It’s bracket time! What we were robbed of in March 2020 has finally arrived again! The Baseline Times College Experts are here to give you the ultimate 2021 March Madness Preview. Chevy jumps in to host Cody Guinn and John Glowatz two of the finest from Baseline Times College Experts. At the top of the episode, the trio reviews the impacts of COVID-19 on the NCAAB season, what the fair-weather fan may have missed, which teams were snubbed, any surprise teams/rankings, and does conference play matter during the tournament? Cody and John share their takes on the best players in the tournament. They also discuss which teams may have the benefit in the seeding as a “Cinderella” team.
Beware, beware the idols of March (Madness). In my lifetime, I can remember a few “idols” that took over the NCAA tournament and the heart of America for at least a few weeks. Though I’m sure there have been many others, I’m talking about the likes of:
- Kevin Pittsnogle, 2005 WVU (7 seed)
- Steph Curry, 2008 Davidson (10 seed)
- Ali Farokhmanesh, 2010 UNI (9 seed)
- Kemba Walker, 2011 UConn (3 seed)
- The entire team of Dunk City, 2013 FGCU (15 seed)
- Matt Stainbrook, 2015 Xavier (6 seed)
March Madness Idol Criteria
Extrapolating from the above legends, there are a few key criteria to become an Idol of March. Not all of these criteria need be met but the more the better:
- Plays for a ‘Cinderella’ Team (helps if they are a 7 seed or worse)
- Key player on the team and/or a fan favorite
- Name rolls off of the tongue, or in the case of an entire team, has a dope collective nickname
- Fun play style (usually 3 point shooting, iso, or dunk-centric)
- Penchant for making big plays at key moments (We need the play-by-play crew to say stuff like “Look who it is… Kemba!”, “Guess who? Pittsnogle!”, or just “CURRY!!!”)
2021 NCAA Tournament Candidates
So, who are some of the candidates for the 2021 NCAA Tournament? Let’s take a look below:
- James Bouknight G, UConn – A ton of folks are already penciling Bouk into the Kemba/Shabazz role and they might not be wrong. If UConn goes on one of their patented runs Bouknight will be the reason why. (Btw, his name is pronounced Book-night).
- Nah’shon ‘Bones’ Hyland G, VCU – Aside from being the owner of a devastatingly impressive nickname, Bones Hyland also led the Atlantic 10 in scoring and was the conference player of the year.
- Cameron Krutwig C, Loyola-Chicago – This young man checks off a lot of boxes. He leads Loyola-Chicago in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks. He also looks like a 38-year-old man with a 14-year-old mustache. Definite fan favorite and, oh, he was also MVC player of the year. The only thing is if Loyola makes another deep run he will have to compete with Sister Jean for the spotlight.
- Ron Harper Jr G or Geo Baker G/F, Rutgers – Rutgers’ historic season, making the tournament for the first time in 30 years, warrants two potential March Madness Idols. Both of these two players have miles of heart and a penchant for making big plays at the right time.
- Jose Alverado G or Moses Wright F, Georgia Tech – Georgia Tech is also having a season, either of these two could emerge as the guy in the tournament. Alverado posted truly elite shooting splits (60%, 41%, 88%) and was also fourth in the country in steals per game. Moses is the premier big man in the ACC after being a “zero-star recruit“.
- Dante Harris G, Georgetown – I’m writing this before the Big East Tournament Championship Game… so, there is a good chance that Harris and 12-12 Georgetown don’t even make the NCAA Tournament. However, if they do freshman Harris will be heavily involved. Georgetown is 9-4 to finish the season and Coach Ewing has them trending in the right direction, all they need is a deep run to start Georgetown on its way back to prominence.
- Chris Duarte G, Oregon – An international man of mystery, Duarte was born in Montreal, grew up in the Dominican Republic, and played his high school ball in NY state. Duarte is also one of the best ballplayers in the Pac 12 and the entire country, posting 53%, 44%, 80% splits, and 17.3 points per game even though Oregon will be a mid seed.
- Jordan Schakel G, SDSU – The bearded, mountain-man-looking Schakel is top three in the nation in 3PT %. You can just imagine him in an early-round upset knocking down big shot after big shot while his bench loses their minds.
- Chandler Vaudrin G, Winthrop – Vaudrin is a do-it-all senior PG who really fills out the stat sheet for the Eagles though he shines as a passer as he is seventh in the nation in assists per game. A 12 v 5 or a 13 v 4 upset is very much in play for them with Vaudrin as the catalyst behind such.
- Osun Osunniyi F, St Bonaventure – A strong contender for the name portion alone, Osun leads the Bonnies defense with 2.8 blocks per game and earned A10 defensive team honors. The Bonnies have a good chance to make a run with Osun as one of five players to average 10+ ppg. If they do, you can easily picture him soaring for a huge block while the commentators yell out “OSUN with the rejection!!”
This is part of a series for the 2021 NCAA Basketball Tournament Preview. Please use the information here to help you fill out your bracket and enjoy!
- Travel factor – in a normal year, traveling more than 150 miles from home reduces the odds of winning by 33.6% than for those who play in their home regions. However, this year all of March Madness will take place in Indianapolis so expect this advantage to be largely negated, except for:
- The B1G tournament will also take place in Indianapolis and B1G teams will stay in the city in the interim. Expect a bump in early-round performance for B1G teams as well as possibly others located nearby like Loyola-Chicago, Toledo, and Cleveland State. Also, expect this bump to level off by the end of the first weekend.
- Coaching Records in March Madness – Obviously how well a coach prepares his team is a key metric for NCAA Tournament success. Some coaches have better track records than others in wins over expected for their seed level. The top 5 active coaches won’t surprise you, but the order might. Check out the rest of the list for your bracket.
- Jim Boeheim
- Tom Izzo
- Roy Williams
- John Calipari
- Mike Krzyzewski
- Past Title Indicators – Since 2002, (almost) every NCAA champion has met the following criteria:
- Top 25 overall KenPom Ranking
- 4 seed or better (2014 UConn is the one exception)
- Top 25 KenPom offense ranking (Again 2014 UConn the exception)
- Top 40 KenPom defense ranking
- Won regular season or conference tournament (2014 UConn & 2015 Duke the exceptions)
- The candidates that meet the above criteria this year are Gonzaga, Illinois, Michigan, Houston, and Virginia.
