NO RESPECT FOR THE AMERICAN
This was not a normal year for the Men’s NCAA basketball tournament selection process, not a year just about seeding, who’s seeded where, which region is the strongest, which is the weakest. This year it was a referendum on one league, the league I’ve said all along is not the place to wind up when the music stops in the game of NCAA conference musical chairs.
Louisville spent the entire season as a top ten team, finishing the regular season as the number five team on the Associated Press poll while sharing the first American Athletic Conference regular season championship with 13th ranked Cincinnati, Cincinnati getting the number one seed for the conference tournament by virtue of a coin toss. After finishing the regular season with a convincing thrashing of one of the hardest charging teams in the league, UCONN, the Cardinals tore through the league tournament, taking no prisoners, finishing with another throttling of the 21st ranked Huskies in a championship game that was never as close as the 11 point final margin.
While Louisville took control of the AAC tournament two teams in front of them in the top five made early exits in their own tournaments, third ranked Villanova losing in the quarterfinals of the new, watered down Big East tournament, fourth ranked Arizona falling to UCLA in the Pac 12 semis. To most long time college basketball observers the only question regarding Louisville was whether the Cardinals would be the fourth number one seed or the top number two. The most shocking moment of the selections came when Louisville was seeded fourth in the Midwest, behind 34-0 Wichita State, Big Ten tournament championship game loser Michigan and ACC championship game loser Duke.
Top ranked Florida, after the SEC championship game win over Kentucky, was never in doubt as the number one overall seed, but Arizona’s early departure from the Pac 12 tourney was overlooked in awarding the top seed in the West to the Wildcats while sixth ranked Virginia jumped over Louisville for the top seed in the East with the ACC championship game win over Duke.
The committee made a further statement about, not just the strength of schedule in the AAC, which clearly aligns as a two tier, 10 team league, in which the five teams in the top tier didn’t help themselves with anything less than a 10-0 record against the bottom tier. It was also a referendum on the practice the AAC coaches carried over from their days in the much more powerful Big East, when they arranged creampuff schedules outside the league and earned their tournament seedings in conference play.
The combined strength of schedule sabotaged the new league with Cincinnati, considered a third seed possibility, settling for the fifth seed in the East while UCONN, projected as a fifth seed, was seeded seventh in the east, the Huskies opening Thursday night in Buffalo against Atlantic 10 champ St. Joseph’s. Memphis drew the eighth seed in the East while the fifth of the upper tier teams in the AAC, SMU, was left out completely.
The Big 12 led the way with seven teams selected, while the ACC, Big Ten, Pac 12 and, even, the A-10, were shown more respect than the AAC, with six teams each. With the ACC about to take credit for Louisville’s tournament accomplishments, of the remaining teams after this season, the AAC has only as many tournament entries as the severely weakened “Catholic Seven” version of the Big East.
With the realignment of the power leagues of the NCAA expected to continue this summer, it was not a good time for this kind of referendum on the American Athletic Conference.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.