Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Great Debate: Will the Big East get two in the Final Four?

Matt Donato and Michael Kelly, going at it again!

This time we're debating an over/under for the number of Big East teams in the Final Four in this year's men's NCAA basketball tournament. We set the over/under at 1.5, so feel free to use the comments section to chime in. 

Donato: Arguing for the under

An over/under on Big East teams in the Final Four at 1.5 seems like a relative no-brainer. The under is a Blake Griffin slam dunk.

Like most sports arguments, this one comes down to a reasonably simple equation. The Big East has 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament out of the 68 participating. They represent a mere 16% of the teams in the field. It would take 25% to expect beyond a reasonable doubt that one team should be represented in the Final Four. So two teams seems, in the face of probability, very unlikely.

Granted, you may soon counter by saying that the worst (by seeding) Big East team is Marquette at 11, including a 1 seed, a 2 seed and two 3 seeds, and that should play favorably into their probability. The NCAA Tournament is not played in a vacuum you may say. Good point.

But is that enough to sway the 16% enough to make the over favorable? I say no. 

Kelly: Arguing for the over

OK, first of all -- the Big East has 11 teams in the 64-team field. So, the conference actually has 17 percent of the teams in the real field.

Quibbling? As a certain former Republican ticket member would say, "You betcha!"

Anyway, let's get real about what teams are going to the Final Four. In the last 10 years, only one Final Four combatant has come from outside the top five seeds in a region, so let's cut down our prospective pool of teams for the final weekend to 20 (each regions' 1-5 seeds).

Of those 20 spots, the Big East controls six, so already we're up to a 30-percent chance that one team from the nation's best conference makes it to the Final Four.

Oh, yeah -- of the five non-top 5-seeds in the tournament from the Big East, three of those five are 6-seeds, right on the brink of being in major consideration for a Final Four spot. That gives the Big East nine of the top 24 spots (38 percent) in the Big Dance.

Did I mention this year's Big East was unquestionably the greatest conference in modern college basketball history?

I'll send this back your way, but, honestly, I don't know why we're even continuing this. The Big East is a lock for at least two of the Final Four entries. 

Donato: Under

38% does put us right at the tipping point for 1.5, but this year sports the most wide-open field of any NCAA Tournament that I can harken back to. Every region is loaded with upset specials, and some of them are just waiting to pick apart the weary Big East.

I feel No. 11 Gonzaga is not out of the question to beat No. 6 St. John's, and the Tigers are a strong upset candidate when you consider No. 11 Missouri's RPI: 37 against No. 6 Cincinnati's RPI: 36.

Also, you have to take into consideration them knocking each other out. In the Southwest, if Georgetown makes it past Purdue (I'm thinking, no.) they would likely have to face the 2-seed Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. In the East, if Marquette gets past Xavier they will more than likely draw Syracuse in the second round. In the West if Cincinnati does not get upset by Missouri they are lined up immediately to face Big East Tournament Champion UConn (God, it feels great to write that.) in the second round.

The teams are immediately picking each other off. The brackets were designed to not have two Big East teams reach the Final Four. 

Kelly: Over

OK, so you made a good point about how Big East teams may very well knock each other off in this tournament. But, like any savvy analyst, I'm pretty much just going to ignore that inarguable truth and move on.

What makes this year's field unique for the Big East -- besides have an NCAA-record 11 teams in the field -- is that the handful of very best Big East teams are positioned away from one another, so they all can actually make a Final Four run. This year's Beasts of the East -- Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and UConn -- will not play each other until, at earliest, the Elite Eight (possibly Louisville and Notre Dame). So, while some Big East-on-Big East crime may occur in the early rounds, it should not matter too much to the conference's Final Four chances.

If we agree -- as everyone pretty much does -- that the Big East is the best conference this season, then it's not unreasonable at all to think they could get at least two teams in. Like you said, it's a wide-open field, so there are not a multitude of superpowers from other conferences waiting to take down the Big East's entries.

Kind of to that point -- we're not really even sure if these teams from other conferences can compete with the Big East teams. The Big East dominated the non-conference portion of the year and then beat up -- and improved -- each other in conference play. Duke and Kansas are great, but neither team has gone through the rigors of the Big East schedule.

Furthermore, getting two teams in the Final Four is not even a major stretch for a conference; the Big East just accomplished the feat two years ago when UConn and Villanova each made the final weekend of play. 

Donato: Under

I agree it is not out of the question for the Big East to get two teams into the Final Four. I just think the odds are against such a feat. If the Big East is to pull it off, I believe their best bets come out of the Southeast (Jimmer territory) and the East.

Pitt (RPI 10) is a 1-seed, so they have an edge, but they potentially have to get past either Utah. St. (Seriously, a team ranked 15 in RPI is a 12-seed? Wisconsin is a 4-seed in that region and they are 16th in RPI.) or BYU RPI-5, and then Florida RPI 8.

The East is a different animal. It has four Big East teams therein and is home to my "Ballsy Upset Special". (Ohio State does not make it out of the second round. You heard it here first!) Of course, that is still not probable. Villanova has to beat a sneaky-tough George Mason team just to face the Buckeyes. Syracuse is well-rested after their one-game Big East tourney and I could see them making a run, but their shoddy free throws make me weary of close games.

Louisville and UConn just beat the heck out of themselves on their Big East Tourney run, may not have much left in the tank, and I think my Huskies have used each of their three wishes, including an Aladdin-style trick bonus wish to win every game following the DePaul one. Cincinnati will be a tough game for them and the challenge will only increase with SDSU and Duke likely to follow.

Louisville and Notre Dame are locked in a room with RPI No. 1 Kansas in the Southwest, making escape unlikely. Even though Notre Dame was in contention for a 1 seed, I don't like their matchup with Purdue.

Now, the Big East does seem like Mr. Burn's starting lineup from "Homer at the Bat", but they will be far less formidable unless, of course, my eleven Big East teams fall victim to eleven separate good fortunes and are able to play in the Sweet 16. But that will never happen.

Three good fortunes, that's possible. Seven good fortunes, there's an outside chance. But eleven good fortunes? I'd like to see that!

Actually, I would like to see that, improbable as it may be.

Kelly: Over

I wish you weren't such a huge UConn fan so I could just call you a Big East-hater and dismiss you. Oh well.

Anyway, how about we let the always rational, sane and truth-driven people of the comments section take this one away from here and declare a victor?

Will the Big East get two in or will the other conferences' put their foot down on this "best-ever conference" talk? Keep it classy, profanity-free, and remember to side with the over.

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Blogger Raimundo said...

Sorry Kelly, but Donato has you on this one He is right, they will eliminate each other, and one of your beasts, Louisville is already on their way home. As a conference, the Big East is deep and strong but there are better teams at the tops of other conferences.

March 17, 2011 at 1:34 PM 

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