Saturday, January 29, 2011

UVM Rolls Past Albany, Maine Squeezes By Binghamton

Vermont nearly gained a share of first place. Maine rallied on the road from as many as 20 points down to beat Binghamton by 3 points. Vermont, also playing in New York, jumped out of the gate to another slow start before shutting the door in the second half beyond a huge night from Brandon Bald. He scored a career-high 20 points, including a thunderous jam late in the second half (expect a video soon).

The win left the standings in America East like this:

Maine: 8-1
Vermont: 7-2
Boston University: 5-4
Hartford: 4-4
Albany: 4-5
Stony Brook: 3-5
New Hampshire: 3-6
Binghamton: 3-6
UMBC: 2-6

If Vermont and Maine take care of business over the next several games, February 16th looms as large a date on the Catamounts calender as any, when they take a trip up to Orono to face the Black Bears.

As a Catamount fan, you have to like your team's chances this season. Sure, Maine spanked them in Burlington. But the Cats have shown that they take care of business against teams that they should beat. Out of their five losses this season, only the Boston University loss on the road is even somewhat questionable. And when you take care of business against the teams you should beat, it bodes well for the America East Conference tournament.

On a side note, UNH's Tyrone Conley busted out for 26 points in their victory over Boston University. UVM hopes Conley doesn't stay hot when he comes home to Burlington Monday night.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Catamounts a #14 Seed In Latest Projections does things a little less conventionally than ESPN. While you can expect ESPN's Joe Lunardi (regarded as "THE" Bracketoligist) to completely neglect the truest of mid-major conferences when it comes to his NCAA tournament projections, uses the RPI (Ratings Per Index) system to determine their own projections. Ratings Per Index is a system determined upon three things: your record, your opponents' record, and your opponents' opponents' record. Starting in 2004, more weight was given to road victories and less weight to home victories. The website also uses a Strength of Schedule model (SOS) to help determine their bracket predictions. In a way SOS and RPI reflect the same things: whether a team has played a competitive schedule or not. RPI takes into account how many of those games the team has actually won.

Lunardi appears to merely shoot a glance at who is in first place in a conference like America East, and then he has them assume the position of a 15 or 16 seed, ostensibly depending on how he feels that week. This method should not be discounted -- the NCAA tournament committee does much of the same thing on selection Sunday (for example, how did Vermont garner a 16 seed last year? How?? Many teams rated higher than them did not have a road victory against a power conference team). This is not to say Lunardi, and others like him, disregard RPI and SOS in making their bracket, but it seems like they use it only for the top 12 or 13 seeds in each region, knowing that a small population of people (like Cats fans) actually nitpick about the 14-16 seeds.

Regardless, it was nice to see the Catamounts get some respect, as RealTimeRPI projected them as a 14 seed in their latest bracket projections. The 14 seed is not only a desirable spot to be ranked (it was a #13 seed they drew when they shocked Syracuse in 2005, but hopefully I don't need to remind you), but it also means RealTImeRPI is projecting the Cats as the America East conference champions, despite being one game behind Maine in the standings.

Of course, Joe Lunardi has Maine as a 16 seed, with Vermont nowhere to be found in his latest bracket.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

UVM Blasts Hartford, Albany Next

UVM had another impressive win again Hartford, their 10th in a row against the Hawks. The 72-51 win was UVM's third in a row since losing to Maine at home. The win improved Vermont to 5-2 in America East play. Maine beat UNH to improve to 6-1 in the conference. It seems the two teams are headed for a two horse race for the regular season America East crown, barring Boston University (5-3) playing more consistent basketball. The rest of America East seems to be supremely mediocre.

Against Hartford, Evan Fjeld again led the way in the scoring department with 16 points, while Brian Voelkel did his usual impressive work on the glass with 10 boards, matching his average.

Vermont fans have to love the contributions they are seeing from freshmen Luke Apfeld, Sandro Carissimo and Voelkel. All three have stepped up and provided serious minutes for the Catamounts. Carissimo started his third straight game in a row, and gave a steady presence at the point guard position. His starting allows Joey Accaoui to come off the bench, a role he seems more comfortable in. Or, at least, Coach Lonergan seems more comfortable with him coming off the bench.

