SEC results illustrate weirdness of NCAA Tournament

By: Harry King
Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Texas A&M's DJ Hogg (1) reacts to making a 3-point basket against North Carolina during the first half of a second-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, March 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Texas A&M's DJ Hogg (1) reacts to making a 3-point basket against North Carolina during the first half of a second-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, March 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

— Reflecting on the SEC’s 8-6 record in the NCAA Tournament, avoid definitive conclusions.

Accept that Arkansas and Missouri were the only teams among the league’s eight that lost in the first round, that only Kentucky and Texas A&M survived the first weekend, and move on. To do otherwise is to risk sanity.

Texas A&M illustrates the incomprehensible weirdness of college basketball results. The Aggies lost to Arkansas by 19, had to win their last three regular-season games to reach 9-9 in the SEC and tie for seventh, and opened the SEC Tournament with a loss, but knocked out the defending NCAA champion and No. 2 seed North Carolina by an always comfortable 21.

Guaranteed, every one of the 48 teams that lost in the first two rounds would jump at the opportunity for a rematch. And, probably half or more of the 19 first- and second-round games decided by five points or less would go the other way.

Other than Kentucky winning twice, match SEC teams with the same opponents again and any result might be reversed. For example, Arkansas’ best scorers — Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon and Daniel Gafford — would likely shoot better than 9-for-30 vs. Butler. By the same token, the Tar Heels would expect better than 6-for-31 from 3-point range given another chance vs. the Aggies and A&M’s two big men might not make 10 of 12.

The difference between winning and losing in college basketball is miniscule — games can turn on an improvised 3 that beats the shot clock or missing the front end of a one-and-one.

A couple of scorers, mixed with willing role players, and a team can be competitive, maybe not good enough to win six games in three weeks, but good enough that “any given night” is in play.

Undoubtedly, the quality of SEC basketball is on the rise, but determining how the league measures up with the best in the Big East or the Atlantic Coast Conference based on Butler 79, Arkansas 62, or Loyola Chicago 63, Tennessee 62 or other NCAA Tournament results, makes as much sense as questioning the quality of SEC football by citing a 2-5 record in bowl games outside the College Football Playoff. Like the NCAA Tournament, bowls are a one-shot deal.

The tournament’s selection committee recognized the depth of the SEC when it awarded the league a record seven at-large bids, but only Tennessee was seeded as high as a 3 and half the league teams were 7, 8 or 9.

By the way, the pre-tournament odds on the 16 remaining teams ranged from 6-1 on Villanova, 8-1 on Duke and 10-1 on Kansas, to 250-1 on Loyola-Chicago and 500-1 on Syracuse. Updated this week by Bovada.lv, only Duke and Villanova have odds lower than Kentucky, originally 16-1 and now 7-1.

Enthusiasm for the Wildcats is understandable considering their opponents in the South Region and the site of the competition. No. 7 Nevada, No. 9 Kansas State and No. 11 Loyola-Chicago remain, and Kentucky fans have turned Atlanta blue during many SEC Tournaments.

Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky were personal choices to advance to the second weekend and, even then, the published guess was that no SEC team would win more than three tournament games. Given a redo at this point, Kentucky would be in San Antonio.

As for the Razorbacks, they fell one game short of the expected 1-1 tournament record.

Arkansas was not a great defensive team and the lack of a penetrating and passing point guard — think LSU’s Tremont Waters — was obvious.

In the name of transparency, Gonzaga was the champion in the bracket filled out online and Arizona, Michigan State and Villanova rounded out the Final Four.

As usual, shooting percentages explain the upsets. Buffalo made 15 of 30 3-point attempts vs. 2 of 18 by Arizona, and Michigan State missed 49 of 66 shots vs. Syracuse.

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