The idea of reseeding the NCAA Tournament is one that has been bandied about for several years by some college basketball talking heads (mostly Billy Packer) so utterly blinded by their own pomposity and myopia (e.g., Billy Packer) that even the most casual of fans recognizes the obvious folly of these ramblings of a lunatic (Packer, William). The NCAA Tournament is the most popular playoff format in the world largely as a result of its set bracket, and making any changes to what is its most endearing characteristic is akin to making the Super Bowl commercial-free.
Of course all of this doesn’t stop us from doing our own version of reseeding. Now that the first weekend of the Tournament has passed and our pre-Tourney predictions have proven to be either laughingly incorrect or grossly misguided, we’re taking a mulligan and giving ourselves yet another chance to be dead wrong in public. As far as we know that makes us the only members of college hoops punditry willing to look like complete jackasses not just once, but twice (We doubt the ESPN studio crew will be asking Bobby Knight this week how his bracket buster Pitt is doing, as entertaining as that would be.) Herewith, then, is our re-ranking of the remaining teams, from 16 to 1.
16. Villanova – Part of the beauty of the NCAA Tournament is that the one-and-done format leads people into making sweeping and largely inaccurate generalizations (“Maybe the Pac-10 isn’t as great as we thought!”) based on results which have more to do with luck than anything else. That’s not to say that the Tournament is not a meritocracy, because any team still standing in week two is pretty darn good regardless of the circumstances. Nonetheless, of all the teams we have seen we remain least impressed with the Wildcats, who benefited a bit from a Siena team which spent the opening half of their second round game bruising rims from gimme distance, and greatly from a Clemson team that folded in their first round matchup as badly as, well, a Clemson team. Clemson coach Oliver Purnell may have pulled the real upset of the Tourney in providing the worst coaching performance in a field that includes Rick Barnes. In frittering away an 18 point lead, Purnell deployed a veritable master’s thesis on wretched coaching which included the two-pronged strategy of not pounding the ball inside against a team which hasn’t matched up sizewise since a November exhibition game against Peter Dinklage’s Traveling All-Stars, and a half court offense seemingly geared to create nothing but 3 pointers late in the shot clock despite the fact that 3 point shooting is something they suck at. Congratulations to Jay Wright and Scottie Reynolds, two class guys. Now go home.
15. Western Kentucky – The irony is that of all the teams listed down to 9, it’s Western Kentucky that probably has the best chance of upsetting its Thursday opponent. And that’s less a knock on UCLA’s insistence on playing self-destructively close to the vest than it is a compliment to Western Kentucky’s resilience. At times reevaluating a cliché reminds you of why the cliché became cliché in the first place. Cinderella, remember, was exceedingly attractive even in her pauper form. Western Kentucky has been good all season and while the fact that they’ve won their tournament games in Cinderella fashion cements their legacy, this isn’t exactly 2006 Bradley either. Bruins beware (at least for the first 36 1/2 minutes).
14. Davidson – The most shocking development of last weekend was how everyone seemed to miss how highly and blatantly ironic it was that the marquee, big name franchise in Nike’s new “There are no Cinderellas” commercial is…Georgetown. We understand the theme of the ad, that Appalachian State, Boise State, NC State, et al, all worked their asses off and consequently even a Cinderella isn’t really a Cinderella. But still, as shrewd an advertiser as Nike is, I’m not sure even Doc Brown and his Delorean could have foreseen the synergy of that spot. The cut from the scowling John Thompson to the Boise State Statue of Liberty is particularly apropos if not just plain sadistic.
13. Washington State – Short of the Harlem Globetrotters or the And 1 Mix tape team, you really couldn’t pick a worse match-up for the Cougars. For all that talk of defense beating offense it’s really only applicable if said defensive team’s offense is better than said offensive team’s defense, and it isn’t in this case, which isn’t a compliment to the Tar Heels defense. That this is Washington State’s tournament farewell is unfortunate. Few teams have done unentertaining as entertainingly as the Bennett Bunch and assuming he goes to greener pastures (which isn’t as easy an assumption as you would think), the Pac-10 loses it’s second best coach. Unless, of course, Cal constitutes green pastures.
12. West Virginia – Successful sports franchises that transition easily from one era to another are always hard to tolerate. If I have to humor a three years grace period for the post-Adelman era Kings is it that unreasonable to expect the same success penance from the Steelers or Pistons? This is, generally speaking, not an issue in college sports, where coaching transitions stem from situations either apocalyptically good or apocalyptically bad and lead to alternative situations either apocalyptically good or apocalyptically bad. Rarely does a new coach maintain the status quo. But here is Bob Huggins and his “new look” Mountaineers, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the “old look” Mountaineers. Still upsetting overrated ACC schools, still shooting their way to the Sweet 16, still giving hope to poorly facial haired white trash everywhere, still struggling in the second weekend? That last one remains to be seen, but that a Bob Huggins coached team is playing in the second weekend at all is testament to the quality of the hoops culture in Morgantown.
