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March 13th, 2004
Onions - Conference Tournament Thoughts
Welcome to Sesame Street today, ladies and gents. Today’s lesson is brought to you by the word ‘perspective.’
This is our chosen word because it seems to be something everyone’s lacking after yesterday. As about everyone who has ever seen a basketball probably knows by now, St. Joseph’s lost to Xavier by 20 points in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 conference tournament.
To all of those so eager to tar and feather the Hawks, hold right there. You’re making yourselves look bad with your unbridled anxiety to bury St. Joe’s.
All of the sudden, because they lost their first game of the season, everyone seems to be an expert and knew they were overrated. Because one game obviously proves all you need to know about a team, right? I mean, forget about everything else Duke has done this year, the Blue Devils lost to Purdue, and Purdue ain’t gonna be in the NCAA Tournament, right? That means the Blue Devils are terrible, or at least it does by the logic everyone is employing about St. Joe’s.
The overreaction is even worse because most people keep trying to use the number 37 as a baseline for this game. The Musketeers led by 37 at one point and ended up winning by 20, but all everyone keeps pointing out is how far SJU was behind, not how much they lost by. It just proves how much and how badly people have been looking for a reason to discredit the Hawks, when they have to resort to dissecting the game within the game to come up with the main reason why they’re so bad.
You get the feeling Xavier was an NAIA school, the way people are treating this game. St. Joseph’s lost to a team that has 21 wins, has won 11 of 12, and has beaten the likes of Cincinnati and Alabama. Losing to them was hardly horrible, and losing by 20, while definitely not good, is also not surprising at all when you consider the effort XU put together yesterday. The Musketeers were superhuman and would’ve beaten every single team in the country the way they played yesterday. That includes Duke, Mississippi State and Pittsburgh. Everybody.
There is no disputing the way the game played out was an eye-opener. It also was the type of game you wouldn’t see again if these teams played 50 more times, so there’s no way it should be costing St. Joseph’s a top seed in the NCAAs. Unfortunately, this is such a heated argument right now that the case for (or against) the Hawks has to be made like a court argument. But that’s o.k. We’re up to it.
Reasons why SJU should be a top seed:
1) The Xavier game was one game of 28. Despite this loss, St. Joe’s is still 27-1. Since it was their first loss of the season, it’s not as if you can say the Hawks have demonstrated a pattern late in the season that should overshadow what they have done the rest of the season. In fact, the selection committee set precedent last year when it all but ignored most conference tourney results in its seeding.
2) There are many top 10 teams who have lost and lost by good margins to worse teams than Xavier this year. See Stanford losing to Washington, or Kentucky losing to Georgia. Twice. Oh, and that Purdue team Duke lost to isn’t as good as Xavier, either.
3) This game was a fluke, or at least the way it happened sure was. Take nothing away from Xavier, which clearly was the better team Thursday and deserved to win and handily. But the Musketeers shot 71%, St. Joe’s shot 35%. Neither of those figures is anywhere close to normal for both teams, in particular Xavier. The Muskies broke a 25-year A-10 tourney record with their marksmanship, and they broke it by four percentage points, a huge margin. That is truly mind-boggling, and also abnormal. If Xavier played the worst defense in the country tomorrow and every day the rest of the season, it would not shoot 71% again. Oh, and SJU also won on Xavier’s own homecourt earlier this year…why isn’t anyone mentioning this?
4) St. Joe’s posted its 27-0 record in a conference that could certainly get four NCAA bids. They beat Gonzaga, one many think could deserve a 1 seed, and they comfortably beat one of the Big East’s best in Boston College. And again, SJU has already beaten Xavier once this year, so there isn’t a team they haven’t played that they haven’t beaten.