- Baylor met all other criteria but fell just short with a defensive ranking of 44.
- Purdue meet all of the numerical criteria but failed to win a conference or regular season title.
- Rest vs. Momentum in Conference Tournaments:
- Being hot in March and performing well in conference tournaments is generally indicative of March’s success. The data backs that up 61% of Final Four participants played in their conference tournament championship game.
- Rest (by losing early in the conference tournament) has not been proven to be as important. But strong teams have overcome early losses in such. Since 2002, 7 teams went on to win the National title after losing early in conference tournaments but all were 1 seeds (except 2003 Cuse, a 3 seed).
Lethargy and Pressure? – AKA the Gonzaga Factors: The Zags are the top seed and many are picking them to cut the nets for the first time. But they have two special considerations:
- Lethargy – The 2021 Zags became the first team ever to win all of their conference games by 10+ points. This is quite an accomplishment but does it bode well for them? Will cruise control for 2.5 months come back to bite them? Will they be able to ‘turn it on’ when needed in the dance? The fact that they’ve only made one Final Four isn’t great for them.
- Pressure – No team has gone undefeated since 1976 Indiana. Only 2 real modern-era teams (2014 Wichita St and 2015 Kentucky) made it to the tournament undefeated. Obviously, neither of these teams was hanging the banner at the end of the season. The Zags have escaped a lot of the usual pressure due to Covid and their conference SOS but I imagine it will ramp up after the first weekend. Definitely, a factor but Gonzaga is also the highest-rated KenPom team of all time! If anyone can do it, they can.
Related 2021 March Madness content
NCAA tournament bracket glory is your goal, right? You want to destroy your friends, family, and/or coworkers? Do you want the best bracket out there and the cash or bragging rights that come with it? (Whichever is more important to you). Well, that all starts with picking the right National Champion and Final Four if you can get so lucky.
Conventional wisdom says to pick chalk, especially red-hot teams heading into the NCAA tournament. I previously wrote about rest vs. momentum in conference tournaments for NCAA tournament success. The data holds up that momentum in conference tournaments is more important (or at least a better indicator of success) than the extra rest that comes along with losing early.
However, you may note that there are four teams in each Final Four. And since 2002 (the first year all P6 conferences held tournaments) 39% of these did not make the final game of their conference tournament. So, that means that every year it is more than likely that at least one Final Four team will fall into this category. So, how do we pick that fourth Final Four team? And should we ever pencil them in as the National Champ?
NCAA Tournament Data
Off the bat, only two non-P6 teams (2003 Marquette & 2006 George Mason) have made a Final Four without making their conference final since 2002. Marquette was the number eight team in the country in 2003, still earned an NCAA three seed, and is now in the Big East.
Conference realignment has pilfered mid-major leagues in general. Of the 11 teams who’ve made the Final Four from mid-major conferences since 2002 only Mason, VCU, Memphis, Loyola-Chicago, and Gonzaga remain outside of the P6. So, it seems less likely that mid-major conferences will be sending multiple teams capable of deep runs in a given year… though not impossible.
Let’s make it simple. I definitely won’t choose any non-P6 school to make the Final Four this year if they don’t make their conference championship game except if Gonzaga, Houston, or maaaybe Loyola-Chicago take any early tumble. Those three teams are ranked high enough that they can afford an early loss and still earn a decent NCAA tourney seed (depending on how bad the hypothetical Loyola loss is).
In any case, look at this chart representing the average of 28 Final Four teams that didn’t make their conference title game since 2002. 14 of the 28 lost in the Final Four, 7 were national runner-ups, and 7 won the championship.
|NCAA Seed||Conf RS Finish||Natl Rank|
|Natl Runner Up||3||2.6||10|
What really stands out to me in this chart is the strength of the national champions. All seven finished as conference regular-season champions. All were also one seed in the NCAA tournament except for 2003 Syracuse which was a three seed. (Though Cuse was luckily in the East region in 2003 despite not being a top seed). All were also, of course, highly nationally ranked prior to March Madness.
The other thing is that, again aside from 2003 Cuse in the Big East, all were ACC teams at the time. It’s no surprise that the two best men’s basketball conferences over the last twenty years (The Old Big East & the ACC) are responsible for the entirety of the national champions on this list. These two conferences had more chances by earning more bids and also great other teams to which a top team losing in the conference tourney would be expected over enough games.
The Big 12 and B1G have overtaken them, at least for this year, as the best conferences in college basketball. So, if one of Baylor or Michigan loses in the semifinal of the 2021 Big 12 or B1G conference tourneys don’t push the panic button. It will be a better sign of success if they win their conference tournaments but there is precedent for a loss and still cutting down the nets at the end of the year.
Final Four Squads
Three Final Four teams really skewed the data quite a bit: 2017 South Carolina (7 seed), 2016 Cuse (10), and the aforementioned 2006 George Mason (11). Aside from these three, the remaining 25 teams were all five seeds or better. Even the non-champions (again aside from the three) had an average NCAA seed of 2.6 and an average AP national ranking of 8.8 before the NCAA tournament.
However, we can’t quite discount the three Cinderalla runs since 2002. But what made these teams differently? 2017 South Carolina was not hot, losing 6 of 9 (including their first SEC tournament game) heading into the NCAA tournament. Same story for 2016 Cuse, losing five of their final six (including their first ACC tournament game). And Mason as well, losing to Hofstra (who finished 64 in Kenpom that year) twice in their last four games. South Carolina did get to play the rounds of 64 & 32 games in their own backyard but neither Cuse nor Mason had that benefit.
There are two common threads as far as I can tell. First, all three finished top 17 in KenPom defensive efficiency. They also all had multiple scoring threats rather than one or two stars. Mason had five players average double figures, Cuse had four with the fifth averaging 8.8 pts/game, South Carolina also had four. Obviously, it helps to have stars (like Sindarius Thornwell) but the distribution of the scoring threat is necessary for when that one guy gets shut down.