11. Stanford – Gene Wojciehowski, ESPN’s resident expert on clichéd sports parochialism, had the audacity to take Trent Johnson to task for not being aware that the referee in the Marquette game, Curtis Shaw, is whistle happy and would toss him out of a game. His analysis includes this beauty…
“Was it a ticky-tack ejection in such a huge game? Sure. But if everyone at courtside knows Shaw has a short-trigger whistle, wouldn’t you think Johnson would know it too?”
So apparently not only are we allowing refs to make horrific calls consistently throughout the Tournament, we’re actually criticizing coaches for not being more aware of those shitty calls. That’s pretty sound logic.
10. Wisconsin – Perhaps no one else in the Tournament outside of Washington State does ugly quite as beautiful as do the Badgers. This likely has as much to do with both schools having to endure miserable winters with nothing but scratchy flannel clothing and a healthy buzz as it does the Bennett coaching legacy. Wisconsin also historically has one of the most rabid and entertaining fan bases in the country, again likely owing to cold, insular winters. This is a school that spent most of the 70’s and 80’s selling out college hockey games during Badger Bob Johnson’s tenure and chanting “Wissss…consin” to the tune of the old “When you say Buddddd…weiser” ad, an exercise in creative consumption if not a clear conflict of interest for the Miller Brewing Company’s graveyard shift. Still, let’s see West L.A. come up with a clever chant at UCLA games involving amyl poppers.
9. Michigan State – Know how this Tom Izzo team is different than other successful Tom Izzo Tournament teams? We really could care less about this group. And we’re pretty sure we’re not alone…
8. Tennessee – The only thing that stands in the way of the best matchup in the Tournament is a Tyler Hansbrough injury or Tennessee suddenly getting a lights-out shooting effort from its theoretical best player Chris Lofton. Unfortunately for the Vols (but fortunately for us), slumping shooters usually don’t get well against Rick Pitino defenses.
7. Texas – The revelation during the Stanford/Marquette game that Tom Crean is married to a female Jim Harbaugh obscured the greater revelation to us that as a coach Crean may not be, how to put it…good. Not to take anything away from Brook Lopez’s beautiful leaner to ice the game, but after five straight Stanford possessions in OT resulted in five straight passes into the low block, you may have wanted to give them a different look on their last possession. All signs point to a tougher matchup for the Cardinal. The Texas backcourt is even better than Marquette’s, their frontcourt is a little tougher, so all they need is a coach with half a brain. Unfortunately, they have Rick Barnes.
6. Xavier – The Musketeers are a hell of a team that will keep going as long as sparkplug Drew Lavender is going. The good news for them is that there are only a couple of point guards in the country that can match up with him defensively. The bad news is they both play for UCLA.
5. Kansas – This team is so good right now that we can’t think of any reason why they couldn’t win it all besides the fact that they’re Kansas. Unfortunately that’s more than enough reason.
4. Memphis – We will never understand the logic that led bracket fillers in lemming like masses to decide that, since all four #1 seeds have never made the tournament, Memphis is the natural #1 seed that won’t. Free throw shooting is a problem? Did anyone see the conclusion of the Texas-Miami game? This was a down year for Conference USA? They lost 1 game. They’re playing Texas in Houston? I don’t care if they’re playing in fucking Austin. A less talented version of this team made the Elite 8 in a much tougher tournament last year. That Texas is a good #2 seed and Memphis ostensibly a weak #1 seed does not an upset make. There’s no shame in front running. There is shame in out front running front running under the guise of shrewd picking. Memphis is better than Texas plain and simple.
3. UCLA – Why is it just now occurring to people that Ben Howland is a great coach? The guy has taken his team to two consecutive Final Fours and simply because he hasn’t been in the media’s collective consciousness for as along as John Calipari or Bill Self he’s somehow less of a coach? College Basketball isn’t parochial at all…oh wait.
2. Louisville – The lower seeded tournament team you should have picked as long as you weren’t going to pick nothing but 1 seeds. While Carolina, without question, absolutely exceeded one of the two of our expectations, they still haven’t satiated our three key concerns: 1) They don’t play particularly well defensively 2) They don’t play particularly well against good defensive teams, and 3) They ran an ACC with as many teams in the Sweet 16 as the Southern Conference. Inversely, Louisville has dominated better teams in equally impressive (if not quite as gaudy) fashion while flexing Big East defensive muscle and scoring chops. They don’t play defense or offense as well as any number of teams on this list. But they play the two together better than any.
1. North Carolina – As much as we hate their defense, as much as it screws up any chance we have to win our pool, as much as we like Louisville, the simple truth of the matter is that the National Champion the last few years is the team that most resembles an NBA team. There may not be a future max contract on the roster, but even Maryland is as much remembered for it’s former player who madly fired a gun in the air outside the White House as it is for it’s former players currently having middling success for NBA teams in the Northwest.