Tuesday, March 13, 2007

NCAA Tournament Quips

Winthrop University, my favorite, low mid-major, is making its 7th tournament appearance in 9 years. Though never favored to win anything and just happy to be there, Winthrop has improved its reputation after stunning play against #2 seed Tennessee last year. Tennessee managed to pull luck out of their ass with a 3-pointer with virtually no time left to win the game. After finishing this year at 28-4, 17-0 in conference play (including the Big South tournament), expectations are higher.

Winthrop finished the season ranked #22 in the AP Poll, #21 in the USA Today\ESPN Coaches poll. They won their last 18 games. This is the first season Winthrop has ever been ranked. Last season was the first season that they ever received any votes to be ranked.

They played North Carolina hard in November, ahead by 12 at one point, leading by 8 points at half-time. They ended up losing the game by 7. This early lesson for UNC was you better know your opponent or they will kick your donkey.

In another game, they took Wisconsin to overtime, only to lose again. On the bright side, they defeated Old Dominion, which is also in the tournament, and Missouri State, one of the teams whose "bubble" burst on Selection Sunday.

Though many "experts" claim that they had close games with Maryland and Texas A&M, I know this not to be true. I was at Comcast when Winthrop played Maryland and Maryland controlled Winthrop by shutting down their 3-point game. After being ahead by about 20, Maryland put the bench on the court and Winthrop was able to close the gap, making the score look better than it really was. Texas A&M did the same thing.

Before conference play began, Winthrop had an RPI in the low 30's. Once they began conference play, every win against a Big South team resulted in a lowering of their RPI. They were being punished for winning. Moreover, they would have been crushed for losing.

While Winthrop seems to win the cupcakes, they never seem to be able to win the big game, though they play well. The problem for big teams is that they know their time will come. In an interview with USA Today, Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall discussed the difficulties with being a good team in a weak division. Many big name schools hang up on him when he calls to schedule a game. Others agree to play him, but only on their turf. His response to the casual reader is something to the effect of 'What am I to do? Play 9 home games and 20 road games?'. His is good for the wallet, but certainly not fair to the University nor his players. He's forced to play some non-Division I schools just to have some home games.

So how will Winthrop do on Friday against Notre Dame? I predict they will play well, will keep it close, and the game will be determined in the final 10 seconds. My hope is that Notre Dame plays as well as their football team and goes home crying on their sisters' shoulders.

What are the experts saying? Who cares? They're always wrong. They always have the best team winning. Look at any "expert" on CNNSi. They have 3 #1 seeds in the Final Four. How often does that happen. My 5 year old son could pick them that well.

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