The sample size here is small but these are interesting tidbits. If you’re crazy enough to pick a cold team coming off of multiple losses to your Final Four make sure they play defense and have multiple guys who can score!
Soon enough it’ll be that magical time of year – March Madness. But first conference tournaments will pit familiar foes against each other. Teams will be weighed, measured and the fortunate will be seeded for the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday.
Talking heads and guys on shows with segments called Bracketology and Bubble Watch will pontificate about which teams will make deep NCAA tournament runs. Everyone and their brother will have a theory on the best criteria for NCAA tournament success.
A lot of people focus on who are the hottest teams in the NCAA tournament. Namely by how said teams performed in their conference tournaments. Not a bad proposition, as this guy couldn’t have been more right in 2019:
Other guys will bring up these sorts of examples and… also be completely right:
So, it seems like both winning and losing early in your conference tourney could be the key to success in the NCAA tournament. With contradictory paths for deep tournament runs, the American populace can’t help but be confused! This is the bane of all of us who yearn for that perfect bracket… or at least winning our company March Madness pool.
What is more important for a deep tourney run? Being a hot team and winning your conference tournament? Or being an overall solid team that maybe gets helped out by getting some extra rest? Let’s take a look at the data.
Past Conference & NCAA Tournament Results
All Power 6 conferences (football Power 5 + the Big East) have each held an annual conference tournament in men’s basketball since at least 2002 when the Pac 12 (Pac 10 at the time) tournament started in earnest. (They did have a tourney from 1987-1990 but we’re not going to count that).
So, we will use the 2002-2019 NCAA and conference tournaments as our dataset. And since college basketball is measured in national championships and Final Fours, we will use those as our measuring sticks.
In that 02-19 timespan, there have been 72 Final Four participants, 18 national runner-ups, and 18 national champions. See the below chart for a breakdown of their conference tournament results.
|Conf Tourney Result||Final Four||Natl Runner Up||Natl Champ|
So, Rest or Momentum for a Deep March Run?
If you take nothing else away from this article understand this: momentum is more important. Statistically speaking that is.
Of the 72 Final Four teams from 02-19, 33 won their conference tourney, 11 made second place, 18 reached the semi, nine the quarter, and one less than that. (Only 2016 Cuse made the Final Four after not making at least their conference quarter-final). So, it is generally clear that winning in your conference tourney is better than the alternative for March Madness success.
44 of 72 (61%) of national Final Four teams played on the last day of their conference tournament, as opposed to 25% who had an extra day’s rest, and 12.5% with two extra days of rest. It is interesting that 18 teams reached the national Final Four after being bounced in their conference semi (as opposed to 11 who earned second place in their conference tournament). But remember that there are twice as many semi teams as conference finals teams. So, the disparity isn’t actually so glaring in that case.
Other NCAA Tournament Observations
No team has won the national title if they haven’t at least made the semifinals of their conference tourney. And only one team has made the national championship game after not making their conference semifinal (2019 TTU).
Of the 18 national champions from 02-19, eight won their conference tourney, three got second, and seven reached the semifinal. The national runner-up is a bit wonky-er with ten conference champs, one-second place, five semis, and two quarterfinalists.
I don’t know what all of this means exactly, but I’ll be sure to pay attention to my bracket. In the absence of traditional blue bloods to lean on in your bracket this year knowing which teams to rely on in terms of momentum vs. rest could be more important than ever.
Non-P6 Conference Teams in the NCAA Tournament
But how does this hold up when talking about Cinderellas? You know… the thing that makes March Madness awesome? I talking about teams from non-major conferences making deep runs in the tourney. Surely, there must be some difference.
I know not all of the teams I’m about to mention were Cinderellas, but there can be no doubt that there is generally a difference in the difficulty of their conference tournaments. Look at this triple-bye monstrosity format of the WCC (Gonzaga’s conference) tournament for example:
I also hesitate to use the term “mid-major” because some of those early 2000s CUSA lineups were super legit and the 2014 AAC had national champion UConn as well as Louisville coming off of a national title of their own in 2013. (Cincy was highly ranked as well). I’ll go with the term “non-P6 conferences” to avoid any pejorative connotation that goes along with the term mid-major these days.
There were 11 teams from non-P6 conferences to make the Final Four from 2002-2019 (AAC, Colonial x2, CUSA x3, Horizon x2, MVC x2, & WCC). Six (55%) won their conference tourney, two (18%) were second place, two (18%) semi, and one (10%) quarterfinalist. This was slightly more top-heavy than the field but less differential than I expected. I know it is a small sample size but it shows that non-P6 conferences can largely be strong, deep, and volatile just like the P6. At least for those that make the Final Four.
At the end of the day, when you’re filling out your bracket remember that the smart money is on teams who won their conference tournament no matter the conference. So, pay attention to the hot teams as we’re coming down the stretch of the 20-21 season – especially those who win their conference tournaments!
To throw another wrench in the natural order of the universe in 2020-2021, the college basketball Blue Bloods have abdicated their typical thrones at the top of the rankings.
As of this moment, only Kansas (#15) and UCLA (#23) are ranked in the AP Poll. Kenpom is a little more kind to the Blue Bloods with Kansas (#17), Indiana (#24), and UCLA (#25) in his rankings. Even this is much lower than the Blue Bloods’ usual place in or around the top 10. At least they can say that it took a once-in-a-century global pandemic to make that happen.
All of this upheaval has prompted many to question their worldview. They started to ask things like: Are Indiana and UCLA still college basketball Blue Bloods? Are the likes of UVA, Villanova, & Michigan State Blue Bloods yet? Is it true that if you don’t use it, you lose it? Can my team become a Blue Blood? These are all, of course, vitally important questions. It is good for the soul of college basketball, nay the world, to bring some clarity to these issues. This paper will aim to do just that.
Who are the College Basketball Blue Bloods?