Vermont travels to Albany on Saturday. They beat the Great Danes 60-48 earlier in the season, but road games are obviously tougher than home games. Logan Aronhalt and Tim Ambrose are two guards who create matchup problems for UVM. Expect a combination of Sandro Carissimo, Joey Accaoui, Brandon Bald, and Simeon Marsalis to split time on those two, who both average over 14 points a game. Vermont should have an advantage inside and on the boards. Look for them to exploit underclassmen Blake Metcalf (sophomore), John Puk (freshman), and Luke Devlin (freshman) down low to get the W at SEFCU this Saturday.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blakey Traded to Iowa Energy

Marqus Blakely was traded by the Bakersfield Jam to the Iowa Energy for a future first-round pick on Monday. The Jam likely made the move because they have a bevy of wing players in their lineup.

It is universally acknowledged by scouts that Blakely has a huge upside. recently highlighted him as an efficient star who has a future in the NBA (article: ). The only downsides to Blakely's game have been apparent for a long time: he struggles shooting the ball from range, and at only 6'5", it's hard to imagine him playing power forward in the NBA. On the other hand, at some point people need to realize that someone who dominates at every level he has played at (averaging 13.0 ppg and 6.1 rpg in his first D-League season thus far), particularly at the defensive end of the floor (1.7 steals a game, just under 1 block per game), deserves a chance. His phenomenal athleticism brings a lot to the table. And most fans know Marqus doesn't have bad ups either. Not bad at all.

The real question is, can somebody find me that Iowa Energy Blakely jersey?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bye, Bye, Binghamton

Binghamton has officially shown their true colors. UVM won 70-52 against the Bearcats, who lost their fourth straight game after starting conference play in America East 3-0. The good Cats, the Catamounts, won to improve to 5-2 in America East and 14-5 overall.

Vermont won doing what has become traditional fashion: they started off slow and finished strong. They went into halftime with a 31-27 lead, relinquished the lead at 35-37, and then poured it on to win by 18 points. The scoring was again exceptionally balanced: Freshman Luke Apfeld had a huge game, scoring a career-high 13 points, Brandon Bald matched that 13, and the usual suspects, Evan Fjeld and Joey Accaoui, added 12 and 11, respectively.

Two seasons ago, I couldn't stand the Bearcats. They procured America East's lonely tournament bid, despite matching UVM's 13-3 conference record. They did it on the strength of transfer D.J. Rivera and the swagger of point guard Cameron "Tiki" Mayben. The program suffered under the intense scrutiny of the media while facing NCAA recruiting and academic violations the following summer. While not a whole lot became of those allegations, the program was in shambles. Despite this, Binghamton persevered to a respectable 8-8 conference record in the 2009-2010 season only to be left out of the conference tournament in a last-minute decision. Ever since, I have felt awfully bad for the Binghamton Bearcats.

It is an interesting dilemma that faces the college basketball media conglomerate: is it worth destroying a small school's reputation based on NCAA allegations? Let's face it, that Binghamton team got way more negative press coverage than it could ever have gotten positive press coverage, barring a T.J. Sorrentine-like moment. Or is it Binghamton's fault? Is this a dilemma that faces mid-major programs across the country? Clearly, some crooked things happened behind the scenes in Binghamton. Clearly, the infractions were not nearly as bad as they were initially thought to be. Is it worth it, to have North Carolina-sized dreams about your basketball program, when you play in a conference like America East? Can it really aid your college's reputation if your basketball team is good enough?

As a serious college basketball fan, this is a tough subject to think about. What is the role that college sports should have in American society? Because as it stands, that role seems far too vast. A school's entire reputation can be based on their sports teams. And that's a lot of pressure on a bunch of 20 year-olds.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

UVM Beats UNH in Catfight

Coach Mike Lonergan needs to find a way to get his team to perform in the first half. Playing an overmatched and beat-up UNH squad, UVM again needed a superb second half to knock off UNH 61-53. The win moves Vermont to 4-2 and drops New Hampshire to 1-5 in conference, something that is sure to make nearly every Vermonter smile (if you wondering about the "nearly," see "The One That Got Away," one blog entry prior. Tyrone Conley is probably not smiling).

-It's hard to not notice the discrepancy between UVM's first and second half play. In Vermont's last five wins, they have either trailed or led by less than two points at the half. In those five wins, their average margin of victory is 14. While they still won these games, it seems like the Cats need to get into the habit of putting lesser teams away early. If not for their sucks, for our sake! Cheering for second half teams is liable to take years off of your life. Fair warning.

-UVM shot an anemic 12-21 from the free throw line against UNH. Joey Accaoui, who had missed three free throws all season coming into the game, was 3-6 from the line. While the Cats still shoot a decent 67% (5th in America East) at the line, this is a statistic that must be improved before the conference tournament. It would be nice for someone like Accaoui to emerge as a late game cooler -- someone who can put the game on ice shooting free throws.