5) Whether you like their schedule or not, St. Joe’s has the RPI numbers firmly on their side, and this is probably the most important argument of all. SJU has the best non-conference RPI of any team in the country, and it isn’t even close. They also have the toughest non-conference schedule in the country, according to RPI, and their non-league sked is miles better than that of teams like Pittsburgh or Mississippi State. Only two teams have more RPI top 100 wins than the Hawks, and even after conference play the Hawks’ SOS is better than that of Pitt, Gonzaga, Oklahoma State and Stanford, among others. Even after losing to Xavier, across the board the Hawks’ numbers stack up very favorably in comparison to other teams contending for #1 seeds.
6) SJU has won 18 games on the road or at neutral sites this year. No other team in the country is close-the next nearest is Gonzaga with 14-and even if you don’t like who they’ve played, that has to make up for some of the perceived weakness.
7) This can’t be emphasized enough: St. Joseph’s has played a tougher schedule than Stanford, by any measurement you use, but we don’t hear anyone questioning their merits. The Cardinal played in a conference no better than the A-10 and had four opponents who were worse than the worst team St. Joe’s played. Nobody has been questioning whether the Cardinal deserves a 1 seed after getting beaten soundly by Washington. So why the double standard? (Hint: the answer has almost everything to do with #4 on the bottom list.)
Reasons why SJU shouldn’t get a top seed:
1) They played dreadfully in a March game, about as bad as one can imagine. This is clearly the main piece of evidence against the Hawks, and fairly so. But again, it was their first loss of the year, and they beat this same team before. It’s not like they’ve demonstrated this is a pattern.
2) People don’t like their schedule. This is the other reason many think they don’t deserve a top seed. If they’d played football schools like Clemson, Penn State, Arizona State and Texas A&M instead of Boston University, Old Dominion, Dayton and Delaware, maybe people would be happier with their schedule. Never mind the fact that all four of those football schools are worse than the teams SJU did in fact play.
3) They can’t rebound, have no inside game and will be a bad matchup against the best teams in the country. The first two parts aren’t completely untrue, but how does anyone know the third? The Hawks mowed down every single team they played this year before Xavier #2. They beat Gonzaga, a team many think is one of the top five in the country, and no, Ronny Turiaf’s absence in that game was not the only reason they won. The Bulldogs still have one of the top frontcourts in the country even without Turiaf, and a lot of Zag players said after the game that the Hawk defenders simply wore them out. And there’ve been teams going a long way in the past without much of a post presence-see Georgia Tech in 1990. At the absolute least, do they not deserve the benefit of the doubt?
4) They aren’t a big name. Face it, this is the biggest reason why most can’t handle St. Joseph’s getting a 1 seed. If St. Joseph’s was in a BCS conference and had the same numbers and even the same schedule as it does now, there wouldn’t be any questions about them. None.
By looking at their conference or scanning their schedule, most automatically assume the Hawks haven’t played anybody. The numbers emphatically suggest otherwise, they just didn’t play names the casual fan or “non-believer” recognizes. Yet these casual fans feel they’re more than qualified to weigh in on St. Joseph’s quality. Of course, these same fans will gladly point out their team’s RPI as a reason why they should be in the tourney, yet will completely overlook the incredibly high RPI of St. Joe’s.
The bad news for SJU is the NCAA Selection Committee sometimes resembles the casual fan in its logic. If the committee is doing its job correctly, though, it will do the right thing and St. Joseph’s will certainly be a 1 seed. The committee needs to remember that a 28-game season is a much, much better judge of a team than one game.
-Soft spot for St. Joseph’s? Sure, I have no problem admitting it. There are always going to be doubters of any great team, but it’s just disgusting how so many people across the country can’t let the Hawks enjoy the amazing season they’re having and feel the need to tear them down. It’s even worse because so much of it has to do with bias against non-‘name’ schools. Most people either haven’t seen the Hawks play this year or don’t know a thing about the teams St. Joe’s has played. It’s annoying when there are so many experts, especially when they don’t have their facts straight and just go off a lazy assumption.
Is SJU a national championship contender? Who knows? We’re guessing they’ll lose in the Elite Eight, approximately, but so what if they do? Given the records of 1 seeds in the tourney and since all four top regional seeds have never reached the Final Four in the same year, the average advancement for a 1 seed is to-voila-the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. If the Hawks are a 1 seed and ‘only’ make it that far, many will be saying that proves they weren’t any good, when it will in fact have proven they were as good as any other average 1 seed.