Since Duke ascended to college basketball Blue Blood status in the early 2000s, it has been widely accepted that there are 6 (and only 6) Blue Bloods in college basketball. They are in no particular order:
If you’re even a casual fan of college roundball (let’s face it, if you’re reading this you’re probably closer to a hoops junkie) you’ll recognize that these are historically the top college basketball teams. Period.
College basketball Blue bloods are exactly that, the cream of the crop. They win a ton, dominate their conferences, get the best recruits, hire and retain iconic coaches, send lottery picks to the NBA year in and year out, have immense support and resources, have huge and passionate fan bases, and most importantly they win a lot (did I mention that already?).
The problem is there has not been (until now) a quantifiable metric for determining Blue Blood status. It has been done via consensus and feeling that a team is worthy of anointment. To make matters worse, some of these Blue Bloods have been Blue Bloods so long that the NCAA and their conferences are entirely different than when they achieved said status. So, how is anyone to determine when a program deserves to be knighted as a Blue Blood? Or when a team falls to mere plebian Cincinnati Bearcats status? Shudders.
What are the Requirements to be a College Basketball Blue Blood?
Many things that embody Blue Bloods like money, resources, recruits, NBA draft picks, fan bases, and even individual coaches are symptoms of a Blue Blooditis rather than the underlying cause. There is really only one cause of such: winning. But it’s not that simple! There are multiple types of winning that a Blue Blood must achieve: regular season, postseason, and conference domination. A Blue Blood should be Goliath to their foes’ David. A Blue Blood should be that dude that your girlfriend tells you not to worry about.
One caveat on the coach and player thing. Of course, you need to have great coaches and players to become a college hoops Blue Blood. But the way to define that is by how much winning they do. After all, many Duke fans and boosters wanted Coach K out of Durham in 1983. Had he been fired then, the world may not know how great a coach he really is and Duke would likely not have achieved Blue Blood status. I think about this nearly every night before bed!
Thus, I declare the 3-6-6-3 rule. Every traditional Blue Blood has achieved the 3-6-6-3 feat at the time of being exhaulted (or the equivalent in their timeframe). Explained below:
- 3 NCAA Championships All-Time – Kansas holds 3 titles.
- 6 NCAA Final Fours All-Time – Indiana had 6 Final Fours when they were exalted as Blue Bloods in 1987.
20 year Recency Requirements:
- A 20 year Average of a 6 seed or better in the NCAA Tournament – All teams easily achieved this in their heyday. We’ll use this to judge regular-season success as it encompasses both quantity and quality of wins as officially sanctioned by the NCAA Selection Committee.
- Triple Share of Conference Tourney or Regular Season Championships Every 20 Years – Each conference now offers a regular-season championship and conference tourney. So, over 20 years there are 40 chances for a win. A Blue Blood should win at least triple their share of that 40 (3/X relative to the number of teams in conference). For example, the ACC has 15 teams. A current-day Duke would need to win 3/15 of the 40 opportunities (i.e. 8 conference titles in 20 years) to qualify. Despite the name, the Big 12 has 10 teams. So a modern Kansas would need to win 3/10 of the 40 (i.e. 12 conference titles in 20 years) to qualify.
Lets take a look at how our recency metrics holds up to our traditional college basketball Blue Bloods over the past 20 years. Teams were given a 12 seed by default in years that they didn’t make the tourney as the lowest-ranked at-large teams are typically 11 seeds.
|School||Raw Seed||Avg Seed||Conf Titles|
How Does a Team Lose College Basketball Blue Blood Status?
Like with the aristocracy it should be easier to stay a college basketball Blue Blood than it was to attain the status in the first place. So, a team doesn’t have to win at the same rate nor bring home the same amount of hardware. However, they do have to maintain appearances. After all, traditionally the main way for royalty to lose their Blue Blood status was by marrying down with mere commoners. Here the hoops Blue Bloods have to avoid marrying down with mediocrity.
So, here is the proclamation:
To retain Blue Blood status, a team must achieve 2 of the following 3 in any given 20 year span:
- Average a 6 seed or better in the NCAA tournament.
- Win a triple share of the regular season/conference tourney titles (3/X).
- Reach a Final Four.
- These are interchangeable, so an extra Final Four within the 20 year span can take the place of conference titles or the NCAA 6 seed average and vice versa.
So, how do our waning Bloods stack up?
- 11 NCAA Titles (Last – 1995)
- 18 Final Fours (Last 3 – 2006, 2007, 2008)
- 37 Pac12 Regular Season Titles (Relevant – 2006, 2007, 2008, 2013)
- 4 Pac12 Tourney Championships (Relevant -2006, 2008, 2014)
- Average 20 year NCAA tourney seed = 8
Not terrible, but the Bruins haven’t had a ton of success since the mid-2000s. Their last Final Four was 2008 so their Blue Blood clock goes until 2028 (but we’ll extend to 2029 due to Covid). They could get their average NCAA tournament seed down to 6 if they start soon. Otherwise, UCLA needs 6 more PAC12 regular season/tournament titles and a Final Four by 2029 or 2 total Final Fours. Should be doable for a Blood.
- 5 NCAA Titles (Last – 1987)
- 8 Final Fours (Last – 2002)
- 22 B1G Regular Season Championships (Relevant 3 – 2002, 2013, 2016)
- 0 B1G conference tournament wins
- 20 Year NCAA Tourney Seed Avg = 9
Oof, things are not looking good for the Hoosiers. The most surprising thing to me is that Indiana has never won the B1G basketball tournament (held since 1998). They’ve only made the B1G title game once (2001). This is despite the fact that the tournament is held in Indianapolis just about every other year (alternating with Chicago).
But enough trashing IU. What do they need to stay a Blood? Their recent NCAA tourney seeding and conference championships have not been impressive so those are both out. Their last Final Four was 2002, so that sets the Blue Blood expiration clock at 2022. (Again, we’ll extend until 2023 per Covid). So, the Hoosiers need to make both of the next two Final Fours to stay a Blue Blood. I will also accept winning the NCAA championship in lieu of one of the Final Fours. A tall order but that is the price to pay in this game of blood.
