Outlook: Myths about March Madness

Mar 12, 2012

It's time for bracket-busters and buzzer-beaters, net-cutting and "One Shining Moment." Yes, it's time for March Madness. Every year, the three-week college basketball tournament captivates America's homes and workplaces, with school pride and office pools hanging in the balance. The insanity begins Sunday, when the NCAA selection committee chooses and seeds the teams. Its choices and the tournament itself elicit passionate debates - many of which rely on old myths about the NCAA and college hoops.

Join Eric Prisbell as he separates March Madness fact from fiction. Submit questions and opinions for Eric to respond to now.

Read: Five myths about March Madness

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Hello, everyone! Welcome to our chat to talk all things college basketball now that the 68-team bracket is out. Fire away with any and all questions.

A couple points: I thought the committee did an excellent job. Normally, I think they screw up a couple things. I don't see any real issues with this bracket. I got 36 of 37 at-large teams correct and 63 or 68 teams seeded within one seed of their actual seed. My best performance ever with that bracketology stuff.

I am still in New Orleans, where I watched Kentucky sputter for three games (more on that later). This will be the first year I am covering two first-round sites. I will be commuting back and forth between Nashville and Louisville to cover 16 teams combined. Fire away!

Eric, Why was Marshall left out?

Marshall is a very interesting case. Thanks for the question. I took a much closer look at Marshall this morning and can actually make a pretty good case for them. Two of the four wins came against So. Miss. But they also beat Iona pretty convincingly. And they beat Cincinnati. Plus, they've got the nation's ninth-best non-league schedule. I would not have had any problem putting Marshall in the field. One issue may have been a middling finish in the Conference USA standings, but their overall body of work is not bad at all.

What do say the chances are for the B1G top 2 seeds Michigan State and Ohio State to reach the Final Four are?

I think Michigan State specifically has a great chance to get to New Orleans. Thanks for the question. Tom Izzo has done an outstanding job with this team, he likes this team and if you bet against him in March, shame on you. That said, they will take their physical play up against some guard-oriented teams like Louisville and perhaps Marquette or Missouri, which will be quite interesting. I went with Louisville out of the region because I love Siva and the way Pitino's team is playing right now.

As for OSU, I don't like their depth. And I think Florida State will beat them in the Sweet 16 in Boston. FSU is a beast. And if the Seminoles can get offensive output, they can reach the Final Four, which is what I predict will happen.

Oh, and the Spartans will have a tough battle in the second round against a talent-laden Memphis squad that may have been underseeded one seed or two.

I want to know what is the RPI, because average fans have trouble knowing what it is and Strength of Schedule and wins vs top 50? Why Drexel didnt deserve to make it and Iona made it, because Drexel won 24 of 27 games?

Great quetsion, thanks. The RPI is not the end-all. It consists of 25 percent your winning percentage, 50 percent your opponents' winning percentage and 25 percent your opponents' opponents' winning percentage. I look at it to group teams roughly -- roughly -- by top 50 victories, but that's about it. Drexel passes the eye test in my mind. I had them in the field had Xavier beaten Bonaventure and did not understand why Lunardi has Miss. State in at one point. Miss. State went totally belly up down here against Georgia. That team was flat and uninterested for a large part. I was in their locker room late Thursday and no one felt that team would make it.

More on Drexel, it played 15 games against teams rated 200 or worse in the RPI. That's a real lot. Iona went 12-2 against such schools, which ain't very good. But Iona overall played the nation's 43rd-best non-league schedule, including Purdue, Nevada and Marshall. I don't have an issue with Iona, which is a good team with a standout guard.

In your column you state that the committee is "in the busines of assessing past performance, not projecting future results". And yet seedings are a projection of future results, aren't they?

Thanks for the question. They try to determine the "best" 37 at-large teams based on their profiles for the entire season, the entire body of work. I don't think they do project future performance, because their are some sleepers in the field who are playing very well right now who may not have gotten the best seeds. Does anyone want Florida State as an opponent? How about Cincinnati? VCU anyone?

I know some criticized the committee for giving Missouri the worst No. 2 seed. I agreed with the committee to a degree. Missouri's non-league sked was an issue all season. We all knew that and kept that in mind. The Tigers could be a Final Four team, Frank Haith has done an outstanding job even though few wanted him to get the job. But they did not deserve to be seeded any higher.

Back to the question, if they were projecting future performance, Duke would not get a No. 2 seed. Duke is not as strong as its metrics/credentials.

Give me 3-5 double digit seeds that have the best shot to win TWO tourney games and advance to AT LEAST the Sweet 16. We had PLENTY of these LAST YEAR. Any chance for a repeat??