-While any road win is a good win, UNH was missing leading rebounder Dane Diliegro and go-to scorer Alvin Abreu. The Wildcats still hung in the game the entire first half, and made small runs in the second half. The students at UNH are still not back from break, so the gym in Durham was not to be confused with a different gym in North Carolina (as if it ever is). This is a game you'd like to see the Cats put away early and often.

-Sandro Carrisimo had the best game of his freshman year since the opening game against Siena. He dropped 12 points in his first career start. This is nice to see since it reiterates the trend of different players stepping up to be the supplementary scorer to Evan Fjeld and Accaoui. Fjeld, who has not scored in double figures only twice this season, had 10 points, while Accaoui had 13.

-Banged-up or not, UNH was held to 30% from the field, which is always a good sign for the Cats.

-UVM out-rebounded UNH 35-20, another trend that seems to continue. Again, Diliegro, UNH's leading rebounder was not in the game, but you gotta take what you can get. And if UVM keeps getting rebounds, we'll take it.

All in all, a W is a W.

The One That Got Away

(Tyrone Conley, #21 in Center)

The first time I saw Tyrone Conley play basketball, he wasn’t even playing basketball. I attended the 2005 Vermont Senior All-Star Game in Windsor, VT. Unbeknownst to me and my four fellow friends, there was a dunk contest at halftime. About three players who were seniors (this is high school, of course) would compete in the dunk contest, as would some sophomore kid named Tyrone Conley, who was lacing up his shoes on the sideline. The crowd buzzed a little – I mean, you don’t just invite a sophomore to a senior dunk contest if he can’t dunk like crazy, right? Tell me you would not just invite some kid who can sort of throw it down one out of ten times if he gets the right “oop,” -- you wouldn’t do that, right? But this is Vermont, remember, so you never know.
The following is probably grossly exaggerated, but it is exactly how I remember Conley’s first dunk: He stood near the half court line on the left side of the hoop. He appeared to be around 6’1’’, and certainly no taller than 6’3’’. He wore an oversized black t-shirt with no writing on it, and a pair of silver shorts. His shoes were black. Conley started his run up the left side of the court. He approached it like he knew what he was doing. And then, all of the sudden he elevated from the second block of the foul line off of two feet. He jumped like he knew what he was doing. He pointed the ball at the rim with two hands, brought it below his waist, and then threw the ball through the rim like those of us whom gravity actually applies to could only dream of. He dunked like he knew what he was doing.
I don’t remember much that happened after that. Mostly because I was black-out-intoxicated off of second-hand dunking (a first time occurrence for me. Seriously, be careful of operating vehicles and heavy machinery if, and when, this happens to you. And it will happen to you). Apparently, I jumped out of my seat and collapsed on the bleachers in a mess of tears, laughing, and hunger to see such a supernatural feat happen again. The drive home was fast and erratic. I’m not sure why I was driving. Was I driving? My friends claim I was driving.
In search of such an adrenaline rush, I attended two of Conley’s games during his junior season of high school (my senior year). In the first one, he and his Burlington Seahorses played undefeated Spaulding High School (the defending state champions) and he scored 24 points – in the first half. He ended up with 36, and Burlington blew out Spaulding by at least twenty (On a side note, I bought a 50-50 raffle ticket, looked the man in the face and said, “I will win this raffle.” I will be damned if I didn’t walk back down there ten minutes later to collect my 70 bucks from that same dude). The rematch of these two teams happened in the state championship at Patrick Gymnasium. We sat behind the bench and watched Conley lead his team to a state championship.
Tyrone and my honeymoon ended a year later, when it was announced that he would attend UVM’s “rival” UNH (rival in quotation because we always seem to come out on top in basketball) I was beside myself. The potential storyline just seemed so perfect: hometown kid, joins the UVM Catamounts, and leads us to another NCAA tournament. Instead, I was left wondering what might have been. I even e-mailed the UVM coaching staff, wondering how we let Conley get away. They claimed that they needed scholarships for big men since they already had a bevy of guards (a fair point). And just like that, Conley the Seahorse became a Wildcat instead of a Catamount.
So when the Cats travel to Durham, NH tonight, I will be cheering for UVM, against UNH, and for Tyrone Conley to succeed against other teams.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Something For Maine Fans to Remember

Terrance Mitchell, meet Marqus Blakely.