The College Basketball New Bloods
So, who is next in line to be a college hoops Blue Blood and what do they need to do to get there?
Conference Title Requirement 6/10 x 40 = 24
- 0 NCAA Titles
- 1 Final Four (2017)
- Ungodly Amount of WCC championships
- 20 Year Average NCAA Seed = 6
It’s really too early for this conversation for the Zags. They need more hardware and a lot of it. They’re having no problem in the WCC but need to compete on the national stage. Check back in ~ 10 years.
Also, for the record, we should double the 3/X conference title requirement to 6/X for anyone in a Mid-Major conference. So the Zags will need to win 6/10 WCC titles, which they currently have no problem doing.
Conference Title Requirement 3/14 x 40 = 9
Michigan State’s Resume
- 2 NCAA Titles (1979, 2000)
- 10 Final Fours (Since 2000 – 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2019)
- 5 B16 Tourney Championships Since 2000 (2000, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2019)
- 8 B1G Regular Season Titles Since 2000 (2000, 2001, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2018, 2019, 2020)
- 20 year average NCAA Tourney Seed = 5
The path here is simple – win another NCAA Championship. This would not only punch MSU’s Blue Blood ticket but also cement Izzo’s status as one of the greatest coaches of all time. As an aside, the B1G must just hate the fact that they are the only P5 conference without a basketball Blue Blood. Or maybe I am overthinking it…
- 1 NCAA Title (1941)
- 4 Final Fours (1941, 2000, 2014, 2015)
- 3 B1G Tourney Titles Since 2000 (2004, 2008, 2015)
- 5 B1G Regular Season Titles Since 2000 (2002, 2003, 2008, 2015, 2020)
- 20 year Average NCAA Tourney Seed = 6
The Badgers are sneaky here with that 1941 championship that I think everyone but them forgot about. They still need 2 more Final Fours and 2 more NCAA championships along with just a bit of a bump in B1G contention to achieve Blue Blood nirvana.
- 1 NCAA Title (1989)
- 8 Final Fours (1964, 1965, 1976, 1989, 1992, 1993, 2013, 2018)
- 2 B1G Tourney Titles Since 2000 (2017, 2018)
- 2 B1G Regular Season Conference Championships Since 2000 (2012, 2014)
- 20 Year Average NCAA Seed = 9
Michigan’s got some history here but had a pretty bad schnide there from 99-09. They seem to have gotten themselves on the right track but they have some work to do on every front except Final Fours.
Ohio State’s Resume
- 1 NCAA Title (1960)
- 11 Final Fours (1939, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1968, 1999, 2007, 2012)
- 5 B1G Tourney Championships Since 2000 (2002, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2013)
- 7 B1G Regular Season Titles Since 2000 (2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012)
- 20 Year NCAA Tourney Seed Average = 8
Similar to Michigan, Ohio State has some work to do. They’ve also got the Final Fours but haven’t had great success since the late 00s to early 10s. They might be sitting in New Blood status for a while until they can get things on track.
Conference Title Requirement 3/11 x 40 = 11
- 4 NCAA Titles (1999, 2004, 2011, 2014)
- 5 Final Fours (1999, 2004, 2009, 2011, 2014)
- 4 Big East/AAC Conference Tournament Titles Since 2000 (2002, 2004, 2011, 2016)
- 4 Big East Regular Season Championships Since 2000 (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006)
- 20 year average NCAA Tourney Seed = 7
UConn is an interesting case as they have won a lot of NCAA titles but not dominated the regular season as much as Blue Bloods tend to do. After winning the NCAA title in 2011 they have only made the NCAA tournament 3 times, twice as a 9 seed and once as a 7 (though they did win another NCAA title as that 7 seed). They also only won 1 conference tournament and 0 regular seasons in that span, in what was a much weaker AAC conference (compared to the old Big East). If the Huskies had finished the 2010s with just decent performance they’d probably be considered Blue Bloods already. Now to get to the mountain top, they need a couple of years of just outright winning (earning high NCAA tournament seeds), a few more Big East championships, and one more Final Four. They could also just pop off say another NCAA championship and I don’t think anyone would contest their Blue Blood status.
- 3 NCAA Titles (1985, 2016, 2018)
- 6 Final Fours (1939, 1971, 1985, 2009, 2016, 2018)
- 4 Big East Tourney Titles Since 2000 (2015, 2017, 2018, 2019)
- 7 Big East Regular Season Titles Since 2000 (2006, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020)
- 20 Year average NCAA seed = 7
Nova is in the driver’s seat. They have the hardware, they are maintaining excellent standards. All they have to do is not miss the layup (like UConn did) or succumb to NCAA sanctions (like Louisville, lol). They just need a handful of more years of high NCAA seeds and they’re in.
Conference Title Requirement 3/15 x 40 = 8
- 1 NCAA Title (2003)
- 6 Final Fours (1975, 1987, 1996, 2003, 2013, 2016)
- 2 Big East Tourney Championships Since 2000 (2005, 2006)
- 4 Big East Regular Season Championships Since 2000 (2000, 2003, 2010, 2012)
- 20 year average NCAA seed = 7
Cuse has the Final Fours, it needs two more championships. The Orange also need to improve their overall seeding a bit and win a few ACC championships. By the 3/15 formula the goal would be 3 more conference titles by 2024 (per covid) or 4 by 2026. Boeheim will go down as an all-time great either way, but (like Izzo) if he wants to be at the tippy top echelon he’ll need to bring Cuse to Blue Blood status.
- 3 NCAA Tournament Championships (1980, 1986, 2013)
- 10 Final Fours (1959, 1972, 1975, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1986, 2005, 2012, 2013)
- 4 Conference Tournament Championships since 2005 (2009, 2012, 2013, 2014)
- 3 Regular Seasons since 2005 (2009, 2013, 2014)
- 20 Year Average Seed = 7
Louisville was in Conference USA prior to 2005-2006, which they won the conference tournament twice between 2000-2005 (2003, 2005) and the regular season once (2005). The double requirement for mid-major conferences should be in effect. Their 2014 season was also in the AAC (a quasi-major) so their regular season and tourney conference title doesn’t hold as much weight. (And this is to say nothing of the games/titles that have been vacated, lol). The Cardinals were close to Blue Blood status in the mid-2000s but ultimately didn’t quite make it. The good news is they have the hardware and fairly recent success. Chris Mack just needs to run off a handful of seasons of ACC contention resulting in top NCAA seeding and they’ll be in.
