The ESPN guys each were to ask NCAA basketball committee head Mike Bobinski one question. When they got around to Greg Anthony, he asked why #5 seed UNLV was playing #12 Cal 1) when the committee didn’t have teams play each other who’d played during the regular season and 2) why the game was being played in San Jose, a virtual home game for the Golden Bears. Coincidence? Anthony’s a proud graduate of UNLV and was simply looking out for his home boys. Take a listen to every other TV commentator.
Seth Greenberg, not surprisingly, empathized with any bubble team that played in a “big” conference, had a huge win but bad losses and was left out of the Dance, himself having been shut out of an at-large bid for several years - including one year in which his Virginia Tech squad beat Duke, at the time the #1 team in the country. In a TV interview after the game he was assured by none other than Dick Vitale that you won’t have to sweat a bid this year, baby, you’ll be dancing (or something like that). The Hokies, however, followed up that monumental win by losing to Boston College at home by 15, then again at Clemson to finish the regular season. That year, as there usually are, there were attractive “mid” major clubs and one (or more) of them was selected over the Hokies. Can’t say as I blame him for being snubbed as going to the NIT gets old for your fans.
If you didn’t know Jay Bilas attended Duke, you’d probably be able to figure it out when you hear him explain which teams should be in and which should be out. Maybe he could disguise Duke but not his affection for schools from “power” conferences. This year his beef was “In order to get selected by the committee, it’s not about who you beat; it’s about who you lose to.” This stems from the “little” guy not playing as difficult a schedule as the big boys do. Not non-conference but conference! It’s almost like it’s the little guy’s fault they’re in a conference that doesn’t give them chances game after game to get “quality” wins (from others in the league). One of these was Middle Tennessee State who went 28-5, but lost to Florida International in the semi-finals of the Sun Belt Conference (annually a one bid league).
One thing that’s for sure regarding Middle Tennessee. Any other team from any power conference, had it switched places in the Sun Belt this season with MTSU, would have faced a tall order to accomplish what the Blue Raiders did this season. Beyond the glossy record, their non-conference losses were at Florida, at Akron (in OT) and at Belmont (all NCAA tournament teams). They lost in their fourth conference game of the season, at Arkansas State in OT, before stringing 17 straight league victories. Then, the fateful setback to FIU. True, they didn’t have some of the big-name wins a team like Virginia had. They didn’t have the opportunity! They also didn’t have the opportunity to lose games to the schools, including the bad ones.
It’s the same slam Gonzaga sued to receive and first, Don Monson, then, Mark Few, went out and insanely scheduled the big boys, often with no return game. Now, teams like Gonzaga, Middle, Davidson, Butler, VCU are just like Duke, UNC and Kentucky as they get every team’s best shot, in front of packed arenas - which for other games the attendance doesn’t approach capacity. It’s as hard, or harder, to play in front of a jammed, raucous band box of a gym holding a few thousand, than it is a 15,000 sold out arena.
There’s no way of comparing mid-majors and “middling” majors as bracketologist Joe Lunardi refers to schools who aren’t particularly good but get to play in power conferences. In one way this year’s ESPN production was quite a turnaround for Bilas, who in 2011 absolutely lambasted the committee for awarding one of the final bids to VCU, not only on Selection Sunday, but in every show he was part of - until the Rams were still alive in the Sweet Sixteen. Of course, that year, the Rams made a Cinderella trip to the Final Four, justifying not only their selection but legitimizing them as a program not to ever again be taken lightly.
Wally Szcerbiak, who starred at Miami (OH), ending his career as Mid-American Conference Player-of-the-Year, picked Gonzaga to the Final Four and there was joy in his voice as he’d been on the Zags’ bandwagon before it was fashionable.
Mateen Cleaves went away from that line of thought when he picked Louisville over Michigan State, admitting he wasn’t going with his heart when he made the choice. Almost like he was apologizing to Spartan Nation for doing his job as a paid prognosticator.
It’s interesting listening to each guy explain his “side.” This most difficult part of Jay Bilas is that he’s a former (or, for all we know, a current) lawyer. What that means is that it’s difficult for others to speak with him because as a very close friend of mine once said:
“When two people have a discussion, it should be an exchange of information, that is, each person should learn something from the other. With a lawyer, there has to be a winner and a loser. And the lawyer has to win.”