MANUFACTURING THE NCAA NUMBER
There’s an interesting and ironic feature in the sports section of USA Today this morning. Interesting will become evident, ironic in the timing.
The feature focuses on the practice of coaches of high powered men’s college basketball programs of scheduling early season, pre conference games they have little chance of losing to help build their resumes come NCAA tournament selection time. The poster program used by USA Today is Georgetown, with the Hoyas annual games against schools like St. Leo and Shennandoah. The irony in the timing is that somebody finally picked up on what was a rampant practice among Big East coaches, only after the demise of the Big East, as the league that was widely considered the toughest in the nation. Much of that reputation came from the same self promotion that supported NCAA selection lobbying that at one time led to a record 10 Big East teams being selected for the big dance.
For several years 18 wins was held up as the Big East benchmark, that any team in the Big East with 18 wins should be considered a tournament lock based on the difficulty of the league. That eventually became 20 and, in the final stages of the Big East, even 20 was no longer worthy of an automatic entre and a 21 win team failed to get an invitation, as the selection committee began to catch on to the philosophy of Big East coaches, one that I quoted for years, “If you want a 20 win season, schedule a 20 win season.”
One of the favorite tactics of Big East coaches was to schedule early season games with teams ranked among the favorites in mid major conferences. Teams like Stony Brook and Vermont ranked high on the lists of Big East coaches for their favorites status in the America East because they not only added a win to the generally accepted total for NCAA entre, but scheduling favorites from a variety of lesser leagues who had little chance of beating a Big East team, the odds were good one of them would win their league and it’s automatic NCAA bid, giving the Big Easter a win over an NCAA tournament team to pad their resume. A well planned out pre Big East schedule, the type veteran Big East coaches like Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun and John Thompson became masters at mapping out, could have a 12-0 or 12-1 record on the board before the conference slate opened.
Whatever discourse may take place the rest of the season about the Big East, there was no argument Big East teams, with their composite record, were the best teams in the nation before the first of the year. After the first of the year, against teams their own size and talent level, they could go two or, even, four games under .500 and still expect a call from the selection committee. They’d made their number. As that number went from 18-20, and then even 21 without a guarantee, it became evident that, with their scheduling tactics, Big East coaches had greatly diminished the value of those numbers. Interestingly, someone finally caught on. Ironically, after the disbansion of the Big East.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.