- 1 NCAA Title (2019)
- 3 Final Fours (1981, 1984, 2019)
- 2 ACC Tournament Championships Since 2000 (2014, 2018)
- 5 ACC Regular Season Crown’s Since 2000 (2007, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019)
- 20 Year Average NCAA Seed = 8
UVA was the king of the regular season for the late 2010s after not doing much in the 2000s. Fortunately for them, they got over both humps and are now (still) the reigning national champions. They have a lot of work to do in the postseason but there is no telling where Tony Bennett and co go from here. If the Cavaliers get 2 more NCAA titles and 3 more Final Fours while maintaining the same regular-season edge in the ACC they’ll be Blue Bloods for sure. I wouldn’t be shocked if that is in just 5 or 6 years now that the ice has been broken and the traditional ACC Blue Bloods (Duke & UNC) are down. Or they could have just gotten lucky in 2019.
Conference Title Requirement 3/12 x 40 = 10
- 1 NCAA Championship (1997)
- 4 Final Fours (1988, 1994, 1997, 2001)
- 4 PAC12 Tourney Chips since 2000 (2002, 2015, 2017, 2018)
- 8 Pac12 Regular Season Titles Since 2000 (2000, 2003, 2005, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018)
- Average Seed = 6
The path is simple for Arizona as well – win two more NCAA titles. Winning those titles will also bring 2 more Final Fours. Aside from that they just need to maintain their in-conference level of play.
Conference Title Requirement 3/14 x 40 = 9
- 2 NCAA Titles (2006, 2007)
- 5 Final Fours (1994, 2000, 2006, 2007, 2014)
- 4 SEC Tournament Championships Since 2000 (2005, 2006, 2007, 2014)
- 6 SEC Regular Season Titles Since 2000 (2000, 2001, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014)
- 20 Year NCAA Tourney Average = 6
The Gators are right on the precipice as well. They only need one NCAA championship (which would come with a Final Four) to get over the hump. They have been fading down the stretch, however, with 6 and 10 seeds in the tourney in 2018 and 2019 and missing it altogether in 2015 and 2016 (a nice 4 seed in 2017 though). The haters will say it is a bit soon for UF but the back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007 (along with the bookend titles in football in 2006 and 2008) constitute perhaps the most impressive continuous run I’ve seen by one school.
If, in March of 2013, you told Dickie V that Villanova basketball would win 10 out of 13 Big East championships (combined regular season and tournament) and 2 NCAA titles over the next 7 years he would probably need to run to the restroom.
But that is indeed what happened. (Villanova winning not Dickie V’s 5 symptom digestive relief). A surprise to many of us who knew the old Big East. So how did we get here?
The Last Year of the Old Big East
It’s the 2012-2013 Big East Basketball season. The Avengers is dominating the box office, Obama is president, Gangnam style is still being played to death on the air waves, the Harlem Shake is starting to go viral. Life is pretty good.
Georgetown, Marquette, and Louisville all share the regular season conference title. Ranked Big East teams are: Louisville (2), Georgetown (8), Marquette (15), Cuse (16), Pitt (20), and Notre Dame (23). Louisville ends up winning the Big East tournament enroute to an NCAA title.
Nowhere in the picture is Villanova. They hadn’t won a Big East regular season since 1995 nor a Big East tournament since 2006. Even those were one-offs, Nova hadn’t had any real sustained success since the 1980s when they went to Elite Eights in 82, 83, 85, and 88. They, of course, won the 1985 NCAA championship as an 8 seed (the highest seed to ever win it) and were even unranked in the final AP poll prior to the 85 tournament.
The Dawn of the New Big East
Even among the new Big East teams Nova was merely in the mix rather than a front runner. Here are Nova’s final Kenpom rankings from 2010-2013 in order: 17, 28, 85, 53.
The conference as a whole was kind of like a box of chocolates… you didn’t know what you were gonna get. The Catholic 7 were not exactly dominating any sustained periods towards the end of the old Big East. Butler, Xavier, and Creighton had been strong in their respective conferences but they were coming from mid-major or quasi high-major conferences.
An argument could be made that Georgetown and Marquette were poised to compete for the new Big East coming off of their stellar 2012-2013 campaigns. Butler looked strong coming off of 2 straight NCAA title games in 2010 and 2011 (even after losing coach Brad Stevens). Wildcard Xavier had been to Sweet Sixteens in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2012.
Nova’s recruiting was good but it was not anything near amazing. From 2010-2013, the Wildcats averaged fourth in recruiting rankings among teams heading to the new Big East. Georgetown, Xavier and Marquette were consistently above them in those years.
There was a power vacuum to fill, but the Wildcats were not necessarily expected to fill it. By no means were they expected to dominate as they have.
Nova Becoming Nova
Upon the formation of the new Big East in 2013, Nova began dominating almost immediately.
A chief advantage was having Jay Wright firmly in position (since 2001). They had a top-notch coach (though he wasn’t known as such yet), his system in place, and even had some moderate success (NCAA tourney berths every year after 2005 except 2012).
Wright looked to the NBA for his philosophy and found it in the 7 seconds or less Phoenix Suns. Relying on pace and space, offensive efficiency, 3 point shooting, and defensive versatility Wright built Nova’s program and eventually took a run at NCAA record books. The Wildcat’s 2016 tournament run featured 2 of the top 10 most offensively efficient NCAA tournament games of the analytics era. Their 2018 season saw records for the most made 3-pointers on the season (464), most triples in a single NCAA tournament (77), and most in a Final Four game (18).
