Friday, March 13, 2009

Six OTs and the shrinking NCAA champion list

First things first: The Monk set his DVR for three hours last night for the Syracuse-UConn game. I knew the first 30 minutes would be lost to the end of the previous Big East quarterfinal (the TV listings never set this up properly) and so I built in 30 minutes at the end for an OT. I also knew that SU tended to play UConn tougher in the Big East Tournament (see 2005, 2006) than it did in regular season games in Storrs (and this year, SU got whupped 63-49). So I anticipated a potentially good game despite the beatdown UConn delivered earlier this year.

Fair enough.

By the time I started watching the "tape" at 10:10 CDT, SU and UConn were heading to the last few minutes of the actual game. About 75 minutes later, my recording ended (I'd skipped the commercials, etc.) and SU was down one in OT with Charles Robinson on the line. So I went to Yahoo! Sports to see how it ended.

It hadn't -- the scoreboard said 104-104 4OT.

In the end, SU outlasted UConn 127-117 in SIX overtimes. And SU didn't lead in any of the first five extra periods! That's worth a wow. So is the double twenty that SU's 6-foot-3 (if that) forward Paul Harris put together -- 29 points and 22 rebounds! And, as you could almost expect by now, Jonny Flynn was outstanding (34 points, 11 assists, 6 steals, played 67 of 70 minutes!). Kudos to the Orange for that win.

BTW, the Monk thought it a bit inappropriate for Jim Calhoun to beef about his team's free throw shooting (bad) and turnovers (also bad) after his kids played their hearts out for 70 minutes. It's not like his team (16 blocked shots, 31 offensive rebounds, five players with 10+ rebounds, 69-56 rebound edge) rolled over and played dead. There's a time and place for it, and Calhoun was lucky his team even had the overtime opportunities to win because SU's Eric Devendorf sank a miracle shot at the end of regulation that BARELY missed beating the buzzer (the ball was in his fingertips and he was releasing his shot as the clock his 0:00).

But what this means in a larger sense is: four of the top eleven teams in the country are essentially guaranteed to not win the NCAA Tournament even before it has started. Here's why: no team that has lost in the quarterfinals of its conference tournament has ever won the NCAA Tourney. The last one to bonk in its conference quarters and make the Final Four is Texas (2003). And through just yesterday, before the SEC, Big T(elev)en and ACC quarters had been played, four teams projected to be no worse than a #3 seed in the NCAAs had been bounced from their conference tourneys: Pittsburgh (74-60 loss to WVa), Oklahoma (lost to Ok. State), Kansas (lost to Baylor) and UConn. Pitt, UConn and Oklahoma are among the six teams most likely to get one of the four #1 seeds in the NCAA Tourney (with UNC, Louisville and Memphis).

So if you bank on anything, bank on this: the NCAA Tournament champion in 2009 will not be Kansas, Pitt, UConn or Oklahoma. Your instincts in favor of UNC are looking better every day.

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