Ok, I get it. That’s not good. That’s not even a little bit good. In fact, it’s the categorical opposite of good. What’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yes, that’s right. Bad. 3-6 is bad. It’s very bad. And not in a “He’s a baaaaaaaaaad man” kind of bad. It’s no bueno. Again, I get it.
And that’s the mark the Conference of Champions has earned after the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. It’s kind of an ungracious thing to do, you know? After receiving a record-setting seven invitations to La Baila Grande, the Pac-12 collectively ripped up its invitations at the front door of its host, tossed them at the Committee’s feet and then spit on them.
Except collectively they didn’t do that. They did it individually, and that’s the start of why nobody credible is condemning the Pac-12’s status now that six of the seven teams failed to reach the second weekend of the tournament. That 3-6 record is the arbitrary summation of seven different teams and nine different games.
The Pac-12 didn’t form an All-Star team (or seven All-Star teams) comprised of the best players from the entire conference and send them to compete in the NCAA Tournament. They also didn’t have all seven teams practice together, watch film together, and strategize together. The “Pac-12” didn’t do anything in the NCAA Tournament. Seven Pac-12 teams played, and six of them lost a game. That’s it.
And yet, dependable as ever, the chorus of lazy journalists warmed up the pipes and belted out that old chestnut of theirs. Translated into prose it goes thusly: What your conference does in the NCAA Tournament is the deciding referendum on all the events that happened before the NCAA Tournament. This is nonsense, and no matter how many credentialed media members tweet it at you, ignore it, and don’t let yourself buy into it.
“The Pac-12 is overrated.” Ok, my first question is “by whom?” Not Jeff Sagarin, who currently has the conference rated fifth, which is essentially where he had it rated all season long. Not Ken Pomeroy. He rated five of the six teams who ended Pac-12 teams’ seasons last weekend above those Pac-12 teams. That’s right. Those outcomes were not shocking, and they weren’t the product of “overrating.” They were predictable, and they were predicted.
Only Cal, ah blessed Cal, lost to a team Ken Pomeroy expected them to beat, and by now everybody knows the woe that is the week that was for Cal. They lost an assistant coach to a sexual harassment charge and they lost one of their leaders, Smoochie Wallace, to a broken hand. This all happened within 72 hours of Cal’s NCAA Tournament opener. Is this excuse making? I guess, but it was a shock to nobody to see a team in that kind of sudden disarray fall on its face.
And that’s it. VCU was rated 35th by KP, Oregon State was rated 60th, and was missing its second-best player in Tres Tinkle. USC lost an 8-9 game by one point on a final shot. This happened on a “neutral” floor thousands of miles further from the Galen Center than Providence’s Dunkin’ Donut Center. UConn was rated 25th by KP and Colorado was rated 55th. Arizona, deemed one of the biggest disappointments, lost to a Wichita State team that had been ranked eighth by Pomeroy. A team that USC beat, by the way.
So the answer would seem to be, “The Committee.” Ok. The Pac-12 had its best season ever per the RPI. If you want to ridicule the committee for overseeding the conference because it uses the RPI, then knock it for using that metric. Don’t call the Pac-12 “overrated.” At best, it’s an incomplete accusation. Say “the Pac-12 was overrated by the committee.” I don’t know if I’d agree with that, but at least it would be in the same postal code as a rational claim.
And yet, even that claim is specious, because it clearly violates a little thing called the space-time continuum. Waiting to see how a team (or conference) does in the NCAA Tournament and then judging where it should be seeded or what validity its season had is insane. Surely, if the tournament committee knew the results of the game in advance of the games actually being played, they’d do a much better job of seeding the teams. Except, lacking Doc Brown’s DeLorean, they lacked that information, so what are we talking about here?
But all this isn’t the most ridiculous reason for dismissing the dissing. There’s a phrase that sabermetricians and those who use advanced metrics (read: super smart people who use information intelligently) use all of the time: “small sample size.” Beware of small sample sizes, because they are misleading, and they lead normally intelligent and rational people to asinine conclusions wrought with logical fallacies.
The Pac-12 NCAA Tournament Invitees collectively played over 200 games this year. Individually, they all played over 30 times. Arizona, Cal, Colorado, USC, and Oregon State lost. They did that a bunch of times this year. Much more often, they won. Utah won a game and then lost a game. That’s two games out of 36. Oregon had a great week. They went 2-0. Based on the previous “ir-rationale,” are the Ducks now underrated? Or is that something we can only determine after we know what happens this week?
The Pac-12 was a competitive league, both in and out of conference. It was not the best league, and nobody ever argued thusly. Would it have been better for those of us who follow the CofC’s if it had gone 6-3? Sure. I suppose I could crow a bit, stick my chest out a bit more than normal. But I would have been wrong to do so, as surely as those who are using one bad week to paint the league as less or a disappointment or whatever.
Don’t let lazy journalists lead you down the mental path of sloth. Down that path March Madness lies, and not the good kind.