But how did they just do this? The stats are cool but it doesn’t explain how Nova made the jump. As I wrote earlier, Nova’s recruiting had been good but not amazing prior to the new Big East. However, those recruits fit Jay Wright’s system and developed beautifully in it. And, of course, with success came better and better recruiting classes.
Following the model of the 7 seconds or less Suns and many NBA teams since, Wright focused on recruiting versatile players. Athletes like Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges, Donte Devincenzo and Saddiq Bey could play the wing mostly interchangeably. Bigs like Omari Spellman and now Jerimiah Robinson-Earl stretch the floor and still hold their own defensively. Note that there is no one on Nova’s current roster taller than 6’9″, which is not uncommon for them.
They’ve also had amazing consistency at the PG position to fill that Suns Steve Nash role and drive the offensive engine. Its been one continuous succession from Ryan Arcidiacono to Jalen Brunson to Colin Gillespie. (Enrolling next year is Angelo Brizzi who seems to fit that mold as well).
All of this put together made Nova benefit more than anyone from the breakup of the old Big East. Here are their NCAA tournament seeds since 2014: 2, 1, 2, 1, 1, 6. They may have had the same success had the old Big East not broken up, but it seems likely that some of those old foes would have been able to win the conference and knock the Wildcats down a seed or 2. Maybe they would even steal a recruit along the way (as we have seen UConn do from other Big East mates since news broke of them rejoining the conference). Instead, Nova has been able to run through the new Big East like a buzz saw.
They have become professional… clinical… They have become a machine. So much so that Jon Rothstein’s tag line for them is fittingly:
Nova is a dynasty at this point, all that remains to be seen is if they can become a college basketball Blue Blood. I previously wrote that Nova only needs a couple more years of winning to reach that status.
After that, we’ll see how many Big East and national accolades they can rack up before Jay Wright gets pulled away to coach in the NBA. (JK Villanova fans, I’m sure the 7 of you are very upset by that joke… JK again).
Talking to you NBA, NFL, and NCAA
Under normal circumstances, this would be my favorite time of the sports calendar. College football is in its bowl season and the CFP is coming shortly. College basketball has started up and made it to league play. The NFL is about to start its own playoffs. The NBA has started its season with key Christmas matchups and has several compelling storylines. (I’m also told the NHL season is starting up though I don’t know much about it as I’m admittedly not a big hockey fan – don’t hold that against me hockey stans).
For obvious reasons, this is not a normal year. To make matters worse, most models predict the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths to increase over the next few months. This from an already astronomical case count occurring right now in the USA!
The Real Toll
Many athletes, coaches and staff have already contracted the virus even with all of the precautions that have been put in place. Fortunately, reactions and long-term effects have not been severe for most athletes as they are largely young and in good physical shape.
Abstractly, it may be easy to put this out of America’s collective conscience with just statistics and a lot of fake news stating that this virus is no big deal. Less so when we’re talking about real people, young men in the prime of their lives who have suffered grave effects.
Jamain Stephens Jr. (Cal U FB) and Michael Ojo (FSU MBB & Serbian Pro) sadly lost their lives due to complications from COVID. Xavier Thomas (Clemson FB) had a severe case and could not breathe fully for months. Keyontae Johnson (Florida MBB) and Tommy Sweeney (BC FB & Buffalo Bills) developed heart inflammation called myocarditis that could kill them if they don’t abstain from strenuous activity for several months. Johnson famously collapsed in game after a dunk against FSU and had to be put into a medically induced coma.
A host of high school coaches and athletes have also met with equally tragic results albeit to less fanfare. This is to say nothing of the perpetuation of the virus via spread to friends and family.
Watching sports has now turned into a moral quandary. Especially with light at the end of the tunnel so close.
The End in Sight
It seems likely that the average American should be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine by April or May 2021. Wild speculation but I’d wager the NFL, NBA, and NCAA could get doses of the vaccine for players, coaches, and key staff by March. (Side note: this would probably require NCAA athletes to be classified as essential workers, which should effectively end their amateur status and usher in at least NIL payments. For a lot of reasons, this is the way but that is another entire separate article). Thus, we are looking at a 3 month risk window. Maybe 4 or 5 months if these leagues are not able to secure vaccines early.
Many players don’t want to participate in this high risk window. Even if they make it through physically unscathed they undergo a tremendous psychological toll as well. Duke WBB; almost all of the FCS, D2, and D3 schools; and the Ivy League decided to cancel their seasons due to COVID. You may be aware that many NFL players and high profile 2021 draft prospects also decided to opt out. Similarly, 11 NCAA bowl games have been cancelled and 17 eligible teams have decided to opt out of bowls entirely due to COVID.
Bubble Up or Shut Down
Let’s make it simple. Leagues for which it still makes financial sense to operate in a bubble and continue their season should do so. Leagues for which it doesn’t make financial sense should not play until after widespread vaccination in 2021. If you can’t afford to protect your players you can’t afford to have a season.
High income leagues like the NFL, NBA, and P5/6 NCAA revenue sports can surely afford bubbles. Some others probably cannot.
The NFL didn’t institute a bubble for their regular season due to the number of people and length of time that would be involved. The playoffs kick off on Jan 9 and the Super Bowl is on Feb 7. So, the longest period of time a team would be in their bubble is roughly a month. With the top seeds from each conference on bye for round 1 it is likely the eventual Super Bowl participants will be in bubble for less time.
Several bowl games have instituted bubbles themselves. Kudos to them, the rest should follow suit. At this point, everyone would be in their respective bubbles for a matter of weeks or even days.
The NBA and TBT proved that a bubble can be a viable thing over a longer time period in 2020. 2021 can be just as successful for them and college basketball as well.
The NCAA already announced that March Madness will take place in a bubble in Indianapolis. However, a lot of damage can be done between now and then. Short term mini-bubbles don’t seem to be the answer either as the biggest risk is not playing against other athletes who have all been frequently tested. Rather the risk that comes along with living and interacting with others in close proximity. There has been talk about each conference doing their own bubble for league play but it doesn’t seem like much traction has been made there.
Legends Coach K and Rick Pitino have publically expressed their reservations at playing a season in the height of a pandemic. The latter called for delaying the season and potentially holding May Madness. You know when Slick Rick Pitino is the voice of reason you are in uncharted territory.