No doubt, thanks. I laugh every year when people go straight chalk and pick two 1s and 2 2s to reach the Final Four. Why? In the past two years alone, we've had two mid-majors reach the Final Four, a 12 seed from the play-in game for crying out loud, BUtler in back-to-back national title games and a national title winner that finished 9-9 in league play. Uh, go for the upsets nowadays ladies and gentlemen.

That's why I picked Wichita State, Louisville, FSU and UNC. I like UNC to win the national title. I was in love with Kentucky before I got down here. But had my heart broken. The team has issues.

Double digit seeds to watch: West Virginia only because the Mountaineers are getting an unfair advantage by playing in PIttsburgh against Gonzaga. Second game will be tough.

Long Beach State is a team I have liked all season. They beat themselves up in non-league play against murderer's row, but Dan Monson could lead them to at least a first round upset over defensive minded New Mexico perhaps.

As much as i like wichita State, don't count out VCU. Baylor is like a box of chocolates, you never, ever know what you are going to get. And Nate Wolters of South Dakota State is the best player you have hardly seen. I really want to do a story on that kid, who can score like the best of them.


Ok, so in your article you wrote that there isn't always a Cinderella.  But you have to admit, it happens a lot, right? 

Thanks for the question. Upsets happen all the time. I just take issue with the term Cinderella, like it's some absolute miracle that needs pixie dust and a fairy godmother to occur. That's mostly not the case anymore. These mid-majors have talent, they have players that I remember seeing in elite AAU camps during the summer. Talent is more dispersed. Perhaps the funniest to me is when Butler was called one after reaching the national title game against Duke in 2010. Butler had a lottery pick in Hayward and Shelvin Mack and was preseason No. 11!

If I beat Lunardi in bracket projections, it may be an upset in some people's eyes, but I'm not a Cinderella either. No pixie dust needed!

So it seems to me that even though there's always hype by the ESPN folks and others about where teams are seeded, that coaches pay more attention to matchups. Do you think that's just lip service, and if not, which teams do you think have the most favorable matchups to make a good run?

I agree, and that's a great point. Tom Izzo I know and many others are looking at matchups and trying to figure out the mindset of their teams, etc. John Calipari, who can spin issues better than any political candidate, did a great job down here downplaying the SEC tournament and saying his team got a brutal draw and that they were surprised they weren't put in the play-in game or that the Miami Heat was not placed in their region...it's all lip service. Coaches are looking at potential matchups. MSU got a tough draw with Memphis in the second round. I actually think Kentucky got a favorable bracket because Duke and Baylor are vulnerable for different reasons.

I think UNC got a tough draw because Michigan is surely capable of scoring, Kansas is the best No. 2 seed and Georgetown has length and plays enough defense to make things interesting -- if they can get out of the first round.

I can't believe the first question was about Marshall (huh?) but add me to the list who said Drexel got bagged. For the record -- tho you didn't hear this on CBS or ESPN last night -- Mason and VCU were BOTH at-large teams when they went to the FINAL FOUR. Not to mention Drexel has NO CHANCE for home & home with big schools. They lost their final by THREE points -- so this means VCU would not have gotten in if they lost? Another question that wasn't asked by the so-called experts. Also, WHY is VCU playing Wich. State??? They should both be playing, and bouncing, MAJORS. - Stike in Alexandria

Thanks for the feedback. Past performance by Mason and VCU means nothing in seeding and selection THIS year's field. I think Drexel DID get respect -- they were one of the first four teams out. That's respect. You can make the case they deserved it over Iona, that's fine. I think they would have gotten in perhaps had Xavier won the A-10 title. It happens.

I totally agree about Wichita State and VCU. I tossed my hamburger bun off my room service tray while watching the selection show in my hotel room when that popped up. They don't do it on purpose, I know. It just stinks. Just stinks. Both teams are capable of making strong runs.

Every year there is a #12 seed who is the betting favorite over a #5 seed. But the seedings are supposed to be a prediction of who is best? Why is this?

Great question, and I probably should have done a story on this at some point. Why does the 12-5 upset happen so often? My theory. 5 seeds can be anything, they can be teams on the rise but quite often they can also be second- or third-place conference teams on the decline during the stretch run of the season. Often times they are power league teams. 12 seeds can be teams that made a great push late in the year to make the field -- they could be very hot major conference teams. Or they could be mid-major teams with excellent resumes -- like Harvard, VCU, Long BEach State.

On the other hand, they can also be Cal...