Maine Drops Vermont 72-58

The Cats suffered their first home loss of the season tonight at Patrick Gymnasium to a solid Maine squad that finds itself in sole possession of America East at 5-1. The Cats dropped to 3-2 in conference.

Vermont showed signs of dominating the glass, but ended the game with only a 3-rebound advantage. This made Maine’s night much easier, considering that they shot 49.1% from the field, while Vermont shot a meager 35.8%. Maine’s 2-3 zone stifled Vermont, as they had trouble getting the ball inside and couldn’t seem to knock down a big outside shot when it mattered. Maine’s leading scorer Troy Barnies matched his average with 14, though Luke Apfeld played great defense against him most of the night. That extra attention to one player ended up costing Apfeld, as he fouled out in the last few minutes of the game. It also cost Vermont, as Gerald McLemore and Raheem Singleton made the scoring much more even by both scoring 14 points. Evan Fjeld lead UVM with 18 points on 7-15 shooting, which is slightly misleading since many of his 8 missed attempts were remarkably close to the basket.

UVM’s real problem seemed to be that they had no spark on offense. Fjeld had his 18, Joey Accaoui had his obligatory 15, but when they needed a big hoop it never seemed to go down. The Cats cut the lead to 5 with just under 7 minutes remaining, only to see Singleton drain one of Maine’s five three pointers (they shot 5-12 from 3). The Cats never got closer. Defensive lapses also cost the team -- three different times Accaoui stepped underneath a ball screen, and three different times Maine hit a three because of it. A lack of help side defense also contributed to some easy baskets by way of backdoor cuts for Maine.

A real eyesore of the game was the officiating. I’m not someone who usually has a problem with the officials, but this game was downright poorly officiated at times. Within a 1:47 second span in the second half, the officials issued 7 personal fouls and 1 technical foul. Predictably, the first four were on UVM, then Coach Lonergan received a technical, and then Maine was called for three consecutive personals, all of which might be called ticky-tack fouls. It went both ways, but it was a shame, as it slowed the pace of a reasonably enjoyable basketball game.

Maine emerged as the team to beat in America East over the 40 minutes of basketball at Patrick Gymnasium tonight. Hopefully we’ll get ‘em when it counts.

Keys to the Game Vs. Maine

Maybe one hour and a half before tip isn't the best time for a pregame-preview, but I just got the inside scoop on Maine from Black Bears-fanatic Chris Thurston (UMaine, class of '11). So here is what to expect in the UVM-Maine game that tips off at 7:30 ET in Burlington:

-Troy Barnies leads Maine in scoring and rebounds, so he is the man to watch out for in this one. A 6'7'' small forward, Barnies has emerged as Maine's go-to guy almost out of nowhere. After scoring in double digits only three times in the Black Bears first nine games, Barnies has scored in double figures in his last eight games. He has a pair of 25 point games that helped bring his scoring average up to 13.7 points per game. What's particularly surprising about Barnies' emergence as a star who could compete for America East player of the year honors, is that the Senior didn't even start all of Maine's games last season. Controlling his output on the boards will be key for the UVM forwards. I expect to see a combination of Matt Glass, Briant Voekel, and possibly Luke Apfeld off the bench splitting time guarding Barnies.
-Gerald McLemore is the Black Bears outside shooting threat. After averaging 14.6 ppg last season on 40% shooting from three point range, McLemore has been keyed on by opposing defenses. His ppg output has dropped to 11.8 and he's shooting just under 35 percent from three, respectively. However, McLemore is clearly capable of getting hot from range, and it's important that UVM's guards step out and prevent him from getting open looks. On a side note, McLemore is 12 points shy of 1,000 points in his collegiate career. A good goal for UVM could be making sure that doesn't happen in Patrick Gymnasium.
-Maine is extremely undersized, with nobody over 6'7'' seeing a substantial amount of playing time. The combination of the aptly named Matt Glass, as well as Voelkel, and Evan Fjeld should have no trouble dominating the boards. Hopefully this will create a lot of second chance points, and limit the Black Bears to one shot a possession. Home game+Rebounding advantage=W. A proven formula that will hopefully bring UVM back to the top of the America East Standings.

You're in Catamount Country Tonight!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Marqus Shafted In NBDL Dunk Contest

Marqus did not win the NBDL dunk contest. I don't get Versus, and I couldn't find any footage of the contest online, so I'm gonna go ahead and assume he either got shafted or L.D. (which stands for Larry Demetrius... obviously) Williams went nuts. Props to L.D. I guess.

