April 7th, 2014 12:00 PM║ Posted By: John Pennington ║ Permalink
║ Schools: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Tags: Elite Eight, RPI, SEC, South Carolina
In college basketball the big picture is all that matters. Is your favorite team’s resume good enough to earn it an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament? The rest of it — the yo-yo, see-saw, roller-coaster, up and down, back and forth freak outs — is meaningless.
Don’t believe us? OK, then how many Kentucky fans do you think are still sweating the Wildcats’ 72-67 March 1st road loss to South Carolina? Anyone?
Kentucky began the 2013-14 season with dreams of an undefeated season. As those dreams quickly disappeared thanks to November and December losses to Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, Big Blue Nation had a Big Blue Conniption. From messageboards to Twitter, John Calipari was taken to task for not getting the most out of what was basically the world’s best AAU team. So what if Coach Cal’s players were young and green? Many UK backers simply weren’t accepting excuses (even legitimate ones).
Things only got worse as the Cats proved themselves to be inconsistent throughout SEC play. There were two losses to Arkansas. There was the South Carolina disaster. There was a 3-4 stretch to end the regular season. There also was a tie for second place in the SEC with Georgia.
That’s not at all what Kentucky fans and most media members expected to see as the regular season transitioned into tourney season.
Yet here we are, once again reminded that tourney season is really the only season that matters when it comes to college basketball. The regular season is nothing more than a means of selecting 68 teams for the NCAA Tournament. The regular-season games themselves? They mean zip. Kentucky lost three times to Florida this year. But who’s in the national title game? Kentucky, not Florida.
Tennessee lost to a seven-man Vanderbilt squad and lost twice to Texas A&M. But the Vols still got into the tournament, they reached the Sweet Sixteen and they were just three missed free throws from reaching the Elite Eight. The regular season that so angered the “Bring Back Bruce” crowd in Knoxville really meant little by season’s end. The Vols did what they had to do to get in the field and then they took advantage of matchups to keep playing long after Kansas, Ohio State, Duke and Syracuse went home (despite those schools having better regular seasons).
Florida had a magnificent regular season losing just twice. They were undefeated in SEC play and then they took their in-league record to a sizzling 21-0 in the SEC Tournament. They were given the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the Gators drew a bad matchup in the national semifinal game and fell to UConn, one of the two teams that beat UF back in the regular season. So for all those regular-season wins and that top overall seed, UF will still be watching tonight’s championship game along with 349 other D-I schools.
At MrSEC.com, we vow never to go too overboard over the seeding implications of regular-season wins and losses, either. Once a team is in the field, it’s all a question of matchups. Matchups mean more than seeds. Kentucky and UConn were seeded eighth and seventh in their respective regions. One 10 seed and two 11 seeds reached the Sweet Sixteen this year. One 11 seed (Dayton) advanced all the way to the Elite Eight. And obviously none of the 1 seeds made it to tonight’s title bout.
So next basketball season, follow our lead and focus only on three things from November to March:
1. What is my team’s RPI?
2. What is my team’s strength of schedule?
3. How close to 20 wins are we and do we still have time to hit that mark?
It’s all about being good enough to earn one of the 36 at-large bids handed out by the selection committee. And all things being equal, that means your favorite squad will probably need to win 20 games, have an RPI inside the top 40 and a SOS rank of 100 or better. Follow that. Pay attention to that. And get off the roller-coaster.
A December loss to North Carolina? A march loss to South Carolina? Unless one or the other prevents your team from winning 20 or ranking in the top 40 of the RPI… those regular-season games should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s time to just admit that fact and focus on the big picture instead.
That’s what we do on this site each year. And you can bet we’re going to keep doing it moving forward.
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