I know that these "5 Myths" series are just a nice way to get a good hook for a story, but this one is a little ridiculous. I don't think anyone who knows even the slightest thing about college basketball doesn't know that UK-Duke was the greatest game ever. It's in commercials, they bring it up every year, there's a book about it out right now... That "myth" was certainly a stretch. But the Cinderella one may have been more annoying. I agree with you that Davidson and Butler weren't cinderellas - they had real NBA talent. But by your own definition, there's no way that VCU last year wasn't a Cinderella! They were in the First Four, no one even thought they should have gotten in in the first place, and they certainly didn't have NBA talent. Just because they went on to take down four power league teams doesn't mean that they aren't a Cinderella - um, actually it means that they are.

Thanks for the question. Great points. I could not disagree more. Here is who thought VCU would get in last season: I did. I could give a rat's tail what Dick Vitale was screaming about that night -- I tune it out. VCU was one of the 37 "best" at-large teams last year and deserved a shot in the play-in game.

My point was that a Cinderella team makes a miraculous run by narrowly squeaking out a win or two in dramatic fashion. Most of VCU wins were boring because they dominated. I knew this team could do great things when they totally dominated a Purdue team that was experienced and very talented. I said Uh-oh. Cinderella teams don't thrash power league teams by double digits.

I agree on Duke-Kentucky. I hope most fans realize that. But I don't have a sense of what the casual fans think on that. I just know that I cried when I watched the ending of that game live as a 15 year old rooting heavily for Kentucky. Loved Sean Woods.

Is the committee over-emphasizing non-conference scheduling? If two teams have more or less the same resume, but one team has more quality wins outside of its conference, I'm all for giving an advantage to that team, but I think the committee has tended towards punishing soft schedules (Mizzou, perhaps, being an example), and I have something of a problem with that. For one thing, I don't know why quality wins in November and December should mean a whole lot more than quality wins in February and March, just because the former are non-conference. Also, to some extent, the strength of a schedule is outside a team's control. When someone scheduled Georgetown for this year, did they realize they were getting a top 15 team? No. When someone scheduled UNC a few years ago, did they realize they were getting a sub-.500 team? No. I think strength of schedule is what should be looked at, and non-conference strength should only be used to distinguish otherwise similar teams, not to punish one team.

Great, great points. Personally, I tend to agree with you. And I am not sure why, say, Virginia's win over Michigan early in the year means as much as a good win last week...They are clearly sending a message to major conference teams that they need to pick up the phone in the spring and schedule some good marquee opponents. It's better for the sport. It may not be better for the individual team and, as you said, you never know really what opponents will be considered strong opponents. How about those who scheduled Pitt thinking they scheduled up and then Pitt wound up flopping?

That said, I don't know which team was penalized unfairly for  poor non-league scheduling this season.

What is your take on the Hoyas? Upset losses to Ohio and VCU in past years have some worried. Many analysts are picking Belmont in an upset, but I think this will only help Georgetown focus and come out to win this game. Thoughts?

Thanks for the question. Let's be honest: Georgetown has a more cohesive locker room this year. The players play well together. On the court, they have length and defense and talent. They should not lose their first round game as a 3 seed. But it could happen. They got one of the tougher 14 seeds out there. Look, Belmont coach Rick Byrd is simply one of the better coaches in the entire country. The team plays a ton of guys and nearly won at Cameron Indoor early in the year. I expected big, big things from Belmont. I thought they'd do better. I didn't see seven losses. I know Georgetown's recent suspect history, but I see the Hoyas winning this one and then facing a dangerous San Diego State team that will give them a test.

So, you think UNC has a tough draw, but they are your only #1 seed in your Final Four? How do you square that?

Thanks. Yes, a tough draw. They will be tested. But they have the best combination of experience and talent. They are the most complete team. You can line them up against the four best teams in the field consecutively, and I still would pick them.

I planned to pick Kentucky until I got down here to watch them play closely. They've got six players. Play them physical and fluster them. I would love to see Kentucky win because I love the Calipari story line -- he's a modern day Jerry Tarkanian. But I see UNC winning this thing.

When was the last time a team with 7 losses received a # 1 seed?

It has happened. Would not be surprised if a Michigan State or Carolina did it before. Can't quite recall off the top of my head. But strength of schedule obviously plays a large factor in that happening.

Virginia started the season red-hot but cooled down the stretch. They're now down to seven scholarship players (and the last two are seldom-used freshman who score zero points/game). One of their starters is playing with a broken hand and a concussion. Now they've got a matchup with one of the highest-scoring teams in the country -- Florida. Virginia's strength? Tony Bennett's defense. They stifle you. And with such a limited bench, Virginia's defense has been playing grueling tournament-style ball all year. Will that defense shut down Florida's attack? And can Virginia's offense handle the press? Virginia flamed out early in a lackluster showing in the ACC tournament. Is this a one-and-done tournament for Virginia, or will they use tough defense and efficient offense to shock the world?