Anyway, to cheer us Catamount fans up, I decided to post some miscellaneous videos of our boys dunking.

Brendan Bald proves Wesley Snipes and company wrong, once and for all.

Things I love about this video:
1) The mid-court outline of Vermont is phenomenal. Can we please bring that back?
2) Carberry is 6'2''
3) Carberry reverse jams so often, it actually is surprising when he goes up for a conventional, forward dunk.

I could post oodles of Marqus Blakely dunks here, but I'm sure you know how to use Youtube.

Dear Black Bears,
Look out below!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

UVM Runs Past UMBC In Second Half

After struggling against UMBC’s zone in the first half, UVM used an 11-0 run to open the second half and a 24-2 run to close the half to win by 37 points at home. The win pulls UVM to 3-1 in conference, an important win considering 3-0 Binghamton travels to play 3-1 Maine at 3:30 ET on Saturday. The Cats then go on to play Maine Tuesday night in what could be a battle of first place teams.

The scoring was again balanced on Saturday at Patrick Gymnasium, with Brendan Bald scoring 16 and Evan Fjeld and Joey Accaoui chipping in 15. Accaoui hit a few big three pointers in the second half, including two on back-to-back possessions. They were sorely needed, as the team has a tendency to shoot a lot of threes and not make so many. This game was no different, the Cats shooting 6-21 from 3-point range.

The Cats have a way of playing down to their competition’s level, and this is exactly what happened in the first half. The offense often seemed lethargic to go along with a series of calls that went against the Cats at the end of the first half. Coach Lonergan nearly drew a technical as a result of these suspect calls. The second half was a nice sign of life- they outscored the 1-16 Retrievers by 35 points in the half alone.

UVM needs to prove to them self that they can blow out teams like UMBC so that they can take care of business in the early rounds of the conference tournament. There is no reason they should only be outscoring a one-win team by two points in 20 minutes of basketball. Fortunately, this lackluster performance was corrected in the second half.

Tuesday will be a big game, regardless of whether the Black Bears are 3-2 or 4-1. Time to go to work.

NBDL Dunk Contest FEAT. Marqus Blakely

Just a reminder of why you definitely should not miss the NBDL's version of all star weekend tonight at 10 pm on Versus. Somehow it took place on Wednesday but won't be aired until tonight. I got this feeling Marqus dominated.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Things We Know About the '10-'11 Catamounts

As Conference play is beginning to get into full swing, it's time to get to know the Cats a little better. What do we know about them this season thus far?

1. The Cats can hang with most teams.
They led UConn at the half. They lost by 8 to MAAC favorite Fairfield on the road. And while we got smoked by BYU in Jimmer Fredette’s backyard, those of us watching the game know that it was a 12-point game with 10 minutes left. And while that hardly seems like something to take pride in for the Cats, that Glens Falls crowd was BYU crazy. The bottom line is, the boys of green and gold are certainly capable of winning the America East Conference Tournament, and maybe with some love of the tournament committee they could actually end up drawing a 14 or 15 seed. Then we will truly see if they can compete with anyone in the country.

2. They have the depth.
Evan Fjeld leads the team with 30.5 minutes per game. Freshman do-everything-man Brian Voelkel is second with 30.2 mpg. After that, seven other players average over 10 minutes a game, with Ben Crenca or Pat Bergmann being a solid fifth man to have coming off of your bench. The scoring is as socialist as Bernie Sanders, with four players averaging over 9 points a game, and that doesn't begin to measure the type of impact players like Voelkel have had on the team this year.

3. Coach Lonergan knows how to rebound (and so do his players).
After losing everyone but Fjeld from his starting lineup, Mike Lonergan has UVM in position to win the conference yet again. This cannot be overlooked. If you told any half-serious UVM fan last year that this season Marqus Blakely, Nick Vier, and Maurice Joseph will be gone, they would say there was no chance of winning the conference. Throw in the transfer of Garvey Young, and they would have said UVM basketball would need two years to rebuild, minimum. Yet, Lonergan has turned to Fjeld and sixth-man Joey Accaoui to handle the bulk of scoring, and welcomed the hugely increased roles of Brandon Bald and Simeon Marsalis. On top of that, he has a superb freshman class of Voelkel, Luke Apfeld, Sandro Carissimo and company who have contributed a great deal. The bottom line is that Lonergan knows how to get it done.
A huge concern for UVM after losing four starters had to be rebounding. Blakely was one of the best rebounders in the country (9.3 RPG), while Young (4.0 RPG) and Joseph (2.8 RPG) also chipped in on the glass. And yet, the Cats are 49th in the country with just under 39 boards a game. Their rebounding margin of +5 is also 49th in the country.

