NCAA Tourney: USC Barely Out, UCLA Barely In
March 12, 2018

So it turns out Joe Lunardi isn't such an idiot after all. ESPN's so called 'bracketologist', for weeks now, had UCLA and USC on the bubble when it came to qualifying for college basketball's big dance. Fans of the Los Angeles schools knew both teams were well qualified. Television analyst Bill Walton even got on Lunardi's case on the air several times, and they work for the same network. Please (Walton reference). It's also possible that Lunardi got it wrong, and so did the NCAA selection committee. There's lots of griping going on.

The Bruins got in, but with an asterisk. UCLA (21-11, 11-7 Pac 12) got an 11 seed, and has to play one of the so-called 'first four' games Tuesday night in Dayton. A win against St. Bonaventure would put them in the regular field of 64, and a date against sixth-seed Florida Thursday night in Dallas. Because everyone else is screaming foul about teams that didn't get in and should have, not much is being made of the snub that the Bruins have gotten even though they made the field.

UCLA beat USC (which finished ahead of them in the conference standings) twice, defeated nationally ranked Arizona in Tucson in their only regular season meeting, lost to them in overtime in the conference tournament championship game, and beat stalwart Kentucky earlier this season. Granted, they lost at Oregon State, and to Colorado at home, but are clearly one of the better teams in the country.

Normally, some Bruin fans (okay, me) would revel in the fact that the Trojans didn't make it, but it just seems wrong. USC (23-11, 12-6) finished second in the Conference of Champions (another Walton reference, please) and had a high ranking in RPI (a computer generated number), but didn't beat Arizona, Arizona State (we'll get to them), or UCLA. Their only wins against tournament teams were against New Mexico State and Cal State Fullerton, which was the committee's argument to have 'SC out.

“If all that matters is the quality of your best win or two on your schedule, then we should set the field in December after the out-of-conference is complete,” coach Andy Enfield told reporters after the snub. “It basically discredited our entire league schedule.” The Trojans will play in the National Invitation Tournament instead, and will host North Carolina-Asheville Tuesday night.

So if you are going to complain about teams that should have gotten in, you have to look at the teams that should have been left out, right? Okay, how about Arizona State, Oklahoma, and Syracuse. The committee chair said that Syracuse was the last team in. Notre Dame was the last team out.

Nobody arguably knows more about college basketball than ESPN's Dick Vitale, and while he didn't address the Pac-12 situation, he was beside himself on national TV yesterday that Oklahoma got in and Oklahoma State didn't. OSU defeated conference champion Kansas twice, had recently knocked off Oklahoma, and won on the road at West Virginia. The Sooners, meanwhile, are 4-11 in their last 15 games. “I feel bad for these kids,” Vitale said about Oklahoma State.

Arizona State is in the same company with the Sooners. The Sun Devils (20-11, 8-10), who, like UCLA, are also an 11 seed and have to play a 'play in' game, defeated number one seeds Kansas and Xavier early in the season, and also surprised Arizona and beat them in the first Pac-12 game of the year. They then went on to finish ninth in a 12-school league.

“The games in November-December count the same as games in February and March”, committee chair Bruce Rasmussen told TBS' Greg Gumbel. That actually seems to be a change in philosophy from the selection committee in recent years.

Rasmussen also affirmed that Oklahoma's great start is what got them in, and Arizona State's early wins were the edge over USC. Smaller schools like Middle Tennessee and Saint Mary's, which many felt deserved a bid, were penalized for not having wins against bigger schools, even though it's difficult to schedule them.

At least there's plenty of talk about the tournament, and with cases for more than the 68 teams that made it, it seems like the field is a good one. The madness starts on Thursday. Actually for UCLA, it's Tuesday, and for USC, well, they are plenty mad already.

Selection show: For the first time, the selection show was on TBS instead of CBS, and there were a couple of other changes. Instead of immediately commencing with the brackets, they revealed the 68 teams that were in the field, before the announcement of which teams play each other and where. USC, Saint Mary's and others found out about their snubs very early, and UCLA and Arizona State could breathe sighs of relief, even though both later found out they'd have to go Dayton for that extra game. TBS even had the tip times of all of the games by the end of their two-hour show.

The cheatin' side of town: Kansas City Royals outfielder Jorge Bonafacio is the latest cheater—suspended 80 games this week for using the performance enhancing drug Boldenone, which is reportedly a drug developed for veterinary use. “He's an incredible person who just made a mistake,” Royals GM Dayton Moore said. Incredible person? Really? Obviously Moore knows him, but it would be nice if officials actually showed disdain or disgust when these guys cheat. Dee Gordon and Starling Marte, the most recent suspended druggies, don't seem to be affected at all by their past suspensions, and (don't get me started), Alex Rodriguez went on from liar and cheater to Sunday Night Baseball broadcaster. What's that drug called again?

Brothers (chances) grim: I watched a spring training game between Philadelphia and Minnesota last week, hoping to see Yuba City's Brock Stassi in the lineup for the Phils. He did play in the game, but in a Twins uniform. It turns out the Phillies released him in the off season, and the Twins invited him to camp as a non-roster player... Brock's brother Max has a couple of homers for the Astros this spring. According to their TV broadcasters, unless Houston signs a free agent like Carlos Gonzalez, Stassi has a decent chance to make the Opening Day roster as the backup catcher behind Brian McCann, with Evan Gattis slated to be used primarily as a designated hitter.

Magic number: I wrote about this in 2015, but I like to bring it up this time every year. The odds of a filling out a perfect bracket (given a totally random selection like a coin flip) are 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to 1. Good luck in your office pool!

Happy Birthday to my cousin Gayle tomorrow (Tuesday). Love you!

View All Commentaries