Thanks, good points. Virginia is going in the wrong direction, everything seems to be trending poorly for this team. What have they really done outside of the early-season Michigan win? That said, it would be foolish to discount Bennett and Virginia's ability to stay in close games because of their defense.

I watched Florida here in the SEC tournament. It comes down to one thing for Florida, taking and making threes. They can run it. They pushed the tempo on Kentucky, of all teams. So the battle to set the tempo will be fun to watch. But Florida takes as many threes as just about any team in the country. If Walker and Co. are shooting well from the perimeter, watch out. Also watch for Patric Young, who was really aggressive inside against Anthony Davis with his strength. I like Florida to win this game.

I feel like this could be one of the most wide open tournaments in history. I see little real difference in the top 8 teams (1 and 2 seeds) and I think we saw in the conference tournaments how vulnerable the top teams are. No one is a truly great team, ala the 2009 UNC team, and all have exploitable weaknesses. Of course, having said that it will probably turn out to be the all time chalk tournament. What do you think?

Great question, thanks. I agree. We have not seen a truly great team since the 2009 UNC juggernaut. I think this year's tournament will be a real litmus test for where we are in college basketball these days. Were the wild results the past two seasons a sign of things to come and unprecedented parity sweeping the country? Or have things come back to normal a bit because I do feel we have some separation with the likes of Kentucky, UNC and Syracuse in particular because of the sheer number of star players on those teams? I think the tournament this season really comes down to that.

I'm calling for more zaniness. The sport needs it. I agree with Jay Bilas and some high-profile coaches I have talked to about this -- that the quality of play is considerably down the last couple years. That's unfortunate. But I'd love to see a real out-of-the-box NCAA title winner. Would be fun.

In addition to having a #1 with 7 losses, I wonder if they have ever had 3 #1 seeds who lost in their conference tournaments?

Good point. I think that underscored the committee's emphasis on considering a team's entire body of work and not overreacting to one big win or one bad loss in a conference tournament. It seems like more and more coaches are expressing privately and publicly that they are not too fond of the current league tournament formats. That's one thing I think could use some tinkering. Not sure why there is a need to play three or four games in as many days other than to bring bus loads of fans down from Kentucky because they can't get into Rupp during the regular season. They got the No. 1 seeds correct, and that's important. And I also agree that Kansas was the best No. 2 seed.

You are right, FSU is a beast when they bring their A game. Do you think they are ready to be a team that does that every game, not just when they play Duke or UNC? Having watched them in those games, it is inexplicable that they lost some of the games they lost. I see that as the last step in becoming a "program," being able to bring it every game and not just the emotional matchups.

Thanks. I agree. Do I think they are ready for that consistency? Probably not. And that of course is what scares the heck out of me when I pick them for a Final Four berth. Scares me like crazy. Years ago, I like others was suspect of Leonard's coaching in some ways. I've come around on that some. I just like the ceiling for this team. Their second-round game against Cincy scares me, but I saw what Louisville's defense did to Cronin's team in the BE tourney...Can FSU be ready to beat Ohio State, perhaps even Syracuse? Absolutely.

Year after year, the committee places mid-major threats against each other in early rounds, this year more so than others (i.e. VCU vs. Witchita St., Colorado St. vs. Murray State, Long Beach State vs. New Mexico). If all year long I hear expects discussing how these mid-majors never play anyone from a power BCS conference, why don't they ever get the chance to do so early in the tournament?

Well, I just think it's an unfortunate break in the brackets from time to time. The committee does not even realize the matchups when bracketing because they are so concerned with following spacing rules and other conditions. And no one separates teams into categories like that, as you know. Personally, I was just peeved at the VCU matchup. I don't consider teams from the MWC to be mid-majors at all. That was, what, the fifth best league in the country. If any league has been mid-major in strength it was the Pac-12, which should participate in the BracketBuster event to help its cause.

I thought Colorado should have gotten a 13 seed, not an 11. But overall, I don't have any major issues with selections or seedings this season.

That was a loud knock on the door, the cleaning lady really, really wants to clean my room here, so I've got to check out and run to the airport. (She picks Kentucky over Syracuse, way to go out on a limb.) No one knows how this will all play out, which is what makes it great. If I could predict these brackets well, I'd grab my wife and son and move into a suite at The Wynn in Vegas. So let's enjoy it. Thanks for all the questions. And I'll chat with everyone again Wednesday live from the great city of Nashville. Take care, everyone.

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Eric Prisbell
Washington Post College Sports Writer and Blogger
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