorado State has played three. Penn State and Rutgers each played four. These are among the many teams fighting for wide places with a relatively uncertain outcome.

Some of those who are members of highly competitive conferences, obviously the Big Ten, have struggled – in part due to those truncated non-league schedules – to compile the kind of won / lost records that would normally have made them attractive. candidates.

A year ago, when nine of the Big Ten teams placed in the top 40 of the NCAA Assessment Tool (NET) Final Rankings, they were to have 10 teams in the NCAA field of here the final. composite, with the poorest overall record among them belonging to 19-12 Michigan.

This year’s Big Ten has four teams in the NET’s top 10 and 10 in the top 50. Among these top 30 teams, however, are 10-8 Indiana and 7-9 Penn State. Maryland is ranked 42nd in the NET and has a 9-10 record against Division I opponents. It’s not just the Big Ten teams that face this conundrum. In the Big East, Seton Hall is the 45th team in the NET and is only 11-8. Connecticut is 51st and sits at 8-4, after battling multiple interruptions due to COVID protocols.

It might be easy to look at these records and reject their nominations for NCAA offers. After all, there are teams like the Loyola Ramblers, which rank 12th in the NET and are 15-3 against Division I teams. They could certainly be picked for the tournament ahead of a team from a conference. more important. And they could be. So far, however, with Indiana holding two wins over Iowa’s No.10 NET, Loyola hasn’t beaten anyone above 111th place. Nearly two-thirds of the Ramblers’ victories are against teams ranked below 190th place.

That year, it was less Loyola’s fault than it usually would be. The opportunity to play against high-profile non-conference opponents – whether they be major conference teams or elite mid-majors – has been restricted by the shortened schedule. The Ramblers did, however, secure opportunities against Wisconsin and Richmond and were unable to win.

“In my opinion, if you’re trying to be in the ‘best’ 68 teams, then there’s probably a .500 squad that belongs in the field,” a longtime coach told Sporting News. “But if you’re trying to identify the 68 most ‘deserving’ then the one that should be included, without a doubt, is that successful mid-major. And the standard has always been, to some extent, the most deserving teams. The pandemic has not allowed so many non-conference games to take place.

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For those concerned with projecting which teams will be selected for the NCAA tournament, Maryland has been a team that fits perfectly into the argument of whether the standard might be different for the 2021 edition of March Madness. .

Despite holding a loss record against Division I opponents, the Terps have won road victories against No.4 from Illinois, No.18 from Wisconsin and No.52 from Minnesota, as well as a home win over No.23 Purdue. The problem: these are the Terps’ only victories. They are 4-9 in the conference, and that has dragged them below .500 overall.

The Terps’ schedule has been absurdly difficult. Of their 19 matches in DI, 14 were played against opponents of Quad-1. The remaining six games on their current schedule aren’t a snap, but the challenge could be seen as a bit more manageable. The average NET ranking of these opponents is 69th, down from 18th in their first 13 Big Ten games. If they were to go 4-2 in that streak and finish 13-12, would they deserve a blanket offer?

“That’s a great question that I’ve thought about a lot,” Tim Krueger, bracket analyst for The Athletic, told Sporting News.

“Every time you cancel Maryland, they get another victory. And then every time you think this one will put them on top, they lose. Guess that’s what bubble teams do, right? Their CV is pretty good. Not bad.

“There are a handful of 9-8 teams, and I just didn’t feel comfortable getting them in until they had another win. My thought has been that there are enough other choices that have quality wins. My support is scattered about it.

“If there isn’t enough choice, then yes they can watch something like this.”


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