4. The future is bright.
Talking to a Maine Black Bears fan earlier today, I said that whatever happens this season is gravy. We went to the tournament last year. As I mentioned in point #3, UVM fans could not have had very high expectations heading into this season. The team lost too much talent and leadership to be hopeful. So whatever happens this season, the future looks bright. But perhaps the future is now…

Time to take care of business against UMBC this Saturday.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Apfeld Bangin'

Luke Apfeld gets nice in high school.

Why The Conference Tournament System Sucks

A typical mid-major college basketball team’s tournament life rests on one thing: an automatic bid, achieved only by winning the conference tournament. Conference play during the regular season means about as much as a book written by Jose Canseco. A team can run the table during the regular season, win the first two games of a conference tournament and still have their bubble burst. The NIT is their consolation price. This is kind of like getting a hand job after taking a girl out several times.
I am a fan of Vermont basketball, and this is exactly what happened in the 2007 conference tournament; we got stuck banging the fat chick (Kansas State) in the NIT. I never second guessed the system until that fateful Saturday morning— since you probably have no idea what I am talking about, this is what happened: we went 15-1 in conference play (one flaky game against a mediocre Maine away from being 16-0), got to the conference tournament final versus a team we had beat twice during the year, and we coughed the ball up on the last possession before getting a shot off—and now I don’t understand how anyone can stand by the conference tournament system. In mid-major conferences all over the country, conference play determines seeding for the conference tournament. In many cases, this has no bearing on whether you get home court advantage, as some conferences elect to play the tournament on a neutral court.
Since it is difficult to prove my point by pointing out really good teams who never get a chance to shine on a national stage (thus making their credibility obsolete), let me put this in perspective with a couple “what-ifs”: What if Davidson had gone 20-0 in the Southern conference and stumbled in their conference tournament to Georgia Southern (or Appalachian State) and never got a chance to make their inspiring run to the elite-eight in 2008? This actually happened to Davidson in the 2005 season, when they went a perfect 16-0 in conference play and were upset in the semifinals of the Southern tournament. Chattanooga, one of three teams in the Southern Conference to go 10-6, stole the Southern Conference’s only bid and promptly got stomped by Wake Forest in the first round. This is precisely the problem with the current system: mid-major conferences are not duly represented on the biggest stage in college basketball. In Vermont’s case in the 2007 season, Albany got a ridiculous thirteenth seed that was reserved for UVM and got thumped by Virginia 84-57.
The Ivy League remains the only conference that hands out a bid to the regular season winner of the conference (In 2002 the PAC-10 played their first conference tournament, making the Ivy League the only conference that has yet to give in to the newer system). If two Ivy League teams are tied at the end of the season they play one game for all the marbles. Brilliant. For example, a 12-2 Princeton team took on a 12-2 Penn team in 1996 and won 63-56. And then, you know, upset the defending national champions in the first round. The next season, Princeton went 14-0, got the bid and pushed Tony Gonzalez and the Cal Golden Bears to the limit before losing 55-50. Needless to say, conference games in the Ivy League are hard fought, do-or-die battles—players know it is their only chance for a bid. They can’t simply wait until the conference tournament to turn it up a notch and hope for a miracle. Why is the Ivy League so smart?
Having tournaments in the “power” conferences is equally shameful, perhaps even more so. Why does a 4-12 last place Georgia team even get the chance to secure an automatic bid into the tournament? This happened in 2008. They took bids away from smaller teams who deserved an at-large bid like Utah State, VCU, and UAB. How about the year Gerry McNamara ran a woeful Syracuse team through the four-day Big East tournament to lock up an automatic bid (garnering a more-than-undeserved 5 seed)? By the way: both these teams lost in the first round. I hope you aren’t surprised.
I understand that these tournaments generate a lot of hype, emotion, and made-for-TV moments. Trust me, if I had to choose between foreplay and championship week I would ask who is playing before making a choice; there are tons of reasons to defend the conference tournaments. I have become convinced that none of these reasons are good enough to keep deserving-teams out of the NCAA tournament. Conferences, as much as teams, deserve to be duly represented in the Big Dance. This will only happen when automatic bids are given to the winners of regular season conference play instead of the winner of the conference tournament.