What is Doug Gottlieb's problem with the Big East? I have heard him on several occasions ripping West Virginia and calling it a "joke" that the Mountaineers could get into the NCAA tournament. I understand he's paid to give his opinion, and that I'm not always going to agree with it. And my disagreement doesn't necessarily make him a jerk. But his continued diatribes against WVU's likely inclusion in the NCAA tournament have passed the point of reasonable objection and proceeded into fantasyland. On the way home after the Pitt win, I actually heard him call Western Kentucky's win over Michigan a "quality win". Wow. He also noted that "he didn't care what the numbers were" when evaluating certain teams. Double wow.
Gottlieb has also taken shots at other Big East teams, so the question must be asked – does this pattern have anything to do with his departure from Notre Dame?
Gottlieb's diatribes also bring up another point – how does ESPN reconcile his position with that of Bracketologist Joe Lunardi, who has a proven track record with his selections? (According to his ESPN.com bio, Lunardi has missed only 10 teams in his final projections over the past eight seasons.) That's an excellent record, and one that should be brought up when discussing the relative merits of the opinions of "analysts". From past experience, I know that Lunardi is usually very close to the target – last year, as I tried any way possible to figure a way that West Virginia was going to get in to the tournament, Lunardi's projections kept showing the Mountaineers just below the cut line, and finally out. That was just the latest in a long line of his very prescient analyses. There are a lot of people out there doing projected RPIs and their own selections, but Lunardi is a step ahead of most of them. He's the guy to listen to.
* * * * * *
Speaking of the RPI, understand that it's not the bible. It's a tool, and is often used to differentiate between teams that are very close in the evaluation process, but it's not an automatic. Items that the RPI number doesn't take into account, such as injuries and a team's record over its last 12 games, are often considered. So too are individual components that do figure into the RPI, such as strength of schedule, both in and out of conference. (The former seems a bit unfair, as a team has zero control over whom the league determines it will play inside the conference.)
There are some things, however, that don't get considered. There's no magic number of wins or conference wins that will get a team in. (The 20-win mark, which used to carry a bit of weight, does nothing now in the era of 31-game schedules.) Neither does 10 wins in a power conference. While it's true that most teams reaching high win plateaus will get in, it's not a guarantee, and it's not a factor that the committee looks at. Past tournament successes? Not a factor either.
* * * * * *
With all that said, I think West Virginia is solidly in, no matter what it does in New York this week. However, a win or two might put WVU at an 8 or 9 seed, which would certainly be a great achievement, especially given its preseason prediction of a tenth place finish.
One final thought on the Big East tournament. Why do league officials continue to promote the time of the second game of the Wednesday and Thursday sessions at 2:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.? The first game of each session, like just about every college game, will approach the two-hour mark, and teams in the second game get 30 minutes of warm-up time. So why not make the start times 2:30 and 9:30? That would be a bit easier for the teams in those games, as they wouldn't have the uncertainty of sitting around waiting for the first games to end.
* * * * * *
Are Da'Sean Butler's free throw shooting woes caused by a bit too much pre-shot activity? That's the sense I'm getting. When Butler goes to the line, he bounces the ball, rocks from side to side, cradles the ball, and spins it in his hands before setting himself to shoot. While the first rule of free throw shooting is to create a routine and do the same thing every time, I think Butler's routine might be just a little too busy. Perhaps eliminating some of the motion might help him be a little steadier from the line?
I'm not taking potshots at Butler, however. He battles hard, and is very productive for West Virginia. His double-double against St. John's got lost amid the heroics of Joe Alexander and Joe Mazzulla, and he probably doesn't get the credit he's due. I have to laugh when I see opinions suggesting that he might not be an integral part of the Mountaineers next year. Although WVU does have talented freshmen coming into the program, I don't see Butler being pushed aside.
* * * * * *
For the fourth time in the past six years, West Virginia will open the Big East tournament by facing Providence. The Mountaineers lost to the Friars in 2003, but bounced back with wins in 2005 and 2007. Those two victories sparked long postseason successes, as WVU ran to the Elite Eight in 2005 and the NIT Championship a year ago.
* * * * * *
Note to every cable channel in the universe: Stop running Hoosiers. Every time it's on, I am forced to watch, and I can't afford the two hours of lost work time. I Ollie's going to sink those charity shots, and Jimmy Chitwood's going to drain the final jumper, but I have to watch anyway.