-Poor Mississippi Valley State. You can’t feel too badly for the Delta Devils because they made their own bed, but the top seed in the SWAC tourney lost its opener to 8 seed Alcorn State, 67-66. Now, Valley has to somehow hope the NIT will take them. They should, but SWAC teams rarely get picked for that tourney, especially since there’s always a 15-15 SEC team that obviously deserves it more (dripping sarcasm).
-IUPUI is another team that deserves an NIT bid, and we’re glad to further their campaign here. 21 wins, including one over East Tennessee State, and they played a tough schedule against the likes of Dayton, Vanderbilt, West Virginia, Hawaii and Wisconsin-Green Bay. The Jaguars are definitely worthy.
-Air Force should be safe in the NCAAs, despite its goofy RPI number. A Mountain West regular season title should do it, since it was the seventh-rated league in the country. As ESPN’s Jon Sundvold said during the Missouri-Texas A&M Big 12 quarterfinal Thursday night, “If they’re not in, why have conferences?” It does open up the possibility that this league could again furnish a surprise entrant in the tourney, with Colorado State and UNLV playing a semifinal game tonight.
-Huge comeback win by Utah over San Diego State in the MWC quarters. The Utes may still have work to do, but their season stacks up pretty well it seems from here. The issue is more about how many Mountain West teams can get in the tourney than anything else.
-Purdue, Notre Dame, Rutgers…good night, enjoy the NIT. Virginia, too, and Colorado and LSU deserve to be joining them if they lose in their conference tourney quarterfinals as they are as this is being written.
-How about the run by Villanova so far in the Big East tourney? Seems one team somewhere always does this in that league. Don’t expect it to go much further, but give credit to the Wildcats where it is due. They’ve had a tough path to the semis, with Seton Hall and Providence. At the same time, don’t be surprised if the Friars and Pirates are out of the NCAA Tournament fairly early next week.
-The Big East tournament is fun to watch, as far as major conference tourneys go. Seems all the teams take it seriously, and that’s cool. On the other hand, the SEC tourney doesn’t interest me much at all, and the Pac-10 tourney…did they even play yesterday? (Just kidding.)
-As impressive as Xavier’s win over St. Joseph’s was, George Washington’s dismantling of Rhode Island darn near equaled it. That should be a dynamite semifinal game in the A-10, as should Dayton-Richmond.
-The MAC also has some excellent semifinal games. Miami-Kent State and Toledo-Western Michigan, and all four teams are postseason worthy.
-Doesn’t it seem like Saint Louis makes a run like this every year in Conference USA? And UAB may be starting to establish that same reputation. The Blazers are in the tourney for certain now, and may well win the whole darn C-USA tourney and pick up a nice seed in the NCAAs.
-Boise State is playing very, very well right now. The Broncos have an excellent chance of winning the WAC tourney, even over Nevada or Texas-El Paso, and might well be one of the 34 best at-large teams out there right now.
-My turn to overreact…just saw that LSU is losing to South Carolina by 18! Oh no! Applying St. Joseph’s logic, the Tigers absolutely don’t deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament now.
-Wasn’t sold on them even a week ago, but I’ll give Alabama the benefit of the doubt now. They’ve worked awful hard down the stretch to earn a bid to the NCAAs.
-Missouri, on the other hand, was less than impressive against Texas A&M. Tigers should need to reach the Big 12 final at least. They haven’t been that impressive down the stretch, with a lot of their wins over poor teams.
-From two nights ago, congratulations to Eastern Washington in winning the Big Sky. Can’t imagine what kind of a burden it was for them, having lost in the league tourney finals three straight years beforehand. You won’t find any teams happier to be in the NCAAs than the Eagles.
-LSU lost to South Carolina by 21. That’s one point more than St. Joseph’s lost to Xavier to yesterday. And South Carolina didn’t shoot 71%.
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