It would behoove the NBA to return to the bubble model that they pioneered on such a grand scale. For 2021, the NBA and the NBAPA have agreed on COVID restrictions such as not participating in social gatherings with more than 15 people and only going to approved restaurants. But that doesn’t do a lot of good when a large portion of the COVID surge is coming from small indoor gatherings. Even if the rules are followed, they are not sufficient. And we all know how good star athletes are at following rules. Especially when women are involved.
COVID-19 has already cost us so much and the end is within our grasp. Lets not put these young men and women at further risk at the peak of this thing for mere entertainment.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of John Glowatz.
For college hoops fans, it’s been the longest offseason in history with no NCAA Tournament back in March and even as we moved through the summer, we still never was for sure if we’d even see college basketball in the fall.
Yet, here we are.
The 2020-21 NCAA College Basketball season is officially underway and yes, there will be many schedule changes and postponements like we’ve seen in college football, it’s still nice to just get to this point.
In 2019, the Big Ten was the top conference in college basketball and while it did lose some top tier talent, it still remains the home of potentially ten NCAA Tournament teams.
Let’s take a closer look at the Big Ten conference for the 2020-21 basketball season.
Valedictorian: Wisconsin, Iowa
Top of the Class: Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, Rutgers
Needs Tutoring: Michigan, Maryland, Minnesota, Purdue, Penn State
Failing: Nebraska, Northwestern
Players to Watch
* Marcus Carr, Minnesota (6-2 JR Guard)
* Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois (6-5 JR Guard)
* Seth Towns, Ohio State (6-8 SR Forward)
* Aaron Henry, Michigan State (6-6 JR Forward)
* Luke Garza, Iowa (6-11 SR Center)
For college hoops fans, it’s been the longest offseason in history with no NCAA Tournament back in March and even as we moved through the summer, we still never was for sure if we’d even see college basketball in the fall.
Yet, here we are.
The 2020-21 NCAA College Basketball season is officially underway and yes, there will be many schedule changes and postponements like we’ve seen in college football, it’s still nice to just get to this point.
There may not be a conference as strong in 2020 than the Big 12. The normal powerhouses sit at the top, but up to seven teams could get into the NCAA Tournament come March.
Let’s dive right into the preview of the Big 12!
Valedictorians: Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas
Top of the Class: West Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma
Needs Tutoring: Iowa State, TCU
Failing: Kansas State
Players to Watch
* Jared Butler, Baylor (6-3 JR Guard): Withdrew his name from the NBA Draft and instantly became the front-runner to win Big 12 Player of the Year. Averaged over 16 PPG last season.
* Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State (6-8 FR Guard): Star freshman may be the first pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Triple-double threat who can finish at the rim.
* Marcus Garrett, Kansas (6-5 SR Guard): Versatile guard who will likely contribute more offensively this season. Best defensive guard in the country as the defending National Defensive Player of the Year last season.
* Greg Brown, Texas (6-9 FR Forward): Another super frosh for the Longhorns, Brown flirted with the G-League before signing with the Longhorns. Will be a huge factor in getting Texas over the hump and back into Big 12 title contention.
* Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia (6-9 SO Forward): Considered jumping to the NBA, but made the right decision to return to school. Tshiebwe is a strong rebounder and finisher inside who will have more opportunities to impress in his sophomore season.
The Big 12 from top to bottom is solid and have two true title contenders with a handful of teams likely to head to the dance.
Baylor is my favorite to win the title this season led by Butler and MaCio Teague, who both had options to head to the NBA. They’ll have some options at forward including Tristan Clark, transfer Jonathan Pchamwa Tchatchoua, and frehman Zach Loveday and Dain Dainja.
Overall, they are deeper and better than last season’s squad that won 26 games and was likely on their way to being a No. 1 seed. I truly love this Baylor team to make a deep run, but they’ll have Kansas right on their heels.
Kansas is just as deep as Baylor with a great mix of veterans such as Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, and David McCormack plus the addition of newcomers including outstanding freshman Bryce Thompson make Kansas again a Final Four threat.
Kansas looked to be a front-runner for the National title in 2020 before the cancallation and losing players like Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike will hurt, but I think both Kansas and Baylor could be Final Four teams this season.
Texas Tech will take some time to mesh as their roster was overhauled after last season, but come February, Chris Beard will likely have another powerhouse squad ready to make a postseason run. Don’t sleep on West Virginia either this season as Bob Huggins returns four starters from last year’s 21-win team.
The Texas Longhorns are the darkhorse of the Big 12. They feature a great set of guards led by Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, and Andrew Jones. Returning from injury will also be sharpshooter Jase Ferbes to add even more depth to the Texas backcourt.
Then, you jump to the frontcourt where Texas features a standout freshman in Greg Brown, who many thought was heading to the G-League to prep for the NBA. Signing Brown to pair with Jericho Sims and Gerald Liddell was huge for Texas to jump into the Big 12 conversation.
Not to mention, Shaka Smart may be in his make-or-break season with the Longhorns as he’s 90-78 in his five seasons with Texas with nothing to truly show for his tenure yet. This is the squad he’s been waiting on. Texas will be a fun team to watch for many reasons this season.
Cade Cunningham will draw a ton of attention on the Oklahoma State program this season, but as of now, the Cowboys still aren’t eligible to participate in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, so we’ll see how that plays out.
Oklahoma returns both Austin Reaves (14.7 PPG) and Brady Manek (14.4 PPG) which means they could be playing for a spot in the middle of the NCAA Tournament. TCU (Desmond Baine) and Iowa State (Tyrese Haliburton) lost their superstars to the NBA, so they’ll both struggle to stay out of last this season in the Big 12.
Kansas State also loss many players and they’ll spend 2020-21 rebuilding that program with some transfers and younger players.
At the end of the day, the Big 12 may be the best conference in all of college basketball and could possibly see four teams make the Sweet 16 and advance two to the Final Four. Maybe even a Baylor-Kansas National Championship?
I can see it!
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